Easter is upon us. And here we are, some 2000 years after the roll out of God's Big Idea, and we're still preaching the resurrection of Christ as the unique and central core of our Christian faith. If Jesus is not undead, He may have left behind some cool teachings and a good example, but He possessed no real unique power to affect us...in this life or the one to come. And since He claimed, on several occasions, that He would die and come back from the dead, well, if He is still dead, why make such a big deal over Him? Why follow Him? But, in fact, His coming back from the dead established once and for all that "He is" who He said He is-both God and Lord. C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: "I'm ready to accept [Him] as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
At time, I think it takes more faith to believe that Christianity got its start from a lie. Imagine a bunch of defeated loyalists spreading a made up a story about how the guy they thought was the real deal got nailed to a cross in utter humiliation, then actually got UP three days later, and then flew up to heaven so they could start a new religion. Seriously? How about a more logical explanation? These guys were actually eyewitnesses to something miraculous that happened. It radically changed them and they, in turn, turned the world upside down. Need more evidence that Jesus is undead?
In his treatise Seven Proofs of the Resurrection, author Jack Zavada lays out the evidence that demands a verdict:
Resurrection Proof #1: The Empty Tomb of Jesus—The empty tomb may be the strongest proof Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Two major theories have been advanced by unbelievers: someone stole Jesus' body or the women and disciples went to the wrong tomb. The Jews and Romans had no motive to steal the body. Christ's apostles were too cowardly and would have had to overcome the Roman guards. The women who found the tomb empty had earlier watched Jesus being laid away; they knew where the correct tomb was. Even if they had gone to the wrong tomb, the Sanhedrin could have produced the body from the right tomb to stop the resurrection stories. Jesus' burial cloths were left neatly folded inside, hardly the act of hurrying grave robbers. Angels said Jesus had risen from the dead.
Resurrection Proof #2: The Women Eyewitnesses—The women eyewitnesses are further proof that the Gospels are accurate historical records. If the accounts had been made up, no ancient author would have used women for witnesses to Christ's resurrection. Women were second class citizens in Bible times; their testimony was not even allowed in court. Yet the Bible says the risen Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene and other holy women. Even the apostles did not believe Mary when she told them the tomb was empty. Jesus, who always had special respect for these women, honored them as the first eyewitnesses to his resurrection. The male Gospel writers had no choice but to report this embarrassing act of God's favor, because that was how it happened.
Resurrection Proof #3: Jesus' Apostles' New-Found Courage—After the crucifixion, Jesus' apostles hid behind locked doors, terrified they would be executed next. But something changed them from cowards to bold preachers. Anyone who understands human character knows people do not change that much without some major influence. That influence was seeing their Master, bodily risen from the dead. Christ appeared to them in the locked room, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and on the Mount of Olives. After seeing Jesus alive, Peter and the others left the locked room and preached the risen Christ, unafraid of what would happen to them. They quit hiding because they knew the truth. They finally understood that Jesus is God incarnate, who saves people from sin.
Resurrection Proof #4: The Changed Lives of James and Others—Changed lives are yet another proof of the resurrection. James, the brother of Jesus, was openly skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. Later James became a courageous leader of the Jerusalem church, even being stoned to death for his faith. Why? The Bible says the risen Christ appeared to him. What a shock to see your own brother, alive again, after you knew he was dead. James and the apostles were effective missionaries because people could tell these men had touched and seen the risen Christ. With such zealous eyewitnesses, the early church exploded in growth, spreading west from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond. For 2,000 years, encounters with the resurrected Jesus have changed lives.
Resurrection Proof #5: The Large Crowd of Eyewitnesses—A large crowd of more than 500 eyewitnesses saw the risen Jesus Christ at the same time. The Apostle Paul records this event in 1 Corinthians 15:6. He states that most of these men and women were still alive when he wrote this letter, about 55 A.D. Undoubtedly they told others about this miracle. Today, psychologists say it would be impossible for a large crowd of people to have had the same hallucination at once. Smaller groups also saw the risen Christ, such as the apostles, and Cleopas and his companion. They all saw the same thing, and in the case of the apostles, they touched Jesus and watched him eat food. The hallucination theory is further debunked because after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, sightings of him stopped.
Resurrection Proof #6: The Conversion of Paul—The conversion of Paul records the most drastically changed life in the Bible. As Saul of Tarsus, he was an aggressive persecutor of the early church. When the risen Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, Paul became Christianity's most determined missionary. He endured five floggings, three beatings, three shipwrecks, a stoning, poverty, and years of ridicule. Finally the Roman emperor Nero had Paul beheaded because the apostle refused to deny his faith in Jesus. What could make a person willingly accept—even welcome—such hardships? Christians believe the conversion of Paul came about because he encountered Jesus Christ who had risen from the dead.
Resurrection Proof #7: They Died for Jesus—Countless people have died for Jesus, absolutely certain that the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. Tradition says ten of the original apostles died as martyrs for Christ, as did the Apostle Paul. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of early Christians died in the Roman arena and in prisons for their faith. Down through the centuries, thousands more have died for Jesus because they believed the resurrection is true. Even today, people suffer persecution because they have faith that Christ rose from the dead. An isolated group may give up their lives for a cult leader who was later revealed to be a fraud, but no one willingly dies (much less violently) for someone they know to be a liar. For 2,000 years, Christians have died in many lands, believing Jesus conquered death to give them eternal life.
The apostle Paul believed the resurrection to be not only logical but critical to our faith. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: “…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.” Now that’s something to celebrate! The even better news is that Jesus has promised to come back and take us to where He is:
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me
that you also may be where I am." (John 14:3)
Let’s have a fantastic Easter in anticipation of that even greater Resurrection Morn to come! To me, it just seems reasonable.