So most people are probably aware that Easter is here. For one, Wal-Mart makes a whole aisle of their store dedicated to Easter chocolate – the cream-filled chocolate eggs (which are my favorite), chocolate bunnies and so forth. Easter egg hunts are a fun activity that churches and families do. But as with Christmas these things are only add-ons and commercialized forms of what the holiday is really about.
So, why do Christians make a big deal about Easter? It’s all about the fact that Jesus – the man who we are trying to follow – died, and then…something happened. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was empty. The Jews explained it away: “The disciples or someone else stole the body.” Modern skeptics have argued that a man named Jesus never existed to die and be buried in the first place. That would certainly cast a shadow on Christian teaching, for “if Christ is not raised [from death], [our] faith is futile.” (I Corinthians 15:17)
I can’t speak for someone else, so I’ll just speak for me. I don’t think that that’s the case. First of all, the story of Jesus is a story set in factual history. The land of Palestine exists; the Roman empire was real; the Pharisees and Sadducees and other major groups of people really existed. The Gospels are really nothing more than personal accounts from four random guys that Jesus said, “Hey you, follow me.” These were real people who really wrote down (or narrated) what they saw, heard, felt and experienced.
When you sit in a courtroom and listen to eyewitness testimony, you aren’t looking for everyone to say the exact same thing. Sometimes one person notices something that the others don’t notice; sometimes different people confuse the order of events. In the case of the Gospels, we even have entirely different audiences and the person writing (or narrating) the Gospel is trying to make a different point from the others. However, what we have instead is this: we have the equivalent of hours of eyewitness testimony from these four men who had every logical reason to tell us a different story.
Among other things, their self-representations in the stories they told were often less than stellar, yet the disciples seemed to not be too worried about telling their audiences about their own mistakes. Even when people tell the truth, they often shy away from the embarrassing details about themselves. If someone tells you something authentically embarrassing about themselves, then you can guess that they are telling you the truth as best as they can. Plus, in telling others about Jesus, they were ostracized from the Jews. In such a culture where so much of your identity came from the fact that you were a Jew, they rejected that. They gained no wealth, no political capital, no nothing. If these men were pulling stuff out of the sky just to make people like them, they weren’t very good at it.
Another great example is the fact that women were the ones who first discovered the empty tomb. In that Middle Eastern culture, women weren’t allowed to testify in a court of law. Women’s testimony was considered unreliable, so the fact that women were the first ones to discover the empty tomb was an embarrassment to the disciples; they were actually making it less likely that people would believe them. Why would they do that if none of it happened?
Also understand that at its heart, the Easter celebration is the heart of the disciples’ message. The disciples were not theologians and they weren’t trying to create a religion. Their message centered on a very simple statement: “This man named Jesus was as dead as dead can be. I saw him die. And then three days later, he stood before all of us. He was alive again.”
Could the disciples have lied? Sure, but it would go against everything we know about human motivation. Most people lie in order to make themselves look better or to gain something – political power, money, status, etc. These men gained none of these by saying what they said. Could they have imagined it? It’s possible, but doubtful. It wasn’t like Peter was looking at a shadow and saying, “Guys, there he is! Don’t you see him?” Could it have been a collective delusion? It could have, but that would go against everything we know about psychology and sociology. Hallucinations are a highly individual experience. Like dreams, they are based out of a person’s psyche so if they had been hallucinating they wouldn’t have all seen the same thing. Instead, they all saw the same thing: Jesus standing before them in flesh, even talking with them in a group setting for long periods of time, eating, etc.
Are there additional arguments that can be brought against the Resurrection claim? Sure, but I can’t cover all of them. Besides, some of the objections I have already brought up seek to invalidate the experience of these 12 human beings and very simply, that irritates me. When you try to invalidate the experience of human beings, you begin to act like they were too stupid or too ignorant to know the truth. It comes across as very arrogant and dismissive. If I came up to you and said, “Let me tell you why all of your life experiences that shape who you are are invalid,” odds are you wouldn’t like it. I’m a big fan of asking pointed questions, but I’m also a big fan of not belittling or dismissing the experiences of other people.
This is why I believe that Jesus is still alive today and this is why I am trying to follow him. I believe that Jesus was a real man who really died, and then a considerable number of people saw Jesus alive again at the same time, in the same place. It isn’t about chocolate bunnies or fertility rituals of ancient cultures; it’s about the fact that a human being rose from the dead.
If the story isn’t true, then Christianity is a huge, complex lie that men throughout history have used to justify both great good and great evil. But if the story is true, then that radically changes everything we know about reality. So, for me, that is the most important question that you can ask: did Jesus come back to life, or didn’t he? If he stayed dead, then he was just another good guy with some nice thoughts. If he didn’t stay dead then his words are worth taking a second look at.