“Jesus Christ is the centre of Christianity.” [Note the British English spelling of our American word “center”]. This quotation is from page 21 of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. It is the overarching theme of Stott’s book.
Through three chapters of his book, Stott tries to “prove” the existence of Christ, through discussing Jesus as a person, the claims that He made and the character that He displayed. Stott tries to be logical in his explanation, stating that if “Jesus can be shown to be a uniquely divine Person, many other problems begin naturally to be solved. The existence of God is proved and the character of God revealed if Jesus was divine.”
When it comes to claims, they can be summarized as Jesus claiming He was the Son of God. You can read those in the Bible as He talked about Himself, made “direct” reference to His Father, gave Himself powers that belonged to God, and performed miracles that only God could do [dramatized claims].
When it comes to His character, you can read in the Bible what Christ thought about Himself, what His friends said, what His enemies “conceded” and what we can see for ourselves in The Scripture.
Keep in mind the purpose of the book Basic Christianity. Stott is trying to explain the fundamentals of the Christian faith. He wants believers to know how the basic beliefs of the faith should be working in their daily lives. I have already commented above on his attempt to be “logical” and that is clearly at work throughout this book. He attempted to write a sound, sensible guide for anyone who wants an intellectually satisfying presentation of the Faith.
In Chapter Four of his book, he turns to the most controversial claim that believing Christians make; Jesus Christ rose from the dead. “Clearly, if it is true, the resurrection has great significance. If Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then He was beyond dispute a unique figure. It is not a question of His spiritual survival, nor of His physical resuscitation, but of His conquest of death and His resurrection to a new plane of existence altogether. We do not know of anyone else who has had this experience” .*
Did people in Jesus’ timeframe believe He had been resurrected? Of course many did not. Stott refers to the audience that Paul faced in Areopagus when he claimed that Jesus was raised from the dead: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” .
Today the doubtful unbelievers continue their work. Josh McDowell writes in his extensive defense of the faith* that some believe Jesus went into a swoon; He did not die on the cross and when placed in the tomb He was really alive. Others think that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb. Disciples came in the night and removed His body. Others feel the Jews removed the body. Some think the Romans removed Jesus’ body. Believe it or not, there is a theory that post resurrection appearances by Jesus were merely hallucinations. More practically, some posit that the women who went to the tomb first went to the wrong tomb. Of course Jesus was not there. McDowell refutes all these claims with rigorous claims of his own.**
Stott argues that the resurrection of Jesus is a natural outcome for a life that was anything but natural. Jesus was supernatural and He should leave the earth in a supernatural way. “His birth was natural, but His resurrection was supernatural. His death was natural but His resurrection supernatural.” Does His resurrection prove that He was God? No but the end of Jesus’ life is definitely congruent with the life He lived.
Jesus spoke of His death saying that He would rise from the dead. See Mark 8:31 “And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” See Luke 9: 22 “And He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed on the third day and be raised to life.’” After His death, the Apostle Paul (in his letter to the Romans) writes that Jesus was “designated Son of God in power…by His resurrection from the dead.”
Yes, Josh McDowell attempts to refute the theories of the doubters in his book, but John Stott addresses some of those theories too. He also presents four statements that are clearly evidential.
The body was gone. There is no one who has presented evidence that Jesus’ body was still in the tomb on Easter Morning. Most of the discussion has been centered around who did what to the body?
Number two: Jesus grave clothes were undisturbed. We will look at the details of body preparation for burial and see that undisturbed grave clothes do not make any sense. How could John and Peter arrive that morning and see what they saw? Given the nature of burial, it is impossible.
Thirdly, Stott points to the instances when Jesus appeared to His disciples after resurrection. Were those just visions, hallucinations or inventions?
Lastly, we will spend some time discussing how the resurrection changed the Disciples. When Jesus left them, of course they were despondent. They realized the holy nature of Jesus and they missed their Master. What changed in the days after the resurrection? Just as Jesus predicted, as recorded in John 16: 7, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Holy Spirit will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Something happened to the men who followed Jesus. They began to spread the Gospel; they created The Church.
I remember the days in my earlier life when I carefully considered what I believed, when I began to encounter other faiths, and when I questioned the faith that I had. When I was in college and later, I had serious periods of doubt. I remember thinking that the resurrection is just too good to be true. When Jesus talked to His Disciples in the upper room He gave them hope about the finality of death in these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe in Me as well. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am” [from John 14].
At my age after many experiences with God in my life, I accept the resurrection, and I accept that there is a room that has been prepared for me. There is one prepared for you also.
After considering the claims Jesus made and the character He displayed, maybe the greatest claim that will turn an unbeliever into a believer is the acceptance of the resurrection. Jesus Christ came to this earth to save mankind from sin. He had a supernatural conception and a supernatural resurrection.
Jesus Christ came to this earth to show mankind that there is something beyond life on this earth.
Eternity in His presence is possible…
The most important claim of all…
*for more extensive discussion of the role of the cross in our faith, see posts related to The Cross of Christ which began on October 25, 2020.
**New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1999. [supplemental discussion will come from this book in upcoming posts].