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Beyond a Preponderance of Evidence

April 30, 2018

“God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by those of us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”  (Acts 10: 40-42)

Under California law a civil litigant must prove his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the trier of fact must conclude that a fact is more likely true than not true in order to find for the plaintiff. The Scripture texts[1] this week provide proofs for the fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins is more likely true than not true. These are by no means the only arguments for the credibility of the gospel, but they do provide enough evidence to show that it is more credible than not that Jesus was the Son of God.

The evidence provided in this week’s Scripture texts breaks down into two broad categories: the actions of the parties and the testimony of credible witnesses—what they did and what the witnesses said. But after we experience the Spirit living and working in us, we move beyond the standard of more likely than not. We come to acknowledge the truth of the gospel message by the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

A.  Actions

We know from historians, including the Jewish historian Josephus, of Jesus’ ministry and of his death on the cross, as well as his resurrection and ascension. That evidence, together with the acts of the apostles thereafter, provide ample proof of the truth of the gospel.

  1. Jesus’ Actions During His Ministry

Peter was with Jesus during his ministry and summarized those years in his address to the group at Cornelius’ house: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and . . . he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.“ Peter cited the well-known facts and actions of Jesus’ ministry as proof that Jesus was the Son of God.

  1. Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension

Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death. He told those gathered that despite the fact that “They killed him [Jesus] by hanging him on a cross . . .God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by . . . us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10: 39-41). Peter and the other disciples not only witnessed his death, but were with him after his resurrection, and for 40 days before he ascended into heaven. The disciples also witnessed the ascension, which is further proof that Jesus was who he said he was.

  1. Peter’s Actions

Peter went to Cornelius’ house in Caesaria at a time when the Jewish-Gentile conflict was at its height. Many Jews believed that Jesus came only to save them, not Gentiles. It was scandalous for Jews to even think of associating with Gentiles. But God told Peter to take the gospel to Cornelius, a Roman. His action in taking the gospel to the Gentiles showed that the gospel was for everyone, not just for Jewish believers. While he was in Cornelius’ home, sharing the good news, “. . . the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised [Jewish] believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ“ (Acts 10: 44-48). Peter’s action in preaching to Gentiles was God-guided as evidenced by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

B.  Testimony

  1. Jesus’ Testimony

Jesus himself testified to those around him that his great love for them was the reason for his sacrifice for them: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love . . . Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15: 9, 10, 13,14).   Jesus testified elsewhere that he was the long-awaited Messiah.[2]

  1. The Spirit’s Testimony

John tells us that the Spirit, who lives within us, testifies to the truth of “. . . the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ . . . And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son” (1 John 5: 6-9). The Spirit was present at Jesus’ baptism (water) and transfiguration, and testified as to Jesus’ part of the Trinity. The blood that Jesus shed when he was crucified, and his subsequent resurrection were further evidence of his divinity. John Stott notes about these verses: “The Spirit, the water and the blood all testify to Christ, and the reason why they agree is that God himself is behind them. The three witnesses form, in fact, a single divine testimony to Jesus Christ, which God has given . . . It is God who testified to his Son in history, in the water and the blood, and it is God who testifies to him today through his Spirit in our hearts.”[3]

  1. The Apostles’ Testimony and Actions

The apostles not only all testified to the truth of the gospel, but they also all staked their lives on it. How many witnesses in court today would actually stake their lives on the testimony they give? Peter noted that they were “witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” All of the apostles were martyred except John. After the crucifixion, they were all hiding in fear of the religious authorities—that they might suffer the same fate as Jesus. But just a few weeks later, they were boldly preaching the good news in the temple and throughout the surrounding countries. Convinced of Jesus’ divinity by his resurrection and his appearance among them after his death, and that he died for our sins, they continued preaching the gospel message for many years. Their actions and testimony resulted in the exponential growth of the new church in the first century, and is credible evidence that Jesus was who he said he was—the Son of God.

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, his Spirit inhabits our souls and testifies to the truth of the gospel and to the love of Jesus. It is through the Spirit that we come to understand that the gospel is more likely true than not, and make a decision to follow Jesus. It is the Spirit who guides us through the shoals and eddies in our lives, and keeps us on track.

When we have experienced first-hand the in-dwelling of the Spirit within our own lives, and have witnessed the Spirit at work around us, our faith moves us past the preponderance of the evidence standard to beyond a reasonable doubt. When we come to a relationship with the living God that changes our lives dramatically, then we know beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists and that he is who he says he is.

Diane Cieslikowksi Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Sixth Sunday of Easter are Acts 10: 34-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5: 1-8 [9]; John 15: 9-17.

[2] See John 4: 25-26; Matthew 16: 15-17; Luke 4: 18-21; John 10:36.

[3] John Stott, The Letters of John (1964) Inter-Varsity Press, p. 181.

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