What's so special about Easter anyhow? Is it the death on Good Friday? Not for me. It's the events of the Easter Sunday that grab me. What must it have been like to see a man you knew was dead standing before you?
Of course it's all too much for many sceptics. Dead people don't come back to life, they say. They claim that maybe Jesus wasn't dead when they put him into the tomb, or that he was dead and that he is still in a tomb somewhere in Palestine.
Personally that's a bit too unbelievable for me. Lets look at the objections:
Did Jesus die?
It starts on a Friday morning nearly 2000 years ago. A young carpenter receives 40 lashes from a Roman soldier. The whip is made of leather with pieces of metal and sharp bone woven into it. His back is ripped open, and a huge quantity of blood spills out onto the cobbles. Many men do not survive this flogging.
At the place of execution his arms are stretched out and nailed to the beam with sharpened spikes driven through his wrists, crushing the main nerve.
He is then hoisted to attach the cross bar to the vertical stake. With his body-weight hanging only from his wrists, his arms are wrenched out of their sockets. Nails are driven through his feet - again crushing the nerves. In order to breathe Jesus has to push himself up, scrapping his lacerated back against he coarse wood, breathe in and then sink down again. This goes on and on until complete exhaustion takes over, and he dies through lack of oxygen.
Often the legs of the victims were broken to speed up the process, but in this case it isn't necessary. A spear is thrust though his side into his heart to ensure his death.
And so we have this battered body with its back ripped to pieces, its nervous system smashed to a pulp and a gaping hole torn in its side by a spear.
Was he dead? Surely he must have been. But don't take my word for it; let's ask a few of those present.
The Centurion. Here was a man who knew death when he saw it. When Pilate summons him that evening we read in Mark 15:44,45 that he assures Pilate that Jesus was indeed dead.
The Jews. From the lips of his enemies comes confirmation of the fact of Jesus' death. When they see that he is dead they go to Pilate and ask to have his tomb guarded. They want to make sure that his body, dead and all as it is, is not stolen by his disciples.
Medical Experts. We read in John 19:34 "One of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water". Medical experts tell us that when someone dies in this manner, the sack around the heart and lungs fills up with a clear fluid. So when it was pierced, and the spear withdrawn, John saw exactly what you would expect to see coming from a crucified corpse - blood and water.
We could add Joseph of Arimathea and the women who watched - they all knew he was dead. The universal testimony of all involved in the events of Easter Friday is that Jesus of Nazareth died.
Well that leaves us to answer the claim, "If he was definitely dead, maybe he still is"
Did Jesus rise?
Witnesses say He is alive. Paul, writing only 20 years after the crucifixion to the church at Corinth, lists more than 520 people who saw Jesus Christ after he rose. He effectively says to his readers, "Go and ask them." You don't say that sort of thing unless you can be sure that all those people will back you up.
What about these witnesses? What sort of people were they? Were they emotionally unstable? Simple? Deluded? Gullible? Lets meet a few of them.
The Women. The women were on their way to anoint a dead body - they had no fond hopes that Jesus was alive. They were not hoping against hope that he was still alive. In fact they were so convinced of his death that even when he did appear to Mary Magdalene she still didn't accept it. These women were expecting to find a dead body not a living Saviour.
The Disciples. When the women told the rest of the disciples, we read in Luke 24:11: "they did not believe them because their words seemed like nonsense."! And then there was Thomas who certainly wasn't going to be fooled. He had to see the nail holes and spear wound to be convinced.
Paul. To this highly intelligent man this resurrection/messiah nonsense was a blasphemous heresy, to be annihilated at all costs. Was he likely to be vulnerable to hoping against hope that Jesus was alive? And yet we find him writing "He appeared to me also".
Not only were there many witnesses, but the resurrection was seen and believed by those who were least expecting it.
The Empty Tomb says He is alive. The gospels make it clear that the women took great care to note exactly where it was Jesus was buried. Matt 27:61 "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb". They did not go to the wrong tomb. The simple fact is - it was empty
The real question is, why was it empty? The Jewish leaders had to answer that question, and the best they could do was blame the disciples, even though there was a guard on the tomb - What a weak story! If the guards were asleep how did they know it was the disciples?
The Lives of the Disciples say He is alive. Did the disciples really believe he was alive? When Jesus died his followers scattered, they fled as cowards. How is it then that a few weeks later we find them standing in front of the very people who had lynched their teacher telling this resurrection story?
These uneducated fishermen and tax collectors took the world by storm. Not even the threat of death stopped them proclaiming the resurrection for the rest of their lives. Men do not die for something they know to be false, and yet each of the disciples was to lose his life for his Lord.
What made the difference? Why didn't they fear death? They had seen death defeated - they had nothing to worry about. How else can you account for the transformation from quivering wrecks to triumphant bold witnesses?
The Spread of Christianity says He is Alive. There is no way to explain the growth and spread of Christianity apart from the resurrection.
If you were an alien looking down on the first century, would you think that the majestic Roman Empire or Christianity would be most likely to survive? You probably wouldn't put money on the ragtag bunch of nobodies whose main message was that a crucified carpenter from an obscure village had triumphed over the grave. Yet it was so successful that today we name our children Peter and Paul and call our dogs Nero and Caesar.
2000 years later the Roman Empire is nowhere to be seen, but Christianity is mushrooming across the globe. Why? Because the grave couldn't hold Jesus of Nazareth.
This has only been a whirlwind tour of some of the evidence, much more could be presented, but the same conclusion would always be drawn - Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. It is the only answer.
Where does this leave us then?
- The Resurrection is proof that the bible is true
- The Resurrection is proof that God exists and that Jesus is who he said he was - the Son of God.
- The Resurrection is proof that Death is not the end.
- The Resurrection is proof that Sins have been paid for.
- The Resurrection is proof that Jesus is the only way to God.
The resurrection is the single most important fact of history. You cannot afford to ignore it.