“Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Why make such a big deal about the resurrection? Isn’t it enough to simply believe it happened and not worry so much about whether it was a real, historical event? I mean, in a world of modern understandings of life and death, defending the supernatural is no mean feat. Couldn’t we get by simply focusing on the powerful idea of the resurrection? Ever wondered anything like this? Let’s talk about it.
Can’t we just treat the resurrection as a powerful idea and not worry so much about its historical substance? In a word, no.
And here’s why: No idea is that powerful. No idea is powerful enough to have accomplished all that the resurrection has accomplished. No idea could have been powerful enough to inspire the dejected disciples to suddenly become bold proclaimers that Jesus was alive.
Let me put it in these terms. Elvis Presley died in 1977. During his life and career his impact was hard to overstate. His fans were incredibly passionate. His music has continued to sell in the decades since he passed and not just to old fans who are reminiscing of days gone by. He has continued to attract new fans, new followers, if you will. This is because he was “The King.”
His death shocked and grieved the nation when it was announced. Some, though, refused to believe it. They hung on to this idea that he was still alive. It was a powerful enough idea that for a generation or two, you could always find someone who believed he was really still alive. There were “Elvis sightings” on a fairly regular basis. The idea singlehandedly kept some tabloid newspapers in business for years.
But, if you were to press these still-devoted fans hard enough, not a one of them would stick to the idea. If you were to, say, put a gun to their child’s head and demand they tell you what they really believe, they’d abandon it like a sinking ship.
I heard a story recently about Pakistani evangelist who had defied the demands of some local Muslims that he stop proclaiming Jesus for several years. Finally, they came to his house, abducted him, took him to a field, put a bag over his head, and demanded again that he stop. He refused. The next thing he felt was a gun to his head. He refused still. The next thing he heard was his eight-year-old son’s voice crying in pain accompanied by yet another demand to stop. With encouragement from his son, he agonizingly refused yet again. His son cried out one last time and was silent, then the attackers left. No idea is powerful enough to inspire that. (Happily, the son survived the beating and both are alive and well today with a rock solid trust in Jesus.)
Believing in the resurrection as an idea isn’t enough. It’s not our belief that accomplishes anything of value. It is the one in whom we are believing. As the old hymn goes, “But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able, to keep that which He committed unto me against that day.”
We believe, not in some idea, but in a person. We believe in a person who really did rise from the grave. He was dead and then He was alive. This isn’t wishful thinking, it is history.
We know it is history because it is the only plausible explanation for a number of historical facts. This method of reasoning is called the inference to the best explanation. And before you wonder if this is just some convenient name given to something Christians made up to help them argue for the resurrection, it’s not. It is the method of reasoning used by, among others cold case detectives and Charles Darwin (whose conclusions were flawed because of a paucity of evidence, but whose conclusions are ironically still accepted in spite of a continued paucity as a matter of faith by his modern disciples).
The full weight of evidence is more than I’m going to try and go into here, but in these words to the believers of ancient Corinth Paul offers us two important facts: Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at the same time; and the conversion of James, Jesus’ brother, from doubt to bold belief. Only the resurrection makes sense of these. Five hundred people don’t share the same hallucination and James pointedly did not believe his brother was the Messiah during His lifetime. He thought Jesus was dangerously crazy. An idea of him coming back from the dead wasn’t about to change his mind.
All of this amounts to this: We can and should have confidence in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It’s history. It is history on which we can build our lives. It is history by which we can make sense of our lives. It is history that can change your life if you will accept it. I pray you will. Happy Easter.