I love Easter. We’ve just come through what for pastors is the most wonderful and exhausting time of the year (along with Christmas). But I love it. I love sunrise services, shared breakfasts, and the increased crowds on Easter Sunday. But most of all I love the Truth that Easter celebrates.
I don’t love the view of Easter that equates it with springtime, the yearly cycle of birth-death-and rebirth, and some vague sentiment of “what Easter means to us all”. I especially don’t love the claim that Jesus’ resurrection was a myth.
I’m with the Apostle Paul: if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19) If I didn’t really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, I’d quit the ministry and go get an honest job.
There are what are called “minimal facts” about the death of Jesus and what happened next. That means that even disbelieving, skeptical scholars admit the following:
- Jesus really was crucified by being nailed to a Roman cross in the 1st century. We have corroboration of this from even secular sources and from archeology (bones of crucified victims with nail-holes in their hands and feet…in one case, the spike was still in the foot bones).
- The disciples of Jesus began claiming that they’d seen Jesus resurrected from the dead almost immediately after the crucifixion…and they actually believed it, because they died martyrs’ death for preaching it. Others may believe so fervently that they are willing to lose their lives for their causes, but they believe what they believe based on what someone else told them. The disciples of Jesus believed He had risen from the dead based on what they had seen themselves. And they went to horrible deaths without a single one of them recanting their own accounts.
- An enemy of the Christian faith was converted: Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of 1st-century Christians suddenly began “preaching the faith he’d once tried to destroy” (Gal.1:23). What happened to him? He said he’d seen the resurrected Jesus. You have to account for what happened to transform Saul into Paul.
- James, the skeptical half-brother of Jesus was converted. James, along with the rest of Jesus’ family, did not believe in Him (John 7:5). They were embarrassed by what Jesus was doing, thought He’d lost His mind, and tried to get Him to stop (Mark 3:21,31). But later James becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem, after Peter (Acts 15); and he wrote a letter to encourage believers, in which he never once referred to himself as “the Lord’s brother”, and only called Jesus by the title the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1, 2:1) He was martyred by being hurled from the top of the Temple by his enemies. What changed James? An early creed dating to within 2-3 years of Jesus’ death said that the resurrected Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor.15:3-7). You have to account for what changed James.
- The tomb of Jesus was empty. Even alternative explanations put forth by Christianity’s enemies acknowledge this fact (Matt.28:11-15). The enemies of Jesus were strangely silent when it came to the burial place of Jesus. Why not simply point people to the right tomb, or even display Jesus’ mutilated body?
There is more evidence, but these are the “minimal facts” about Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, Easter may be over for this year…but in a sense, for Christians, every Sunday celebrates Jesus’ resurrection!
Soli Deo Gloria!