Side Note: This could be the most important post I’ve written in my nine years of blog writing.
Fun fact: Jerusalem has 3.5 million tourists a year (pre-Covid), which is mostly because of Jesus. It’s amazing how being in Canada we can turn a blind eye to Him, but you can’t when you’re in Israel and many parts of Europe where Christian history is so in your face.
Here’s an important question to ask at Easter (and any time if you want to think big picture): Does Easter prove Jesus is the Son of God? Most Westerners are familiar with the term “Son of God,” so we can brush it off, but this is a pretty crazy concept – the Son of God. To say someone is the actual Son of God, you’re either nuts or onto something. There’s no real middle ground: “Yes, this is my brother Tim; he’s the Son of God, and Brandon over there; he’s the son of Lucifer – they don’t get along very well. The daughter of the Easter bunny is in the other room with Jar Jar Binks. Want to meet them?” Saying Jesus is the Son of God was originally considered so blasphemous, some people were willing to kill for it, which meant breaking something they held sacred, the Ten Commandments. This couldn’t even be a simple “accident” they could brush off later. The death had to be very public and as humiliating as possible to scare anyone from being a Jesus follower or to think He was the actual Son of God like He claimed. Otherwise, it would be easy to create a lasting myth or ignite an angry mob, especially when there were so many people who claimed to be miraculously healed by Him thereby creating a very strong connection (unless the healings were all faked and/or made up).
When Jesus was alive, the situation was intense, and when you think about it, it really is a crazy concept. God, the Being who is beyond our world and understanding (if you believe), sent His Son to be in human form with the plan for Him to die a grueling death by bitter people who claimed to be God’s followers while God watched (the same God who had been known to wipe people out for disobedience in the Old Testament), and then the Son would rise from the dead. Did you catch that? Arrogant mortals were going to kill God’s Son while God watched and then they got to gloat for three days until that Son rose from the dead (a feat not typically achieved) after three days. This wasn’t just a Hercules myth where a god accidentally ended up on earth. This was God choosing to join humanity in an incredibly horrible way. People should either be appalled by Christianity like many Romans were who accused Christians of being cannibals for drinking the blood and eating the body of their leader or we should be taking it really, really, really seriously because that would mean Jesus is the Son of God. If this is the case saying, “I believe there’s a God, but I don’t do anything about it (aka agnostic),” really doesn’t cut it. At least atheists take a stand on Jesus not being God (although I doubt they’ve really done any serious investigation; they typically just find it appealing to go against the Church). So let’s do a little investigating now:
What do we know about Jesus outside of the Bible to prove He existed?
- Josephus was a Jewish historian who mentioned Jesus, the Messiah and wise teacher, being executed by Pontius Pilate in his book written around 93-94 C.E. John the Baptist is also mentioned.
- Pliny the Younger wrote the first official pagan letter mentioning Jesus around 112 C.E. that is still known about that asks Emperor Trajan what to do with the growing problem of Christianity and talks about what followers do.
- Tacitus was a Roman historian and senator who referred to Jesus’ execution by Pontius Pilate, and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his book written around 116 C.E.
These three historical figures are very strong proof Jesus existed and a strong reason the majority of scholars accept this (there’s always a few who want to be different like how there are Holocaust deniers). The next question we need to ask is why do Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God? The best answer to this is in the four Gospels of the New Testament that share the story of Jesus’ life, which likely ended in 30-36 C.E. The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the first to be written thirtyish years later (65-75 C.E.) and focused on a non-Jewish audience. The Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, is believed to be written fiftyish years after (80-90 C.E.) for a Jewish audience while Luke was written for a non-Jewish audience and also believed to be written fiftyish years later (85ish C.E.) These three Gospels, the Synoptic Gospels, have such strong similarities that they are believed to be have been used to help each subsequent Gospel’s writing and push Jesus’ humanity. Meanwhile, the Gospel of John, written sixty-ish years later (90-100 C.E.), is quite a different read and likely written without help from the other books as the author pushes the divinity of Jesus. What’s important to note is early believers assumed Jesus was going to return at any time, so they weren’t as worried about officially recording stories, especially when the Jewish culture was so used to the Oral traditions (and they were incredible at it). That being said, any Gospel being written had to be directly connected to an Apostle (one of the twelve) and it had to be written without any filler or waste of paper because they didn’t have printing presses and rewriting Scripture was tedious and sacred work, especially with writing materials being so limited. This meant each story and each word used would’ve been carefully chosen unlike a grade ten essay trying to fill in space. It should also be noted that these Books were being written at a time when people who heard Jesus speak and/or were healed by him were still alive, so they had to be accurate or the writers would be attacked for writing lies. This was particularly important because Christianity exploded despite the fact Emperor Nero was torturing and killing Christians – mostly for fun – because he blamed them for burning half the city (64 C.E.), which is widely believed to be his doing since it was very convenient for his building plans. This is very important to note because if you have family being murdered for their beliefs, you’re not carefree about what is written about the founder, Jesus. This is life and death, which means these stories were incredibly sacred to these people unlike to us who can pick up a free Bible in a hotel.
Here’s the most important fact about the four Gospels: The resurrection story of Jesus is by far the most important in the entire Bible and unlike other stories that are shared and similar, this one is surprisingly different in each book, and I don’t mean a little detail here and there. In Matthew, the stone that had been blocking the tomb was moved by an earthquake and had an angel sitting on it when the women arrived at the tomb, and after they leave to tell the apostles, the women were greeted by Jesus. In Mark, the women enter the tomb and meet one angel sitting inside like he was waiting for them. In Luke, the women went into an empty tomb and were puzzled until two angels suddenly appeared. When they later tell the apostles about the empty tomb, the apostles thought it was nonsense, but Peter ran to the tomb, saw it was empty, and then went home confused. In John, Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and then rushed to tell Peter and “the other disciple.” The two apostles ran to the tomb, believed, and then went home. Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene, by herself, was crying outside the tomb until she was greeted by two angels, and then she saw Jesus whom she didn’t recognize right away. What?
Does this mean the Bible is full of lies? You could argue that, but if you’ve ever talked to a detective, they’ll tell you that if they bring in two people for questioning and the stories are too similar, they know the story is a lie. Thus, the fact that the four Gospels are so different in their resurrection story (the most important story in the Bible), it actually suggests an overall truth, and that truth is women discovered Jesus rose from the dead and showed up the apostles.
What’s really crazy is the fact that Christianity’s most important story – the resurrection of the Son of God – is filled with details that should’ve appalled people at that time. If you were making up a story to sell to people, all four Gospels struck out hard. This story would be a like a grocery store being opened that’s attached to a sewage plant, so the smell was nauseating in and outside the store, but despite that people flocked there. So what’s so appalling about this story that has changed billions of lives for over 2000 years?
- Death by crucifixion meant you fell under God’s curse in Jewish culture (Deut 21:23 – this is one of the first five books of the Old Testament) making Jesus someone who should have scared away anyone who was Jewish, but they were His main followers at first.
- The first people to the grave were women who were seen as inferior at a time when status was everything.
- The women were not only the first to witness this miraculous event, they completely showed up the apostles. After an angel commissioned the women to tell the apostles about Jesus being alive, the apostles didn’t believe them – that makes the founding Fathers of Christianity look terrible.
- If the apostles made up the story, why did they make themselves look so bad? That seems to be the opposite of what you’d do if you’re narcissistic enough to want to start a religion. It also hurts your credibility as a leader: “Follow me as we worship the person I betrayed in his time of need.”
- All the apostles, minus John, were recorded in historical documents as being martyred for teaching Jesus was the Son of God and rose from the dead. Why would the apostles and the many other followers who knew Jesus while He was alive be willing to die for something they made up? Even further, how did the twelve apostles go from scared fishermen to fearless witnesses who died for their beliefs, especially when there weren’t riches or fame to be attained?
Bonus: The leading theory was that the apostles stole the body of Jesus, but that’s a pretty stupid idea when the apostles were former fishermen and Jesus’ body was being guarded by trained and ruthless Roman soldiers. Add in the fact that if the body was stolen, the guards were at risk of being punished by death and it really doesn’t make sense. On top of this, it wasn’t like all the soldiers were dead in front of the tomb; they were all alive after. That meant a person had to sneak past them, stealthily move a giant boulder so none of the guards noticed (I’m pretty sure even ninjas couldn’t do that), pick up a dead body, and carry it away without any trace of footprints? Even if someone could do this, there was no money of fame in it for anyone to steal the body of Jesus, which are the main reasons for risking death at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
Many beliefs come and go, but to have such a lasting impact, there has to be something to it. That means there has to be something to all of the major religions, but Christianity is the only one to be so bold as to claim they follow the Son of God who came to earth to die and rise again. Christians are either all crazy and Easter is the greatest evidence of that insanity, or there’s something to it. Either way, it shouldn’t be taken lightly because either the almost 2.4 billion adherents have been seriously duped (although if they are loving people like Christians are called to be, they will be fine if one of the another religion is right, so no real harm done) or the rest of the world is missing something and possibly in trouble. Of course, there were people who met Jesus and didn’t believe He was the Son of God, so there is no clear cut choice for any of us, but it is a choice we need to make, and if we don’t “make” the choice, our lack of decision makes the choice for us.
This week may you consider what the Easter story means to you and what that should mean for your life.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)