Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Here’s a summation of the facts: We know that there was a man named Jesus who lived and died in the first century. Historians tell us that the death of Jesus by crucifixion is one of the most attested events in early history; no one doubts He died on a Roman cross.
More facts: Somehow the body of Jesus went missing. This is proven by the fact that the Jewish leaders and the Romans who wanted to stop those who followed Him could not do so by producing a body. The Jewish leaders claimed the disciples stole the body (again, proving it was missing).
More facts: The disciples claimed He rose. Josephus, a Jewish historian, references the missing body. A letter from the Roman emperor to his representatives in the area warned the people that if they kept stealing bodies, they would pay a stiff penalty.
Given the verifiable facts we have, people over the centuries have sought all kinds of alternative answers to the question of the missing body.
The first alternative is recorded in the first book of the New Testament when the Jewish leaders advanced the theory that while the guards slept, the disciples snuck in, moved an unusually large stone from the tomb without awakening any of them, made off with the body and then concocted their preposterous claim of a resurrection.
Problem is, Josephus puts the number of guards at 1,040 (not the usual two to four we picture in our Easter pageants), and, while people will die for what they believe to be true, it is unlikely that all 12 of his followers would have died the way they did if they knew it was a lie.
But there is more. These original followers became convinced of the resurrection not because of what they believed, but what they saw. You could not convince them otherwise.
Theories advanced of these men seeing grief-induced hallucinations fail on the fact that group hallucinations don’t occur. Paul (more on him in a minute) tells us that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus at one time (see 1 Corinthians 15:6) and then he says to his readers, most of them are still around if you want to check out the facts for yourself.
Peter, the guy who denied Jesus out of fear, stands before the same guys that had Jesus crucified. They are telling him to keep quiet about Jesus and the resurrection.
Peter responds by telling them why he and the others were transformed; and it’s not what you think. They were transformed not because of what they believed; they were transformed because of what they saw. “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20, NIV84).
Then there’s Saul (later known as Paul) who hated this new sect of Christians. He not only hated them but he made it his mission in life to destroy them. It’s not like he was listening to their message and became converted; he was on his way to Damascus to arrest and kill Christ followers.
But something happened — Saul was confronted by the risen Christ and everything changed in that instant.
James and Jude were brothers of Jesus. They grew up with him. When he began his ministry, they didn’t believe him, they didn’t believe his message and they didn’t follow him.
Now, think about this for a minute, what would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Messiah? Bet you’re saying, “Nothing. No way, I know my brother.” Well, James and Jude said the same thing, but then something changed their minds, and it wasn’t what they believed, it was what they saw and experienced.
The bottom line here is, the evidence of history screams “resurrection.” I challenge you to consider this. We Christ-followers are not Christ-followers because of what Jesus taught, we are Christ-followers because we are convinced of an event that took place in history that is examinable and verifiable.
You may disagree, but you still have to account for the empty tomb. I dare you to look into it. I think you will come away believing.
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.