Lee Strobel: And then one day she came up to me after this long journey she’d been on. And she said, “Lee, I’ve made a big decision.” I said, “What?” She said, “I’ve decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ.” And honestly, first word that went through my mind was “divorce.”
Jim Daly: Seriously?
Lee: Yeah. I thought this was the worst thing that could possibly happen.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Lee Strobel describing the day his world was turned upside down, and he faced a very challenging and ultimately life-changing question that he thought he’d already answered. And that is this: is God real or not? Well, that’s the question we’ll address today on this special Easter edition of Focus on the Family with your host, Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim: Uh, John, this question about the reality of God and what we really believe is fundamentally important today. I mean, and many, many young people particularly, college students uh, and that’s really no different. I remember being in college and asking the questions, “Is it real? Is what I think I believe real?” And you have to figure it out. And sometimes it’s a matching of the head and the heart. And uh, you know, not to say that God can’t do a miracle and grab your heart. That happens, too. But for most of us, it comes through a head and heart experience. And in fact, there may be some listening to us right now who have the same reaction that Lee did when he heard about his wife’s decision to become a Christian – “This is it. It’s over because I’m not going there.” That’s what makes, uh, Lee Strobel’s testimony so powerful. And that’s why I love having him on the broadcast, man, especially right before Easter. If you don’t know the Lord, this program is for you, if I could be that blunt.
As believers, our witness to the world, to our families, our communities, even to those who strongly disagree with us, needs to be winsome and filled with God’s grace and love. Jesus did that, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery. Model that kind of approach as you talk to the nonbeliever. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t try to straighten their activities out before they know the Lord. It really is a bit unfair. Of course we still need to stand up for God’s truth, so don’t mishear me. And we never want to compromise our values. But we also need to look for opportunities to positively influence others with our faith because many are looking for any excuse to discredit the message of Christ. Uh, it’s no coincidence we’re addressing these issues, as I said, right before Easter. This weekend represents the most significant point in our Christian faith. Uh, what happened on Easter Sunday two thousand years ago, approximately, literally changed the course of human history and our understanding of God and His forgiveness. And, um, that evidence has been changing lives ever since.
John: Mmhmm. Yeah, and Lee Strobel is perhaps one of the best-equipped people we know to unpack that evidence, examine it. And he has the added benefit of personal experience doing that before he even met the Lord. So uh, Lee has written more than 20 books exploring the reality of faith and, uh, Christ’s impact on our lives. And we’ll zero in on the classic, The Case for Christ. And by the way, you might be familiar with Lee’s movie. I don’t know if it’s your movie, or it’s just about you, uh, I guess is a better way to put it. But The Case for Christ is a film that was seen by lots of people. And it was really well done.
Jim: Excellent. And, uh, if you don’t have it, get the copy – get the DVD. It’s really good. Lee, welcome to Focus.
Lee: Thank you, so great to be with you.
Jim: You know, we may have left off, uh, in that intro, even though it was quite long…
Jim: …We may have left out the fact that before you became a Christian, you were legal journalist for the Chicago Tribune.
Lee: That’s right.
Jim: That, to me, right there lends so much credibility to your pursuit of truth. And I – really, congratulations on that. That’s a hard move from an atheist to a Christian at times. But you pursued your heart. You pursued truth.
Lee: Yeah. You know, as a journalist, I was trained to pursue truth. And you know, I’m from the old school of journalism where you really dug down and looked at both sides of an issue and tried to be fair and, uh, balanced, so to speak, in terms of the way you presented things. And so I think it was really a pursuit of truth that brought me ultimately into the fold.
Jim: Yeah. And that, uh – again, for me, it just adds so much credibility to your testimony, to your story, because you – in that clip we played, that response about Leslie and her becoming Christian, there’s people listening right now, uh, maybe the spouse of someone who doesn’t believe or the nonbeliever themselves who are married to a Christian – we’ve got everybody listening – take a moment and talk to the audience about that component when your spouse says, “I believe.”
Lee: Yeah. You know, it was the most difficult year of our marriage when my wife became a on-fire, zealous new Christian, and I was a dig-in-your-heels, uh, adamant atheist. It really brought a lot of, um, tumult to our marriage. And you know, the Bible says that, uh, “Don’t be unequally yoked.” Uh, and there are reasons for that. There are reasons why, um, God’s Word says that because, uh, when you have such a profoundly different perspective on everything – because a spiritual perspective affects, how do you spend your money? How do you raise your children? Um, everything – it was very, very difficult. And so we actually wrote a book called, um, Spiritual Mismatch, to help people in that situation, um, because a lot of people find themselves married to someone who is not a believer. And, uh, it creates a lot of tension.
Jim: Yeah. We’ve had a couple of broadcasts on that as well. And if you’re in that spot, contact us here at Focus. We will help you process, uh, where to go and how to manage that well before the Lord. Lee, let me ask you – so often when we meet people who are antagonistic toward the faith – uh, maybe atheists – but they’re just antagonistic. So often as I’ve done that, what I have found is some kind of terrible experience in their background. Maybe their mom and dad, maybe a good friend that from their perspective let them down, and they claimed to be Christian.
Jim: Uh, you had that experience. Your mom and dad went to church. For all of us fearful parents, what happened in your life that drove you away from the church even though you were going to church as a boy?
Lee: Well, it’s interesting. Uh, when you look at the famous atheists of history – Camus or Nietzsche, Freud, Voltaire, Wells, Feuerbach, O’Hare – all of them either had a father who, um, with whom they had a very difficult relationship, or who died when they were young or who divorced their mother when they were young. And the implication – and Freud talked about this – the implication was if your earthly father has hurt you or disappointed you, you don’t want to know a Heavenly Father. And so I think that, um, I became an atheist not solely because I had objections to the faith intellectually, which I did, but uh, I had a very difficult relationship with my dad. He told me on the eve of my high school graduation, “I don’t have enough love for you to fill my little finger.” And, um, I was an unwanted pregnancy from his perspective. And so we never really connected as father and son. And um, you know, that has an effect. And we – in our movie, Case for Christ, we sort of had that as an underlying theme. It affects people who don’t even know. I remember sitting down for breakfast with a famous atheist. And I said, “Well, tell me about your life.” He said, “Oh, well, my dad died when I was 7.” And I thought, “Yeah, okay.” And it doesn’t mean everybody who goes through that will end up an atheist.
Jim: But it’s common?
Lee: But it’s common.
Jim: You know, when you think of that pain too, I mean, for the fathers listening who have neglected – they know, right when we said it, “That could be me, and that could be my son or daughter.”
Lee: You know, a study was done, a multigenerational study, on how faith is transmitted through families. And one of the findings that I think is most interesting is that if you’re a Christian father, and you love the Lord, and you go to church, and you pray and you read your Bible, there’s a very good chance you will not transmit your faith to your children if you have a cold relationship with them.
Lee: That seems to be the key – how warm is your relationship with your children? And so that’s a challenge, but it’s also – it’s also a bit of a relief because, you know, what’s it saying? Love your kids. And when we love our kids, they begin to see that there is a – a fatherly dimension to love that maybe has an even, uh, supernatural element, that is, a Heavenly Father who loves us with a perfect love.
Jim: You know, one thing I’ve observed, Lee, is in – with talking with nonbelievers, is the Lord instructs us in the two great commandments – you know, love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and might, and then love your neighbor as yourself – there’s something in our spiritual DNA that God has created in all of us. I don’t care if you’re a believer or a nonbeliever. When you feel sincere love from another human being, your heart cracks.
Lee: Yeah. It really does.
Jim: You can’t resist them.
Lee: That’s right.
Jim: You’ve had so many experiences with atheists, debating them, talking with them, growing up with them. Speak to that dynamic ‘cause sometimes in the Christian faith, we lose that reminder to love them. And I think it’s deeper than – than what some people receive Jesus’ words for. You know what I’m saying?
Lee: Well, a lot of people who are very big into the evidence for the faith, as I am – you know, 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” But then it says, “Do it gently and respectfully.” Sometimes…
Jim: That’s really important.
Lee: It’s very important. And sometimes that gets lost, and we try to hit people over the head with the evidence instead of loving them. And uh, so I think that is hugely important, how we respond in this culture where there’s a lot of conflict, where people are fighting each other on Twitter and so forth. I remember I got an email from a guy. And it was an angry note. He was an atheist, and it was an ugly, ugly note. And so I thought, “I’m gonna write back an ugly note.” You know, and…
Lee: But I – I thought, “Well, wait a minute, I can’t do that.” So I slept on it. Next day, I just wrote a very gentle, respectful note to him. And he writes back and I’m telling you, the tenor of the conversation absolutely changed. And it turned out he was going blind. He had lost his job. He was, uh, on welfare. Uh, his life was falling apart. And we were able to talk then on a human level that – that – and really connect. And if I had responded in like as he had attacked me, that never would’ve happened.
Jim: And it’s so good. I often think of that analogy like Peter in the garden before the Holy Spirit has come, before Jesus has been resurrected. He’s fighting out of his flesh. And he straps on the sword to go defend the son of God.
Jim: And then the Lord rebukes him for coming at it from that way. And then you have Stephen after, uh, Pentecost, after being filled with the spirit of God, able to lay his life down and to ask for forgiveness for those who were killing him. There’s a big difference. He – Stephen rooted in the character of God.
Jim: Speaking of that, let’s get back to the tape, your life. Um, you were that antagonistic atheist. Let’s walk through for the audience, uh, particularly those who may be skeptics who are listening, how that progressed from your wife becoming a Christian, you saying divorce may be in the offing, and then the Lord beginning to work on your heart. It took – it was about a two-year journey?
Lee: That’s right, about a year and nine months. And what I did is – you know, even though I was an atheist, I recognized that the resurrection, Easter, is the key to Christianity ‘cause Jesus clearly claimed to be the Son of God. You know, and John, uh 10, verse 30, He got up before a group. And He said, “The Father and I are One.” And the Greek word for “one” there is not masculine. It’s neuter, which means Jesus was not saying, “I and the Father are the same person.” He was saying, “I and the Father are the same thing. We’re one in nature, one in essence.” And the audience understands – so He was saying. They picked up stones to kill them because they said, “You! You’re a mere man, and you’re claiming to be God!” So Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. But I realized, so what? I could claim to be the son of God. You could claim to be the son. No – maybe not John, but…
Jim: He would never do that.
Lee: He would never do that. But – but if Jesus claimed to be the son of God, died, and then, three days later, rose from the dead, then that’s good evidence He is who He claimed to be. So I recognized the resurrection was the key. And of course, the Apostle Paul says that in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 17, when he says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. You’re still in your sins.” Well, what was he saying? He was saying, “Look, if Jesus was not physically resurrected from the dead, you are totally justified in walking away from the faith.” So the thing about Christianity I – I came to realize, it’s an investigatable faith. You know, a lot of other faiths are not like this. They’re kinda lost in the midst of history in terms of how they came about. But…
Jim: And reinforcing their prowess. I mean, that right there, for Paul to say, “Hey, if this isn’t real – if He wasn’t raised from the dead, it’s over.”
Jim: Nobody, uh, as an icon of the faith like Paul would say that in another faith.
Lee: That’s right, exactly right. And so uh, I began to investigate, use my legal training and journalism training to investigate, what is the historical data? Um, how do I know that Jesus did or didn’t return from the dead? Now, I figured, having been a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, seen a lot of dead bodies and never seen any of them come back to life, I thought I could disprove this in a weekend. That was kind of my – my hubris.
John: That was your goal?
Lee: That was my goal. You know, spend a long weekend. I can disprove the resurrection.
Jim: Won’t take long – 24 hours.
Lee: Yeah. I mean, dead people don’t come back to life. Come on. Uh, but after a year and nine months, I realized that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is clear and compelling. It’s powerful and persuasive. And um…
Jim: Go through some of those elements for the listener again. Uh, you know, I went through a similar journey, the historicity of writings of antiquity that meant a lot to me, the manuscript evidence, eyewitness account, how many years written after the person who lived that’s in question. Describe some of that.
Lee: Yeah. The way that, um, I like to summarize the evidence – and Dr. Gary Habermas is a great resurrection scholar who I interviewed for my book, The Case for Christ, um, he uses three E’s to summarize the evidence. I use four just to show him up. But…
Lee: But, um – so the four E’s. And that’ll make it easy for listeners to remember, the four E’s. Number one, uh, the execution of Jesus, that He was dead after being crucified. There is no evidence anywhere of anyone ever surviving a full Roman crucifixion. Even the peer-reviewed, secular Journal of the American Medical Association said, “Clearly, based on the medical and historical evidence, Jesus was dead even before the wound to His side was inflicted.” So uh, he was dead. Even the atheist scholar, uh, Garrett Ludeman, says that the death of Jesus by crucifixion is historically indisputable. So number one, first E, Jesus is executed. He was dead.
Second E is the most fascinating – the early accounts of His resurrection. In other words, I used to think the resurrection was a legend. And I knew it took time for legend to develop in the ancient world. So I figured 100, 150 years after the life of Jesus, legends developed, and that’s where the resurrection came from. But we have preserved for us a creed of the earliest church that contains the essence of Christianity. It says, “Jesus died, uh, for our sins. He was buried. On the third day, He rose from the dead.” And then it mentions the specific names of eyewitnesses and groups of eyewitnesses to whom he appeared.
Now, this creed has been dated back by scholars to within months of the death of Jesus – to within months. We find it in 1 Corinthians, uh, Chapter 15, starting at verse three. But we can date back that early creed to within months. Uh, it would be unprecedented in the history of the world for a legend to develop that fast and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. So we have these early accounts that rule out the possibility that it’s a legend.
The third E is empty, the empty tomb. And the reason we know the tomb is empty – there’s lots of reasons – but I think the strongest reason is even the opponents of Jesus admitted that it was empty because when the disciples began proclaiming that Jesus had risen, what the opponents said was, “Oh, well, um, the disciples stole the body.” Now, they’re conceding the tomb’s empty! They’re just trying to explain how it got empty. It’s like if you’re a teacher, and a student comes up to you and says, “The dog ate my homework.” That student’s admitting, “I don’t have my homework. But I can explain what happened to it. The dog ate it.” It’s the same thing. So everybody, opponents of Jesus and supporters, are all implicitly or explicitly conceding the tomb was empty. Question is, how did it get empty? Romans didn’t have a motive for stealing the body. They wanted Jesus dead. Uh, Jewish leaders of the day didn’t have a motive. They wanted Jesus to stay dead. Disciples didn’t have the motive, the means or the opportunity to steal the body. Uh, so the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead, especially when we look at the fourth word that begins with the letter E, which is eyewitnesses.
Lee: And what’s interesting is that, um, we have nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament confirming and corroborating the conviction of the disciples that they encountered the resurrected Jesus. That is an avalanche of historic data. Um, so we have a very strong case for that. And look what happened to the disciples. We have seven ancient sources, six of them outside the Bible, confirming the disciples lived lives of deprivation and suffering as a result of their proclamation that Jesus had risen.
Jim: And still believed.
Lee: And still believed.
Jim: They didn’t give up.
Lee: They never recanted. They never gave up. And why were they willing to do that? ‘Cause somebody told them He was resurrected? No, ‘cause they were there!
Jim: They knew.
Lee: They touched Him. They talked with him. They ate with Him. They knew the truth. And knowing the truth, they were even willing to give up their lives for it.
John: Hm. Lee Strobel is our guest on Focus on the Family. And your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller, and we want to urge you to get a copy of this broadcast to listen again online or through the app, uh, to get, uh, the download. Uh, we also wanna make available Lee’s book, The Case for Christ, and also an article about how you can come to know Jesus Christ as, uh, your Savior. All of that is gonna be at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Um, you mentioned one of the strong cases in the evidence that you found is how Jesus viewed Himself. You know, many critics argue that Jesus, uh, was no more than a really gifted communicator, teacher, et cetera. Uh, but explain why He used the term “son of man” to describe Himself. And some people say, “Well, see that moves Him away from divinity.”
Lee: Exactly. And that’s what I thought. First time I read the Bible, you know, I’m a I’m an atheist, I’m checking it out. And in Mark, this is how He – which is a first Gospel – this is how He refers to Himself, most commonly as the son of man. And I thought, “Well, there you go. He’s just claiming to be a man.” But what that actually is is a reference to Daniel, Chapter 7, where the son of man is a divine figure. He has sovereign power. He’s in the presence of the Father. He will come and judge all of humankind. His kingdom will be eternal. These are divine attributes. And so ironically, the claim to be the son of man is, in effect, a claim of divinity, the exact opposite of what most people think.
John: And that wasn’t the only place He ever claimed…
Lee: Oh, no.
John: …To be God. I mean, you referenced one earlier in the Gospel of John.
Lee: That’s right. And then, of course, when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am,” which is the, um, phrase that God used to describe Himself in the burning bush in the Old Testament. And of course, again, people accused Him of blasphemy because they recognized – this was not a mystery to His audience – they wanted to kill Him because they saw, clearly, He was making these divine claims about Himself.
Jim: Yeah. You know, Lee, um, that relationship that He continually claimed between Himself and the Father, obviously, drove the leadership, the church at the time, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducees crazy because that was blasphemy. And people would rise up and do that from time to time, but they always were shut down. And I think it was one of the rulers, the religious rulers, cautioned everybody that “If this is of man, it’ll be put down and it won’t go anywhere, but if this is of God, no one can stop it,” basically…
Lee: And look what’s happened.
Jim: …And we have that evidence. I mean, that is a prophetic word, what we would call in the Christian church, coming from a religious ruler of the time who did not embrace Jesus, who, you know, politically, was trying to move the religious people away from the claims of Christ. But talk about that for a minute, what kind of impact that made. Here’s a guy who was skeptical of who Jesus was claiming to be at the time and said listen, “If it’s His own accord, it’ll die like any” – names two or three other people who…
Lee: And there were false Messiahs. There’s no question about it. There were many in the ancient world. Um, and the question of whether or not Jesus was authentic in His claims of be – who He claimed to be was ultimately proven by the resurrection, by Easter. And look what’s happened. It has indeed shown itself to endure. And these twelve disciples have revolutionized the world.
Jim: It’s self-evident.
Lee: It is self-evident. You know, to go from that small cadre of people who are motivated against – I mean, it was against their best interests at the time. This was not that they were going to get a mansion on the Mediterranean for proclaiming Jesus being the Son of God. They were persecuted. They suffered lives of deprivation. And as I say, we have seven sources that confirm that. Why were they willing to do that? You know, it’s interesting. I used to think, “Well, wait a minute, religious zealots have died for their faith through history. You know, people strap on a suicide vest, or they crash an airplane into the Twin Towers…”
Jim: Hindus burn themselves.
Lee: …Exactly. And so I said – my first reaction was, “I don’t care that the disciples were willing to die because so what? Lots of religious fanatics have been that way.” But then I realized there’s a huge difference between, for instance, a terrorist who dies today for his faith versus the disciples. And the difference is this: the terrorist believes, because he was taught it, that if he dies this way, he’ll go to paradise.
Jim: It’s a promise for an action.
Lee: Exactly. But he doesn’t know for a fact that he will. He just believes it. He has faith. And so his faith in that is so strong, he’s willing to die for it. The disciples, on the other hand, were in the unique position. Of all human beings who ever lived on planet Earth, they were the only ones who were there. They touched Him, the resurrected Jesus. They talked to Him. They ate with Him. They knew the truth. And knowing the truth, they were willing to die for it. That tells me something about the veracity of their claims, whereas, you know, it’s not just because they believe it. Because they know it’s true, because they knew – is it a lie or is it true? They were there. They knew the truth. That’s the big difference.
Jim: Lee, in your book, The Case for Christ, you also did a psychological analysis of Jesus. Now at first – when I first read that, I was like, “Whoa, is that appropriate?” But describe for us what your finding was.
Lee: Yeah. I went to a famous psychologist and interviewed him about this question of “Was Jesus crazy. Was He a lunatic?” Could’ve been, you know, maybe He was crazy and that’s why He claimed to be the Son of God. And yet, as he walked through the historical accounts of the life of Jesus, what did we see? We saw a man who was in control of His emotions. His emotions were genuine. When Lazarus died, He wept. That’s a very natural emotion. Um, He was not detached from reality. Um, He made amazing claims about Himself, but then He backed up those claims.
Jim: Right. They weren’t empty claims.
Lee: Exactly. So if I claimed to be the president of the United States, that would be crazy. But if Donald Trump claimed to be president, that wouldn’t be crazy. So if Jesus is claiming these amazing things about Himself, that He is Messiah and the Son of God, well, He’s not crazy if it’s true.
Jim: That’s right. That’s right.
Lee: So what do we find psychologically? We find a very balanced – well-balanced person, um, who interacted in a very authentic and loving way with people, including enemies, who, um, I think, has, probably, the ideal psychological profile.
Jim: Right. That’s the point. I mean, you look at the fruit of the Spirit, you’ve got to say He fulfilled that. That was who He was.
Lee: Yeah. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. They were all reflected in Jesus Himself.
Jim: Well, and back to my point earlier, I think He had a complete resume…
Lee: That’s right.
Jim: …For the Messiah. I really do. Lee, I love the discussion. And it feels like we’ve just kind of gotten underway. Let’s come back next time and continue this about the death and the resurrection of Jesus, what it means. We’re right here at Easter, something we’ve celebrated now for over 2,000 years within the church, the world, 2 billion Christians in the world – I think over 2 billion Christians. This is why we believe what we believe. And this is an open discussion for those that may have questions. It’s okay.
Lee: It is.
Jim: We all have gone through that doorway. We’ve all said, “Am I sure?” And this is that kind of program that gives you the evidence of why it is we believe. So I so appreciate it. This weekend, we’re gonna celebrate, as I said, that capstone of the faith, Easter. And if you’d like to know more about a commitment to Christ, what it means to be in a relationship with Christ, I want to urge you to contact us today. You don’t have to wait till Sunday. God sent His son, as Lee is describing, Jesus, to save you, to be the payment for your sins. That’s the bottom line. None of us are worthy. We all fall and come up short. And uh, it’s one of the great heartaches I have is that sometimes we project we’re perfect and the world’s not. Here’s the news flash. We’re all imperfect. But Jesus is perfect. And the Father sees us through His Son, Christ. That’s the beauty of it, and that we’re forgiven, we’re forgiven. So call us here at Focus on the Family. We’ll send you a free booklet, um, called, Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God’s Family. And it gives a very straightforward explanation of what it means to accept Christ into your heart.
John: Yeah. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459. And we’ll also have a PDF of that little booklet online if you just can’t wait. Stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to find that and other help for your faith.
Jim: Lee, this has been fantastic. I love this conversation. My energy level goes up when we’re talking about these things. And your great book, The Case for Christ, is a wonderful resource for everyone to have. I’d buy it by the case and just give it to neighbors, give it to everybody. We’ve done it in our own family. Those that don’t believe, we have routinely given – we’ve probably given it to them two or three times.
Lee: That’s awesome.
Jim: We’re gonna make sure they read it. So thanks so much for being with us.
Lee: Oh, my pleasure. Love to do it.
John: Well we do hope you can join us for part two of this conversation with Lee Strobel. It’s gonna be a great way to celebrate Good Friday. And I’ll invite you to make a generous donation of any amount to Focus on the Family today. We’ll send a complimentary copy of Lee’s book to you as a thank you gift for joining our support team. You may want to pass that on to someone you know who has yet to meet Jesus Christ personally. Donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Well next time, what people outside of Christianity need to know about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Lee Strobel: The question is, “What if? What if it’s true?” You know, some things, “What if they’re true,” don’t really matter. This does. And so if this is true, it is worth investigating. It is worth getting to the bottom of.
End of Teaser