The Case For Christ

Examining The Convincing Historical Evidence of Jesus.

Lee Strobel
Jun 20, 2020    35m
By examining the historical evidence of Jesus, one man began his journey from atheist to believer. This inspiring testimony shares the evidence he found and tells us his personal story of salvation. Video recorded at Los Gatos, California.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

Lee Strobel: 00:00 Hi, I'm Lee Strobel, so great to be with you Venture Church, Venture online. I'm grateful to Tim Lundy for setting this up. I wish I could be out there at your church building with you, but given the fact that we're in the midst of a pandemic, I'm hunkered down here in Houston, Texas. I used to live out in California, we moved out here to be close to my two oldest grandchildren.

Lee Strobel: 00:20 So, when I moved to Texas, I didn't know anything about Texas, I'm a Chicago kid originally. So, I bought a book, and book is called, How To Talk Texan, because I didn't know. What did I know? So, I learned how to talk Texan. The first thing I learned is the difference between y'all, and all y'all. Which when you think about it, it make sense, all y'all's plural, right, that makes sense. But the thing I learned about talking Texan that I liked the most, is that in Texas, if you want to say thank you to someone you can say, thank you, or you can say, I appreciate ya. Isn't that nice, I appreciate ya? That's what I want to say to you, I appreciate ya, I appreciate all y'all, is what I wanted to say. I appreciate you being here today to watch this telecast, I appreciate you taking the time to explore spiritual matters the way you're doing, I just appreciate ya.

Lee Strobel: 01:19 And I thought, you know, what could I do that might be helpful? And, you know, as Tim suggested, why don't I just tell you a story? Some of you have seen my story in the motion picture The Case For Christ, and that's fairly accurate. You know how stories adapted to the screen are, they're not totally accurate, it's about 80% accurate. But I'm going to give you the real story of my spiritual journey, and it is a story that begins in atheism. Because I decided at a rather young age that God cannot and does not exist. Now. I just thought, you know, the mere concept of an all-powerful, all loving, all knowing creator of the universe, come on, it's crazy, it wasn't even worth my time to check out.

Lee Strobel: 02:11 Now, I tend to be a skeptical person, my background is in journalism and law, and I was a legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. And we used to have a sign in our newsroom that said, if your mother says she loves you, check it out. How do you know she's telling the truth? Have you got any evidence, got anything to back that up? So we were proud that, you know, that we wouldn't accept anybody's word at face value. We always tried to get at least two sources to confirm a fact, before we'd print it in the newspaper And that's good, you know, you want journalists to be skeptical, right? My problem was that my skepticism bubbled over into cynicism, and it cemented me into my atheism.

Lee Strobel: 02:53 Now, because I had no belief in God, I really lacked the moral framework for my life. Now, I'm not saying that all atheist think this way, I'm just telling you the way I looked at things, I tend to be logic, I tend to be rational. And so I kind of thought, okay, if there is no God, if there is no heaven, if there is no hell, if there is no judgment, if there is no ultimate accountability, then the most logical way for me to live my life would be as a hedonist. In other words, someone who just pursued pleasure, and that's what I did. And so I lived a very immoral, and drunken, and profane, and narcissistic, self-absorbed, really in some ways self-destructive kind of a life, that was my life.

Lee Strobel: 03:44 What people would see was me winning awards for investigative reporting. What they didn't see was the other side, which was me literally drunk in the snow, in an alley on Saturday night. I had so much rage inside me, so much anger. And if you asked me back then, you know, what's the deal, why the anger? I couldn't have told you, but looking back, I know what it was. I was always after the perfect high, you know, I was always after that ultimate experience of pleasure. But guess what? Everything let me down, nothing lived up to the hype, so a lot of anger. I remember my wife and I got in an argument one day, and our little daughter was there, and I had so much rage, I just blew up. I remember I reared back, and I kicked a hole right through our living room wall, and my wife's crying, and our daughter's crying. And it's like, hey, that's just another day in the Strobel house.

Lee Strobel: 04:42 And so, if you've seen the movie about our life, you know it was because of a woman who was a Christian and a nurse who my wife met, and became best friends with, who invited her to church. And they would have long spiritual conversations, and my wife kind of went on this journey with her to investigate Christianity. And after many months, my wife came up to me one day and she gave me the worst news an atheist could get, she said, I've decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ. And I thought, oh no, this is not going to end well. The first word that went through my mind was divorce, I was going to walk out, but I decided to stick around. And what I noticed over the following months was a couple of things. There were positive changes in her character, and in her values, and the way she related to me and the kids. And that was winsome, and that was attractive, and that kind of pulled me toward faith. But at the same time, I wanted the old Leslie back, I wanted our old life back, I wanted to rescue her from this cult that she'd gotten involved in.

Lee Strobel: 05:50 And so I thought, well, you know, what if I were able to disprove Christianity? How could that be? I mean, you know, I was a journalist, I'd seen plenty of dead bodies, I knew that I'd never seen anybody come back to life after three days being dead. So how hard could it be to disprove Christianity? Because even I, as a skeptic, recognized everything depends on the resurrection of Jesus. That's the ballgame. Why? Because Jesus, in a variety of different ways, directly and indirectly, from the first gospel written to the last gospel written made transcendent, and messianic, and divine, claims about himself.

Lee Strobel: 06:33 He claimed to be the Son of God, at one point he got up before a group and he said, I and the Father are one. And the Greek word that's used there for one, is not masculine it's neuter, which means Jesus was not saying I am and the Father of the same person. He was saying, I and the Father are the same thing, we're one in nature, we're one in essence. And not only did the audience understand what he was saying, well they picked up stones to kill him? Because they said, you, you're just a man and you're claiming to be God. So Jesus claimed to be God. But so what, I could claim to be God, Tim Lundy could claim to be God, Murph could, well, maybe not Murph, but anybody could claim to be God. But if Jesus claimed to be God, died, and then three days later rose from the dead, that's pretty good evidence that he's telling the truth. That's why the resurrection is the linchpin of the Christian faith. That's why the Apostle Paul says, that if Jesus has not been raised, your faith is futile, you're still in your sins. This is the ballgame.

Lee Strobel: 07:40 So here's what I want to do, for the next couple of minutes, I just want to hit some of the highlights of the evidence I encountered in my investigation concerning the resurrection of Jesus. And by the way, this is now a lifelong study, so I've continued to investigate this through the years. But I want to emphasize that when I did the investigation originally, I did not give the Bible any special consideration. I didn't consider it to be inerrant, inspired, the Word of God, I was a skeptic. I believe those things now, but I didn't back then, but I had to accept the New Testament for what it undeniably is, which is a set of ancient historical writings. And I knew, just as you can investigate any ancient writer, whether it's by Suetonius, or any ancient writer Josephus, you can take those same investigative techniques and apply them to the pages of the New Testament to try to determine is it telling me the truth?

Lee Strobel: 08:43 So in other words, I didn't just open a Bible, oh, it says Jesus is resurrected, end of story. I wanted to dig beneath that, how do I know it really happened? So I want to summarize the evidence using four words that begin with the letter E. That way, you know, Easter starts with E, these four words start with E, it's a good way to remember the evidence.

Lee Strobel: 09:04 The first E stands for the word execution. You have to have a death first, right, before you can have a resurrection. And what I learned, is that Jesus' death on the cross is not in dispute among scholars in the field. I'm not just talking about Christian scholars, I'm talking about the wide range of scholarship, there is virtually no descent from the conclusion that Jesus was dead after being crucified. Why? Because when you look at the facts that we know about the ancient world, often, there's just one or two sources for that information. And yet, for the death of Jesus, we not only have early, first century, multiple accounts in the documents of the New Testament, we've also got five ancient sources outside the Bible confirming and corroborating his death. I mean, it is so well established that even the scientific, peer reviewed, secular, medical journal, the Journal of the American Medical Association, carried an investigation into the death of Jesus. And this was their conclusion quote, "Clearly based on the historical and medical evidence, Jesus was dead, even before the wound to his side was inflicted." I mean, this is so well-established of an historical fact, you could go to an atheist New Testament scholar like Gerd Lüdemann, formerly of Vanderbilt university, and he'll tell you this, Jesus' death, as a consequence of crucifixion, is indisputable. Indisputable, that's the atheist speaking. I mean, there are very few facts of ancient history that a skeptical, critical, atheist, scholar, like a Gerd Lüdemann will say is in this indisputable. One of those facts is the death of Jesus, the first E is for execution, Jesus was dead.

Lee Strobel: 11:04 The second E I think is the most fascinating, it stands for the word early. We have early reports, or early accounts, that Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, reports that go virtually back to the scene itself. Why is that important? Because like a lot of skeptics, I used to think that the resurrection was a legend. And I knew it took time for legend to develop in the ancient world, so I figured a 100, 150 years, 200 years, after the life of Jesus, legends develop, mythologies were spun, stories were invented, and that's where this idea of the resurrection came from.

Lee Strobel: 11:38 But what I learned, I think decimates the claim that the resurrection is merely a legend, follow me on this, I think this is fascinating. We have, preserved for us, a creed of the earliest Christians. In other words, this creedal statement that the first Christians, right there in the first century, would rally around based on facts that they knew to be true. Now, this report of the resurrection of Jesus, embedded in this creed, contains the essence of Christianity. It says, Jesus died, why, for our sins. He was buried. And the third day he rose from the dead, and then it mentions the specific names of eyewitnesses, and groups of eyewitnesses, to whom he appeared. Now, what's important about this eyewitness based creed, is how immediately it developed after the death of Jesus. You see, we can date this creed, how, because the Apostle Paul preserved it for us. He wrote a letter, about 22 years after the death of Jesus, to the church in Corinth, we call it First Corinthians. And if you want to look up the creed later, it's in First Corinthians 15, starting in verse 3 .

Lee Strobel: 12:54 So 22 years or so after the death of Jesus, Paul takes this eyewitness based creed, and he delivers it to the church in Corinth. But in the context of writing that letter, he indicates he had already given this to them on an earlier visit, he's kind of reminding them in this letter. So that means we can safely date this creed to within 20 years of the life of Jesus. Now we could stop there, and that would be really impressive when you consider the first two biographies of Alexander The Great by Arrian and Plutarch written 400 years after his life, and they're still considered to be pretty reliable. But here we have within 20 years, so that's really good, but we can go back earlier. How? Because we know that Paul used to be Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians. One to three years after the death of Jesus, he's on the road to Damascus, he has this encounter with the risen Christ, he becomes the Apostle Paul. Immediately, he goes into Damascus, and what does he do? He meets with some apostles. Now, many scholars believe this is when he was given this eyewitness based creed, that he later writes in the

Lee Strobel: 14:12 But other scholars, a little more skeptical, they say, do you know what, it may have been three years later. Three years later, Paul goes to Jerusalem and he meets for 15 days with two eyewitnesses who are specifically named in the creed, Peter and James, and he meets for two weeks. And the Greek word that Paul uses to describe this meeting suggests that this was an investigative meeting, they're checking each other out. What do you know? What did you experience? They're checking each other out? Many scholars say, this is when he was probably given the creed by two eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus who are named in the creed, Peter and James. Now either way, this means that this creed can be dated back to within one to six years after the death of Jesus, and therefore the beliefs that make up that creed go back even earlier, virtually to the cross itself.

Lee Strobel: 15:10 So the point is, there's no huge time gap between the death of Jesus, and the conviction that he rose from the dead, and thus proved he's the son of God. In fact, one of the greatest scholars in this area is Dr. James D. G. Dunn, and this is his evaluation after years of analysis, this is what he said. He said, "This tradition, by that he means this creed, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition, as a creed, within months of the death of Jesus." Within months, friends, this is a newsflash from ancient history. Especially when you consider that one of the greatest historians who ever lived, A. N. Sherwin-White of Oxford, he studied the rate at which legend developed in the ancient world. And he said, the passage of two generations of time is not even enough for legend to grow up and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. We don't have two generations of time passing here, we've got a news flash that it goes right back to the beginning. And that's not the only early report we've got. We've got others in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Book of Acts, all of which date back so early, they were circulating during the lifetimes of Jesus' contemporaries, who would have been all too happy to point out the errors if they were making this stuff up.

Lee Strobel: 16:35 Friends, we got an execution, Jesus was dead. We have reports of the resurrection that date back so early, I don't think you can just write them off as being a legend. But that's not all we've got, we've got a third word that begins with the letter E, it the word empty. We have an empty tomb. The historical data tells us that Jesus' body was placed in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council, it's sealed, we're told that there were guards guarding the tomb, and yet, it was discovered empty that first Easter morning.

Lee Strobel: 17:17 Now we could talk for a long time on all of the lines of evidence that converged to establish that the tomb was empty. But I'm just going to give you one fact, because to me this is conclusive, and that's this, even the enemies of Jesus admitted that the tomb is empty. How do we know? Because we know from sources inside and outside, the New Testament, that when the disciples began to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead, what the opponents of Jesus never said, baloney, go open the tomb, you'll find the body. That's not what they said, we know from sources inside and outside the New Testament that when the disciples said, Jesus has risen. What the opponents said was, oh, well the disciples stole the body. Now think about that, what is that? That's a cover story. They're implicitly admitting the tomb is empty, they're just trying to explain how it got empty. Right? Think about that, think about that, they're conceding the tomb was empty. It's like, to try and get you an analogy. It's like, if you're a teacher and a student comes up to you and says, the dog ate my homework. That student's admitting, look, I don't have my homework, but I can explain what happened to it, the dog ate it. It's the same thing. So everybody in the first century, the followers of Jesus and the enemies of Jesus, implicitly or explicitly are conceding, the tomb of Jesus was empty. That's not the question of history, the question of history really is, how did it get empty? And you go through the usual list of suspects. The Romans weren't about to steal the body, they wanted Jesus dead. The Jewish leaders of the day weren't about to steal the body, they wanted Jesus to stay dead. The disciples weren't about to steal the body, they didn't have the motive, they didn't have the means, and they didn't have the opportunity.

Lee Strobel: 19:26 Friends, I think the best explanation for the tomb being empty, is that Jesus physically returned from the dead. Especially, when we combine it with the fourth word that begins with a letter E, which is the word eyewitnesses. Not only was Jesus' tomb discovered empty, but over a period of time, Jesus appears alive in a dozen different instances, to more than 515 people, to skeptics and doubters, as well as to believers, to men, to women, indoors outdoors, daytime, nighttime, to groups, to individuals. I mean, think of this, remember we said earlier, when we're looking at facts of ancient history, we're lucky if we have one, or maybe two sources to confirm a fact. Well get this, for the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus, we have no fewer than nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament, confirming and corroborating the conviction of the disciples that they encountered, the risen Christ.

Lee Strobel: 20:37 Friends, that is an avalanche of historical data, and it transformed the disciples. I mean before Jesus has risen, they're afraid they're going to get crucified, they're hiding, they're afraid, they're cowardly. And yet, history clearly shows us that just a few weeks after Jesus had been put to death, all of a sudden these disciples are boldly proclaiming that Jesus didn't just claim to be the Son of God, he backed up that claim by returning from the dead. And get this, we have seven ancient sources, six of them outside the New Testament, that tell us that the disciples live lives of deprivation and suffering as a result of their proclamation that Jesus had risen.

Lee Strobel: 21:29 In fact, you know, many of them suffered deaths of martyrs as a result of their proclamation. It gets a little murky in history. What happened to a few of the disciples, but you know, many of them were willing...Let me put it this way, even though we may not know what actually happened to a few of the disciples in terms of their ultimate deaths, their willingness to die is, I think, indisputable. As I said, we have seven ancient sources, six of them outside the Bible, that tell us that they live lives of deprivation and suffering as a result of their proclamation that Jesus had risen. Why were they willing to do that? Because they saw on the internet that Jesus had risen? No. Because a Sunday school teacher told the? No. Because they were there, they touched him, they talked with him, they ate with him. Of all human beings who've ever lived in history, they were in a unique position and know for a fact, is this true or is it a lie? And knowing it was true, they were willing to suffer and even to die, for their proclamation that he had risen, that tells me something about the veracity of their claims.

Lee Strobel: 22:51 Well, I ended up spending about a year and nine months investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and it all came down to a Sunday afternoon. And I thought, you know, a good juror reaches a verdict. The evidence was in after two years, it was time to reach a verdict. So I kind of gathered all the stuff, you know, investigated for that two years, you know, books, and documents, and records, and all this stuff. And I kind of reviewed it one last time, and then I stepped back and I said, wait a minute, in light of this avalanche of evidence that points so powerfully toward the truth of Christianity, I realized it would take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian. In other words, the scales of evidence just went like that. And that's when I reached my verdict, that based on the data of history, I was convinced that Jesus didn't just claim to be the Son of God, he backed up that claim by returning from the dead.

Lee Strobel: 24:01 But then I didn't quite know what to do, until I looked at a verse that my wife Leslie pointed out to me. John 1:12, says, "But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name." And that verse forms an equation of what it means to become a child of God, belief plus receive equals become. So I said, okay, I get it now. I believe based on the data that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he backed up that claim by returning from the dead. I believe the historical evidence, but that is not enough, I had to receive. Receive what? Receive this free gift of God's grace, this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. And when I would receive this free gift in a prayer of repentance and faith, then I would become a child of God. So I got on my knees, and I poured out a confession of a lifetime of immorality that would absolutely curl your hair. And then I, at that moment, received this complete and total forgiveness through Jesus Christ, this free gift of his grace, and I became a child of God.

Lee Strobel: 25:34 And I remember Leslie breaking down in tears when I told her, and she threw her arms around my neck. And she said, I almost gave up on you a thousand times. As she said, when I was a new Christian, I told some women at church about you, and I said, I don't have any hope for my husband, he's this hard-headed, hard-hearted, legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, he's never going to bend his knee to Jesus. And this one woman named Sylvia put her arm around Leslie's shoulder, kind of pulled her to the side and said, oh Leslie, no one is beyond hope. And she gave her a verse from the Old Testament Ezekiel 36:26, it says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." And what I never knew at the time is my wife, the whole two years that I'm on the spiritual investigation, my wife every day, on her knees, by herself, was praying that verse for me. And can I tell you what happened? Starting on that Sunday afternoon, now I'd received this free gift of God's grace, and I was quickly baptized. And then over time, as I became part of a vibrant church, as I learned to read the Bible with fresh eyes, as I learned to worship, as I learned to pray, God began to answer her prayers. Because my values changed, and my character changed, and my morality changed, and my worldview, and my attitudes, and my philosophy, and my parenting, and my priorities, I mean, my marriage, all of these things over time began to change for the good.

Lee Strobel: 27:33 So much so that my little daughter, Alison, remember I told you about her. I mean, think about this for a minute, she was five years old when I came to faith, all she had known the first five years of her life was a dad who was absent, angry, kicking holes in walls, coming home drunk, it's all she knew. But starting on that Sunday afternoon, do you know what she did, she started to watch. Something's changing with my dad, something's different with my dad, something's new with my dad. She never interviewed a scholar, never studied ancient history, she was just five years old, but she could watch, she could listen, she could observe, and that's what she did. And it took about four or five months, and then finally, one Sunday morning, she came up first to her Sunday school teacher, and then up to Leslie. Do You know, she said, I want God to do for me what he's done for daddy. And at age five, she received this free gift of God's grace, she became a child of God. And now today she's married to a seminary graduate, she's a novelist, she's written half a dozen books of fiction that had been published, but they all have the message of Jesus woven into them, her and her husband together write children's books about God. She is the mother of two of my four precious grandchildren, and today we're the best of friends.

Lee Strobel: 29:04 And same thing with my son, my son at a young age saw the difference God was making in his mom and his dad and his sister, and he came to faith that he at a young age as well, but he ended up taking a different route. He took an academic route, he got an undergraduate degree in biblical studies, and he got a master's degree in philosophy of religion, then he got another master's degree in New Testament, and then after many years of study and research at Yale university and at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, he was awarded his PhD in theology. And do you know what he does today? He's a Professor of Theology at one of the largest Christian seminaries in America, teaching future pastors about Jesus Christ. And seven years ago, his wife gave birth to our first grandson, and my son named him after me.

Lee Strobel: 30:05 God rescued our family, friends, he changed my son, he changed my daughter, he changed my wife, he changed me, and so that's my story. So what do you do with that, and what do you do with it? Let me just go back to that equation, believe plus receive equals become. And just say, you know, some of you, maybe someone encouraged you to watch this today, but you're really a skeptic like I was, you may be an atheist, and agnostic, maybe just kind of in spiritual neutral. And what I want to say to you is, this is worth your time to check out. You know, Venture's a great church where you can ask questions, where you can investigate, where you can learn over time. And I'd encourage you to make, you know, Venture Christian Church part of your life going forward. Make it a front burner issue in your life, decide up front, when the evidence is in, you're going to reach a verdict. And be encouraged by what the Bible says in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, f you sincerely seek God, guess what, you're going to find him.

Lee Strobel: 31:25 But let me end with this. Some of you may believe, but you're not sure if you've ever received. Now, maybe for the first time you believe today, you've heard the evidence for the resurrection, something inside of you says, I know this is true, this makes sense, the evidence is there. Maybe you've believed for 20 years, but your life hasn't changed, your kids have not seen a difference in you. Could it be because you believe the right stuff, but there's never really been a point in time where you have received this free gift of God's grace. I'm just asking, friends whether you've believed for 20 seconds or for 20 years, and you're not sure if you believe, I just want to give you an opportunity to receive. Let me give you an opportunity to take that step, to not just believe, but to receive.

Lee Strobel: 32:18 You know, the Bible says, these things are written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. God doesn't want you in a state of confusion about where you stand with him, the Bible says you can know for a fact that you have been adopted as a son or a daughter of the most high, and then when you close your eyes for the last time in this world, you will open them in the next world in the presence of God forever. So if you believe as best you can, we all have questions, but do you know what, you don't have to know everything to know something. You know what you can know with confidence, that Jesus claimed to be the son of God, and he backed it up by returning from the dead, that's all you need for now.

Lee Strobel: 33:08 So if you believe as best you can, and you want to receive, let me just lead you in a prayer to do that. And you can just say this prayer in your heart, God knows your heart, or you can say it out loud. I'm not even going to ask you to close your eyes, just look at me, just look at me. And if you want to take that step then in your heart or out loud, just say, Lord Jesus, as best I can, I do believe that you were the Son of God. I believe you've proved it by returning from the dead. And right now I confess the obvious, which is that I am a sinner. I mean, I've done things. I knew they were wrong before I did them, and I did them anyway. I've sinned, and I want to confess that, and I want to turn from that. And in an attitude of repentance, and faith, I want to receive your free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Thank you Jesus, for enduring the torture of the cross so that we could be reconciled forever. Help me, help me to live the kind of life that you want me to live, because from this moment on, I am yours. And now Father, we know from Luke 15, that a party breaks out in heaven, whenever a sinner repents receives forgiveness through your Son. So we celebrate with those have taken that step today, we pray that they will continuing to grow in their faith and their devotion to you. And we pray for those that aren't quite ready yet, we pray for those that are still on this journey. I pray that you would use Venture online, that you would use Venture Christian Church, that you would use books, whatever to help get resolution for them on the remaining questions that they have, so that someday we can celebrate their rebirth as well. And thank you, Father, for what you have done, are doing, and will do through Venture Christian Church. Thank you for Tim, and Murph, and all the people who were part of the church. We pray for a blessing on them, as they are like a city on a hill that shines your message of hope, and grace, and love, and eternal life, far and wide. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Recorded in Los Gatos, California.
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