Few people were ever more sincere than I in trying—without success—to find meaning, truth and purpose to life.
But at the university I noticed a small group of people—eight students and two faculty members—with something different. They seemed to know what they believed and why. I wanted what I saw.
Two weeks later, while I was sitting with some of them at a table in the student union, the conversation began to center on God. That bothered me, because I thought it was not intellectual. And yet I was curious.
Leaning back in my chair, I said to one of the students, “Tell me, what has made you so different from others?”
She looked me in the eye with a little smile and said: “Jesus Christ!”
My response revealed my bias and my ignorance. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” I said, “don’t give me that garbage about religion!”
To which she replied: “I didn’t say religion. I said Jesus Christ!”
My new friends challenged me to examine the claims of Christ. I thought most Christians were idiots. But these people were persistent. Finally, I accepted their challenge, out of pride, to refute them.
One of the crucial areas of my research to refute Christianity centered around His resurrection. More than 1,000 hours of studying this subject showed me that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was either one of the most wicked, heartless, vicious hoaxes ever foisted upon human minds, or it was the most fantastic fact of history.
Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet, claimed to be the Christ prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures. He was arrested, judged a political criminal, and crucified. Three days after His death and burial, some women went to His tomb and found the body gone. His disciples claimed that God had raised Him from the dead and that He had appeared to them and to many others at various times before ascending into heaven.
In my attempt to refute Christianity, I made some startling observations about the resurrection. The testimony of history, for example. I had no idea there was so much positive historical, literary and legal testimony supporting the factuality of Christ’s resurrection. But the more I investigated, the more evidence I found. I came to see why the Apostle Paul had said, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Jesus’ foretelling of His resurrection was another of my startling observations. Prior to Jesus’ death, He took His disciples aside and told them that He would be condemned to death and handed over to the Romans who would mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. And three days later He would rise from the dead (Mark 10:33-34).
The more I studied the historical-biblical Christian faith the more I realized it is a thinking person’s faith. As Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
But alongside the scholarly evidence for the resurrection, there is circumstantial evidence—what happened to me.
Having set out to refute the resurrection and Christianity, and then having been compelled by the evidence to believe that Jesus Christ was indeed exactly who He claimed to be—and that He indeed rose from the dead, I faced a new problem. My mind was saying, “Christianity is true,” but my will was saying, “Don’t admit it!”
It came to the point where I’d go to bed at ten and wouldn’t fall asleep until four in the morning. I knew I had to get Jesus off my mind or go out of my mind.
Finally on December 19, 1959, at 8:30 p.m., I became a Christian.
I prayed four things that night, to establish a relationship with the resurrected, living Christ who has since transformed my life. First, I said, “Lord Jesus, thank You for dying on the cross for me.” Second, I said, “I confess those things in my life that are not pleasing to You. I ask You to forgive and cleanse me.” (The Bible says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).) Third, I said, “Right now, in the best way I know how, I open the door of my heart and life, and I trust You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for coming into my life by faith.”
After I prayed, nothing happened. There was no bolt of lightning. I even said to myself, “Oh, no! What’d I get sucked into now?” I felt I’d gone off the deep end. And some of my friends agreed. But I can tell you now that in six months to a year-and-a-half I found that I had not gone off the deep end.
Later, in a debate with the head of the history department of a midwestern university, I said that my life had been changed. My opponent interrupted me to say, “McDowell, are you trying to tell us that God changed your life in the twentieth century?”
After 45 minutes of my describing changes, he said, “Okay, that’s enough.”
One area I told him about was the mental peace I had finally found. Another was control of my temper. And old hatreds gradually turning to love.
You can laugh at Christianity; you can mock and ridicule it. But it changes lives.
Christianity is not something that can be forced on anyone. All I can do is tell what I’ve learned. Beyond that, it’s your decision.
Christ was raised from the dead. He lives. He has the infinite capacity to enter your life, forgive you, and change you from the inside out.
Excerpted from The Resurrection Factor, published by Here’s Life Publishers, San Bernardino, California. Reprinted by permission of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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