Are you aware of what day this is? You're probably thinking: "Of course we're aware that today is Easter." Well that's not what I had in mind. Traditionally in churcheanity this day is called Easter, but biblically it is the anniversary of the Israelite feast called "The Feast of First Fruits." It is a very important day. The single most significant event in the history of the human race took place on the first Sunday after Passover in about the year A.D. 30 - that being the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let me tell you a little bit about Easter. The name "Easter" is derived from a pagan spring, fertility deity who appears variously as Eostre, the Saxon goddess of dawn with a hare's head (the origin of Easter bunnies); Ishtar, from Ninevah, introduced into Britain with the Druids; Astarte, the queen of heaven, from Babylon whose worship involved sexual depravity (The egg figures prominently in the worship of Easter. Astarte was said to have sprung from an Egg which fell from Heaven into the Euphrates). Even the fast of Lent, which was introduced in the sixth century, was borrowed from Babylon. A similar fast was observed by the Egyptians in commemoration of Osiris.
The Easter celebration is pagan, even the name comes from a pagan god. Now, you may be thinking: "What's the big deal?" Is it a big deal for the church to recognize as a special holiday a day that is named after a pagan god? I think it is a big deal, especially when God told the Israelites not to even mention the name of other gods:
Exodus 23:13 (NASB) "Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth.
God told Israel not to even mention the name of pagan gods, but the church has a celebration that is named after a pagan god. I once heard Pat Robertson say, "Easter is the church's most holy day." Easter is not a holy day of the church; it is a pagan celebration. So How much of Easter is Christian? None of it! None of it is Biblical; none of it is commanded by the Lord; none of it was apostolic; none of it was ever observed by the early church!
Today is a very important date in History. It is the first Sunday after the Passover, which was called the "Feast of First Fruits." In the fourth century, the Roman emperor, Constantine, issued the Easter Rule, which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. So the church adopted the pagan holiday of Easter and celebrated it on the Biblical holiday of the Feast of First Fruits. By doing this, the significance of the Feast of First Fruits was lost in all the nonsense of the Easter celebration. This day is not about bunnies, colored eggs, or dressing up; this day is about the resurrection from the dead. Look with me at the Biblical narration of the resurrection:
Mark 16:1-8 (NASB) And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. 7 "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.'" 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
What happened to the body of Jesus Christ? On Wednesday He was dead, he had been beaten, crucified, speared, embalmed, wrapped with a hundred pounds of spices, laid in a tomb that was sealed and guarded by a Roman contingency. Sunday the grave clothes were undisturbed, but he was gone. How do you account for it?
There are many alternative views as to how skeptics believe that the tomb became empty, but only two even remotely make sense:
The Swoon Theory - this alternative explanation has been repackaged with many variations. The most popular variant was "The Passover Plot" published in 1965. The basic argument is that Jesus and His disciples conspired to fulfill messianic prophecies by faking Jesus' death on the cross. They managed to manipulate the Jewish leaders into trying Him, the people into demanding the crucifixion, and the Roman government into executing Him. The legal manipulation would have been a miracle in itself. Before being nailed to the cross, Jesus was given a drug that appeared to make Him look dead and trick the soldiers into removing Him from the cross while He was still alive. The cool damp air of the tomb revived Him and He appeared alive to His followers.
By just using simple logic, this argument fails miserably. Jesus was beaten so badly that He was too weak to carry His own cross, and a bystander was commissioned for Him. He had nails driven through His wrists and feet. The blood loss is hard to escape. The blood poured out His feet, hands, back from the beating, and finally between His ribs when the spear pierced His heart.
If someone can get past the impossible odds of survival, there are a few more problems. How does a man who has had spikes driven through his limbs get up and walk? Somehow Jesus revived, untangled Himself, pushed a massive stone away from the entrance of the tomb without any guards seeing it, and ran away unnoticed. Not only did He escape, but He also walked seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two travelers who did not notice He was wounded. How is it that most people can't walk with minor pain in their feet, but Jesus was able to walk with holes in His? He had full use of His hands, because he took over the evening meal and broke bread. We could come up with dozens of functions that would cause Him excruciating pain if this was a faked resurrection - not to mention how weakly He must have looked. It seems a little hard to get the multitudes fired up by seeing a half-dead Jesus.
The stolen body theory - This is the only counter-argument that is even remotely logical. It also has flaws that can't be explained. First, who stole the body? It is undeniable that the body of Jesus was no longer in the grave. The disciples, Jews, and Roman soldiers all concurred that the body was missing. As one historian put it, "History's silence is deafening concerning the body of Jesus. No one has ever claimed to see the body of Jesus after the resurrection." If the Jews or Romans stole it, they would have produced it. All of the efforts to squelch Christianity, and the determination to explain away the resurrection would have ended quickly if someone produced the body. We know that the soldiers did not have it, or they would have surely produced it. They were paid for their silence; how much would they have been paid if they produced the body? There would have been no need to think up and rehearse the story of the disciples stealing it if the soldiers had it. We know the Jews didn't have it, because they would have been the first to put it on display. This only leaves the disciples or the resurrection.
Let's look at the possibility that the disciples took Jesus' body. When Jesus was arrested, the disciples scattered like cowards. Peter was the boldest of the 12, and he denied Jesus 3 times. To show how cowardly he was at this point, he was afraid of a servant girl who probably had no say in that culture at all. Yet, when she confronted Peter, he called curses down upon himself to prove he did not follow Jesus. They were too afraid to come forward to take Jesus down and help with the burial. How is it that they would suddenly be bold enough to risk certain death and sneak among the guards, break the seal, move the stone without rousing anyone, and take the body? Also consider that the head cloth was neatly folded and laid beside the burial cloth. Anyone sneaking into the tomb would be hastily retreating after getting the body. They would not take the time to fold the cloth. Most likely, they would not remove the cloth at all. It was also at night in an unlit tomb. This argument also does not hold water. The disciples were too afraid to do anything.
John 20:19 (NASB) When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said^ to them, "Peace be with you."
Not only were they fearful, these men just didn't understand or even believe in the resurrection. Although Jesus had told them over and over it would happen, they never got it, and must have concluded he was speaking figuratively.
Mark 16:9-11 (NASB) <Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 And when they heard that He was alive, and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it.
Initially, they doubted, but something happened that changed these fearful men.
The final possibility is that Jesus was resurrected. We see that the evidence against the resurrection falls short, but what evidence lends credibility to the resurrection? Let's begin by examining the disciples. These men fled in all directions when Jesus was arrested, and they did not offer any defense on His behalf. After the resurrection, there was a dramatic change in their lives. These men, who were afraid to be present at Jesus' burial, now were going into the very city where the crucifixion occurred and were boldly proclaiming His resurrection at their own peril. The crowds were still present and so were the council members that tried Jesus and soldiers who crucified Him. Why would they suddenly have such a change of heart that they would preach the same Jesus that they had just denied? Not only did they preach the resurrection, but they also condemned those responsible for His death and called them to repent so they could be forgiven.
Acts 2:22-24 (NASB) "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- 23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
To create a legend, one wouldn't go where the eyewitnesses were and exaggerate when the facts were still fresh. Legends are born by carrying the story to a distant land or waiting until the facts have faded. The disciples went to where the iron was still hot. They proclaimed the resurrection before those whom they knew would examine the facts.
There were many eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Look at Paul's statement:
1 Corinthians 15:6-8 (NASB) After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Paul presented his claim before those that could question him and, in fact, is inviting them to question. He is saying, "Most of these witnesses are still alive and available to examine."
People may be willing to die for what they believe to be true, but who would die for what they knew to be a lie? The eleven disciples saw Jesus die. They gained absolutely no financial gain from this faith; just the opposite, they lost everything except their joy and the hope of heaven. When Jesus was alive, their hope was their expectation of an earthly kingdom. After the resurrection, they lived for Christ with reckless abandon as they were committed to the hope given to them of eternal life. According to church tradition, only John died of old age; however, he was beaten, imprisoned, and banished to the isle of Patmos. This island was where criminals were sent to die from starvation or from the hands of other criminals. According to tradition, each of the other disciples were beaten repeatedly and killed. Look at how Jesus' disciples died and see if this sounds like men clinging to a lie: Matthew was slain in Ethiopia; Mark dragged through the streets until dead; Peter and Simeon were crucified; Andrew crucified; James beheaded; Philip was crucified; Bartholomew flayed alive; Thomas pierced with lances; James, the less, thrown from the temple and stoned to death; Jude shot to death with arrows; Paul was boiled in hot oil and beheaded.
All of these men could have lived if they had said one statement: "He is dead." But they refused. Above the accounts of their deaths, this doesn't account for the tortures they endured. Paul was stoned 3 times and survived. He was beaten with 40 strips from a cat of nine tails on 5 occasions and imprisoned repeatedly. Similar stories follow the other apostles. They lived lives that would be considered sheer misery by the world, yet they rejoiced in their sufferings. Not one of them caved in and chose the easy life. Can anyone believe that not one of these men would deny His resurrection unless they absolutely witnessed the resurrected Christ? What did they have to gain by forming this kind of religion? They lost property and often were abandoned by friends and family.
Even if you could believe that these men were willing to suffer for a lie, would they be willing to draw their own friends and families into suffering? They may have suffered for Christ on the outside, but they rejoiced openly and lived with joy and peace, which their captors did not have and could not understand. Throughout history, many of the very people who have persecuted Christians have become Christians. As they saw the strength, joy, and peace that defied logic, they saw their own lives as meaningless. There are many testimonies of captors who witnessed persecution and said, "I want what that person has."
If they had stolen the body of Jesus in hopes of being religious elitist, they would have quit their quest to found a religion around Him when the illusions of grandeur proved to be a failure. If it were a lie, they would quickly have tired of the beatings. Look at James, the brother of Jesus. He rejected Jesus during His life. I am sure that he thought of his older brother as just another sibling, and a delusional one at that. Yet after seeing the resurrected Christ, James was a changed man as well. He no longer called himself the brother of Jesus but a bondservant of Christ. Not a single critic ever questioned that the tomb was empty. There was no doubt of this fact. The real question is: Which testimony do you believe? Those who reject Christ or those who were eye witness testimonies to His resurrection and GLADLY suffered for their proclamation of this truth?
The earliest apostolic writings can be dated back to eyewitnesses. You can't make that claim from other religions. Christianity was written down closer to the actual events than other religions. Buddha lived in the sixth century B.C., but the scriptures of Buddha were not written until the first century A.D. Muhammad died in A.D. 632, but his sayings were not written for more than 100 years, A.D. 767. Unlike other religions, outside the Bible there are many supporting witnesses that verify the accuracy of the accounts of scripture. Without the Bible, we can prove through historical evidence that: Jesus was a Jewish teacher; many people credited Jesus with healing and exorcisms; people believed He was the Messiah; He was rejected by the Jewish leaders; He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; after His shameful death, His followers believed He was still alive, and this faith spread to the multitudes throughout Rome by A.D. 64; The Christian faith was held dear by all manner of people - women, men, slave, free, rich, poor. Those who converted, worshiped Jesus as God. There are also tens of thousands of archaeological discoveries that validate the scriptures and silence criticism.
The evidence of the resurrection of Jesus confirms that JESUS IS WHO HE SAID HE WAS. Jesus claimed to be God, and He proved it. He overcame death.
You have probably heard people say something like: "Jesus was a great moral teacher, like Buddha, or Confucius, or Mohammed." You can't really say that, and here's why. Buddha and Confucius claimed to be moral teachers, and nothing more. Mohammed claimed to be a prophet of God, but he never claimed that he was more than just a man. Jesus made claims about Himself that Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed never made about themselves. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed that He had always existed, that He would always exist, and that this world and everything in it belonged to Him and would someday be ruled by Him. Jesus told the Jews that He existed before Abraham.
John 8:58 (NASB) Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."
A literal translation would read, "Before Abraham was brought into being, I existed." The statement, therefore, is not that Christ came into existence before Abraham did, but that He already existed before Abraham was brought into being; in other words, Christ existed before creation, or eternally. In that sense, the Jews plainly understood Him, for they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy.
Jesus said He would some day rule the world:
Mark 14:62 (NASB) And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN."
Now, if I made those claims - If I stood before you this morning and said: "Folks, I am God, and someday I'll rule the world" - would you leave here today thinking, "What a good moral teacher David is!"? Of course not. You would think, "That man is lying, he's crazy, and he's dangerous." And, of course, if I made those claims, you would be correct in thinking that. But when Jesus made those claims, He wasn't lying, He wasn't crazy, and He wasn't dangerous - He was telling the truth. Repeatedly Jesus claimed to be God, and it drove his enemies crazy.
John 5:18 (NASB) For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
Jesus claimed to be God, and He proved His claim by conquering death. Do you know what that means? It means that we have to take seriously everything He said. For example, He said that He is the only way to heaven:
John 14:6 (NASB) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.
This means we have to abandon the notion that "all religions lead to the same place," and "it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're sincere." Jesus said specifically:
John 10:9 (NASB) "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
By the "door", He is saying He is the only way to heaven. And apart from trusting in Christ, you will spend eternity in the lake of fire.
John 3:36 (NASB) "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Jesus defeated death; this proves He is who He said He was - God. And as God, He promises resurrection and life to all who put their trust in Him:
John 11:25-27 (NASB) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said^ to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."
In verse 26, Jesus asks, "Do you believe this?" What is "this"? It is the statement about Jesus Himself that He gives in verse 25. He tells Mary that He is the resurrection and life. But that's not all He asks her to believe. Jesus is saying, "I guarantee eternal life to everyone who believes in Me." To believe that Jesus is the Christ is in essence to believe that He is the guarantor of eternal life to everyone who trusts in Him.
Because of the Resurrection, these words carry weight they never would have carried otherwise. If He had remained in the grave, the question of whether or not He is the only way to heaven would be a matter of debate. However, the resurrection answers the question and ends the argument once and for all. Is Jesus really the son of God? Well, He has power over death, so I guess that means He is everything He claimed to be.
To deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ is to destroy the entire basis of the Christian faith. The Christian faith is not based primarily on the teachings of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, or the death of Jesus. The Christian faith is based on all of these, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If there is no resurrection, all of these other factors are valueless.
Does a person have to believe in the resurrection of Christ to be a Christian? Yes! If you do not believe that He rose from the dead, you are saying He is a liar:
Romans 10:9-10 (NASB) that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Eternal life is predicated on belief in the resurrection. You must believe: "that God has raised Him from the dead." Why is belief in the resurrection so important? The resurrection proved that Christ was all that He said He was. Hopefully, you can see the importance in the resurrection. If you dismiss the resurrection, you pull the very heart out of Christianity. Because of the resurrection, Christ can offer eternal life to all who trust in Him.
John 11:25-26 (NASB) Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
Jesus is saying, "He who believes in me shall live (spiritually), even if he dies (physically), and everyone who lives (physically), and believes in Me, shall never die (spiritually)."
Two categories of believers are discussed: those who would die before the resurrection and those who would not. For those who died under the Old Covenant, He was the resurrection, but for those who lived into the days of the New Covenant - which is all of us, He is the Life.
In order to understand life, we must understand death, and to do that, we need to go back to the book of Genesis. In the book of Genesis we see God creating man. After creating man, God placed him in the garden of Eden and gave him a command:
Genesis 2:15-17 (NASB) Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die."
God warned Adam regarding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "In the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die." Adam disobeyed God and ate of the tree:
Genesis 3:6 (NASB) When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
Did Adam die that day? Not physically! Adam lived at least 800 years beyond the day he ate the fruit. But, God said he would die the day he ate, and we know that God cannot lie. Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die spiritually. He died spiritually the moment he disobeyed. Spiritual death is separation from God:
Ephesians 2:1-5 (NASB) And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Because of his sin, man was separated from God. He was dead in trespasses and sins. The focus of God's plan of redemption is to restore, through Jesus Christ, what man had lost in Adam. So the life that Jesus Christ offers is spiritual life - which is life in the presence of God. This life is eternal!
Under the New Covenant, there is no spiritual death for believers:
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NASB) But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55 "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Speaking of the glories of the New Covenant, John wrote:
Revelation 21:4 (NASB) and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."
Where there is no death, there is no need of a resurrection. Those who have trusted in Christ have eternal life and can never die spiritually. Therefore, they don't need a resurrection.
What happens to us at death? Since the resurrection is past, what happens to believers when they die? Their physical body goes back to dust from which it came:
Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NASB) All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
And their spirit goes to be with the Lord:
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NASB) Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight-- 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
The resurrection was a one time event in which the Old Testament saints were brought out of Hades and finally overcame death to be with the Lord. We have put on immortality. As believers, we live in the presence of God, and in physical death, we simply drop the flesh and dwell only in the spiritual realm.
Jesus said, "I guarantee eternal life to everyone who believes in me." That is quite a promise! But remember, this promise is coming from a man who rose from the dead. Jesus not only conquered death himself, but He conquered death for everyone who comes to Him in faith. If you have never put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, I beg you to do it now.