Easter arrives this Sunday. Millions of people will flock to their churches and then enjoy Easter Egg hunts, elaborate brunches and family celebrations.
The question is: why?
After all, Easter is the celebration of one of the most absurd claims in history: that Jesus of Nazareth was seen alive again after dying on a Roman cross.
This is an absurd claim because if there is one thing life teaches human beings, it’s that dead people stay dead, never to be heard from again.
Yet for 2,000 years, the resurrection has been one of the foundational teachings of Christianity.
As the apostle Paul put it, if Jesus was not raised to life then Christian faith is “futile” and Christians are “of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15: 16, 19).”
Of course, some Christian apologists argue that the resurrection can be proven historically — or, if not proven, at least shown to be highly probable.
Authors such as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Mike Licona, and J. Warner Wallace take a “Just the Facts, Ma’am” approach to the resurrection, calmly laying out the “case” that Jesus rose from the grave.
Strobel, a journalist and author of The Case for Christ, approaches the subject like the skeptical investigative journalist he once was.
J. Warner Wallace, a “cold case” homicide detective and former atheist, treats the ancient New Testament documents like a crime scene, raising questions of motive and opportunity.
The problem is: proving the resurrection historically is a difficult task.
There is no mention of Jesus of Nazareth in any non-Christian sources for at least 65 years after his crucifixion around AD 30.
As for the earliest Christian sources, even they have surprisingly little information about the central claim of the Christian religion.
The account of the resurrection amounts to only 472 words in the gospel of Mark (including the long ending), 426 words in Matthew, 1,059 words in Luke and just 791 words in John.
There are also brief mentions in the Acts of the Apostles (about 239 words) and in the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (125 words).
All in all, not a lot to go on if your belief is based solely on the Biblical evidence alone.
Yet despite the lack of historical corroboration, Christians worldwide continue to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was restored to life by God and reigns with him as Lord of heaven and earth.
Where does this belief come from?
I would argue that it ultimately comes from the Christian community itself — and from the faith that life in this community engenders.
Week after week, believing Christians flock to their houses of worship, attend bible studies and prayer meetings – and, at least in some churches, participate in the ritual meal Jesus asked his followers to enact “in memory of me.”
This is where belief in the resurrection arises, from Christian worship itself. As one of the earliest Christian writings, the Gospel of Luke, put it, the risen Jesus is made known “in the breaking of the bread” (24: 35).
Thus, most Christians believe in the resurrection – not because they’ve critically examined the historical evidence and found it “probable” – but because they sense Jesus’ continuing real presence in the world through prayer and worship.
Not a lot to go on, I know. Even the earliest Christian evangelists called it “foolishness” (1 Cor. 1: 18). But it’s what has sustained Christianity for 2,000 years and continues to sustain it today.
Happy Easter! Christos anesti!
Robert J. Hutchinson is the author of “Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth – And How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts” (Thomas Nelson October 27, 2015).