Eight days had passed. It had been the longest week of Tom's life.
Everything he thought he was sure of had fallen apart right before his
eyes. Every day of his life for the last two years had been spent with
someone who was dead. And now suddenly, astonishingly, everything had
changed in a moment. Tom was standing face to face with Jesus. How could
this be? His friends had tried to convince him, but Tom didn’t believe
them. Now he was looking at the proof. And then it happened. Jesus put his
hand forward and opened his mouth. “Reach your finger in”, He said.
Trembling, Tom stretched out his arm and ran hi skin ran along the contours
of where the massive nails had plunged through the tissue of Jesus’ palm. Tom was actually touching Him. Falling to knees, he cried out “My
Lord and my God!”
This is the biblical story of Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus. Sometimes he is referred to as “Doubting Thomas” because he wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared and he wouldn’t take their word that Jesus was alive. He had to see for himself. Does that sound familiar? Are you reading this because there is something inside you that wants to see for yourself what Jesus is all about? What will be the tipping point for you where you become convinced - when you believe? That’s the question we must all face in our spiritual journey, but it can an elusive one.
Take a moment and read this brief story of Thomas’ decisive moment with Jesus for yourself and imagine you were in the room while it was happening:
“ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:24–28
If you had been there, would you have said that the change wrought in Thomas was based on faith or fact? One of the fatal lies of the modern world is that there is a difference between those two things. We have been convinced that facts are agreed upon things we learn in school and base our work upon, and faith is something we privately hold and blindly believe as personal preference. Just one quick look at one biblical story destroys this dichotomy. Thomas was grabbing his belief in his hand. His faith was in the fact of the resurrected Person standing a few feet away from him.
We were born thousands of years after Jesus walked the earth. We didn’t have the chance to be one of Jesus’ disciples and Jesus probably isn’t going to appear in our dining room. Yet The Case for Christ is a story not so different from Thomas. It is about someone even further away from the truth who wanted evidence. Jesus is not a science experiment that we can control or a formula to figure out, but His story happened at a real time in a real place. These things either happened or they didn’t. They are either fact or fiction, and The Case for Christ details the scores of compelling, concrete reasons to believe that story is true. The Bible and its claims about Jesus can stand up to your scrutiny. Just as He demonstrated in the story with Thomas, Jesus isn’t afraid of doubts or hard questions. He just asks us to give Him a chance and not be afraid to go on a journey of finding out the truth.
It was just acknowledged that we don’t have the same access to Jesus as those alive two-thousand years ago. We can’t get up and walk to the next town to check Him out for ourselves and decide what we think. So where does the evidence come from for us to consider? Today it is in the form of the Bible – the book that you might have sitting on a shelf somewhere or that you can read from an app on your smartphone. An essential question to ask at the start of considering the case for Christ is why we can trust that the description of Jesus found in the Bible is true.
The books of the Bible that contain the most direct information about Jesus are called the gospels, and it is very important to think of them as eyewitness testimony of what Jesus said and did. The authors are providing their own personal accounts of what they saw or heard, or the carefully acquired testimony of others. In other words, the gospels are not randomly collected stories that people had heard about Jesus generations after He walked the earth. They are scenes penned from the descriptions of people who were there and written down within the lifetime of those who walked the streets with Jesus!
These descriptions were meticulously copied to preserve accuracy and today we know of more than five-thousand Greek manuscripts of the New Testament –far surpassing any other ancient writings that scholars would universally acknowledge as historically accurate. This means you can trust that was is found in the Bible today is an authentic account of Jesus when He was on the earth two-thousand years ago.
The accounts of Jesus found in the gospels are not set in a vacuum. From the capital city of Jerusalem that is still in the news headlines today, to nondescript rural villages in ancient Israel, the New Testament is filled with geographic and historical details. How do these stand up against information we know from sources outside the Bible and archaeological findings of modern science?
When digging for evidence related to people or events that happened so long ago, sources are scarce to say the least. It is quite remarkable, therefore, that two Roman historians and one Jewish historian with no connections to Christianity whatsoever corroborate the fact that Jesus was alive in the period the gospels describe and was a figure held in great reverence by many people. There are also external historical affirmations of important characters and events in the gospel stories, such as Pilate who sentenced Jesus to death and the miraculous period of darkness which followed the His crucifixion.
Turning to the field of archaeology, we find our confidence in the evidence of the New Testament bolstered once again. Aside from perhaps Rome or Athens, there is hardly a swath of soil on the entire earth that has been more carefully scrutinized than the strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea that forms the nation of Israel. And whether has been the enormity of the temple in Jerusalem or a coin that can lay on the tip of your finger, it is simply stunning that archaeological findings have confirmed time and time again the accuracy of the gospels as historical documents. Far from disproving their reliability, modern science has silenced the mouths of skeptics and strengthened the argument that the gospels provide sound evidence for who Jesus is and what He did!
The gospels make an audacious claim. Not only do they assert that the words and deeds of Jesus they contain are true, they claim that this truth was the fulfillment of prophecies made hundreds and even thousands of years earlier. In particular, the gospels unabashedly set forth Jesus as the answer to the promise of a King who would come to Israel and provide a means of forgiveness from sin for both the Jewish people and the nations of the earth.
We have established that the gospels are historically and geographically reliable. With this in mind, it is staggering to observe that the way Jesus was born, where Jesus was born, His familial genealogy, the place of His upbringing and ministry, His eventual betrayal, and the details of the way He died were all the direct fulfillment of prophecies made by different men from different centuries throughout the history of Israel!
These things are beyond the manipulation of men. Who can choose what family they are born to and where they come into the world? Who can determine how they are going to die at the hands of others? An honest appraisal of the evidence leads to the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the fulfilment of the Jewish prophecies about their Messiah.
There are many very important facts about Jesus that are crucial to the Christian faith. One of the most central and spectacular is that days after Jesus died, He came back to life and never returned to the grave. The gospel authors tell the story of how the marred and scarred body of Jesus was restored to life and how He talked with the disciples and ate meals with them for weeks following His resurrection. It is understandable that faith in such an unprecedented miracle does not necessarily come easily. Here we return to the story of Thomas with which we began. How can we have our own objections laid to rest so that we too can proclaim “My Lord and My God!”?
A man named Paul is one of the most prominent figures in early Christianity. He was a devout Jewish man. He was so zealous that he vehemently persecuted Christians before Jesus Himself appeared to him when he was traveling to the city of Damascus, in present-day Syria. Around A.D. 55 Paul wrote a letter to Christians in a city about fifty miles west of Athens and told them that after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to a group of more than 500 men at once. Most of them were still alive at the time Paul was writing since it had only been a little more than twenty years. Together with the fact that no one, even the enemies of Jesus, could ever produce a body to prove that Jesus had stayed dead, this makes it very difficult to deny that after the events of the cross Jesus was still alive. To argue that His disciples, together with these hundreds of other witnesses, fabricated the resurrection is almost inconceivable since they were being severely persecuted for proclaiming it. Many men will lie if it will bring them fame, but no one stands by a lie that they created when it brings them torture!
The result is that skeptics have resorted to the argument that Jesus never actually died. This is where the medical evidence comes in. Jesus was not the first man to be crucified and nor was He the last. It was an instrument of Roman cruelty and those who were presiding over the death of Jesus were experts at executing people. It might be easy for a scholar sitting in an office full of old books to type out the claim that Jesus was just resuscitated rather than resurrected, but when a doctor looks at the description of what transpired this suggestion is simply outlandish.
From a medical perspective, the horrific lashing and beating that Jesus received prior to His actual death would have sent His body into shock from blood loss. Moving from this to being pinned on wooden beams with massive nails through His hands and feet would have made prolonged survival simply impossible. Death by crucifixion would not come from the bloody brutality, but from cardiac arrest caused by the inability to breathe in the torturous position hanging on the cross.
This was not something that could be faked. There is simply no possibility from a medical perspective that Jesus could have pretended to die on the cross but actually have survived, aside from the fact that the Roman guard thrust a spear through His abdomen after He had died. Jesus did, in fact, die. And there were not just two or three but rather hundreds of witnesses who solemnly testified to the fact that He rose again from the dead – even to their own hurt!
The story of Thomas did not end with his confession of faith. The Gospel of John goes on to record some very precious words that Jesus uttered in reply:
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” ” John 20:29
Jesus knew that the way the truth about Him was going to spread for years and many centuries to come was through the testimony of others. His followers would soon be those who believed in Him but had not yet seen Him for themselves.
Jesus knew this wouldn’t always be easy, and He promises a blessing for those who would reach out in faith instead of with their hands. We may not be able to run our fingers along the edges of His scars like Thomas did, but as we thoroughly search out the evidence we will become more and more convinced that Jesus is alive forevermore!
Are you ready to believe? As you have read these words and begun the courageous journey of searching out the truth for yourself, do you feel your heart being stirred to take the next step? Have you reached that tipping point? Go for it! As you reach for Him, Jesus will answer! He will send His Spirit to guide you and write the truth upon your heart.