It takes a lot to change a person. Over time, we develop patterns of behavior that are responses to certain situations in life and those patterns become ingrained. We encounter people who impress us and maybe we adopt some of their behaviors and maybe we like them; new behaviors may seem efficient and they eventually become part of “our routine”. Sometimes we may encounter new information that confirms or denies our current thinking and that information may cause us to begin to think about the world in a different way [sometimes we stubbornly run from the new information and cling to our “old” ways of thinking]. Most of us cling to our “patterns.” We take comfort in our habits. We like our routines.
It takes a lot to change a person.
For three chapters in his book Basic Christianity, John Stott argues that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. He tries to get an unbelieving reader to see that God and His Son Jesus Christ are real and the reader needs to believe or he is trying to give the believer some confirmation of basic Christian ideas. To accomplish this, the first chapter explains the claims that Jesus made. The second chapter deals with the life that Jesus led; a life of great moral character [some would say “perfect” character]. The third chapter discusses the resurrection. In the last four posts, I have commented on Stott’s defense for the reality of the resurrection. How did Jesus get out of the tomb? How did He get out of His grave clothes? How do you explain away His post resurrection appearances?
Stott is trying to change us in his little book.
Maybe all the arguments in the world will not “do the trick.” Maybe the thing that really matters is evidence that Jesus came to this earth and had a tremendous impact. Maybe the best evidence is that He changed people. Have you ever been around someone who has experienced radical transformation as a result of coming to believe that Jesus is God who died and rose for their sin?
I have. When you see it happen in others or when it happens to you… it is truly a miracle.
Change happened to Jesus’ disciples. Stott writes “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection, because it is entirely artless. They do not invite us to look at themselves, as they invite us to look at the empty tomb and the collapsed graveclothes and the Lord whom they have seen. We can see the change in them without being asked to look. The men who figure in the pages of the Gospels are new and different men in the Acts….in the Acts they emerge as men who hazard their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and who turn the world upside down” [Stott, Basic, 58].
Let’s examine a couple of the miracles in human behavior that Jesus inspired.
First of all, let’s consider Simon Peter. When Jesus was alive, he certainly was not “the rock” that He was reputed to be. During the telling of the Passion story, Simon Peter denied Christ three times in rapid succession. This crushed him because when Jesus predicted this would happen, he denied it vehemently. When Jesus died, he joined the other disciples in the upper room, barring the door because he and all the disciples were afraid of the Jews. Yet Stott comments that two pages later in the Bible we see Peter preaching boldly to a crowd and his words were so effective that three thousand new believers gave their life to Christ. He was so courageous that the very Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death didn’t shake him. The condemned him and he rejoices to receive their condemnation. “He is counted worthy to suffer shame in the name of Jesus.”
Then we have James who became a leader in the Jerusalem church. Throughout the Gospels he never professed a belief in Jesus as God. He was the half-brother of Jesus but it is not good that “even His brothers did not believe in Him.” When we read of James in Acts something has happened. He was a believer then. Stott writes “perhaps we have the clue we are seeking in 1 Corinthian 15: 7 where Paul, cataloguing those who have seen the risen Christ, adds ‘he appeared to James’” [Stott, 59]
If we can point to anything that changed Simon Peter and James it wss the resurrection. Stott says “the resurrection transformed Peter’s fear into courage and James’ doubt into faith.” All Jesus’ disciples went through a major alteration from timid and fearful into bold witnesses to what they had seen and heard, even to the point of dying in shame and poverty for their convictions.
Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette has said: “It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted his followers out of the despair into which His death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by Him. But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead and that they had seen Him and talked with Him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus Himself would probably have been all but forgotten.”*
From these simple men who witnessed something miraculous we see the beginnings of the Christian faith. Some would point not only to the resurrection but also to the Holy Spirit that descended on the disciples; the Holy Spirit was unleashed and gave the disciples a deep conviction to spread the word and spiritual power to inspire nonbelievers. However the Holy Spirit came after Jesus had risen and ascended. Jesus said He had to leave for them to experience their Helper and true to His word, that very thing happened.
Stott writes “it was the resurrection that changed the Sabbath into Sunday and the Jewish remnant into the Christian church. It was the resurrection which changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle, the fanatical persecutor into a preacher of the very faith he previously tried to destroy.” From the resurrection, Christianity exploded on the earth and a few billion people today claim to be Christians.
Some point to the day it all changed…resurrection day. Pastor Mark Driscoll writes “On the same day, in the same place, and in the same way, two other men died, one on Jesus’ left and one on His right. Despite the similarities, we do not know the names of these men, and billions of people do not worship them as God. Why? Because they remained dead and Jesus alone rose from death and ascended into heaven, leaving the Christian church in His wake.”
Some might scoff at this approach to proving the resurrection. It is all circumstantial. It is all based on observations of human behavior. This method of proving that Christ was resurrected is based on observing changed human behavior. Rather than denigrate such proof, I consider the power of this evidence. It is the same power that you feel when a true believer shares their testimony. I am reminded of that old Christian cliché that sometimes the only Bible a person will ever see is a true believer. We can watch them and learn by seeing how they conduct their life. They can inspire. Good people can cause us to change.
It certainly takes a lot to change a person.
But change can occur.
If only we could ask Simon Peter and James about what changed them. Let’s add doubting Thomas who finally believed but it took Jesus’ scars to convince.
After feeling the nail holes, he confessed his changed belief in the simple powerful words “My Lord and My God.”
*Latourette as quoted in Mark Driscoll’s website “Real Faith,” accessed on August 5, 2021.