By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina • firstname.lastname@example.orgNOTE: This is an excerpt from interlinc’s resources built around the RISEN film. The excerpt does not include the Set Up ideas, the Warm Up activity, or some Transition discussion questions.
I’ve been researching and thinking about this subject in preparation for writing this all-important Easter session, and an old Gospel song popped into my mind while I was taking my shower this morning. We used to sing it in church when I was a kid. The chorus ends with, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!” On Sunday nights, at the end of the chorus of the last verse, the song leader would get a twinkle in his eye and have us hold out the word “LIVES” for a long time. I guess everyone thought it was great fun. (And now, a couple of hours after taking my shower, that song is still stuck in my head!)
I always felt awkward about the apologetic of that song. Although it probably makes perfect sense to many people now that we’re in a postmodern world, it is still one of the worst arguments for the resurrection of Christ that you can make. In fact, it is probably the most-used argument leveled by skeptics against the resurrection.
We must give teenagers better answers to the “How do we know that He’s alive?” question than “He lives within my heart.” Answering this one question well will help them weather the storms of doubt that will come – especially as they move into institutions of higher learning. This session should load you up with what you need to make your Easter meeting the best one you’ve ever had!
Here are the Scripture passages that describe the resurrection. You can use them all, or choose the one that best fits your situation.
- Matthew 27:62-28:15
- Mark 16:1-8
- Luke 24:1-12
- John 20:1-29
Explain that the resurrection of Jesus is an event that is reported to have happened in history. It can’t really be studied by science, since it’s not something that can be replicated in a controlled environment. That’s true of any event in the past. Science can’t prove that you had eggs for breakfast last Tuesday, or that you watched cartoons on Saturday mornings as a kid. But, events like the resurrection certainly can be subjected to historical inquiry.
Jesus’ resurrection is the central tenet of all Christianity. If it didn’t happen, then Christianity is merely another religion founded by a talented and charismatic person; a faith that helps people love and serve others. But, if it DID occur, then Jesus is way more than the founder of a religion. If He actually did rise from the dead, then what He claimed about Himself was true. If His claims of being God in human form are true, then all of life takes on a new meaning!
Since the resurrection is so vital and important, historical inquiries have been made about it ever since that fateful first Easter. Many people who do not wish Jesus’ claims to be true have developed other explanations for the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. We need to have answers for those alternate interpretations if we are to be able to have an adequate answer to the question, “How do we know He is alive?”
Here are seven alternate explanations of the resurrection, and the answer for each. These are based on the excellent work of N. T. Wright in his book, Surprised By Hope.
- Resuscitation, Not Resurrection – The key argument is that someone gave Jesus a drug (maybe in the sponge of fluid given to Him on the cross) that made Him look dead, and then He revived in the tomb.Answer:Roman soldiers were very skilled at killing people, and no disciple would have mistaken a beat-up, dazed, and barely alive person to have defeated death and inaugurated the Kingdom.
- Cognitive Dissonance – Sometimes, when people want so badly for something to be true but are faced with strong evidence against their hope, they ignore the facts and become even more convinced of what they “know” to be true. (“You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart!”)Answer: The disciples were not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead. With their understanding of “resurrection” at that time, they would never have imagined what really happened. Also, simply showing them the dead body would have dashed their hope. But, the tomb was empty, and the body was seen completely alive–transformed in ways we don’t really understand yet, but recognizable and alive.
- Mistaken Identity – When the women went to the tomb they met someone else—maybe Jesus’ brother James, who probably looked like Him—and in the dim predawn light they mistook him for Jesus. A related “mistake” explanation is that the women went to the wrong tomb, and when they wondered where the body was taken, the gardener pointed to the correct tomb and said, “He is not here. See the place where he was lain.” But, the women misunderstood the gardener.Answer: They would have noticed soon enough that the guy they encountered wasn’t really Jesus. Then, when the mistake of tomb location was discovered, the authorities would have simply pointed out that the body was still in the cave.
- Biased Reporting – Jesus only appeared to people who believed in Him, so we can’t trust what they reported.Answer: The accounts in the Bible make it clear that neither Thomas nor Paul would fall into this category. Plus, after His death all of Jesus’ followers actually believed that the party was over. Something happened that radically altered their thinking – an event that transformed them and their message. Only encountering the risen Christ can explain their sudden and unexpected change.
- Message Shift – The disciples began by saying, “He will be raised,” as people had done of the martyrs, but shifted to saying, “He has been raised,” which was functionally saying the same thing.Answer: No, it is not saying the same thing.
- Grief Hallucinations – Lots of people have visions of recently deceased loved ones, and this is what happened to the disciples.Answer: People back then knew all about these kinds of situations, and would described them by using phrases such as, “It’s his angel” or “It’s his spirit” or “It’s a ghost!” They would not say of these kinds of occasions, “He has been raised from the dead!” That kind of language was unknown to them until that Easter morning.
- Thieves In The Night – The disciples snuck into the cemetery, silently cut the ropes and broke the Roman seals, moved the stone away from the door without making a sound, and ran off with the body—all without waking the guards.Answer: First, whether the soldiers at the tomb were Roman soldiers or Israeli Temple Guards, they would not fall asleep while on duty—doing so meant instant capital punishment. Second, the disciples, to a man, endured execution and banishment for refusing to admit their skullduggery. Third, someone—who must have been “in the know”—revealed information about the secret payment made to the guards so that they would lie about what really happened.
Introduce this movie clip by saying something like, “Now you have solid answers to alternative explanations of the resurrection. Let’s watch how the RISEN film portrays when Pilate discovers that Jesus’ body is gone from the tomb.” Show the “We Must Find The Body” movie clip.
You will want to carefully plan how you wrap up this Easter session. You’ll know best what kind of response you want to ask for from the group, and how best to ask for it. Clearly presenting the “good news” of the Gospel – Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – should open some significant doors for conversations about salvation, confirmation of faith, rededication to living as a witness, and more! Our prayers will be with you on Easter morning, you can count on that!