You Can Believe The 600

March 31, 2024 Speaker: Ray Lorthioir Series: Sermons 2024

Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1–11

Sermon 3-31-24

Pastor Ray Lorthioir

Trinity Lutheran Church

W. Hempstead, NY

Based on the Second Lesson for The Resurrection of Our Lord, 1Corinthians 15:1-11


You Can Believe The 600

There’s a satirical news website known as the Babylon Bee. A couple days ago, they put up a skit on Youtube, and I can’t resist showing you a screenshot of the skit as we begin. The caption below says, “Roman soldiers excited for super-easy job guarding tomb of some Jewish guy.” In the skit you find out that one soldier is even expecting a promotion after this guard duty gig. Therefore, I love what it says on the screen. “What could go wrong?” 

During his trial before Pontius Pilate, we read this interesting sequence between Jesus and Pilate. John 18:37-38, “37 Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him.’” What’s interesting is that even though Pilate seemed to question what truth is, he nevertheless went outside and proclaimed something he perceived to be true — namely, “I find no guilt in him.”

But the question of what is truth or if truth is even possible when it comes to religion in general and Jesus of Nazareth in particular is one that seems to baffle our society. Much of it goes back to the confusion philosophy has created. Eighteenth century English philosopher, David Hume, was a renown skeptic. Even though he was a skeptic, and supposedly skeptical of everything, he was nevertheless un-skeptical and very certain about two conditions that he came up with regarding truth. He declared that only statements that are abstract, such as mathematical reasoning, or statements that are empirically verifiable through one or more of the five senses can be true. Therefore, in one of his books, Hume wrote, “If we take in our hand any volume — of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance — let us ask, ‘Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?’ No. ‘Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?’ No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” In Hume’s opinion, then, talking about God is meaningless. All religious works — including bibles — can be burned.

In the 20th century, Hume’s thesis was given new legs by another Englishman, A. J. Ayer. Ayer claimed that there is a principal of empirical verifiability. According to this principle any statements we make can be meaningful only if they’re true by definition or empirically verifiable. Ayer’s philosophy is known as Logical Positivism, and it was the rage in 1960’s philosophy classes. Therefore, I was tormented by having to study his work. For according to the definitions of Logical Positivism, anything said from a pulpit is meaningless, unless it might be teaching you how to raise potatoes or something.

But there is a flaw in Ayer’s system. Christian philosopher, Norman Geisler, earned a degree during the mid 60’s and had to take a course on Logical Positivism. I don’t know if Geisler was the first to point out the flaw in Ayer’s system, but he tells an amusing story of how he completely debunked Ayer’s system in the second class of a 14 week college course.

What’s the flaw? The two principles of Logical Positivism themselves are neither true by definition nor empirically verifiable. Saying that something can be meaningful only if it’s true by definition or empirically verifiable is not true by definition, nor is it empirically verifiable. So, the two principles self-destruct in mid air.

If you don’t get it, this is similar to the thing I often tell you in Bible studies. If someone says to you, “There is no truth!” You simply say, “Is that true?” And the statement, “there is no truth,” then self-destructs in mid-air. The same thing is true of Ayer’s principle of empirical verifiability.

It wasn’t until I purchased Geisler’s book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist,” in 2004 that I found this out. I wish I had known it when I studied Ayer’s nonsense in the late 60’s. It would have saved a lot of grief and skepticism in my life. Indeed, Geisler’s criticism of Logical Positivism is one of the reasons that I can stand here assured that I can make meaningful statements from a pulpit.

Oh, and A. J. Ayer himself had a very “unmeaningful” experience. A year before he actually died, Ayer was successfully resuscitated after choking to death while eating a piece of fish. During the period when he was clinically dead from the choking episode, Ayer had a remarkable visionary experience that is called a Near Death Experience or (NDE) by people who study the phenomenon. He wrote about his NDE in an article entitled, “What I Saw When I Was Dead.” Now, the remarkable thing about Ayer’s NDE is that as an atheist he believed he wouldn’t experience anything at all after death. But he did. And the experience was quite uncomfortable for him. I’m not going to recount it here. But at the end of the article he assured all students of his work that the experience hadn’t changed his atheist convictions. So, it’s clear that Ayer’s atheism in reality was not a matter of his mind or reason or seeking truth. It was a matter of his will to sin against His Creator. Note that through that NDE he was graciously and mercifully warned about his sin.

I begin with this today because Christianity is a matter of truth and nothing but the truth. If Jesus of Nazareth is not risen from the dead, then Christianity is false. It’s as simple as that. So is Jesus resurrected from the dead? If we weren’t there and didn’t see it happen, can we know it’s true? Can we know it’s true even though it happened almost 2,000 years ago now?

To untangle all this, we first have to note that there are different kinds of truth. The problem with Logical Positivism is that it only allows for a very limited set of truth — so limited that it proves itself untrue. Therefore, the first thing we have to note is that there are different categories of truth. A person sitting on a jury doesn’t use mathematical formulas to determine guilt or innocence, even though the formulas are true. A mathematician doesn’t use courtroom eyewitness testimony to determine if his equations are true, even though the testimony may be true.

So, when we’re examining the information about Jesus’ resurrection, we have to start with the fact that we’re examining eyewitness testimony and not mathematical equations or chemical compositions. There’s also circumstantial evidence involved with Jesus’ resurrection. Therefore, anyone who would consider Jesus’ resurrection has to understand that they’re really on a jury in a court room examining the witnesses to see if they’re telling the truth, and they’re looking at the circumstantial evidence to see if it adds up.

Now here we’ve got to separate eyewitness testimony from circumstantial evidence. Events in history happen only once. They cannot be repeated as scientific experiments. Thankfully for your mother, you were only born once. She didn’t need to repeat the experiment to prove you exist. Once was enough. So the eyewitnesses of this once in recorded history event filed your birth certificate and we call it truth.

On the other hand, some circumstantial evidence can and should be subjected to the rigors of science. In particular, much scientific investigation has been done on the age of the Shroud of Turin. Forty years ago, some of it was poorly done. So, when repeated properly more recently, it resulted in confirming that the Shroud actually dates from the time of Jesus.

Now, concerning the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, here’s the list that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James [the Lord’s brother], then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” So, I take the five hundred and add the apostles and the one hundred and twenty who were gathered in the upper room on Pentecost 33A.D. And I round the number to 600. So, if you hear me talking about the 600 hundred witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection that’s how I arrived at the number.

What an extremely privileged position those 600 hold in history! For instance, we read in Acts 1:3, “He [Jesus] presented himself alive to them [the apostles] after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Or as we read in 1John 1:1, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. . . .”

But, why did the resurrected Messiah Jesus not reveal Himself to all the people of Jerusalem? Especially, why didn’t He reveal Himself alive to His enemies? Why only the 600? The best answer comes from Jesus Himself. Matthew 13:47-50, “47 ‘Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Here we see that it’s not Yahweh’s plan to separate those He has made righteous by faith in Christ from those persisting in rebellion until the end of this age. The wicked and rebellious will be left to do their own thing until the Day of Yahweh’s righteous Judgment of the earth. Only then will they be confronted with the risen Jesus. In the meantime, until history ends, it’s Yahweh’s plan that many will be saved solely by the eyewitness testimony of the 600. Those who are so saved will be overjoyed to see the risen Jesus.

Consider this scenario. As we just read, Jesus appeared to the apostles for forty days after His resurrection. He then was taken up into heaven. On the fiftieth day, the festival of Pentecost, 33A.D., the apostles preached the first sermon about Jesus, the suffering and victorious Messiah. Included in that sermon was the eyewitness testimony of the apostles that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. We then read in Acts2:41, “So those who received his [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” That was three thousand souls who had never seen Jesus resurrected from the dead and never would. Yet, they believed based on the testimony of the 600. So right from the very beginning, it has been Yahweh’s plan that souls will be saved by believing the testimony of the 600. In every century since, it has been Lord Holy Spirit who enables the testimony of the 600 to be believed. Indeed, Lord Holy Spirit is the only way you and I can believe it.

Now, we’ve watched enough courtroom dramas in media to know that the reliability of eyewitness testimony can be challenged. If a good lawyer can catch an eyewitness in a lie, then that lawyer has pretty much won the case. So, what about the 600? Can they be caught lying?

Based upon what Scripture and tradition tell us, the twelve apostles plus Paul all met an untimely end, except John. They were all put to death for preaching the suffering and victorious Messiah, Jesus. As is well known, liars don’t make good martyrs. So that’s one point in favor of the truthfulness of their testimony.

In the early part of the twentieth century, there was a knighted lawyer, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, who lived in the South American country of Guyana. He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for having successfully defended 242 murder cases (I think that’s the number) and he never lost one. One reason for his success was that he was an expert on eyewitness testimony. He had ways of revealing who was lying and who was telling the truth.

At one point in his life, Sir Lionel examined both the testimony of the apostles concerning the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and all of what tradition says about the fate of the apostles. In his expert opinion, they were telling the truth. So, using accepted principles for determining the truth of eyewitness testimony, it’s still possible for us, nearly two thousand years after the event, to determine if the apostles are credible eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, or not.

Now, concerning circumstantial evidence, I received a recent email from Newsmax touting a special article about the Shroud of Turin. “Newsmax Magazine’s ‘Holy Evidence’ investigation finds: Scientists are absolutely certain the Shroud is that of a crucified man; The image on the Shroud has never been replicated before and is not art; Why carbon-14 dating that sets the Shroud in the 13th century was faulty; New X-ray dating methods put the Shroud’s origins to the time of Jesus; The energy it took to produce the image would be equal to all the electrical power generated in the world today; Blood evidence: dozens of indicators that show the man who was buried died just as the Bible claims; . . . Traditional Jewish burial: multiple points of evidence the man was a religious Jew; The Jewish photography expert who concluded the Shroud is 100% real; The Jewish botanist who pinpointed pollens on the Shroud linking it to Jerusalem; . . . A famous illustrator uses the Shroud to make a portrait of what Jesus really looked like; French historian Jean-Christian Petitfils studied the Shroud and concluded: Its authenticity can no longer be disputed.”

So, we have an artifact that is most likely the authentic burial cloth mentioned in Scripture that Jesus’ body was wrapped in. The negative image imprinted on the cloth when turned into a positive image is quite stunning. And the means by which the negative image was imprinted can only be guessed at. It’s beyond anything we can currently imagine. So, this is where scientific investigation of circumstantial evidence fits into the resurrection picture.

Now this Easter, I’m glad we’ve got some positive evidence after an onslaught of more than twenty years of supposedly negative evidence. On my shelf, I have two books authored by Christian author and apologist, Lee Strobel. The first one, published in 1998, is called “The Case For Christ.” However, Strobel published a second work in 2007 titled, “The Case For The Real Jesus.” It was reissued in 2016 as “In Defense Of Jesus.” Strobel writes in its prologue: “Since then [1998] the Jesus of historic Christianity has come under increasingly fierce attack. From college classrooms to bestselling books to the internet, scholars and popular writers are seeking to debunk the traditional Christ. They’re capturing the public’s imagination with radical new portraits of Jesus that bear scant resemblance to the time-honored picture embraced by the church.”

As particularly troubling, Strobel cites Dan Brown’s 2003 book, “The DaVinci Code,” the Jesus Seminar and “The Nag Hamadi Scriptures.” These three sources and more gave anyone who wanted to escape Jesus and the profound effect He’s had on culture theoretically good reasons to do so. Consequently, it’s not surprising that in the last 25 years we’ve seen a steep drop in Christianity’s public prestige and influence. The most recent news of paganism’s triumph over Christianity comes from Quebec, Canada where a judge has ruled that a Canadian Roman Catholic institution absolutely must offer euthanasia services to its clients regardless of Roman Catholic teaching against euthanasia. Since the state is now god, no exception for religious belief can be made.

Nevertheless, just like three hundred years of Roman persecution, seventy years of Bolshevik persecution in Eastern Europe, Fourteen Hundred years of Muslim persecution and much more failed to stamp out Christianity, so it will continue to be. Why? Because Jesus of Nazareth is in fact resurrected from the dead.

In his 2007 book, Lee Strobel interviewed Christian scholars who have assembled tremendous defenses against paganism’s assaults. One of them, Gary Habermas, is now completing a life work of assembling four volumes of data from the ancient world that proves Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

Habermas has even had tremendous influence on skeptical scholars. The information he’s uncovered has forced most skeptics to admit that the church was proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead within six months to two years of the actual event. This is important, because fifty years ago skeptics thought they could debunk the resurrection of Jesus by claiming it was a doctrine added to Christian teaching hundreds of years after Jesus. It turns out that real history says otherwise. The preaching of the resurrection appeared right at the beginning, just like Scripture says it does. Even skeptics must now admit that.

Just after I finished the initial draft of this sermon, an article appeared in Breitbart. “A Scott Rasmussen national Survey poll reported . . . that almost 70 percent of registered voters believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection. . . .” This was a poll of a thousand registered voters. To tell you the truth, this has left me wondering. Has the work defending Christianity been that successful? If so, why aren’t all these people in church? And does this mean that there’s actually hope that this nation might escape its slide into paganism? Hard to say.

In any event, is it reasonable to say that the eyewitness testimony of the 600 is valid right down to today? Yes. And, therefore, the entire course of human history belongs to this real human being, Jesus of Nazareth, resurrected in immortal flesh, who also happens to be Yahweh, the Son. Yes. And the entire course of your history and mine belongs to this same Jesus, resurrected from the dead. More importantly, your eternal destiny beyond this short life and mine depends on faith in this Jesus, resurrected from the dead in immortal flesh. Such saving faith comes from hearing the testimony of the 600, and the work of Lord Holy Spirit who alone can open the eyes of sinners to the truth.

Therefore, come Lord. By the Word, break through all the foolish philosophies of us sinners. Break through all the unbelief and rebellion against our Creator that we’re born with. Baptize us now with faith in the truth, so that we and others may be saved. As St. Paul put it in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. . . .” Amen.

All Bible quotes are from the ESV.

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