Death is the silent specter hovering over every human being who has ever lived. We try to shield ourselves from thoughts of death, but we have all been touched with the sting of death as we have watched the death of friends or loved ones. And our own death is looming the distance.
But for those of us who are followers of Jesus, we have no fear of death, because of the resurrection. Everything changes with the resurrection of Jesus, because the cold winter of death began to thaw and new life began to spring up from the ground. Jesus who died and was buried is the Jesus who rose up from the grave. From Primal Credo, Chapter 6:
Jesus sounds the final defeat of death through his resurrection, which Christians around the world celebrate every year on Resurrection Sunday, otherwise known as Easter. It has been the tradition of Christians since the beginning to worship on Sunday morning in an every-week celebration of the resurrection, and once a year we set aside one Sunday for the ultimate celebration of the resurrection. Sadly for some Christians, Easter passes by with chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts and they miss out on the celebration. We cannot fully experience the joy of the Resurrection Sunday without reflecting on the sorrow of the cross of Christ. We commemorate the death of Jesus on Good Friday, day one. We reflect on the experience of his burial on Holy Saturday, day two. And we celebrate the joy of his resurrection on Resurrection Sunday, day three.
Everything we believe as followers of Jesus rest upon the truth of the resurrection. We do not proclaim a gospel of death and burial, but of death, burial, and resurrection. If Jesus did not experience resurrection then he was a fraud and our faith is worthless. And yet what if Jesus did NOT rise from the dead? Is there any possible explanation for why the early church would proclaim a risen Jesus if indeed he did not rise from the dead? Again from Chapter 6:
From time to time, skeptics offer reasonable theories in the attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. Some theories are more probable than others, but each theory presents some kind of objection to the validity of the resurrection. Each theory can be formed into a question. What if Jesus wasn’t really dead? What if he just passed out on the cross and he was buried alive, but in a coma-like state? What if some of his disciples stole his body from the tomb and faked the resurrection? What if the real Jesus was never crucified, but rather it was a secret, unknown twin brother who was crucified? What if he was given some kind of ancient sedative that knocked him out for a while on the cross and then the sedative wore off while he was in the tomb? What if a group of people just made this whole story up? Skeptical objections to the resurrection help us wrestle with this all-important truth.
None of these theories are completely inconceivable, but they do not hold up against historical evidence. All of these theories implicate the followers of Jesus in some kind of cover-up conspiracy. Each theory assumes the original followers were lying at some level. The primary response to these skeptical objections is a set of alternative questions regarding the early followers of Jesus. Why would they lie? What would be their motivation for lying? How did they personally benefit by lying about the resurrection?
There is not reasonable explanation for why his followers would fake his resurrection. He did rise from the dead and he is alive. This makes Jesus the big boss of the planet. This makes Jesus Lord and Savior. We do not make Jesus Lord. God made him Lord when he raised Jesus from the dead giving us the hope of new life.
Jesus’ birth connects God with human birth. His suffering on the cross connects God with human sin and suffering. Jesus’ burial connects God with human death and ultimately Jesus’ resurrection connects God with renewed human life. God in Christ overcame the hellish darkness of death to offer humanity new life. N.T. Wright describes this as, “The love which has given itself in death is now renewed with the new life of the resurrection” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 674). Within this new creation world of renewed life, Jesus gives us a new orientation around the primary Christian virtues: faith, hope, and love. First, the resurrection of Jesus gives us a renewed faith. Jesus told us he would rise from the dead, and he called himself “the resurrection and the life” (Luke 9:22). His physical resurrection adds an exclamation point to those claims. We have no reason to doubt; we can trust him.