Believe it or not, I am quite a sceptical person. I don’t always take things at face value. I need to question, read up, mull things over, debate, think, reflect. So the Christian belief that Jesus actually physically rose from the dead was something that I initially struggled with as a young man. From a scientific point of view, it was absurd – it was an impossibility. Medically, biologically, physiologically, logically, all the “-ally’s” in the world told me that it was not possible. So I decided to compromise – yes, the disciples experienced Jesus after his death but not physically. Maybe through visions or maybe through a ghostly-type apparition. Somehow they experienced him as no longer dead.
But something was still nagging me. It didn’t sit with me. And I did more reading and thinking and listening to people of faith and it slowly dawned on me that it was more than just some spiritual event. I want to share with you some of the insights I gained that helped me to believe that, on this Sunday morning over 2000 years ago, the resurrection really did happen.
Firstly, dead people stay dead. This fact is something that humanity have believed since the dawn of time. I used to think that the religious beliefs and the culture of Jesus’ time were just primitive and out of date, so something like the resurrection could be easily believed back then. But people believed the same thing too – dead people stay dead! They don’t come back to life again. There was only one time that the dead would be raised – the Jewish belief was that this would only happen at the end of the world. Greco-Roman society did not believe in resurrection but only some form of life after death for the soul in a supernatural realm. So for Jesus followers to start telling people that he had physically risen again and was appearing to them was to tell them an absurd and ridiculous notion.
Secondly, what was a further challenge back then to convincing people about Jesus’ resurrection had to do with the manner of his death. Again, it is hard for us in 2020 to appreciate the implications of death by crucifixion, especially of someone whose followers had been saying was the Messiah, the Saviour of the Jewish people. So the death of Jesus, by all appearances, was a complete failure. A total embarrassment. It was a state execution that was so horrific in nature that it only led to shame, embarrassment and fear. There is no way that a Messiah would die in this way. And there is definitely no way that the Son of God could have died in this manner! It was shameful and, to put it bluntly, a sign that God had deserted that person.
Added to all of this, there was the claim of an empty tomb – how did it become empty? (Interesting to note that in all the objections to Jesus’ resurrection by his enemies, nobody ever disputed the fact of the empty tomb).The most common reason put forward for this is that the disciples truly believed Jesus to be the Messiah so they stole the body, buried it somewhere and then claimed he had risen from the dead. But again I was drawn back to the discoveries I had made above.
The idea of a person resurrecting and then coming back to tell people was completely alien to the belief system at that time – it is really stretching the imagination to think that these disciples came up with this unique and original idea all by themselves! Added to this, the total shame and embarrassment of Jesus’ death was such that it is beyond belief that the disciples would have actually thought that they could convince people that this happened, even with an empty tomb. Added to the mix is the fact that it was women who discovered the empty tomb – in the culture of that time, women were not believed to be credible witnesses to events so trying to convince people about the resurrection based on the women’s testimony was a non-starter.
In other words, the belief in Jesus’ resurrection should never have been entertained if it had never happened. Everything – the culture and beliefs of the time, the manner of Jesus’ death, the events around his empty tomb – went against the claim that the resurrection of Jesus happened. But how could a whole movement, a religion start on the basis of a complete fabrication? Why would hundreds and thousands of people go to their death singing hymns in the Roman arenas if it was all a lie? How is it that over two billion people today hold the death and resurrection of Jesus as central to their faith?
At the very least, something must have happened. But that is not enough for us. And it was not enough for me. With all the information I had gathered, I now believed that on this Easter morning, Jesus rose physically from the dead and in the days and weeks that followed he appeared to his disciples.
Today, the society and culture that we live in holds up science as the answer to everything. And science will tell us that resurrection is not possible. But we have to remember, it was as unbelievable then as it is now. We can’t insult the intelligence of people just because they lived 2000 years ago. They knew that it was impossible. But yet hundreds of thousands of people in the following months and years after this event believed in it and gave their lives when forced to deny it.
But the resurrection was not a human achievement. Faith is also needed. And our faith tells us that God raised Jesus from the dead, showing that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice of his life, given in love on the cross. And now we too can gain new freedom and new life because of him. And this is what led people to believe in the resurrection – when they heard the disciples accounts of what happened and were baptised, they experienced a freedom and a new life within them that nobody or nothing ever gave them before or would ever give them again. And they too learned that what they thought was impossible in their lives was now possible.
As an angel had promised a young girl in Nazareth – with God, nothing is impossible.
Tomorrow, I will explore what difference believing in the resurrection has made to our world and can make to our lives.
Two years ago, I created this video for our Easter service in school, which I updated a couple of days ago. The video explores how Jesus knows our suffering, that he is with those who experience suffering today and how his resurrection can impact our lives and our world.