Christianity is nothing without Easter. It’s the historic event of all events. To varying degrees, the global human community pays homage to the supernatural incident of the resurrection of Christ after his death by crucifixion. For many, it’s still a puzzling mystery. Why? ♦
With all due respect to the start of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria which prompted the beginning of WWI, and the game-winning home run by New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson against the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the pennant in 1951, “the shot heard ’round the world” is a familiar phrase associated with dramatic and historic incidents.
I’d put the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on “Easter Sunday” as the most significant and dramatic incident of all time. It’s the historic event of all events. Christianity is nothing without Easter. Take that away and Christianity crumbles at the core. Indeed, as the apostle Paul notes, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
One should know what one is professing in faith. Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all.
Christian and Non-Christian Skeptics Abound
No wonder it’s been a focus of anti-Christian attacks for centuries. But there are doubters even among so-called believers. Even some Christians claim the resurrection is a metaphor – we can rise above our trials. A 2010 study by Barna Group showed that only 42% of Americans said the meaning of Easter was Jesus’ resurrection. In that same study just 2% identified it as the most important holiday of their faith. Of the non-religious, 2% thought is was about the “birth of Christ.” Some other categories of note: 21% couldn’t describe it or didn’t acknowledge it; 4% said the meaning was getting friends and family together, 3% said Spring Break, 1% said the Easter bunny.
Yes, we live in a growing secularized society.
This doesn’t mean people know what they are talking about. Ignorance does not negate truth.
The Great Debate of 1987
There was famous debate between world-renowned atheist philosopher, Dr. Anthony Flew, and New Testament scholar and Christian, Dr. Gary Habermas held at Cal Poly State University at San Luis Obisbo as part of the Veritas Forum. The debate question was simply: Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? *
Here are 12 widely acknowledged historical facts that were addressed in that debate:
- Jesus died due to the rigors of crucifixion. – Facts reveal there is little doubt that he died on the cross.
- Jesus was buried. – Facts reveal there is little doubt that he was placed in the tomb.
- Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope. – The disciples did scatter in despair on the night of Jesus’ arrest and after his crucifixion.
- Many scholars hold that Jesus’ tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later. – On the third day after his crucifixion.
- At this time, the disciples had real experiences that they believed to be literal experiences of the risen Jesus. – They encountered and engaged with him, as well as up to 500 witnesses.
- The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify with Jesus, to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection, even being willing to die for this belief. – All but one, John, died as martyrs.
- The resurrection was central to their message. – The Christian creed emerged shortly after Christ’s resurrection specifying that He died, He was buried, He rose on the third day, and that he was seen by many witnesses. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)
- The resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem where the empty tomb was. – The word of Jesus’ resurrection went viral throughout Jerusalem.
- The church was born and grew. – The Day of Pentecost (descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles) was 50 days after the first Easter (Acts 2) when 3,000 people became followers of Christ.
- Sunday became the primary day of worship. – Eventually by AD 300, the Christian Church celebrated worship on Sunday in honor of the resurrection as opposed to Saturday, the traditional Jewish Sabbath day.
- James, Jesus’ skeptical brother, was converted by the resurrection. – James became a leader of the early Church after initial skepticism. He died a martyr’s death.
- Paul, the great persecutor of Christianity, was converted by the resurrection. – He was confronted by the risen Christ and transformed to become the great writer of most of the New Testament.
* Adapted from Gary R. Habermas and Anthony G.N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?—the entire transcript, Terry L. Miethe, editor (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), p. XIII.
By the way, a panel of five philosophers from leading universities judged the outcome. The conclusion: 4 votes for Habermas (Christian scholar), 0 votes for Flew (Atheist philosopher), and 1 vote said it was a draw. Flew was judged to have retreated into philosophical sophistry while evading the widely-acknowledged historical facts cited by Dr. Habermas.
Easter certainly is a time for friends and family, even bunnies and chocolate candy. But, of course, so much more. Lest we be ones that only selectively study facts of history or what we are fed by biased, non-Christian points of view, see Easter this weekend as a new beginning. Acknowledge and worship the truly risen Jesus, the one “who died, was buried, was raised on the third day and was seen by the apostles and more than 500 people at the same time.” (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8)
Indeed, the original “shot heard ’round the world.”
Do you really, truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus?
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-14