One thing that struck me this week was a proof for the resurrection that I hadn't heard in all the lead up to Easter. And that is in the old adage, "where there's smoke there's fire." We tend to see things historically from the perspective of today. Why did Napoleon do thus and so, when he could have had an even greater victory if he'd have moved Marshall Boo-Boo to this spot adjacent the battlefield?" "Well, that would be because he didn't have gasoline-engine mass-transports that could have gotten them there in an appropriate time." A lot of things look different when you pull your head out of today.
Today, even non Christians are exposed to one extent or another by the Gospel message. And people drawn to any Gospel message are likely to have been exposed to an earlier one. The old "I've heard it all before" syndrome. Take Billy Graham. In almost anyone's opinion he is the greatest civilized-world evangelist of the past 100 years. But how effective is he? In an article called"Case Studies in Easy Believism" by Thomas Williamson of the Roger Sherman Society had some stats on this.
Observers over the years have noted that Billy Graham, who is considered to be America's premier evangelist, gets a lot of people coming forward in his meetings, but few lasting conversions. Herman Otten, editor of Christian News, stated that "The editor's home congregation participated in the 1957 New York Billy Graham crusade. . . . The editor's home congregation received about 28 [referral cards]. All were visited but none were interested in joining the church. Surveys have shown that Graham's mass crusades have resulted in few ever joining a church."
Christopher Cagan and John Waldrip, after attending Billy Graham's San Diego crusade in 2003, presented a report which determined that "Graham's sermons are an outgrowth of the theology and methods of Charles G. Finney, the 19th Century evangelist who changed the meaning of salvation from Biblical ‘conversion' to the empty ‘decisionism,' which stopped historical revivals and ultimately helped to empty the churches... . The sad truth is that Graham's message converts an almost infinitesimally small percentage of people who did not already consider themselves Christians before they ever heard him preach. The third awful result of Graham's meetings is that almost no one is added to the churches.... Dr. Robert Ketcham of the GARBC (Regular Baptists) showed from hard-core statistics that only 13 previously unchurched people were added to the churches of San Francisco from a lengthy Billy Graham crusade."
So, from two mass crusades, separated by several years, we get 13 new believers. Is that a bash on Graham? Not at all. But how many "unchurched people" actually ATTEND his crusades?
Now, let me borrow the musical Tardis and take you back in time to about 35 AD. Here we find a tiny group of people who have seen and know the Lord Jesus. At the point before Pentecost, Luke said "the number of names was about 125." Paul says that around 500 had seen Jesus after He rose from the dead. Given the penchant back then to only count the men at any given function, add a wife and two kids to each "name", and we're in a similar ballpark. That ballpark is surrounded by a world that doesn't know Jesus, hasn't seen Him dead or alive or resurrected, doesn't have a good grasp on Jewish history or the prophets (witness the Egyptian eunuch)- and by OUR standards, shouldn't show a lick of interest in anything about Jesus.
In just two sermons- not crusades with ballyhoo, tickets sold, TV coverage, but two sermons given on the spot without advance warning- Peter led EIGHT THOUSAND people to faith.
You can read the sermons. Billy Graham gives versions of these same sermons. What's the difference?
David Jeremiah listed a few of them this weekend. They were convinced because they had seen Him, they were commissioned by Him, they were committed to Him. But most of all, they knew Him, lived with Him, saw Him back from the grave. And that knowledge, that first hand experience, was told to the 8,000 and it convinced them. Do you think you could convince 8,000 complete strangers of something that couldn't possibly happen had happened- and it made a difference in their lives? Peter could, and did.
Last week, I told the slightly fictionalized story of Peter's private meeting with Jesus after the resurrection (an event alluded to in the Gospels and given proof by Paul). In that story, Peter had to come to grips with three things.
First, the very worst thing He had ever done, which only one person knew about, was the denials. And now that one person, who was dead, was alive again. He would have to face that his worst moment was no longer hidden. As if it ever was.
Second, it didn't matter. It was forgiven. And he would have to accept that.
And third, because of the second, he was now about to see his life change completely- from sand to rock!
We have to come to grips with these same things. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE between us and Peter is faith.
The question never was is there proof in the Bible that these things actually happened. Cold logic can deduce that. The question really is, why is there so little proof NOW?