Yesterday I had the opportunity to share in a portion of our Easter celebration at the Altria theater. Part Ted talk, part visual storytelling–we combined graphics, music and text to present evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It was a labor of love and great teamwork–here’s a picture from rehearsal. I’ll post video from the service when it’s available.
At the end–some of us come to faith by feeling–but for others, we need the facts. As promised, here is a version of my piece edited for publication: “The Easter Effect”.
The Easter Effect
I have a confession to make. My Name is Nicole Unice, and I am an author and a pastor–but I am also a skeptic. For some, faith seems to come easily, but for others (you know who you are)—believing in something invisible and impossible can be a challenge.
After all, what we do when we celebrate Easter is believe the audacious claim of Christianity–that Jesus Christ was not just any man, but God himself.
Perhaps you know that in a tragic turn of events, Jesus was betrayed by one of his own followers and although no one could quite agree on the crime, he was arrested, flogged, tortured, and crucified.
…and although a charismatic teacher in a backwoods town subject to an unjust trial and a criminal’s death certainly is interesting it’s definitely not life-changing or world-altering and this history lesson would simply be
Unless Jesus Christ simply did not stay dead.
You see, Jesus claimed to be a Messiah—but in his day, eighteen different men claimed to be a Messiah. But if the one who claims to be a Messiah can substantiate his claims by beating death—if he could return to life after being really, truly, dead—well that’s a different story.
Could it really be? Let’s take a look at the evidence—starting with this.
Did Jesus really die by crucifixion?
The Bible says so, but so do Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian of Samosata, and Mara Bar Sepapion—all ancient writers who all attest to that fact that Jesus Christ lived—and then died by crucifixion. Even the most critical scholar of Jesus’ resurrection said, “that Jesus Christ was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”
And then there’s Jesus’ disciples, who really believed that he rose from the dead.
These fearful individuals who abandoned Jesus during his arrest and murder somehow became transformed–resolute and steadfast in their claims. Eleven different early sources testify to the fact that they willingly suffered or died in defense of that belief.
But just because Jesus’ disciples believed he rose from the dead, doesn’t mean he did. After all, people embrace false beliefs all the time.
…But what about the empty tomb?
There was an easy way to end all of this speculation. So why not just exhume his body and show off the remains? But they didn’t produce the body. Sources agree that the fact that the opposition accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body is an indirect admission that there was no body to be found.
Plus if the disciples had somehow stolen the body, sources wouldn’t have reported the somewhat embarrassing facts: the none of Jesus’ followers even believed he had risen from the dead when they found the empty tomb.
And then there’s Jesus’ actual appearances…
Several separate individual accounts testify that Jesus actually appeared to them:
The twelve disciples
500 followers at once
James, the brother of John
All the apostles together
..all report separate encounters over a period of 40 days with the person they believe to be the risen Christ.
So what do we do with the facts of the case? Surely the skeptic in all of us doesn’t really believe that something so supernatural, something so implausible, could really happen? So what other alternatives are there?
So is it legend?
Is it all a story created over time by his disciples? That’s not supported by the empty tomb or the historical record. 150 years after Julius Caesar’s death, there were four sources that reported his wartime conquests. 150 years after Jesus’ death, there were 42 sources that support that his resurrection was told as fact—not myth. And at the time of his death, even Christ’s enemies regarded the story as a literal event.
So is it lie?
In every political scandal that has occurred throughout history, one or more guilty party is willing to tell the truth rather than face torture, prison or death. But in Jesus’ case, there’s not one record of even one disciple recanting his claim. Not to mention the conversion of Paul, an enemy of Christianity who claimed his own first-hand appearance, who would have no reason to support the concept of a resurrected Christ.
So is it lunacy?
Is it possible that through the stress of their leader’s death, a whole group of people experienced a shared hallucination that they had seen the risen Christ? But there’s no such thing as shared group hallucinations, and even if there was, why would a crazy vision from followers make enemies of Christ convert, like Paul?
And if it was a hallucination, how was the tomb empty?
Of those eighteen men claiming to be Messiah, every one of them died.
But there is only evidence to support one man, who suffered multiple bodily wounds that no one could survive—who really died. There’s only one man whose body disappeared from where it was laid, whose visible form was seen by not one, not two but no less than 12 different eyewitness accounts. There’s only one whose followers would rather suffer brutal deaths themselves than deny this one claim—that Jesus Christ is alive.
Jesus Christ, who said that his resurrected body would be the proof that He is who He says He is, and He can do what He says He can do.
Every other plausible reason for the 2.2 billion Christians in the world today falls apart.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is either the most colossal ruse ever pulled on humanity, lasting more than one thousand, nine hundred and eighty-four years–
Or this miracle of miracles is true.
**grateful for the following sources: “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus,” Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, “Evidence for the Resurrection,” Josh McDowell & Sean McDowell, and “The Case for Easter”, Lee Strobel.