Easter is just around the corner. People who don't normally go to church will be in church on Easter Sunday -- I think that is great.
But if you don't attend church, except perhaps on Easter and maybe Christmas, you are going to hear something strange, something hard to believe. You're going to discover that Christ-followers believe that their leader, Jesus, actually rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday and that is why we celebrate today.
If this were a fairy tale, the guys who made up the story would have been smart enough, I would hope, to claim that (as some do today) it was the Christ Spirit that arose on that first Easter Sunday and not the man Jesus Himself. The problem is, all the existent evidence points to a real, bodily, physical resurrection that requires an honest answer from those who investigate the facts.
Let's suppose, for instance, that it was a "spiritual" resurrection only -- that Jesus' early followers were so hopeful that they thought they saw Him, they imagined they saw Him, so they manufactured the story of a physical resurrection.
First, everything we know of these early followers precludes that from being a possibility. They thought it was over when Jesus was crucified and they all went back to their former means of employment, their hopes in the Messiah dashed.
So, they were not likely to be candidates for having vivid imaginations that they mistook for real events.
At least one of his followers was given over to such a doubting nature that his nickname follows him even today -- Doubting Thomas. Thomas didn't believe anything you told him; he had to be convinced for himself.
You can be a Christ follower and still have doubts. You don't have to have all the answers up front. But like Thomas, if you come to Christ, doubts and all, eventually some of those questions will find an answer.
Second, you have to remember that the Jewish leaders wanted desperately to stop this new sect of Christ followers. So much so that they sent a guard and put a Roman seal over the tomb.
When the disciples showed up again in Jerusalem claiming that Jesus had arisen from the tomb, if it were not true, all the officials had to do was go to the sealed tomb, produce a body and Christianity would have died in its infancy. Case closed. Nothing more to see here. Move on.
But there is another thing here as well, and at Gateway we are going to look into this issue a little more closely. There are two men who were not convinced Jesus was who He claimed to be.
One was so adamant about his unbelief that he actually hunted down Christ-followers, had them arrested, and if they refused to recant and deny their faith, he had them executed. Saul of Tarsus was not a friend of Christians and he was not in a position to be convinced of their message.
Yet something changed him. Confronted with the resurrected Jesus, Saul the persecutor of the church became Paul the Apostle of Christ. If you don't believe that the resurrection occurred, can you explain to me the cause of Saul's aka Paul's radical conversion?
Then there's a guy named James. James was the brother of Jesus. What do you think it might take to convince a person that their older brother was, in fact, God in the flesh? I promise you it wasn't his brother's message.
James heard the claims and, according to the early witnesses, discounted those claims. He did not believe that his older brother was the Messiah until after the resurrection. It wasn't Jesus' message that convinced him, it was something he experienced.
If you doubt the validity of the Christian message, I understand; the claim of resurrection is incredible. But still you have to answer the question of what it was that these early doubters experienced that transformed them from Christ deniers to Christ followers.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.