Jesus is Risen, He is Risen indeed! The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead matters. It is the sure support for all we believe. It is the foundation for who we are. Everything that we are stands or falls on the Resurrection of this man Jesus of Nazareth. It is impossible overemphasize the importance of today’s feast.
Why? Because, we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead because we are Christians. We are Christians because of the resurrection. Let me say that again. Or this analogy. People don’t believe they had a wedding 25 years ago, because they are married. They are married, because they had a wedding 25 years ago. There was a historical event, a wedding, that actually happened, that is the basis for their marital relationship and who they are today. There was an historical event that happened 2000 years ago, which is why we are Christians.
Another way of saying it. You don’t need faith to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. You just need to honestly consider the evidence. In the same way you don’t need faith to believe that Julius Caesar helped establish the Roman empire in the first Century before Christ. Or that George Washington was the first president of the United States. You don’t need faith to believe those things. You can just use your intellect, your mind, consider the evidence for it, and make that very rational and ordinary judgment. Similarly, we can know that Jesus rose from the dead without having any faith.
There are many things that we believe based on faith. By faith, we believe that God is a trinity of divine persons. By faith we believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth, who lived 2000 years ago is both fully God and fully man. By faith, we believe that the Eucharist is not just a symbol, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. We believe many things by faith, which means we believe the one who tells us because that person is trustworthy. All the teachings of the Catholic Church, we believe Because God is trustworthy, Jesus is God, and Jesus Christ gave his divine authority not to a book, but to his Church the Catholic Church. That is why we believe all the various teachings. It’s because the authority, the Catholic Church, handing them on to us is trustworthy.
But this is NOT the case with the resurrection. A person doesn’t believe the resurrection because the Church tells them too. Rather, we believe the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth because it is a historically verifiable event. This is so important. Because as Catholics, as Christians, there needs to be a strong foundation on which our faith stands. Our house must be built on rock and not on sand. And the strong foundation of our faith is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. There is overwhelming evidence for it.
So I’d like to take the time this Easter morning to solidify your Catholic faith, by solidifying the foundation of your faith. I’d like to share some of expansive evidence that Jesus actually did rise from the dead.
The first set of evidence is the dramatic conversion and witness of so many people. Consider St. Paul. St. Paul went from the most zealous persecutor of Christians to the greatest apostle of the Christian faith. And Jesus’ closest followers of Christ were despairing and cowardly men on Good Friday, and just a short time later were the most courageous men the world has ever seen. The Apostles and St. Paul endured all sorts of hardships including martyrdom in order to bring the gospel to others...I saw one of those memes. It was a picture of one of the apostles being tortured and killed and it said, “Atheistic logic 101: The disciples of Jesus lied about the resurrection, they made it all up, to secure for themselves the perks of ridicule, torture, imprisonment, and death.” That just doesn’t make sense. That these disciples saw the Risen Christ is the only rational explanation for such a radical conversion and transformation.
The second set of evidence is the historically reliable gospel accounts of resurrection events themselves. The gospel writers wrote metaphorically and figuratively many times. Yet, when it comes to the events surrounding the resurrection, it is clear the gospel writers believed that the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances after being raised from the dead were real and historical. For example, The Gospel of John details how the empty tomb looked and how the burial clothes were left in a specific manner (Jn 20).
And consider the fact that the evangelists didn’t hide the fact that women were the first to see the empty tomb and the Risen Christ. In that day, men’s testimony was more worthy of belief. If you were making something up, you’d be sure to use men as eyewitnesses to make it seem truer. It is the case, that when it comes to the gospel accounts, “Each of [the gospel writers], in their very different ways, believed that they were writing about events that actually took place” (N.T. Wright).
Finally consider the fact that Jesus’ messianic movement continued with the same person as the messiah even after he died. There were other messianic movements around the time of Jesus. There were other men besides Jesus, who claimed to be the Jewish messiah. There were at least ten other Jewish messianic movements in the hundred years before and after Christ. So, like the previous movements, the disciples of Christ would have had two options after the death of their messiah. One, They could have went to the Jewish and Roman authorities, and apologize for causing problems and be readmitted into the Jewish community, signaling the end of the movement; or Two, they could find another messiah who would continue the movement. This would usually be a brother or relative of the former messiah who was put to death. Yet, “Jesus’ followers did not even consider the possibility that, after his apparent failure, they might find another Messiah from among his own family.” (N.T. Wright). Jesus’ movement didn’t die, nor did it go on with a new messiah. Rather it continued with the same messiah, Jesus. Why? Because he wasn’t dead. He was alive.
There is just an overwhelming amount evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And why does this all matter, that Jesus rose from the dead. Even if he did. Why does it matter? What’s the cash value in it?
We see in Jesus, the just man. We see the epitome of faithfulness to God. We see the one who loves God with his whole heart, soul, strength and mind and his neighbor as himself. We see a man who fulfills all of God’s commands. Now, if Jesus just died and his body just decayed for the next thousands of years in the tomb what would that have shown us?
It would have shown us that nothing of what he did or who he is ultimately matters. It would show us that our human existence is not fair. There is no justice. It would show that God doesn’t care what happens. It would demonstrate that God is indifferent to our existence. That there is no reward for goodness, nor punishment for evil.
Listen to Pope Benedict saying it much more eloquently than I can, “If there were no resurrection, the story of Jesus would have ended with Good Friday. His body would have decayed, and he would have become a has-been. But that would mean that God does not take initiatives in history, that he is either unable or unwilling to touch this world of ours, our human living and dying. And that in turn would mean that love is futile, trivial, an empty and vain promise. It would mean that there is no judgment and no justice. It would mean that this moment is all that counts and that right belongs to the cunning, the crafty and those without consciences.”
I think this is correct, without the resurrection, evil, injustice would have the upper hand. Abusive power, deceit, sin would have won. But is that an existence even tolerable? Where love and goodness is defeated? What kind of an existence is that where justice, goodness, and virtue has no enduring value and loses out to deceit and injustice?
The resurrection matters because it proves God does act, He does make things right in the end. It matters because it proves to us that God does care about the brokenness of our world. It shows that in the end, Good triumphs over evil. That justice defeats injustice. That faithfulness, goodness, love is rewarded and sin and evil is punished.
My friends, do we grasp the implications of Easter Sunday? Do we believe that God does care about our existence? That he does act in the world? Do we trust him? Do we believe that being faithful to him will be rewarded? Do our lives express an inner belief that following his commands will be rewarded? OR do I live with constant fears and anxieties like those who have no hope? Do I still think that I need to hedge my bets? I need to make sure I create that safety net? That I need to have enough pleasure and comfort in this life, I need to look out for myself in case God doesn’t balance the scales in the end?
My brothers and sisters, it pays to go all in. The life of Jesus of Nazareth, his resurrection from the dead, proves that God does make it all right in the end. God does reward faithfulness to him! Jesus Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed! And that changes everything!