As we near the end of Holy Week, we come to Good Friday and what is arguably the most significant weekend in the tradition of the Church. We take time on Good Friday to remember the road that led Jesus to His death by crucifixion. It’s a time of reflection, contemplation, and thanksgiving for the rejection and suffering of Jesus.
But of course the story doesn’t end with Good Friday. As much as we need to sit in the difficulty of Jesus’ death, we must also celebrate His resurrection. On Easter Sunday, we remember that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave, but rose up victorious over death. It’s through Jesus’ resurrection that we have the hope of new life.
Easter is by far the most important time of the year for me. I can’t get enough of the story; however, its unbelievability isn’t lost on me. I’ve often thought about how this story might sound to someone who’s never heard about God before. If I heard it for the first time, I think I would consider it to be just another fictional superhero tale.
With the final Avengers movie coming out in one week, it seems that stories like this have captured the imagination of our generation. But everyone knows they are works of fiction. No one has really come to Earth from another planet. No one is actually so powerful that they can block bullets. No one actually has the ability to fly.
What makes us think that the message of Christianity is any different? Just think about it. The story claims that there is a God who created everything. God has always been interested in creation’s flourishing. When things go wrong, God enters into the human story in the form of a man, Jesus Christ, showing us how life is meant to be lived. He then gets rejected, gets killed, and comes back to life just like He said He would. His resurrection displays His power over death and is proof that He loves the world so much. All people are welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven whereby anyone who puts their faith in Jesus as their Lord will also be resurrected into eternal life.
Even I have times in my life when I wonder if I really believe all of this. What if it’s just another superhero story? It may be cool, but is it worth changing your life? Every time I reason my way through it, however, I always come out at the same place: I do believe Jesus is who He says He is, and that the hope we have in Him is true. Let me explain why.
Empirically speaking, the New Testament in the Bible is composed of the most reliable historical documents we have of that period. Compared to the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer, the difference is huge. We only have 7 copies of Plato’s work, 1200 years after he died. For Aristotle, we have 49 copies that date 1400 years after his first writing, and for Homer’s Iliad, we have 643 copies that were written 500 years after the original.
When it comes to the New Testament texts, we have about 5,600 copies that were written less than 100 years after the originals. When we compare them to our modern translations, they are 99.5% accurate. Compare that to 95% accuracy of modern copies of Homer’s Iliad. There’s no question that the documents contained within the Bible have been preserved with more accuracy than any other historical document from that time. Furthermore, based on sources outside of the Bible, there’s also no question that a man named Jesus existed 2,000 years ago and that He was killed on a Roman cross.
The Element of Faith
Regardless of the facts of the Bible as a historical document, it’s still quite a leap for us to say that the message of the Bible is true and not simply a work of fiction. Maybe Jesus was simply a good teacher but not God incarnate. Maybe the disciples invented everything as a grand conspiracy to give hope to the Jewish people during a time of Roman rule. But if it is true that Jesus is God in human form come to forgive us of our sins through his death and resurrection, then Jesus’ story would change our lives completely.
The jump from the story of Jesus being fiction to it being truth is a leap of faith. It always has been, even for the people who were there in person. But here’s the thing - we all have faith in something. It takes faith to believe the Bible is fiction, just as it takes faith to believe that it’s true. When it comes to things that are bigger than ourselves, we always require faith, no matter what we believe. Some of the most faithful believers can be atheists.
And so, there is a final question we must answer: Why should we take the leap of faith that the story of Jesus is actually true?
The Living Tradition of Witness
I believe in Jesus not because the Bible is a magic book, but because of the tradition of the Church that witnesses to His story. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to over 500 people, and as a result, the Church grew exponentially. The Bible tells the story from the perspective of those who were there, and the Church tells the story of the many who followed after.
It’s absolutely fascinating that the first witnesses to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion were women. Women in that day weren’t even allowed to be legal witnesses, so it seems unlikely that a fabricated account of Jesus’s resurrection would begin this way. Moreover, from the beginning of the Church, hundreds of these witnesses died gruesome deaths, refusing to deny on to what they had experienced. Over the course of Church history, millions more have been killed for that same confession of faith.
2,000 years ago, the presence of Jesus totally changed thousands of people. They became people of love, community, reconciliation, forgiveness, and sacrifice. They passed on what they saw to others, who by believing also experienced that Jesus was alive, working in them to change them and bring them into relationship with God. Eventually, that story came to me and I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is actually true.
We can’t prove that Jesus actually rose from the dead. But personally, I choose to believe the eye-witnesses who saw Him and the tradition of the Church that continues to claim it to be true. I trust it more than the competing messages that claim it to be fiction. One of the main reasons is that I’ve personally experienced Jesus in my own life. Jesus is still alive and active in the world and I’m only here because of the hope I have in Jesus’s death and resurrection.
But what about you? Have you read the story of Jesus? Have you investigated His life, death, and resurrection? Have you invested time to see if this life-changing message might actually be true? Are you open to the idea that God exists and wants to have a relationship with you? Imagine how that might change your life.
May God bless us on the journey. Happy Easter!