The famous 18th Century skeptic, Voltaire, is reported to have said: “It would be easy to start a new religion to compete with Christianity; all the founder would have to do is to die and then be raised from the dead.” Well, Voltaire was no friend to the Christian faith. In fact, he was an outspoken critic of the Roman Catholic Church in particular and Christianity in general, so we can assume his comment to be ironic. But, Voltaire’s comment was unintentionally very perceptive for Easter is the heart of the matter when it comes to Christianity for Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our faith. Christianity stands or falls on the factualness of this event. Christian faith is really Easter faith because it is all based on what happened that first Easter day.
As the apostle Paul said, “If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is futile and we are still dead in our sins.” The factual and physical resurrection of Jesus is crucial to our faith. Otherwise, it was just a myth or a wonderful-sounding story, but one that has no impact or meaning. I encourage you to read through 1st Corinthians 15 to get a clear understanding of the resurrection because what Paul was basically saying in that chapter is that, if the resurrection of Jesus was not real, then we Christians are idiots and are to be pitied beyond all other people for believing such a delusional lie. But, Paul argues, if the resurrection of Jesus really did happen, then who are the idiots? Who are the ones to feel sorry for in believing a delusional lie that many adhere to; that being that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. The choice is that simple.
Aside from the obvious reasons for believing that the resurrection happened (the fact that devout Jews changed their Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday; that Christians who met the resurrected Jesus were willing to die for that fact – who would willingly die for something they knew to be made up?; that the Old Testament writers prophesied this happening; etc.) there are three more things that stand out for me that help me to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. First, there is the honesty of the Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all wrote understated accounts of the resurrection in that in each of their gospels, they were extremely revealing and honest. No one at first, according to each of them, believed in what they saw or were told (that Jesus was alive). Mary Magdalene and the other women, Peter, John, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas – they are sought for alternative explanations for what had happened (that someone had messed with the grave, that someone had stolen Jesus’ body, etc.). Their disbelief actually makes the resurrection of Jesus all the more believable.
Second, the fact that those who saw Jesus on that first Easter day were all named adds credence to their testimony. If they were unnamed, it would be hard to believe the story, but the fact that they were named – and that all four Gospel books are widely believed to have been written before 70 A.D. (because that is the year Jerusalem fell and yet none of them mentions it, a fact that makes no sense other than it had not happened by the time of their writing). Those eyewitnesses could have been, and would have been, questioned by others. None of them ever recanted what they saw or experienced.
This, and this is very sexist, but, in the First Century, the testimony of women was not esteemed; it was not admissible in court; and so, if you were going to make up a story you really wanted people to believe, you would not have women reporting it first, because that would be a death knell as to its believability. It would undercut the credibility of your story; but, the all four Gospel writers simply told what happened. The women were the first ones to see it and the first ones to witness to it. This, of course, speaks to God’s desire and plan to take down any misogynistic thinking amongst Christians. In Jesus, there “is neither male nor female”, as Paul writes. We are all equally valued and loved.
In contrast to the supporting facts and arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, honestly, the liberal approaches in our society that is was just a mythical account; an attempt to put in story form something hallucinatory that the disciples as a group experienced, well, such is simply ludicrous, as is the suggestion that saying that while Jesus stayed stone cold dead in the tomb, his spirit rose and thus he lives in our hearts; honestly, that is nonsensical. Jesus’ bodily resurrection over death was absolutely needed for death to be defeated and for the negative effects of sin to be driven away from us forever.
The disciples’ faith in Jesus did not create the story of the resurrection. The story of the resurrection – the testimony to the resurrection – is what created the disciples’ faith. It is what rescued them from hopeless despair and sorrow after the death of Jesus. It was the resurrection that transformed their lives into joyful, victorious confidence. They became fearless preachers of the message of Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord who had brought God’s kingdom to this world.
So, in closing, there are only two alternatives: either the physical resurrection of Jesus in his body happened, or it didn’t. We Christians believe that it did, from history, but we also know that it did, experientially, because we have each met the risen Lord and thus know his presence. Easter is the heart of the matter for our lives. Happy Resurrection Day to you!