Tuesday, 26 April 2011


The Easter story, as most people know, centers around the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth - also known as the Messiah or "Christ".

This story is absolutely central to the Christian faith - to the extent that the apostle Paul famously wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith"!  Every now and again, another liberal-minded theologian seems to come out of the woodwork to suggest that Jesus' resurrection was not a literal, bodily resurrection, or was meant to be some kind of metaphor, but this is very clearly not what the early disciples and writers of scripture had in mind.

The resurrection - if true - is a mind-boggling event.  Everyone knows that people don't rise from the dead. We know it now, in the 21st century, but everyone knew it just as well back then.  When people die, they stay dead - especially if they've been crucified for several hours, skewered and then sealed up in a tomb!  What they don't do is get up, break the seal, roll the stone away and go for a walk.  It doesn't happen.  It doesn't require modern science or an enlightened 21st century mindset to work this out!  But nevertheless, according to the early disciples, this is exactly what Jesus did do and this remains the foundation stone of what has gone on to be the world's largest religion.  So either it was or has become an extremely convincing fraud, or it is - probably - the most monumentally groundbreaking event the world has ever known!

There have been many arguments - understandably - for and against the resurrection, and I'm not going to try and get into them all now (as if I knew them all anyway!), but to me the most convincing objective evidence seems to be the disciples themselves:

The 12 apostles all lived and travelled with Jesus for a period of more or less 3 years.  They had come to believe that he was the Messiah - the one who had come to save and deliver God's people from oppression.  What they thought this meant at this point is not exactly clear.  To begin with they presumably expected Jesus to lead the Jews to victory against the Romans but as time went on and they listened to Jesus' teaching it should have slowly become clear to them that his Kingdom was not going to work like that.  Whatever they expected though, all their hopes and dreams were invested in this man - who then went and got himself crucified!  They should have been devastated - indeed, according to the gospel accounts they were, at least to begin with - but then things changed rather dramatically.  Instead of just going back to their old lives, finding another saviour to follow, or perhaps even just trying to preserve his legacy - the disciples started preaching that Jesus had been raised from the dead!

Unless they truly believed it, this was a barefaced lie of enormous proportions!  Who was going to believe such nonsense - and what drove them to preach about it so powerfully?  Not only did they preach it though, with vigour and conviction, they were also able to convince thousands of others that it was true.  The New Testament book of Acts explains this unlikely set of events with reference to the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of God himself who empowered the early disciples to preach this message with such power that many seemed to find it irresistible, and to confirm its truth with all kinds of miraculous signs and wonders.  This is not an unreasonable explanation given how explosively the message seemed to spread in the face of all the odds and massive persecution and resistance.

Not only did the disciples devote their lives to preaching this message however, they were also willing to give up their lives for it - and many of them did so, dying gruesome and/or painful deaths as a result of anti-Christian persecution.

Could all of this really have happened off the back of a deluded fantasy, imagined or invented by a bunch of disillusioned followers of a dead Messiah?  Or is it just possible that what they say happened really did happen - that Jesus really was something special, and that he really did rise from the dead?  If it's true, then the rest of what they said is certainly worth listening to, and the rest of the world may turn out to be a very different place as a result!

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