On Easter Sunday at Gateway Church in Austin, we started a new series called “Why God: Asking God the Hard Questions.”
Discussion questions for your life group or family dinner are here.
Audio of the Message I Shared at Gateway Church in South Austin:
Here are notes from the message by me and John Burke:
Well, it’s Easter Weekend— some of us come here full of Hope and Celebration—believing that Jesus is alive! You’ve felt Him in your heart and seen Him at work in your life.
Others of you aren’t so sure, and I want you to know that you are welcome here. We realize that some of you were dragged here by family or friends. I saw the heel marks in the parking lot!
For those who do believe, this series will bolster your faith—what we celebrate today is not myth but historical reality demonstrating the Love and Hope God offers all humanity. If you do believe, come these weeks not only to learn, but take notes so you can better explain “Why” to those who have questions.
Having questions is ok here. We encourage you to ask questions. In fact, two of our own here at Gateway shared some questions that may resonate with you.
Skeptics ask “why” a lot.
- “Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard—he didn’t have a razor in the jungle did he?”
- “Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?”
- “Ever seen the cheap cardboard signs on the side of the road that says: “Make $5,000 a week working at home” Don’t you wonder why they couldn’t afford a better sign making $5,000 a week.
Maybe you are a skeptic. We started this church for you. Many of us here didn’t just grow up believing. We’ve had doubts too. We say “Doubters welcome” because questioning can lead to a solid faith—the truth has nothing to fear.
But if you dig beneath the surface, there are lots of good reasons to believe.
Our hope this morning and in this series is to help you grow your faith – to grow your trust in God.
Today, on Easter Sunday, we start with the question: Why Jesus?
Why should I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
You don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many intellectuals far smarter than me discovered the same.
Sir Lionel Luckhoo was the most accomplished trial lawyer on planet earth—an Indian lawyer who won 245 murder acquittals in a row, knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Imagine the razor-sharp ability to see reliable evidence. Luckhoo, as a cynic and skeptic of Christianity, was challenged to apply his legal expertise to the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After thoroughly studying the matter, here is the conclusion he reached:
“I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt!” – Sir Luckhoo, The Question Answered: Did Jesus Rise?
Simon Greenleaf, was an atheist lawyer who wrote the book on the Rules of Legal Evidence, was bashing the Superstitious Myth of Jesus’ Resurrection in class, when his students challenged him to use his own rules of legal evidence applied to the New Testament witnesses of Jesus’ life. He did and it caused a 180 and he wrote a book revealing his newfound faith in Christ, saying
“It was impossible that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead . . ..” –Simon Greenleaf, An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence
Lee Strobel, Yale trained Lawyer, Legal Editor for Chicago Tribune atheist whose wife came to Christ, he set out to disprove it as myth, but wrote The Case for Christ which is now a film.
All this just goes to show that if Lawyers can find faith, anyone can–right!
Many other intellectuals have as well though.
- Mortimer Adler, agnostic philosopher and editor of Encyclopedia Britannica, late in life wrote, Truth in Religion studying the world’s religions, and age 91 gets baptized for faith in Jesus.
- S. Lewis atheist professor at Oxford turned believer wrote Mere Christianity.
- In the sciences: Head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, writes in The Language of God how as an evolutionary biologist he found faith while decoding our DNA.
- Hugh Ross, Astrophysicist became convinced through Science of cosmology and wrote many books like The Fingerprint of God.
There are lots of really smart skeptics who found good reasons to believe. What convinced them?
Are you willing to be open minded and take a journey of discovery with us today and the next 3 weeks?
So, Why should I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
Because God foretold it.
For 1500 years before that first Easter, God foretold why Jesus would come. Over 60 prophecies were staked out along the roadway of History—signs telling us when, where, why God would come in the form of this Messiah. Isaiah, writing 680 B.C. says:
[God] will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” – Isaiah 9:1-7, 680 B.C.
The prophet Isaiah says this Mighty God will be born to us as a child, a son, will establish Justice and Righteousness from then on. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, in Galilee, did most of his teaching by the Sea of Galilee.
Now, when I was a skeptic, I would have said “I bet these so called prophecies were just doctored up after Jesus lived. Some duped Jesus fanatic wrote that into Isaiah to look like it was foretold.” But we have proof that wasn’t the case here. In 1947 2 Bedouin shepherd boys chased a goat into a cave and found the Dead Sea Scrolls containing copies of 38 of the 39 books of the Old Testament prophets, most carbon dating before the time of Jesus—including a complete copy of Isaiah.
Here’s what is remarkable: Carbon dating applied to the Scriptures and the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery means we have more proof now that the Bible is reliable then when my grandparents were children! Or for many of you – your great grandparents…
So we know for a fact, it was written down before Jesus was born that Messiah would come from Galilee be related to David, rule with peace forever—Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the town of David, because he was an ancestor of David, but grew up in Galilee. Why Jesus?
God is the Creator of all people—he loves all people from all nations, all races, all religious backgrounds equally. Do you know the Hebrew/Christian Bible is the only sacred scriptures that addresses all the nations—over 500 times God speaks through the Hebrew prophets to all the nations?
His purpose for creating the Jewish nation in 2000 BC was to bless all the nations—that’s what He told Abraham.
But who is God? What’s God like?
We can’t see God—he created our 4 dimensions of Space-time so God must exist beyond our dimensionality. So unless God chooses to reveal Himself, we’re just guessing at what God is like. And not all gods are equal. I remember talking to an anorexic girl who told me God thought she was fat and taking up too much room—so she was not eating…for God? Is that what God’s like? Or is God the one who tells people to blow themselves up for an instant ticket to heaven? Is that God? How do we know? God told us how we will know:
“Tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods…10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD , “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he…Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. 22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. – Isaiah 41:23, 43:10-11, 45:21-22, 680 B.C.
Remember, this is not Christian, this was written 680 years before Jesus lived. Yet God says again and again, How can you know? Because no one but God knows the future… Then God says, I’m telling the whole earth what I will do in advance…I will send my Servant Messiah, so that everyone on planet earth can know they can turn back to me and be saved—be restored into a right relationship with God.
Who is God? He came to save us, and His name is Jesus.
Because God gives us freedom, but we reject God’s leadership.
Everyone knows something’s wrong—we just don’t know what it is. We don’t understand why we have no peace, why joy won’t last, why we struggle to love the ones we love the most. But God’s been telling us all along—we were created for God. In 680 B.C. God says through Isaiah
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot…He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” – Isaiah 53:1-3, 680 B.C.
Isaiah tells us that the problem of humanity will be revealed when the Arm of God [Messiah] shows up—our natural prideful tendency is to reject God. God made us for love—to experience His love and love him first, and reconnected to the Source of love to sacrificially love one another. But love is a tricky thing, isn’t it. You can’t make someone love you—you can woo them, try to win their love and trust, but you can’t force love.
God is love—but He won’t force us to love Him. We can all turn away and go our own way—and in fact, we have. All of us. Want proof?
Yesterday…what % of the day was spent thinking about how God’s will could be done in your life versus how to get your will done? How about the day before that? According to God, that’s the root human problem. We all play God rather than humbly seek God’s will and ways. But God loves us despite that—so he foretold what He would do to win back our love and trust and restore relationship. Why Jesus?
Because Justice requires payment.
Isaiah tells us in advance why Messiah will suffer and die:
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:5-6, 680 B.C.
Why Jesus? He came to pay for all our wrongs—yours, mine, every human’s—so that God could be just and still forgive us and take us back. Jesus removed every barrier between you and God, except one—your pride. He won’t force you to turn back, ask for his forgiveness, and love Him like He loves you—yet because of His great love, that’s all He requires to be made right. That’s why Christians celebrate Jesus.
You’ve probably heard people say: “All the World’s Religions are saying basically the same thing.”
I’ve studied them. They definitely don’t say the same thing about God—but they do say the same thing about morality. Across cultures and world religions we see evidence of a similar Moral Law that God has written in our hearts. Literary scholar, C.S. Lewis summarized it in his book the “Abolition of Man.”:
- Don’t do harm to another human by what you do or say (the Golden Rule).
- Honor your father and mother.
- Be kind toward brothers and sisters, children, and the elderly.
- Do not have sex with another’s spouse.
- Be honest in all your dealings (don’t steal).
- Do not lie.
- Care for those weaker or less fortunate.
- Dying to self is the path to life.
In just about every culture and Major World Religion since antiquity, we agree on what’s basic right and wrong—it’s within us, God’s written it in our hearts.
And yet, how do we do? Have we perfectly kept the 10 commandments, 8 fold path, 5 pillars, only good Karma—or is the history of humanity that we all screw up—Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists—we all need help?
The question is—will God condemn us if we’re not good enough, or will He have mercy and forgive?
Jesus answered that question.
For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. – John 12:47
We all hope God will be merciful and forgive our wrongs—Jesus proved WHY God forgives. God foretold it, then confirmed it in history. [In an amazing statement Zechariah in 520 B.C. said “the Word of the Lord came to me saying”
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son.” – Zechariah 12:10, 520 B.C.
David in 1000 B.C., as if looking through the eyes of Messiah hanging on the cross watching the Roman Soldiers rolling dice for his robe (like the eyewitnesses record) cried out:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?… all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” – Psalm 22:16-18, 1000 B.C.
When Jesus cried out “Why have you forsaken me” He experienced the weight of our sin that separates us from God the Father—He experienced all our murderous, lustful, jealous, hate-filled, hurtful thoughts and deeds big and small and it killed him. He didn’t die of crucifixion but heart failure—it’s why David said “My heart has turned to wax.” It’s why they didn’t break Jesus’ legs to speed up death—he was dead. Yet 3 different prophets in 3 different centuries, all foretold that Messiah would be pierced through his hands and feet, taking the punishment we deserve.[For more on fulfilled prophecies see Is Jesus God? by John Burke.]
Non-Biblical History confirms it. The Roman/Jewish Historian Josephus says:
“Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ [Messiah]. When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief [Jewish] rulers among us, condemned him to the cross….” Josephus, Antiquities A.D. 93
Justin Martyr writing to the Emperor of Rome trying to convince him that Jesus deserves His faith, says,
“That [Jesus] performed miracles you may easily satisfy yourself from the “Acts” of Pontius Pilate…but the words, ‘They pierced my hands and feet,’ refer to the nails which were fixed in Jesus’ hands and feet on the cross; and after he was crucified, his executioners cast lots for his garments, and divided them among themselves. That these things happened you may learn from the “Acts” which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.” Justin Martyr, A.D. 150
Listen to this remarkable prophecy almost 800 years before the crucifixion of Jesus….
“The earth will tremble for your deeds…at that time,” says the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth while it is still day…you will wear funeral clothes and shave your heads as signs of sorrow, as if your only son had died.” – Amos 8:8-10, 760 B.C.
This really happened friends, something only God could foretell and pull off in real history—to darken the sun at noon as his son dies? Yet biblical and secular history confirms that’s exactly what happened. Look
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me….” – Matthew 27:45-51
Thallus, a contemporary of Jesus wrote a Roman history in A.D. 52. His works have not survived except as quoted in later works. Julius Africanus quotes Thallus as he is talking about the crucifixion of Jesus and the darkness explaining it away as an eclipse:
“Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably…it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died.” – Thallus (A.D. 52 quoted in Africanus, A.D. 221)
A solar eclipse cannot take place during the cycle of a full moon—Passover is always during full moon. Phlegon, another Roman historian writing around A.D. 140 mentions this unaccounted for darkness:
“[Phlegon] records that in the time of Tiberius Caesar at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth.” – Phlegon A.D. 140 (in Africanus, Origen, Philopon).
All this really happened friends—in verifiable history—it’s not Myth. God gave clear signs—Why?
Because God pursues us and wants to give us New Life.
He wants to reconnect us to the Source of love and life, so we can live a New Life and carry his love and life to others. Jesus really was the 3D representation of the infinite God, who loves you more than any other, who died to forgive all our wrongs.
When he was on the cross, Jesus said 7 things. The first 3 things He said all showed concern for other people.
- In a prayer for the angry crowd and for the Roman soldiers who were torturing Him, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
- To the thief who expressed faith, Jesus said: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
- To one of his disciples, he wanted to make sure his mother was cared for so he said: “Behold your son: behold your mother.”
Then the weight of the sin of humanity and the pain being inflicted upon Him led Him to shout out
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me….” We will talk more about this in a moment, but after experiencing the weight of the sin of humanity He expressed one thing He needed.
He said: “I thirst.”
The one who brought living water so we would never thirst again, gave everything up for us to the point where He was parched. He was thirsty.
The final two sayings included:
- “It is finished.”
- “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus completed His mission for you and for me.
We don’t have time to get into all 7 sayings, but I want to focus in on one thing he said.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me….” – Matthew 27:45-51
The Jewish crowd around Jesus knew that when he said these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me that He was quoting Psalm 22. Often in their culture, they memorized the Scriptures. The Psalm is like a song in their culture, so their minds would have taken them through the rest of the Psalm.
Jesus has endured so much. He is barely able to speak the first line of Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
You may be thinking: How could God the Father turn His back on His Son? Isn’t that cruel – some sort of child abuse?
You see, you have to know the rest of Psalm 22. The people in the crowd know the answer to Jesus question because they remember the rest of the Psalm because Jesus started quoting it. They realize that Jesus has lived out and suffered in the exact way that King David foretold the Messiah would suffer.
They also know that Jesus was not abandoned by God the Father.
Near the end of the passage though is the answer to Jesus’ question to the Father.
Why have you forsaken me?
The answer is God the Father did not abandon Jesus. He did not hide from Him.
For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help…. those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations…. future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! – Psalm 22:24-31
Jesus has done it!
By quoting Psalm 22 Jesus on the cross was reminding everyone who seeks to know if He is God and if He is the way, the truth, and the life that His message is for the ends of the earth, all families, all nations. His message of love will be told to future generations (that’s us) and to a people yet unborn (that’s those coming after us).
Have you ever thought or felt that the evil thoughts you’ve had or the mean things you’ve done have kept you away from God? Have you ever felt forsaken by God?
God does not forsake us in the midst of our shame and guilt and sin. He pursues us. Just as He pursued Adam and Eve. Just as He pursued the people of Israel time and time again. He pursues you and me.
He came into the midst of our brokenness to save us.
He died on the cross for you and for me.
He rose from the dead to give you Hope—Hope that we too can live empowered by the love of God, now and forever. Death can’t keep us down—and if Death can’t, nothing can.
He came to give you Life—a New Quality of Life—an eternal quality that can grow in you and never end.
Have you considered the payoff of seeking God wholeheartedly compared to the risk of blowing it off? Isn’t it a huge gamble to blow it off? On the other hand, what do you have to lose if Jesus is telling the truth and Easter was real and you start to trust?
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.
The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
– C.S. Lewis
Look at what Jesus promised those who trust him:
Forgiveness—some of us fear, “If I decide to open up my life to God and seek to really follow Christ and his ways, I might fail. But the message of Easter is that you Can’t Fail! You see, God is not holding out an invitation for you to try to prove your good enough. Jesus paid all our debts and the cost of Adoption so we can walk with God. That’s the whole point—you can never become who God intended you to be apart from God—you need him, and he wants you.
The upside is huge:
Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all it’s fullness.” – John 10:10
We’re afraid that God wants to rob us of life, yet Jesus says he came to do just the opposite – to lead us into the fullness of life we’re searching for.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. – Matthew 11:28-29
We fear God wants to burden us, make us feel guilty, make us do things we don’t want—yet Jesus said he wants to set us free, take away our heavy burdens, teach you to live with peace in your soul.
When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. – John 15:10-12
Jesus demonstrated God’s unconditional, sacrificial Love that first Easter, so we would trust Him and follow God’s will—and his promise is a kind of love and joy that so fills our lives, it will overflow into our closest relationships. That’s Why Jesus.
When we say “yes” to Jesus He saves us and His Spirit then begins to guide us. We are children of a perfect and loving Heavenly Father, and out of gratitude we surrender all of our lives allowing Him to change us.