Someone said to me the other day, ‘Well, you have to believe in the resurrection because you’re a Christian.’
What he meant, essentially, was that because of the tribe I belong to, there are certain things that I just take blindly on faith.
In fact, he got it the wrong way round. I don’t believe in the resurrection because it’s been indoctrinated into me as fact. I believe in the resurrection because I think it happened. My inauguration into the Christian ‘tribe’ came after that belief – not before it.
The Christian faith stands or falls on the resurrection. People who say that Jesus was a wise man and nothing else seem to neglect that fact that he knew he was going to be killed and did nothing to prevent it. There’s nothing wise about that – it’s stupid. If Christ is not risen, then Christians are the worst fools out there. And, let’s be honest, nobody else who has ever lived has come back from the dead. So, the question this Easter is: what good reasons do we have for thinking that Jesus did what nobody else has ever done. What can give us belief that suspends disbelief? What do we know about the resurrection?
1 – We know that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a Jewish councilman, Joseph of Arimathea. If you were going to fabricate an account, you wouldn’t include the name of such a prominent person who could easily be cross-examined.
2 – We know that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. The location of the tomb was well-known, so this was easily checkable. Furthermore, the tomb was protected by armed Roman guards, whose lives could have been at stake protecting it.
3 – We know that the empty tomb was discovered by women. If you were going to try and create a convincing resurrection testimony, you would steer clear of this. The testimony of women was worthless at that time, and would have been instantly dismissed by everyone.
4 – We know that Jesus appeared to numerous groups of people (believers and non-believers) over the course of the few weeks following his crucifixion. 1 Corinthians 15 was written by Paul about 15 to 20 years after Jesus’ death. In it, he lists several hundred people who witnessed Jesus appearing to them as the risen Christ. Most of these would still have been alive, and would have collectively stomped out any untruth. Paul’s point was basically ‘if you don’t believe me, the evidence is still around.’
5 – The conversion of Paul himself is incredible unless he actually met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul was a terrorist, set on wiping out Christianity. He then became the greatest theologian in the kingdom. It’s been claimed that he might have had an epileptic fit, but you don’t have a fit and then spend your life prepared to die for the people you’ve been trying to kill. You just don’t.
6 – No historian disputes that the Christian church exploded in Jerusalem just a few weeks after Jesus’ death. The message was not of a good bloke who said ‘be nice’, but of God incarnate risen and alive. Beyond that, there is no other rational explanation for the transformation of the disciples. They went from denying their master, and cowering in an upstairs room, to boldly proclaiming the Lord’s resurrection to a hostile crowd. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose – and indeed, most of them were brutally killed for doing it. Maybe they were just embarrassed by the fact they got it wrong, and so concoted something? Sorry, but you don’t try and save face but not your own life.
Your instinct might be to say things like: ‘Someone stole the body’, or ‘The disciples just hallucinated’, or ‘The Gospels were doctored and written centuries after.’
Check – please, check – and you’ll find that those historical hypotheses don’t stand up to scrutiny. The above hypotheses do. This is not just an article of faith: the only explanation to satisfactorily explain all the historical evidence is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
You can still dismiss Jesus, but it will be emotional reasons, and nothing to do with evidence and truth. So let’s just call a spade a spade.
But maybe this Easter you could think about what Jesus said in John 10:10: ‘I have come so that they might have life, and have it in all its fullness.’ You might scoff at Jesus, but nobody else in history has offered you that. It’s a promise, to boot, that has been fulfilled in millions of lives. So for once, maybe, stop scoffing and taste and see. He’s waiting. He’s risen.