In just 4 days, there will be people all around the world who gather to celebrate a belief that Jesus rose from the dead. While there is next to no debate that Jesus of Nazareth existed, lived in the Galilean region, and died on a Roman cross, there is much debate about his resurrection.
I believe in the validity of science. I consider myself to be a rational thinker. And yet, I’m convinced that Jesus rose from the dead! I’d like to believe my faith is not based simply on stories and fables that were handed down to me by my parents and other adults that helped shape my worldview. Rather, this conviction is grounded in the historicity of the events that surrounded the life and legend of Jesus. In addition, my belief that Jesus rose from the dead is not as simplistic as stating, “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible says so.” Now, the Bible does record the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that isn’t the only reason I believe that Jesus of Nazareth conquered death and walked out of a perfectly good tomb 2000+ years ago.
All throughout this week, National Geographic will be running specials where so-called experts will attempt to explain away the resurrection. I get it. It’s quite the story, and the story has innumerable implications attached to it. If I allow myself to believe that Jesus walked out of the grave conquering sin and death, I’m left with the only option of following him by basing my life on his teaching. That’s what I’ve chosen to do, here’s why I’m convinced Jesus rose from the dead.
First, 10 out of 11 disciples died for the claim that Jesus was Lord, a claim that was grounded in the historicity of the resurrection. You might respond by rightly reminding me that people die for a lie all the time. This week we saw an example of that with the suicide bombers in Brussels. The difference here is that the followers of Jesus would have known that what they were dying for was a lie. Not only that, but they all died for this supposed lie while separated from each other and spread out around the Mediterranean region. To assume that they all could have independently held onto this lie in the face of persecution and martyrdom is quite the assumption and confidence in their bullheadedness and master planning.
Second, the fact that Christianity survived the first century is remarkable and arguably miraculous. There were a number of others who claimed to be the ‘messiah’ during Jesus’ day, but when these men died, their movement died with them. With Jesus, you see the exact opposite happen. He died, and the Jesus-movement exploded! There is next to no other explanation for the rise of Christianity and it’s survival in the First Century than the resurrection. Writing about this phenomenon, Kenneth Scott Latourette, a professor at Yale states, “The more one examines the various factors which seem to account for the extraordinary victory of Christianity, the more one is driven to search for a cause underlying them all. It is clear that at the very beginning of Christianity there must have occurred a vast release of energy virtually unequalled in history… Nothing else could explain the surge of the early Christian movement. What caused this release of energy…lies outside the realm in which modern historians are supposed to move.” But then he goes on to say, “But before I am a historian, I am human… How can I close my eyes to the obvious explanation that something supernatural happened?” The only reasonable conclusion is that Jesus walked out of the tomb after dying on a Roman cross.
Third, Jesus’ own brother claims that he is God and that he was raised from the dead. Jesus’ brother James becomes one of the leaders in the church in Jerusalem. He goes from being a bystander to the movement of Jesus, to being one of it’s foremost leaders. In 62AD, James was stoned to death for this conviction that his brother was Lord and Savior. How far would you have to go to convince your own family of your deity?
Fourth, Sunday became the day of Christian worship. Most of the disciples were from a Jewish background and they were used to the Sabbath being on Saturday, but because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, they started gathering for worship on a Sunday. For 300 years followers of Jesus gathered before daybreak on Sunday mornings to join other believers for prayer, worship, and communion. Up until that point it had been a work day; it wasn’t a part of the weekend. It wasn’t until 321 that Constantine made Sunday a “day of rest.” Think about how big of a shift that would have been. The entire rhythm of our week is shaped around the historic event of Jesus walking out of the grave!
Finally, many think you have to go to the Bible to read about the resurrection. While it’s true that the best accounts of the resurrection from from the Scriptures, the Scriptures are not the only place you can read about Jesus’ death and subsequently resurrection! Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Falvius Josephus all write about the events surrounding Jesus’ death from a non-believing perspective. Josephus writes most extensively and convincing, stating “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man who drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” Mind you, this is from an unbelieving, first century source!
The list could go on and on… and on.
I can understand that it’s hard to believe the resurrection, but based on the evidence, I think it’s harder believe the resurrection didn’t take place. There are too many things that only make sense if the resurrection did in fact happen. As you celebrate Easter this year, remember that you can do so with great confidence in the historicity of the resurrection. If you don’t have a church to worship with, we’d love for you to join us at South Fellowship Church at 9:00am, 10:45am, or 4:00pm.