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About this series
Why I Believe
Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity
When asked why you believe what you believe, how do you respond? Do you wish you'd paid more attention in Sunday school? Are you able to engage in thoughtful conversation, or do you become defensive? Why I Believe is a series designed to equip you with a simple, winsome approach to explaining why you believe what you believe about issues like: Jesus' resurrection, the authenticity of the Bible, life after death, the reality of heaven and hell, the validity of creation vs. evolution, and the God of the Bible, being the one and only, true God. Chip explains we can actually know the truth, and we can communicate the truth in a way that engages people rather than putting them off. There's solid evidence to satisfy the heart and mind of anyone honestly seeking answers. If you or someone you know has genuine questions about issues at the core of human existence, Why I Believe is an excellent resource. ACSI approvedMore from this series
I received a note a few years ago from a name that I recognized. I pastored a church in a very small community in Texas and this was a young man who was involved in Young Life, a zealous Christian and I was the pastor – are you ready for this? back in my twenties, early thirties.
And I got this note and it had a gift toward the ministry and said, “Thanks a lot.” And so I thought, Wow, I haven’t heard from this guy in ages, so I gave him a call. And I said, “Hey, I just called to tell you thanks so much for the gift. We really appreciate it. And your note, and it’s just so encouraging, the pastor in me, to all these years later that you’re still walking with the Lord.”
And the guy said something that kind of shocked me. He goes, “Well, actually, I don’t walk with God at all anymore.” I said, “What?” He goes, “Yeah, I’m a doctor. I work as an ER doctor. And shortly after high school, my dad who was just an atheist, radical atheist, he just asked me a bunch of questions and he just took my faith and threw it in the trashcan and said I’ll never amount to anything, and it literally destroyed my faith.”
He said, “But I drive back and forth to the hospital and I catch your radio program,” and I don’t know if I should take this as a compliment or not, he goes, “I don’t think you even have to believe in God. I think when you talk, it just encourages people.”
So I said, “Well, wow,” and then I had a moment, one of those moments on the phone. I thought, one, I was really disappointed. And second, then I said, “You know something? Can I share something with you?” And he said, “Well, sure.” I said, “I had a moment like that as well. His name was Dr. P. And he was a very smart, intelligent person and he asked me a bunch of questions that caused me to doubt my whole faith. And I went on a journey and I went on this journey to try and really, how do you solve these doubts and can I intellectually believe the Bible is true and Jesus is the only way and these things that – he ridiculed me.”
And I asked him, I used his name and I said, “Would you be willing, even after all these years, to go on maybe a little journey with me? I’m not going to preach at you, I’m not going to tell you ought to this or ought to do that. But I went on this journey; could we explore your doubts together and just see,” are you ready? “Is it intellectually feasible to believe that Jesus is God, that He is the only way to heaven, that the Bible is true, and that all the things that we shared when you were young are a reality?”
And then there was this pause. “Yeah! I’d be willing to do that.” I said, “Okay, well, I’ll send you some stuff to read and I’ll read it and we’ll get on the phone, we’ll talk back and forth,” and we went on that journey.
And I will wait to tell you a little bit about the outcome; it was pretty exciting. And so, I didn’t say, “You ought to believe this. You need to do that.” I said, “Let’s begin asking some questions and let’s ask them at the most basic, basic level.”
And I said, “You would be surprised, but atheists and Christians have one thing that they violently agree on together.” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “They both believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is central. The issue rises or falls, either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t.”
In fact, let me quote probably the best known atheist of the last century: Anthony Flew. He says, “The physical, literal bodily resurrection is the best, if not the only reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We both agree,” he’s talking about a debate that he is having with a Christian leader, “we both agree that the identification in defining and distinguishing the characteristics of the true Christian, that it is scarcely possible to make it without also accepting the resurrection did literally happen.”
Not spiritually, not just people have some experience, but literally Jesus was fully God, fully man, that made these outrageous claims, He physically actually died, and then He physically and bodily rose from the dead, walked upon the earth for forty days in a resurrection body – it either happened or it didn’t.
Now, are you ready for this? This is what the apostle Paul says. 1 Corinthians 15, verses 16 to 19. Paul agrees with the atheist. “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you’re still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep,” literally those who have died in Christ, “they have perished. If we have hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
And so, what I did with my friend is I said, “How about this? Let me walk you through my journey and the way I would like to do it is I would like to just share with you the seven reasons that led me to believe that the resurrection actually happened. But rather than say, ‘These are the seven reasons you ought to believe this, this is airtight, ought, ought, ought, should, should, should,’” I didn’t do any of that.
I said to him, “You know what? Let’s just ask basic intellectual questions that really play out in all of our lives. Okay? Because I live in a place where people have come from Buddhist, Hindu, Islam – all kinds of backgrounds from all around the world.” And so, I just started with some very, very basic questions. So, let’s dig in together.
Question number one is: did Jesus really exist? Is it a fairy tale? As I shared with one guy on a plane, he came from a Hindu background and he just said, “We have all kind of things where there are myths. Is Jesus a real person? Can you even prove that?”
Biblical manuscripts, the quantity and the quality of them. The way that we know anything happened in antiquity, whether it’s Homer and The Iliad, whether it’s Shakespeare – whether it’s any old writing – Plato, Aristotle, we have manuscripts.
And they are reliable and they have been tested. What you find is the New Testament has the greatest number and the greatest quality. We have a handful of manuscripts, hundreds of years after Plato or Aristotle. We have twenty-five thousand either partial or full manuscripts of the New Testament.
Now, being a skeptic myself and with my friend I said, “Now, if all we have is the Bible, it’s kind of circular reasoning to say, ‘Well, the Bible says Jesus was here, so I guess that’s true.’”
But we have is external verification. Josephus was a Jewish historian shortly after the time of Christ. Pliny and Tacitus were Roman historians. And what we have is actual documentation.
In other words, you can go to times and places and archaeology and writers that are not a part of the movement that say, “This is what happened.” They quote, “This is what Jesus said.” “This is what His followers believed.”
And so, first and foremost, secular scholars, believers and unbelievers, have manuscripts, these non-Christian sources. And then the confirmation of archaeology, whether it’s an inscription with Pontius Pilate or whether it’s tablets that we find about a census that happened during the time.
They dug up, they didn’t even know about it, they dug up and found Bethlehem and all these different places, it is absolutely a given that this person named Jesus – now, I’m not saying He’s the Son of God yet, I’m not saying He’s the Savior of the world. But there is an absolute historical consensus that He lived, that He’s a real person. He’s not the tooth fairy, He’s not someone that got a dream from somewhere, He’s not philosophical something. A real man named Jesus lived upon the earth.
Now, the second question is: what was Jesus really like? What kind of person was He? I wasn’t there. You weren’t there. And what we know is that friend and foe agree that He was a great man and a moral teacher. Even when I talk about people from Islamic backgrounds. You read the Qur’an, Jesus is a prominent, He’s a great prophet, a moral teacher.
Even my New Age friends say the Christ-consciousness. Friend and foe believe that – I mean, all of history, A.D., B.C., this man had the greatest influence, the greatest moral teacher. I think every parent would say, “I would love my children to grow up and be like Jesus.” He was kind, He was loving, He helped the poor, He cared for the marginalized, He was a person of impeccable integrity.
And so, what we know is that the kind of life He lived, everyone agreed, was amazing. And, yet, here’s what He said. He claimed that He was actually sinless. John chapter 8, verse 46, Jesus says, “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe Me?”
So, on the one hand, He’s a great, moral teacher. But He makes this outrageous claim and He says, “I have never sinned.” And the truth of the matter is is that what we know is His life has had more impact, more books on ethics, history, culture than any life that has ever lived. So, history is airtight. Real person. Second, His character is beyond dispute.
Third, the works of Jesus went unchallenged. Because, see, I think you’ve got to ask, okay, He’s a real person, He came in history, but did He really do all that stuff? All those miracles in the New Testament. He raises a little girl from the dead. He is walking through a village and a lady, her son has died and she is a widow and He stops her and He raises him from the dead. We have the stories of feeding five thousand people. And in that day, they usually only counted the men. So, there are probably fifteen to twenty thousand people on a few loaves and a couple fish.
Did those things really happen? And if so, how would you verify it? Well, let’s look at the evidence. The works of Jesus actually went unchallenged. All those miracles that I just said, there were eyewitnesses that validated it.
See, what’s really interesting, I love this about the New Testament. This wasn’t miracles that you hear about, say, in far off India or these happened in the Amazon and so-and-so told so-and-so who told so-and-so and we are supposed to believe it.
These happened over a three-year period. And over a three-year period what we have are eyewitnesses. And so, this little girl is raised from the dead, well, she has an aunt and she tells her friends. There are, like, fifteen or twenty thousand people and all those loaves are stacked up afterwards and they tell their friends and tell their friends.
In fact, it’s so validated but what we know is, He couldn’t go to a major metropolitan area. This guy is a rock star above all rock stars. It was absolutely crazy. He was thronged. People just wanted to touch Him.
Friend and foe, even His enemies, they never questioned whether He actually did the miracles. Are you ready? What did they question? The source of the miracle. They said, “You do these miracles by the power of Beelzebub,” or Satan is what they were saying.
And so, we have an historical figure who has impeccable character, who did miraculous works that go unquestioned. And so, it raises the next question is: who did Jesus actually claim to be?
Now, here’s where we get where people really start to disagree and especially secular scholars. They will say, “This whole Christianity movement, yes, there was a real Jesus. Maybe He was a great teacher. Maybe even these miracles. They are hard to say that they didn’t happen. But He never claimed to be God. He never claimed to be the Savior of the world. What His followers did hundreds of years later, they just went back and they edited these manuscripts and they made these claims to start this great movement.”
And so, we have to ask ourselves: did He, in fact, claim to be God? Did He, in fact, claim to be the Son of God or the Savior of the world?
Well, we know from the New Testament documents, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.”
We know from Mark chapter 9 that His followers said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” If you do accept the text of the New Testament, we know that God will speak and say – what? “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
But what is interesting is even His enemies declare that He claimed to be God. In John chapter 10, they are ready to kill Him. And the Jews answered and said to Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, because You being a man make Yourself out to be God.”
Now, again, I am pretty aware that that could be circular reasoning. “Everything you quoted so far about these claims are in the New Testament.” There was an historian named Pliny the Younger in 111 A.D. And he was doing research. He was, stayed on top of what was happening in Rome and so he writes a letter to the emperor.
At this point in time, there is massive persecution of Christians and many Christians are called on the carpet, “Will you recant?” And so, Pliny does the research and we have an actual document from him writing a letter to the emperor explaining about this sect, these “Christians,” so they were called.
And so, he writes to the emperor and the letter goes something like this. He goes, “I really don’t understand this sect. We give them an opportunity to recant and, yet, they refuse to worship idols, they refuse to worship Caesar, they meet early in the morning and claim that a dead man came back to life, they claim that this dead man is God, they love one another radically, and they do strange things greeting one another with a holy kiss.”
He says, “Why they won’t recant? They would rather die because they claim that this Savior is in fact God.” And so, what we know is from historical documents that this claim that Jesus was God happened in the first century.
Pause. I’m talking to a friend. You’re talking to a friend. There’s not a finger pointing, there’s not a preaching. It’s: we are on the same side with our arm around a person who has an honest heart that wants to explore truth. And so, we ask very honest questions: did Jesus exist? Yes. Was He a good man? Absolutely. The best man who has ever lived. Well, did He actually do miracles? Verified as much as any miracle with thousands of eyewitnesses.
Well, who did He really claim to be? Friend, foe, external evidence says He actually claimed to be God.
Well, we’re moving our way and as I was talking to my doctor friend, this happened over a period of months. And we went back and forth and, “What about this? And what about that?”
And then we get to the crux of the matter where it gets really specific. Because you have to ask the question: did He really die?
Did Jesus really die? Maybe He took, I’ve heard people say, “Maybe He took some special herbs and He got His heart rate to go way, way, way slow and it only appeared as though He died.”
See, if Jesus didn’t die, then He wasn’t resurrected. And if He’s not resurrected, atheists and the apostle Paul would agree, nothing works. Everything rises and falls on the resurrection.