Each Easter, we have a special celebration for the resurrection of Jesus. But the truth is that the resurrection is not simply the focus on the Easter holiday, but the focus of the entire Christian faith. In fact, according to the Apostle Paul, the whole faith hinges on the resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t raised, we are still in our sins and our faith is vain (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17).
This is why the resurrection was at the center of the proclamation of the apostles in Acts. The resurrection is the central celebration not only for Easter Sunday, but for every Sunday when the church of Jesus gathers.
If the resurrection has such a central place in Christian belief, it is worthwhile for us to ask why we believe it. After all, it is not natural simply to believe that a man rose from the dead. Some would claim that it is silly to believe that it took place. In light of this, let me share some reasons why I think it is totally intellectually reasonable to believe that the resurrection took place.
The story began early. It is important to remember that the reports of Jesus’ resurrection did not begin hundreds of years after his life. Instead, they began only days after his death, and the extensive written documents about his resurrection showed up within the same generation as his death. This means that it bears the marks not of a legend, but of a report. This should catch our attention. That said, this point alone should not be nearly enough to convince us. But it leads to another point.
The story was not disproven. It is very difficult to prove a negative. In other words, it is not reasonable to ask someone to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. But it would not seem to be a difficult task when the disciples first began to proclaim the resurrection. Why was Jesus’ dead body not produced, so that the reports of his resurrection could be stopped? Some say that the body wasn’t produced because the disciples stole it. But this would mean that the disciples willingly endured torment, imprisonment, and death for something they knew was a lie. Some people say that the Pharisees stole the body. But this would mean that the Pharisees had the proof they needed in order to squash the rumor of Jesus’ resurrection, and yet they didn’t produce it. Some say that Jesus didn’t actually die, that the disciples hallucinated, or that Jesus’ followers went to the wrong tomb. But none of these explanations seems adequate.
Again, it is hard to prove a negative, but it should strike us as odd that a big claim like this could not be disproven so close to the events. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all written within about 35 years of Jesus’ death. To be safe, though, let’s lengthen the timeframe to 50 years.
Let’s say that I claimed that 50 years ago the Dodgers won the World Series. You would not have to work very hard to disprove this claim. There would be articles, photos, and personal reports from people who were alive at the time. They would point out that the Tigers won the World Series that year. When the Gospels were written, there were many people who personally observed the events. It seems hard to believe that the belief would not only have persisted but would have spread.
The story had a significant impact. People believing something doesn’t make it true. That said, it should strike us that so many people from so many different parts of the world, over the course of almost 2,000 years, have believed that Jesus was raised. People are not anxious to be deceived. The impact of Jesus is based on the reports of his resurrection. This should make us slow to dismiss this historical claim. Fact is not based on popular vote, but the sheer number of believers should cause us to give the resurrection a second look.
As you reflect on the resurrection of Jesus, I invited you to embrace Jesus with confidence. Our faith is based not on closing our eyes and trying to believe. Our faith is based on seeing convincing evidence, and then filling in the gaps of uncertainty. I invite you to walk forward with confidence that the risen Jesus Christ is still working victory and power in the world today.