There’s no getting around it: Christians believe some things that seem, well, strange.
This week across the globe, Christians celebrate the physical resurrection of Jesus. In short, they believe that Jesus rose, physically, from the dead. This is, to say the least, hard to swallow. Dead people don’t rise from the dead. How can modern, educated people believe something that’s so hard to believe?
Some try to argue that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. They argue instead that the resurrection is symbolic: spring follows winter; life comes from death. A recent survey in Great Britain found that a quarter of Christians don’t believe that the resurrection happened.
It’s hard to take this view seriously, though. The Bible says that there’s no such thing as Christianity without the resurrection. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile,” says Paul, a skeptic who became a follower of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection. But how can we believe something that’s so hard to believe?
Doubting the Resurrection Isn’t New
Our doubts aren’t new. We tend to think that we’re more sophisticated than people back in first century Palestine. They may have found the idea of resurrection plausible, but we know better.
Actually, the opposite is true. It was no easier for people to believe in resurrections then than it is now. N.T. Wright has studied the worldviews of people who lived in that time, and concluded that the universal view of people in that time was that bodily resurrection is impossible. Nobody expected Jesus to rise from the dead. The earliest accounts of the resurrection reveal what we’d expect: shock, disbelief, and astonishment.
Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, says:
…first-century people felt exactly the same way. They found the resurrection just as inconceivable as you do. The only way anyone embraced the resurrection back then was by letting the evidence challenge and change their worldview, their view of what was possible. They had just as much trouble with the claims of the resurrection as you… (The Reason for God)
The idea that the resurrection seems implausible isn’t new. If you struggle to believe that this could be true, you’re in good company. The earliest followers of Jesus also found it hard to believe.
Examining the Evidence
Why did the early followers of Jesus believe that Jesus rose from the dead? There’s a simple explanation: the evidence was inescapable. The evidence is so overwhelming that it’s hard to come up with an alternate explanation to explain the evidence. Tim Keller says:
The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.
The evidence includes the empty tomb, over 500 people who saw Jesus, details within the early accounts that give the accounts the ring of truth, and the explosion of the church. Lee Strobel, a skeptic who began to examine the evidence to try to discredit it, came to a startling conclusion:
I realized that my biggest objection to Jesus also had been quieted by the evidence of history. I found myself chuckling at how the tables had been turned. In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth! (The Case for Christ)
Don’t accept the resurrection blindly. Look at the evidence. The evidence has convinced countless skeptical people, right back to Bible days, that Jesus did rise from the dead.
For a summary of some of the evidence, check out this article, which contains links to other reading. Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ, is also worth reading. If you enjoy movies, the new movie based on Strobel’s book is definitely worth watching.
Bring Your Doubts
Although the evidence is compelling, it’s ultimately not enough. Arguments are compelling, but sometimes our objections to Christianity aren’t just about the facts. The facts are important, but we’re called to trust Jesus, not just believe a set of facts about him.
The good news? It’s okay to start wherever we find ourselves. We can bring our doubts, questions, and arguments to God. Look at the evidence. Ask tough questions. Refuse to take a leap of faith. There’s plenty of room for you to explore honestly and openly and without pressure.
At Liberty Grace Church, we aim to provide space for people regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey. We welcome skeptics, the curious, and believers — including those who are wrestling with the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.