In preparing for Easter, my thoughts naturally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course there are those who discount this historical event as being fantasy, or religious wishful-thinking. That’s when I look at the Scriptures and read once again the account of those who were eye-witnesses, or had heard the stories from those who had been there.
I read a news article today which announced that Fort Bragg in North Carolina would be hosting a concert on the base geared to those in the military who are atheists. This is a first in the history of the United States military! The “Rock Beyond Belief” concert will have bands, speakers and events intended for families and young children. The key note speaker is noted British atheist, Richard Dawkins.
I suppose it stands to reason that as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I would be quick to come to the defense of the biblical account of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And that would be a correct assumption. But that assumption is based not upon growing up being taught the dictums of the Christian faith, nor attending endless numbers of weekends of Sunday school and church services. None of those things occurred in my life. No, instead it centers on my personal encounter with Jesus at age twenty-four while a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Having had a very close call during a rocket attack after only being in Vietnam for thirty minutes, the reality of my own mortality and the potential suddenness of my life ending violently, forced me to evaluate what I was doing with my life.
One night several months later while in Yokosuka, Japan, I walked into an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center (OCSC, renamed Cadence International) where I heard the story of how much God loves me. There I learned that the manner in which God showed his love for me was to allow his Son, Jesus, to die for my sins. This seemed too good to be true! I made my decision that night and have never looked back.
So as Easter rolls around each year at this time, I find myself reading over Paul’s defense of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, known as the “Great Resurrection Chapter.” What makes this passage of Scripture so intriguing is the references to those who actually witnessed the event of Jesus being crucified. Then three days later, just as Jesus had said, his tomb was empty. He had risen, just as he said! Those who were there would not be silent about what they had seen. They quickly faced societal rejection, threats, banishment, and even death. Instead of silencing these witnesses of the resurrection, it seemed to rather embolden them to speak out all the more.
It has been said that, “The man with an argument is always at the mercy of the man with the experience.” In other words, you may choose to not believe there is a God, and you may call a person who does believe a “fool.” But for someone who has had a personal encounter with Christ, who knows their sins are forgiven, and that Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for them, rests on the assurance of that experience. A person with such an experience may never become a great biblical scholar or theologian. They might even have difficulty simply articulating their experience to someone else’s satisfaction, but it does not negate the truth and reality of their experience.
Consider these words of testimony from the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15. “I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say. Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. After this, he appeared to more than five hundred other followers. Most of them are still alive, but some have died. He also appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles. Finally, he appeared to me.”
The Bible is full of such testimonies from those who have encountered Christ. The Church Era is a continuation of the same story of people whose lives have been transformed from meeting Jesus.
Jesus loves you. He died for you. And it’s for this reason that Christians celebrating Easter around the world declare with one voice, “He is risen!”
The chorus of voices from heaven and earth replies, “He is risen indeed!”