Sometimes in television shows that are otherwise very realistic, a magical event occurs. Most often the purpose of this event is to make the story heart-warming, but for most of us, it breaks the illusion of realism and throws us right out of the story. It spoils everything for us.
There are things like that in the gospels, also.
There are long stories in the Gospel of John that are very realistic. The people say the things that we would say and they react the way we would react, then suddenly there is a miraculous event. Jesus heals the man born blind or raises Lazarus from the dead, and there, before our piety sets in, our incredulity begins. However, nothing gives us more intellectual indigestion than the story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some people say the apostles made it up to comfort their followers, or that it is a made-up story that became a literary tradition, or that they were so shocked and upset by the crucifixion that they had some sort of mass hallucination.
Even if we had been there, whether it was a true event or a made-up story, we would flatly disbelieve it. We would say it was a bereavement phenomenon at best. When the women came back from the tomb, we would say, “You must have loved him very much if you thought you saw that.” We would theorize that they had seen a shadow out of the corner of their eye, or glanced at a stranger and jumped to a conclusion.
But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
—Luke 24:11, NIV
Then we would run to investigate if the tomb had been robbed, to get evidence while the crime scene was still undisturbed. That’s what Peter, James, and John did.
If we had been away on a business trip when all that happened, and we returned to find that everyone else was nuts, claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead, we would not believe it and we would insist that it couldn’t be true. We’d think they were playing a practical joke on us. Just like Thomas:
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
—John 20:24-25, NIV
Until, edging back from them, we bump into someone, turn around, and say, “Excuse me, sir” and realize who it is! And they have a hearty laugh at our expense, because they saw Him standing there all along, and our face burns red. Would you not say, “Oh my God!” as Thomas did?
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
—John 20:28, NIV
Thomas said that Jesus sent him to India, but he didn’t trust himself. He sold himself as a slave to a man who was going to India to make sure that he actually got there. Centuries later, the Jesuits went to India to evangelize it. To their surprise, they discovered that there were already Christians there who claimed that Thomas founded their church. Thomas himself had been killed for his story, they said, and they showed them his grave. That is historical fact. Would Thomas do all that because of a fictional story that he had helped concoct? Would you?
Even though you saw it, even though you saw that Jesus was alive and well, and even though you saw that He bore the wounds of the cross in His hands and side, and even though you knew for certain that it really was Him, after you went home and went about your daily life, you’d question yourself. You’d wonder if it had been real, if you had really seen Him, or if it had been an illusion or a dream, or if you had made it up. So did the disciples in Matthew 28:17. They stood there, face to face with Him, and still disbelieved the resurrection! Wouldn’t you?
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
—Matthew 28:16-17, NIV
Jesus gave the Great Commission to all of them, even the doubters, because He doesn’t care about your intellectual problems, He only cares about your faith that makes His commandments your highest priority and your greatest joy.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Now suppose we are the apostles and we made up the story of the resurrection to comfort our followers. Would we risk arrest and crucifixion by standing up in front of a crowd to convince them of a fairy tale that we ourselves devised?
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say…”
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
—Acts 2:14, 41, NIV
Peter did that only fifty days after he denied Christ even to the slave girl whose job it was to mind the door!
What about the early church? We have documents from the government of the Roman Empire that the early church grew explosively, and that Christians would rather die than offer a pinch of incense to the bust of Caesar, which they only had to do once a year. Because of Jesus’ Resurrection, they were unafraid of death. Could we preach the Three Little Pigs convincingly enough, as the apostles preached the gospel, that people would die for it? If we witnessed a resurrection and were shocked out of our skins and overjoyed by it, could we preach it so passionately and so convincingly that people would go laughing to their deaths?
The apostles knew that it was dangerous to preach their story, yet they did not hire security details or even body guards. They all died for their story, willingly—and they didn’t expire like library cards on silk pillows. They died horrible deaths. For example, Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside-down. If you were an apostle, and you made it all up, would you die for it?
Do you lay awake at night, tossing and turning, wracked with doubts about whether or not Snow White really ate the poison apple? Of course not, you know it is fiction. You cannot doubt what you know is untrue. You can only doubt what you think might be true. So if you have doubts in the Resurrection, it means you suspect it might be true.
Death cancels out everything. If you are rich, you die. If you are poor, you die. If you are famous, you die. If no one knows you are alive, you die. If you are good, you die. If you are evil, you die. If you are generous, you die. If you are miserly, you die. In other words, you are going to die. If the one who dies with the most toys wins, then I don’t like the prize: a box, long enough for me to lie down in, six feet underground, and all my toys are given to the other kids who did not earn them.
Why should we follow any ethical code at all if everything is canceled out in death? If death is the end, we should not waste time being generous and kind to others. We should be gathering riches for ourselves and having as much fun as we can! That’s what Paul said:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men…
If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
—1 Corinthians 15:19, 32
Don’t you see that since death cancels everything out, that any act of kindness, any act of generosity, any act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is actually an act of faith that death is not the end? Because if you truly believed that death were the end, you would not do such things—yet you do them. You do them because you have a tiny amount of faith—maybe the size of a mustard seed—that the resurrection really did happen, that the things you do in your life really matter, and that your self-sacrifice gives you a benefit that cannot come in this life.
You really do believe in the resurrection after all, if only a teeny bit.
You might have intellectual difficulties with the story of the resurrection, just like the disciples who stared at Him face-to-face on that mountain. Jesus does not care about your intellectual problems, just as He didn’t care about theirs. He gives you a mission in this life anyway.
Since Jesus raised Himself up from the dead, He can raise you up as well, which means that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. The worst thing that could happen to you is not to be one of His friends whom He raises up on the last day! So seek to obey Him and please Him in everything you do, and you will live with Him in His glory forever more.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
—1 Corinthians 15:51-54, NIV
What if Jesus’ resurrection really happened? It did, and all that other stuff too.