In the “Making Sense of Christianity” series of posts, we have been discussing whether or not the Bible is a reliable source of Truth. In this post, we will examine the Easter Story more specifically.
The Easter Story is the climax to the Old Testament narrative. At the end of the Old Testament, we know that humanity has sinned and that God has promised redemption through the line of David and through the Covenant(s) He has made with Israel. We are waiting for the Messiah, the Anointed One who is to come and bring the Kingdom of God to earth, the One who will finally set things right. Through the first four books of the New Testament, we are told the story of Jesus, the Messiah who has finally come. Jesus indeed starts setting things right, but in ways we do not expect. Jesus takes the place of a servant, washing feet, healing beggars and the sick, eating with adulterers and tax collectors. Then we have the Easter story. Jesus the Messiah dies, most unexpectedly, but then Jesus lives again, ushering in the Kingdom of God.
But for those of us who live so many years after the events supposedly took place, we have a burning question: Did the Easter Story really happen? What evidence do we have to believe that Easter actually happened? Let’s look at the details of the Easter Story and see whether they verify the Easter Story or whether they show that the Easter Story is nothing more than a lie.
In a previous post we looked at women in the New Testament. We saw that women play a pretty important role in the Easter Story. There was a group of women who were at the cross with Jesus. It was a group of women that went with Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb to “embalm” Jesus. It was a group of women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning. It was Mary Magdalene who first “preached” the Gospel, proclaiming the Good News to the men.
What we didn’t look at in that previous post is what the men were doing during the Easter Story. First, just before Jesus is arrested, he takes a few disciples and prays in Gethsemane. Jesus is greatly disturbed and sorrowful, and he asks the men keep watch as he leaves to pray by himself. When he returns, he finds the men in earnest prayer. Wait. That’s not right. Jesus returns to find the men keeping watch, just like Jesus asked. Wait. That’s not right either. Jesus returns to find the men sleeping. Yep. That’s right. Sleeping. This happens not once, but multiple times. Jesus brought some men along to keep watch while he prayed, and instead of doing as Jesus asked, they fall asleep. Over and over again. (Mark 14:32-42)
Then there is Peter. While Jesus is being questioned by various authorities, Peter is asked whether he is a disciple. He denies ever knowing Jesus. Again, this happens not once but multiple times. (Luke 22:54-62) John describes it very poignantly, “It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.” (John 18:18) Instead of standing with Jesus as he is questioned, Peter is standing with the servants and officials of those who are questioning Jesus.
Peter is by no means the only cowardly one, though. We find out from John that the rest of the men have been locked up in rooms hiding because they fear for their lives. Instead of honoring Jesus at his grave, instead of anything else beneficial they could have been doing, they are locked away, hiding. (John 20:19)
If the Easter Story is a lie, if it is simply made-up, why are the men presented as cowards and the women presented as the brave heroes of the story? Wouldn’t the male authors of the Gospels have preferred to write it the other way around if they were simply making it up?
Another aspect of the Easter Story we ought to look at is the simple fact that the Jewish leaders and the Romans worked together in the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The Romans ruled with an iron hand, to the extent that the Jews revolted in 66-70 AD, resulting in the destruction of the Temple. Yet, here only 30 or so years before that, we have Jewish leaders and Roman leaders working together. What an odd combination! The chief priests and Pharisees (Jewish leaders) went to Pilate (Roman leader) to ask for guards to be posted outside the tomb. Pilate agrees. (Matthew 27:62-66) We even have the chief priests proclaiming “We have no king but Caesar”! (John 19:15b) Matthew even tells us that the chief priests colluded with the Roman soldiers at the tomb, going so far as paying them to say that it was actually the disciples that stole the body. Again, this is not something that could easily be made up. Nobody at the time would expect the Jewish leaders and the Roman rulers to agree on anything, let alone having the two groups work together in a number of different ways.
The last thing we should examine is simply the fact that there are many, many details included in the stories that if they were false, they would have easily been disproven at the time. Matthew tells us there was darkness that came over the land in the middle of the afternoon. Mark says that the huge veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. Joseph of Arimathea was rich. The location of the tomb(s) he owned was probably public information. If Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, it would have been easy to prove. Matthew even has the unique claim that “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” All of these claims would be absurdly easy to prove wrong at the time…unless, that is, they were true.
So we have these odd, very unique details of the Easter Story: the role of men and women, Jewish leaders and Roman rulers working together, easily disproven claims. Why were these details included? Nobody would’ve made these details up. The only logical conclusion one can come to is that these details were included because they actually happened. What other logical conclusion is there?