Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Happy Easter!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the definitive apologetic for the Christian faith. If Jesus is not alive, St. Paul tells us, our faith is in vain. Alternatively, if Christ is raised from the dead, then all else must certainly be counted as vanity. After all, if the Christian faith is true, God offers us Christ’s victory over death as our own.
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, put it this way: If, at the end of my life, I find out that, say, atheism was true instead of Christianity, it won’t matter. I’ll be dead, the universe will go on, and I’ll be none the wiser. But if someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity finds out it is true, then they lose everything. As Jesus said, even if they’ve gained the whole world that will not profit them if they lose their soul eternally. This isn’t an argument for Christianity, per se, but I hope you see why it’s important to think about things that have potentially eternal ramifications. And in an effort to help you think about these things, whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever or somewhere in between, I want to present you with several reasons you ought to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.
The empty tomb.
It seems a pretty basic argument: If the tomb isn’t empty, Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, right? I mean, if you have a body, you don’t have a resurrection. So why didn’t the earliest opponents of Christianity just produce the body and be done with it?
Well, the Christian response has always been that they can’t! The tomb is empty and they can’t find Jesus’ body because He’s ascended into heaven! Let’s look at a few lines of evidence for the empty tomb. A lot of people summarize them with the acronym JET: Jerusalem, Enemies, Testimony of Women. Let’s start with Jerusalem.
The Gospels and Acts tell us that the Apostles began preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, where Jesus had just been crucified. Can you imagine how hard it would be to preach Peter’s Pentecost sermon about how the Lord of Glory had been crucified, and raised from the dead, if the Jews could produce a body and shut you down immediately? And yet that’s exactly what happens: Peter preaches a powerful message within walking distance of the tomb, saying “David’s tomb is still here, but God raised Jesus up!” If the tomb wasn’t empty, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.
Now the point comes up again: Why didn’t the earliest enemies of Christianity just grab His body? If the tomb was still full then the Jewish leaders could have just strung up the body and paraded it through the streets. Instead they pay off the guards to say they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). This is precisely because the tomb was discovered empty that first Easter Sunday, and they couldn’t produce the body! It speaks volumes when your strongest opponents confirm your point; John Stott said the silence of Christ’s enemies is just as eloquent a proof of the resurrection as the apostles’ witness.
Finally, the fact that women discovered the tomb would have been an embarrassment to any self-respecting first century male. If the disciples were trying to start a religion, they wouldn’t have had women be the first people to discover Jesus had risen. The Talmud, a collection of Jewish teachings from the time, says “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a). Many more quotes could be piled on to demonstrate the low view of women that first-century Judaism took, especially in regards to legal matters: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.15). So for the Gospels to record such a stark reality — that the male disciples are still cowering in fear and unbelief, while the female disciples go to see Jesus at the tomb — smacks of truth! If you’re going to start a religion in the first century, you don’t do it by painting yourself as a coward compared to a lowly woman.
So based on the nearness to Jerusalem, the silence of the Enemies, and Testimony of Women (JET), it certainly seems like the tomb was empty that Easter morning. And this is only a superficial exploration of the very rich collection of evidence. If this was the end of the case, there would still be compelling reason to consider the claims of Christ further. But there’s still much more.
The appearances of Christ
The Apostle Paul records that after He was raised Jesus “appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five-hundred people at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep; then to James, then to all the apostles…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). We see Jesus appearing to individuals and groups, both friendly and hostile. This variety shows us that Christ did indeed appear to His church.
Often people object that the apostles probably had some grief hallucinations. Despite the fact that hallucinations would probably have fit preconceived notions of Jesus resting in Abraham’s Bosom (where faithful Jews awaited the general resurrection at the end of the world), and hallucinations generally don’t give rise to life-altering beliefs, people persist in this particular objection. But Jesus did not just appear to individuals alone; He appeared to groups of people, and groups of people do not have shared hallucinations. That’s why we pay attention when two or three eyewitnesses say they saw the same thing. Not only that, but it wasn’t just friendly sources who saw Jesus: Hostile sources like James (Jesus’ brother who had previously disbelieved his Brother’s claims to Godhood) and Paul (then called Saul, and a murderer of the Christian heretics) both saw Jesus raised from the dead!
The change in the apostles.
Read Luke 22:54-62, then read Acts 2:14-36. Both passages deal with Peter, both are by the same author, and yet the Peter who denies Jesus is very different to the Peter who stands up on the day of Pentecost and preaches a powerful sermon about Jesus’ authority and victory over death. What changed this coward into a bold preacher? He told you, if you read the Acts account: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Meeting the risen Jesus completely changed Peter — there’s just no other way to put it. And what could possibly change a man from being so fearful of death to preaching to those who could kill him? Again, he told us: Death has no power over Jesus (See verse 24). So Peter no longer feared death because he had met death’s match; he had met someone who walked straight into the belly of Death and punched a hole in it’s side. That’s why when Peter was faced with death, rather than recanting what he had said, he boldly confessed Christ and received martyrdom for it.
But it wasn’t just Peter or John or the close friends of Jesus who were changed. As I mentioned above, Jesus’s appearance changed people who had been hostile to the faith. James, Jesus’ brother, went from unbeliever to apostle when he met Jesus, even writing the letter bearing his name. And Saul of Tarsus, who was basically a hit man the Jewish leaders hired to kill Christians, said he met Jesus on the way to a murder-for-hire in Damascus. From then on Saul went by Paul, and went from one of the top persecutors of the church to one of it’s chief advocates, writing roughly half of the New Testament, being shipwrecked, stoned, and persecuted in various means as he tried to spread the Gospel. Paul, too, received death as a martyr, choosing to bear witness to what a great hope Christ’s resurrection had given him rather than to live. Becoming a Christian early on in the history of the church generally ended with your own blood being shed. Ask yourself, what would compel a man to leave a successful, stable, and relatively cushy life as a traveling persecutor of heretics, only to be persecuted himself, and ultimately die as a result? Doesn’t the conversion of Paul invite us to take a second look at this whole Easter thing?
I’m sure that as you’ve reached the end of this post you have questions, and perhaps objections. I’d love to hear them. But I think perhaps the most pressing question is “so what?” What does the fact of the resurrection mean for you? That depends on how you respond to it. If you respond in faith then the resurrection is fantastic news — and faith is not a blind and reasonless ignorance but a trust that is willing to step beyond the evidence, as one might trust that there is something casting a shadow though you cannot see anything but the shadow cast. If you trust that Jesus’ work on the cross, His death, and His resurrection were for you, then this whole Easter thing means so much: Peace with God, forgiveness of your deepest sins and guilt, the strength to fight against sin in your self, and so much more.
Responding in unbelief, however, and rejecting Jesus’ work means that you will have none of that. You will continue to be at odds with God and the universe, you will continue to deal with your guilt on your own, you will continue to be a slave to all of your sinful desires. C. S. Lewis put it nicely: “Some people say to God, ‘thy will be done,’ and there are some people to whom God says ‘thy will be done.'” In other words, if you continue to reject Jesus’ work, and God’s invitation back into right relationship with Him, He will, one day, say “depart from me, I never knew you.”
So this is what the resurrection means: Eternal life, joy everlasting, and freedom from sin, death, and the Devil. I hope you have found a few compelling reasons to believe that the resurrection did indeed happen: If the tomb wasn’t empty, how’d Christianity even get off the ground? If Jesus didn’t convert the Apostle Paul, why did he go from killing Christians to being killed as one? And if these things are true, then why do you delay? It was for your sins that Christ died: Repent of your sins, trust in Him, and His victory this day is also your victory. May God grant it.
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