Resurrection Changes Everything: Dr. Jeremiah Johnston
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Jeremiah JohnstonJeremiah J. Johnston, PhD, MA, MDiv, BA, is a New Testament scholar, pastor, author, nationally syndicated radio host, Bible teacher, and apologist, and he ministers internationally as president of Christian Thinkers Society. Jeremiah loves the local church and also serves as pastor of apologetics and cultural engagement at Prestonwood Baptist Church and Dean of Spiritual Development at Prestonwood Christian Academy. Jeremiah’s passion is working with churches and pastors in equipping Christia...more
What’s Jesus’ resurrection have to do with life right here, right now? Apologist Dr. Jeremiah Johnston makes his case: Resurrection changes everything.
Resurrection Changes Everything: Dr. Jeremiah Johnston
Jeremiah: Peter makes this beautiful point that because of the resurrection of Jesus, because of that fact, our salvation is protected and kept by God. It is such a powerful promise that no matter what happens to us in this life, our salvation is guarded by God Himself. We are kept forgiven, kept saved, kept safe in the ark of safety in our salvation in Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus.
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
So today is a Good Friday.
Ann: I know it's pretty cool.
Dave: Which is interesting we call it good. It's good because of what happened, but the events of the day were pretty tragic. But what's really interesting is you think about this weekend—you know there's a verse in the Bible that if you change just one word or two, it would change the entire rest of the Bible.
Ann: What are those?
Dave: Do you know what verse?
Dave: Well, you know this passage in Matthew 28, the Easter story. Verse five, it says, “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is here. He has not risen as he said. Come, see where his body lays.’”
Ann: [Laughter] I caught that. That would change everything.
Dave: Yes. Obviously, they didn't say “He's here.” He's risen but what if they had said, “Yes, he's right here.”
Ann: We wouldn't be here today.
Dave: No, there would be no—there'd be no Christianity. It is that crucial.
And we've got a guy over here agreeing. [Laughter] Jeremiah Johnston is back in the studio. Welcome back Jeremiah.
Jeremiah: Thank you. Happy Good Friday to one and all; what a great day this is.
Ann: It is a great day.
Dave: Yes, and obviously, you're known as an apologist, as someone who studied the fact. I didn't realize, you wanted to get the answer, so, you know, “Honey, let's go to Oxford.”
Dave: “Let’s study at Oxford; get our PhD.”
Ann: Share a little bit about what you do.
Jeremiah: My passion is replicating Christian thinking, so there was a time in my life I was a Christian but not a Christian thinker. I love producing content that helps people own their own faith. I love guiding people by the hand and saying, “Hey, what's your difficult question? God's a big boy; He can take your tough question.” And for me it was this whole notion of the resurrection of Jesus. I knew enough to be dangerous in my Christian faith. I didn't have confidence. And you know, what's so great is the more we know about our faith when it comes to engaging with people, the more calm I am now in a faith dialogue. I can really listen. I'm so at home in my heart with the truth.
Ann: You don’t have to argue, prove your point.
Jeremiah: I don't need to argue. I don't need to get offended even when people knock on me like they do you guys as well, when we're criticized by skeptics or those that are deconstructing. I just listen with a heart of compassion because I know the truth. I've been set free in the truth of the resurrection.
I was contacted by a New York Times obituary writer, Sam Roberts, and this is in my brand-new book, Body of Proof: The 7 Best Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.
Ann: See we didn’t say it, but he did. Thanks Jeremiah.
Jeremiah: Yes. I'm excited because he said “Jeremiah, I want to write an obituary about Jesus.” Now think about that. He writes obituaries for notable people for the New York Times. He said—and I loved it. I got his permission, and I got permission from. Vanity Fair to publish the obituary he wrote about Jesus, and that's how my book kicks off. And the obituary, he did a fine job. He interviewed me, and then he interviewed skeptical scholars as well, so I wasn't the only one.
I didn't know—how is this going to turn out? Is he going to—you know? But it reads beautifully, and it ends on a cliffhanger with the empty tomb. But he interviewed me, and his emails were honestly wonderful. “Do we know enough for me to write an obituary? Is there enough evidence? I mean, what's different about writing an obituary for Jesus than Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy? Can we know enough? Is there enough information?”
And that—again, I wrote back, “Oh yes, there's lots of information.” [Laughter] It comes out and you can even Google it today: the obituary of Jesus or you can read it in my new book—that he wrote based on the evidence that we presented to him.
Ann: Let me ask you—you probably got to know him a little bit in that process—what was his thinking after this was published?
Jeremiah: So positive he let me put it in my book. I think that that's just a remarkable claim that here you have—so for anyone who's listening to us, we have a guy who's at the New York Times who writes obituaries about real people, real places, real events, and he wrote one about Jesus of Nazareth.
Here's what I want to encourage people when you're having these conversations. You're free to disagree with the interpretation of the data, but you can't make up alternative facts. You can't make up your own truth when it comes to Jesus's resurrection. There are scholars and skeptics who say that Jesus wasn't buried. There are skeptics that say his body was thrown in a mass burial pit. There are scholars and skeptics who say his body was even eaten by dogs. John Dominic Crossan said that. They are simply making up other claims not based on the evidence, but based on their worldview which is not based in evidence.
There’re seven reasons that I give in the book Body of Proof. It's a book you can read in about three and a half hours, and you are going to be up to date on all the great discoveries, all of the latest fresh arguments for the Christian faith, specifically the resurrection of Jesus. Which of course, as we said in a previous dialogue, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the center point of a Christian worldview. Our whole worldview, it goes before Imago Dei, but Imago Dei comes from that. We can say that you're made in the image of God because Jesus rose from the dead. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we reinterpret everything through that lens.
I threw out seven reasons because seven was all I could get done. I started lecturing on these seven and it just it caught fire. I'm excited about that, but this book actually, and to God be the glory, has an original contribution to knowledge. I actually have published this in a textbook that is used in state colleges, I'm very happy to say with my colleague Craig Evans. Here's the original contribution. There was no psychological reason for the disciples to invent a resurrection story if it didn't happen. They didn't need it. What do I mean by that? I don't want to lose our listeners. [Laughter] You can read all the details in the book.
Judaism is a coherent religion. They already believed in a coming general resurrection. They had other prophets, priests and rabbis who they loved, who they could have easily said, “Oh, we will remember Jesus. He's so great. He will be resurrected with us someday in the general resurrection.” They didn't need a resurrection narrative because Judaism was already a complete coherent belief system. Why would you invent a res—because the first Christians were Jews, right, so there's no psychological motivation to come up with this story of a dead man coming back to life because you have to remember we have to read the Bible with first century eyes.
In the first century world of Jesus, resurrection was grotesque, and so I get into that. That's reason number four: there's no psychological motivation to invent a resurrection narrative. Which then leads into number five, the written and archaeological sources overwhelmingly support the resurrection narrative in the Gospels. “You mean I can go to the land of Israel today and I can go to burial sites, and I can learn a little bit about Jewish burial traditions and that will help me understand Jesus’ burial better?” Absolutely.
In fact, if I go to the land of Israel and I meet a friend of mine who's an archaeologist and there's about—you know most of these are minimalists or they're archaeologists who are atheist or agnostic. Do you know what six books that they use to do their archaeological digs? They use Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the book of Acts, and Josephus.
Jeremiah: Yes. So here I am at a site and the atheist archaeologist is using Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the book of Acts because it's so well evidenced.
Ann: It doesn't even make sense though—why they're using that if they don't have the belief.
Ann: They do believe that historically they're correct.
Jeremiah: And yet it stops at the neckline, and so it's so important. So yes, the archaeology is a huge, huge friend. I call archaeology Christianity's closest cousin. You have to understand, unlike any other religion in the world, Christianity puts itself to the historical test and says, “Hey, test me in this.” You can test our faith against the material culture, and our faith wins. It's so well evidenced.
Dave: When you look at even His life, one of your pieces of evidence is His power, resurrection power. What's that mean?
Jeremiah: It means that Jesus had power over death. I go immediately to John, chapter 11. Mary and Martha both have this thought that I'm sure I've had on many occasions: “Jesus, if you'd only been here, this wouldn't have happened.” They both, if you read John 11, they both have the same question for Jesus: “If you had only been here.”
Jesus, of course, has power over death. It's the only time that I read outside of his cry of dereliction that Jesus screams or yells in the New Testament. He yells nekros egeiro, raised from the dead, “Come out, Lazarus.” You know of course Bible scholars cutely say if he didn't say Lazarus, everyone who was dead would have been risen from the dead. [Laughter] But Lazarus, Doro exo, “Come out,” and he comes out alive.
Again, this is where in the book, I point out—and in the Jewish mind, Lazarus being dead four days; he's as dead as you get. Jesus shows up—they're even concerned about the odor—and says, “Come forth.” Jesus again answers that evidence with His power—those questions with power back to your question. That question of “If you had only been here,” Jesus said “I am here and guess what? I have power over death, watch.”
Dave: I'd love to hear you talk about this. Jesus’ resurrection is the only basis for making sense of suffering.
Jeremiah: Oh, suffering is something that is not unique. It's something we all share—
Ann: It’s universal.
Jeremiah: —and grief and the hard work of grief. I end the book with this clarion call that Jesus’ resurrection is the only way we can ultimately make sense of the suffering in our world. What's beautiful? I've been studying 1 Peter, chapter one, and Peter makes this beautiful point that because of the resurrection of Jesus, because of that fact, our salvation is protected and kept by God, verse three. It is such a powerful promise that no matter what happens to us in this life, our salvation is guarded by God himself. We are kept forgiven, kept saved, kept safe in the ark of safety in our salvation in Christ because of the resurrection of Jesus.
No matter what happens to us or our loved ones, God protects us according to his power through the resurrection of Jesus. Paul says this in Romans Chapter 8, that the sufferings of this world can't compare with the glory that we're going to have someday in heaven with Christ. And if I may, I interviewed a couple for my one of my books who lost both of their daughters after they were serving in a Luis Palau evangelistic rally. Dan and Lynn Wagner, normal Christian, wonderful people, and she said “Jeremiah, we blew up Christmas that year and it took a lot of time.”
But I said, “Dan, how do you keep going?” He had amnesia from—he was concussed. People had to keep reminding him both of his daughters had been killed in the accident. Their seats were buckled. They were killed instantly. And he said, “Jeremiah, I'm not living for the 80 or so years on this earth. I'm living for the resurrection. I know I will see my daughters again because Jesus rose from the grave.” I just sat back, and I thought, “Okay, it's the key; that it's the only way it's going to make sense someday. Jesus is going to make it right in the resurrection.”
Ann: It’s our hope.
Jeremiah: Period. And that's why I want to remind our audience, no matter what you're facing, John 14:19, Jesus promises that our eventual bodily resurrection is linked with His. “Because I live, you will live also.” This is the key to our hope. Therefore, be strong, be immovable. This is what Paul said after 57 triumphant verses explaining the resurrection, which is so powerful. He said be strong, be immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.
“You mean that studying the resurrection can make me strong?” Yes. “Do you mean studying the resurrection could make me immovable?” Yes, that's what the Scriptures say. It can make everything worth it. We can abound in good works because of the resurrection, knowing that God sees it all; our labor is not in vain.
Dave: It makes me think the couples that could be listening right now that have given up hope on their marriage; or maybe on a prodigal, you know a son or daughter, how does the resurrection speak to those situations?
Jeremiah: The resurrection shows us that God never gives up on anyone, Dave. God is the God of the second, third, fourth, and fifth chance. Jesus is the resurrected Messiah who went walking seven miles on Emmaus to go after Cleopas. We don't know the name of the other who was on the road to Emmaus. He loved him enough to walk with him. They had hope. They deconstructed in front of Jesus. Luke 24:21. “We had hoped he was the resurrection.” And Jesus gives them hope. Jesus will meet us at our greatest point of need.
So, the resurrection reminds me he's the God of the second, third, fourth, and fifth chance. No one is beyond his reach. Jesus died for all. And we need to just pray that God will give us the words to say in the moments that we need to speak words; He'll give us the wisdom to listen in the moments we need to be quiet and listen and lend a listening ear. But knowing, though, that the facts of the resurrection motivate me to never give up on a son or daughter; never give up on a loved one, a neighbor, a spouse, a marriage.
The resurrection empowers every aspect of my life and so today I can pray even on Good Friday, “Lord, let me live a resurrection centric life because I know that is the key. That's the key. That is the foundation for honoring You in all that I do.”
Ann: So good.
Dave: What do you say to a parent, a mom or dad or both, blended family, whatever situation—it's Good Friday. They've got a teenager, a college-age son or daughter and they're like, “Hey, we're going to church. We're going to remember Good Friday.” And they're like, “Come on, Mom, Dad, I don't believe this stuff. You guys have believed it your whole life, and you tried to make me believe it. I just don't/I don't buy it.” I know a lot of our listeners have—you know kids that—
Dave: —our dream as parents, we pray every day that they would walk with God as adult men or women. If they don't believe at this point, coach up the parents.
Jeremiah: Absolutely. This is where I do agree with skeptics. Even skeptics will tell you the greatest fact of history is the death of Jesus on a Roman cross. If we can't believe in Jesus’ death by Roman crucifixion, we shouldn't believe in Alexander the Great. We shouldn't believe in even the civil war in the United States—
Ann: Because there’s so much evidence.
Jeremiah: —because the data is so good. And I don't just mean the Bible. I mean writers and thinkers within 100 years of the resurrection event itself. And so, I would just encourage you it doesn't really matter what they say. If they're in your home, get them to church with you today for Good Friday. Remember this contemplatively, that it did take a body that was broken for us—a real body, a real person, Jesus; He took on flesh. And what that means transformed the world. It's why it transformed our dating system. It transformed everything we know about antiquity.
And there is a reason, number one, we didn't—maybe in another conversation we can get to—this message of the resurrection changed the world. It brought equality. It brought strength that humanized people who had been dehumanized for generations. And everywhere the gospel goes, people are freed, communities find rest and shalom in Jesus, and that is a fact that is worth going to church for tonight.
Ann: That's good because I was thinking the same thing, Dave. You know at FamilyLife we sell the Resurrection Eggs®. I've watched even one of our sons go through the eggs with his eight- to two-year-olds—there’s four kids. But now your kids are getting older. As a father and a mom at this time of year, what are the things that we want to talk about? We're not going to pull out necessarily, the Resurrection Eggs but what could the conversation look like, practically speaking? Because I feel like this is a great book to read as a parent, to even discuss with your kids. But let's just say we have that window of time, “Hey, this is the weekend of the resurrection.”
Jeremiah: People are more open.
Ann: Yes. So how would you begin that conversation?
Jeremiah: Well, I would begin the conversation this way with my - I’m sitting with my kids. First, I'd say, “Guys, we don't get in some kind of weird religious trance because we're going to talk about Jesus. [Laughter] That's how I would begin. We don't need any kind of like Gregorian chanting; like we don't need any of those mantras. The way I look at Jesus is the way I study anything else in history. If what we say is true, God's a big boy, He can take our skepticism.
And then I'm going to do something that I want to make sure our listeners listen to the whole broadcast and don’t clip this one quote out. I don't privilege the Bible. I don't privilege the text. I look at it dispassionately. Now, do I believe the Bible is the word of God infallibly? Yes, for those that are listening. But I'm just saying for my kids—this is what they told me in Oxford—don't privilege the Bible. Treat it like any other text. Hold it under the critical eye that you would any other document and then let's find out if it's really true.
And then I would just walk them through the Body of Proof. And I would say, “Well, you know, Jesus called it. Jesus Adam braided it. He foreshadowed it. He raised people from the dead showing He had power over death. And we look at archaeology and I would take them to these facts, not feelings. These facts changed the world.
Nobody felt like believing in Jesus on resurrection morning by the way, and the very fact two—and I just want to say this to people—the very fact that we have women eyewitnesses—Jesus and his movement in early Christianity are attacked viciously—and I get into this in Body of Proof—by thinkers like Porphyry and Celsus, “What? Your Savior was found by women?”—dumb women is basically what they say. Even Judaism was very chauvinistic. Better to burn the Torah than teach it to a woman. Jesus comes along, he's resurrected. The first witnesses are females, and so wow, the church brings equality to the sexes, to women.
Dave: And who would make up that story?
Jeremiah: Nobody. That's my point. If you were making up a religious story, you're doing it all wrong. [Laughter] You've got bodies coming back from the dead. You've got women who are uneducated as the key witnesses.
By the way, the Gospels are doing something cool. Luke, chapter 8. It was women who took care of the financial needs of Jesus's ministry. Verses one through three, we get their names. Those are the same names of the women who are the resurrection witnesses in Luke 24. This is why Saint Luke opens his gospel. He uses his powerful word. We can have a certainty about our faith. We were autopsia. He literally was like an autopsy. We had—that's the same word. We saw it; we felt it. We can believe in this. So therefore, we can have a certainty in our faith.
Dave: You know it's interesting to think—I was going to say, “Hey parents, here's what you do; get Jeremiah's book, the Body of Proof and give it to them.” But here's what I would say, “Don't give it to your son or daughter; you read it.”
Jeremiah: That's right
Dave: Because I think a lot of our kids look at us as parents and say, “I'm not sure you even know what you believe.”
Jeremiah: Such a good point.
Dave: Because we don't. As a mom or dad's listening to you today and yesterday, they're probably going, “I don't know any of this and I should. This is on me to be a workman of the Word of God, but also on the history of the truth of the resurrection. This is big time.”
Jeremiah: It is.
Dave: “And how can I convince a son or daughter if I don't even know why or what I believe?”
Dave: Start there.
Ann: Well, I think too—I remember doing a chapel for a women's basketball team, and some of the women on the team were Christians. After chapel they started talking. I was there and the unbelievers were like “This is garbage. This is the dumbest thing. Who could ever believe this, if you have a brain.” Then the Christians got all riled up and they're like, ”No, because it's true.”
I was watching to see if they could defend their faith. They said, “How do you know?” It was great. I mean, they were incredibly passionate and love Jesus, but they said, “Because I just feel like it's true and I've seen God change my life.” But they kept going like, “But how do you know He rose from the dead?”
And so maybe it's not hard for us to believe. For me, I've just—it's been easy as I read this, like, “Yes, yes, I believe this.” Dave has been more skeptical, but it's been good for me to learn how to defend my faith to the people that think This is garbage. This is dumb. Who in their right mind could believe this?” And this is an amazing weekend that we get to not only believe it but to experience His grace and His power.
Jeremiah: I would just encourage people. I—you know I'm with Dave because in Matthew 28 Jesus is ascending. He's resurrected. He's ascending. Some are worshipping and Matthew adds, “and some are still doubting” and Jesus loved them all. I don't know where you are on the mount of ascension this weekend. You might be doubting. You might be all in. Guess what? He's right in front of you.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jeremiah Johnston on FamilyLife Today. It's Good Friday, and we're about to celebrate the greatest event that happened in human history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, coming up in just a couple of days. The tomb is empty. What great news: Jesus is alive! His bones are not buried someplace in the Middle East. He is alive right now, and that's so exciting that we get to celebrate that as believers.
Well, Jeremiah's book is called Body of Proof: The 7 Best Reasons to Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus--and Why it Matters Today. Such an important book. And you can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We want you to enjoy the rest of this weekend as we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior, and we believe the path of following Jesus begins with thinking outside of ourselves. As we celebrate this weekend, let's also look forward to next week where we can join Dave and Ann, as they talk with radio host Brant Hansen, about the flaws we all have, and how to get outside of ourselves to live a more fruitful life. That's coming up next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, Happy Easter. I'm Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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