Before anything else, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is news. It is a declaration about reality. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He was dead and buried. “On the third day he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and many others.” Christianity’s foundation is the factual account of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So here’s the thing: This historical claim is either true or it is not true. It is fact, or it is fiction. If it is fact, the ramifications are astounding.
If the resurrection is fiction, Christianity is a sham. The Apostle Paul says as much: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1Cor. 15:17-19).
Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there any way that you and I, 2,000 years later, can know the answer to this question? I believe that we can. All available evidence points in that direction. Here is some of the evidence:
The Tomb of Jesus was empty on Easter morning. The Jewish and Roman authorities as well as the disciples of Jesus testified that this was true (Matthew 28:11-15). The tomb was empty and two explanations were put forth: the authorities said the disciples stole the body; the disciples of Jesus said that he had been resurrected. If the tomb were not empty, the Jewish leaders could have quickly produced the body of Jesus and proven that Jesus' followers were lying; yet they did not. This is the first clue: an empty tomb.
The Transformation of the Disciples. The disciples on Easter morning were a beaten and discouraged bunch — not expecting that Jesus would return to life (Luke 24:1-13). Their leader had been killed. They called the initial resurrection report of the women an “idle tale.” Even after Peter runs to the tomb, we are not told that he believed, but that he wondered or was amazed at what had taken place. But we also know that within 50 days these downcast and discouraged men would undergo a major transformation. The Book of Acts tells us how these same beaten skeptics began to confidently and boldly proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.
What happened? What best explains this radical change? Did the disciples make up a lie together? That doesn’t fit with what we know of these men and their own initial skepticism. Others have held that they had some mass hallucination or group delusion — they so much wanted to believe that Jesus was alive. I think this explanation is harder to believe than a resurrection from the dead. These men were neither expecting, nor inclined, to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. The most reasonable explanation is that these men had a real encounter with the risen Jesus. In fact, several of these disciples died because of their testimony of the risen Christ. The apostle James was beheaded. Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded in Rome. Do men willingly give up their lives for something they know is a lie?
The Conversion of Paul. Saul of Tarsus was a powerful enemy of the early church, persecuting and even putting to death followers of Jesus. Yet this same man became Paul, the greatest missionary and theologian of Christianity. What happened? What explains this radical change? Paul’s explanation was that he had had an encounter with the risen Jesus Christ (Acts 26:12-23).
This is just some of the evidence (not all!) that Jesus did indeed rise bodily from the dead. How is the empty tomb, the change in the disciples, and the amazing conversion of Paul best explained? The most reasonable explanation is that Jesus has been resurrected. Jesus is alive!
I would invite you to examine the evidence for yourself. If Jesus did not rise on that first Easter morning, we Christians are a sad and deluded bunch. But if he did rise — if he did—then there is a mighty and gracious savior for all who will trust in Him.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.