by Aaron Warner
Christmas and Easter are famously the times when both Christians and non enter the halls of worship to acknowledge the work of the Almighty. Christmas, replete with gifts for all, is the more popular of the two for obvious reasons. The songs, the cheer, the feasting, and most likely the gifts full of the hope for things needed and things to come in this life. Most Americans and Vermonters can recall this Christmas morning or that for the special occasion that blessed them with one of many lasting memories brought by an unexpected or surprising present, such as a bicycle, or a puppy, or perhaps some piece of unexpected technology. Regardless, you have a memory from Christmas.
Easter, on the other hand, is the lesser regaled of the two Christian holidays. Not because it is any less significant, it’s not. Yet it appears so given the run up to it, and the event itself seemingly stands in the shadow of the more venerated Christmas. The former celebrates the day of Jesus’ birth, but the latter celebrates the day of His resurrection, or rebirth. Both should be regarded with a certain awe. The first culminating from the miraculous advent of His being born of a virgin under hostile circumstances. The second a crescendo of God’s ability to take even death itself and turn it into the most victorious moment in human history.
Modern man, more a child of the Renaissance than a child of God, claims to be a man of science. Science at least has the decency to offer a testable, repeatable and provable domain by which man can draw trustworthy and true conclusions about the natural world. The Almighty, supernatural in essence, refuses to be measured by instruments and equations. Man is left to assume God is either too intractable or too incalculable for the measures of the scientific method. Yet we are not left without evidence for either believing in a Creator nor believing He came to earth some 2.000 years ago and dwelt among men to reveal Himself to us. Even more, to redeem us and save us from a fate we couldn’t possibly escape. A fate that would see us miserably apart from Him and His eternal nature. A nature perfect in goodness, kindness and mercy for all who call on Him.
The modern calendar sets itself by the birth of Jesus. We live in the year 2021, because it is ostensibly two thousand and twenty one years after the birth of the one who proved Himself to be God in the flesh. However it His death and resurrection that make His birth all the more meaningful. Were it not for His resurrection Jesus’ birth is merely an asterisk at best in our history. It is His resurrection that certifies His claims to being the God-man with us, Emmanuel. Christmas, the celebration of His birth, is meaningless without Easter, the certification of His deity. In all of human history, only one man has ever claimed to be God and had the power to prove it – Jesus. He was once an itinerant preacher known to be carpenter from a town so small and backwards people wondered if anything good could even come from it. Israel at the time was largely illiterate and it was also a second class culture living under Roman rule. Yet some 2,000 years later Jesus is the most popular name in all of human history with billions of people recognizing Him as their savior. How could this be?
What is the evidence by which our calendars mark Him as the most significant person ever to walk this earth? This article looks at the five most compelling pieces of historically accepted evidence, recognized by both believing historians and non, as irrefutable facts about the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that support why Easter is celebrated throughout the world to this day, and why, if you don’t, you should celebrate it.
Fact 1: A Death by Crucifixion
For starters, crucifixion was not invented until the Roman empire shortly before the birth of Christ. Neat historical fact, you might say, but part of what is significant about this piece of evidence is the Bible describes the Messiah’s (Jesus’) crucifixion at least 400 years before it was invented by the Romans, and in two books written by two different authors separated by over 100 years’ time frame:
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth[ is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; (Isaiah 53:4&5)
Only crucifixion causes these to happen simultaneously. Isaiah reiterates “…he was pierced for our transgressions,” which illustrates the substitutionary nature of Jesus death on our behalf by crucifixion, and we begin to see why, rather than a worldly triumph over Rome, which the Jews anticipated was the salvation brought from their Messiah, it was a spiritual triumph over sin and death that brought salvation to the entire world.
Yet the skeptic argues Jesus may have only swooned or had a twin on the cross. These arguments seem possible until carefully examined. Swooning would mean He didn’t die, and if He didn’t die, then He would have appeared to His followers a beaten and bloodied savior barely holding on to life. Yet that’s not what we learn. The posthumous appearances of Jesus are all described as triumphal, whole, and fully alive. His disciples were given more than one opportunity to both see Him and physically examine His body to their satisfaction. Were He a battered, broken and barely alive savior none of the disciples venture out to proclaim His resurrection.
Yet they did.
Fact 2: Ladies find the tomb empty
The politically correct nature of our times considers this piece and immediately recoils at the notion this may in any way disparage women. That misses the point. It is a historical fact women were considered, at the time, inferior to men. More importantly, their testimony in Jewish culture was regarded as unreliable and even disregarded by their male counterparts. Which is why this piece of evidence is all the more convincing. Men at that time would be hard-pressed to put forth this piece of evidence given it would be regarded as culturally embarrassing. Rather than detract from the resurrection it adds to its veracity by sheer fact that it acknowledges the women and their testimony. Though it’s popular to try and malign the Bible as atavistic and anti-women it is anything but, and this part of the resurrection story enshrines the validity of the feminine experience and God’s love and value for women.
Fact 3: Independent appearances of Jesus live after death
The disciples, who walked with Jesus for a solid three years, chronicled His teachings and miracles, and knew Him more intimately than most sorority girls know each other, saw Him in person and alive post-mortem. The Bible makes Thomas famous for his doubting the resurrected Jesus in the ultimate seeing is believing scenario, concluded with Thomas calling Jesus “My Lord and my God”. As a man, I can tell you these terms don’t come easy. Certainly not for any men I know. Which is why His appearance to His brother James, author of the book of James toward the end of the New Testament, is even more affirming. James who had doubted Jesus claims up to this point, becomes a believer, that his brother, the one who he grew up with, was in fact God in the flesh. If anyone could remain in doubt it would be James, yet he doesn’t.
Add to this the five hundred or so mentioned beyond these accounts and that the story of His resurrection explodes in the city where it happened, the place where if it weren’t true it would have easily been disproven, and we see why the story of Jesus resurrection didn’t fail but flourished.
Fact 4: Violence endured by the apostles
This piece strikes me as the most convincing. Each of the remaining eleven apostles would go on to suffer either severe punishment, death at the hands of religious leaders and/or government officials, or both. Common sense tells us no one dies for something they know to be a lie. Detractors of the resurrection story would have you believe the entire story was a hoax, a conspiracy theory by the apostles. If so, then why did each of them go on to be executed in horrific ways? Stoning, beheading, burning oil, and even crucifixion. Surely, if it were a lie and they knew it none of them dies to defend it. Yet they did. All of them. Every last one. This is a massive confirmation they saw Him alive after His crucifixion, and not just barely alive, but divinely alive as described historically in the scriptures, so alive they were willing to die for their belief in Him.
Fact 5: Enemies of Christ converted
There aren’t many of us who haven’t had enemies. Of those enemies there are few, if any of us, who would not only disregard them as such, but go on to sing their praises, let alone sing their praises as God in the flesh.
Yet we see this very thing in the writings of Paul, formerly Saul, who exercised a certain righteous indignation as he zealously persecuted the nascent Christian church to the point of abetting the murder of a man named Stephen. Saul, while in pursuit of his next crusade to stamp out this new church, is stopped cold by what he describes as and encounter with Jesus. He describes Jesus in the same glorious manner as John (the beloved friend of Jesus) would later in the book of Revelation. Paul’s conversion is perhaps the most remarkable of all in that he goes from savage persecutor to shameless promoter of Jesus. He would author multiple books canonized in the Bible while enduring unbelievable persecution along the way. Jailed, whipped, beaten, ship-wrecked, snake-bitten, and stranded multiple times Paul is undaunted.
This one time enemy of Jesus is so given to preaching the good news of His resurrection that only death will stop his mission to proclaim the risen King.
Add to this James, the brother of Jesus was likewise converted and wrote about Jesus, once his brother and now his Lord, along with the other Jews who cheered on His conviction and crucifixion only to see their countrymen die for their belief in Him, and we see the shaping of the faith that changed the world.
I too was an enemy of Jesus and persecuted His followers, even to the point of personal enjoyment. As I look back I understand my motivation, while simultaneously being appalled. Similarly, I see too many today filled with the same blind hubris and overconfident ignorance I held as I attacked what I now know as the only hope I’ve ever had of the life I’ve imagined for myself and the world.
Easter, once another insignificant holiday I celebrated out of societal familiarity, is now the greatest day in human history on my calendar. I celebrate it not by virtue of its popularity, but in spite of its waning importance. If you wonder why Easter and why Jesus, hopefully this answers some of those questions. And hopefully, you understand the reason why it’s still celebrated some two thousand years after He disappeared from His tomb and changed the hearts of mankind.
Note: This article draws from the work of pastor Mike Winger who can be found on YouTube defending the faith ably on his channel “Mike Winger”.