It is a glorious thing that on this day all around the world billions of Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of their Savior. Those who don’t, think that those of us who do are deluded. Maybe we are, but the vast majority of those who reject the bodily resurrection of Christ have never given a single solitary minute to examining the evidence. Most of these don’t believe a man coming back from the dead is possible, so why bother with evidence. I’m sure there are others who don’t want to engage the evidence because they don’t want it to be true. If God did become a man, died for their sins, and was raised for their justification, then they are confronted with a choice. Rebels have a hard time giving up their rebellion.
For me, if this resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth really did happen, it is, by very far, the most important historical fact of human history. And orthodox Christians don’t believe Jesus’ resurrection is a “spiritual resurrection” in our hearts, a beautiful idea about new life and some such thing. No, we believe the man himself, a human being just like you and me, was killed by the Romans, was laid in a tomb, and three days later revealed himself as risen to his followers. We believe this because there is a significant amount of historical evidence that it in fact happened. Jesus himself knew we, and his followers at the time, needed evidence because, well, people don’t just rise from the dead!
Skeptics think Jesus’ followers, and all ancient people, were gullible, that they believed people rose from the dead all the time. Hardly. I love the way Luke paints the scene of the first Easter morning. The women had gone back to the disciples after discovering the empty tomb, and said they’d seen angels who told them Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus’ followers weren’t buying it:
11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Even after Jesus appears to Peter, and to two other disciples on the road to Emmaus, they have a hard time accepting that a dead man, even Jesus, can rise from the dead. Then Jesus appears to them, and still their minds can’t grasp it:
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
They are shocked and afraid and doubtful, so what does Jesus do? Gives them evidence! And in case showing them his wounds and touching him doesn’t do the trick, he eats a piece of fish! We also know from John’s gospel that “Doubting Thomas” is even more blunt, and demands that he put his hands in Jesus wounds or he won’t believe. He does, and says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” We watched the movie Risen last night, and the makers of the film do a fantastic job of capturing the disbelief and confusion of Jesus’ followers after the resurrection. You can almost see their thoughts: none of this makes any sense!
In a word, this is why I love the biblical record: verisimilitude. It has the ring of truth. If they were making up the story out of whole cloth, this isn’t the way they would have written it. No, Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed!