Easter has just passed. It is arguably the most significant event of Christendom. Paul, one of the apostles upon whom the pillars of the Christian church are built and author of much of the New Testament, writes that if Christ did not rise from the dead that the Christian faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:17).
Of course, he is but one of the 40 different and independent authors of the Bible whose occupation range from kings, scholars, prophets, even a first-century medical doctor and the equivalent of an academic professor – Paul, who was a Pharisee. The Bible can be thought of as the Millennial Review – a compilation in 4th century A.D. by the leading scholars of Christendom comprising 66 independent books and letters written over a period of 1,500 years. The Bible has since been faithfully passed down over the next 1,600 years and in the recent century been translated into about 700 languages and is easily the most printed book at an estimated 2.5 billion copies in print. In the Bible one can read parallel accounts by different people on historical events – eg Samuel the prophet and the Books of Chronicles and Kings or the Gospels of the life of Jesus recorded in 4 different eyewitness accounts. There is one unified theme running from the first book to the last – that is the rescue of man by the Creator God.
For this mini-historical overview, we start in beginning of time, where the Bible records that God created the earth, stars and the entire universe. Whether it was a literal 7 days or whether it involved a big bang or evolution is not the point – the point is that whatever it was – God initiated or caused and sustains it. Just as there are physical laws that allow scientists to postulate the big bang or evolution theory in the first place, so there is Created Order: that is the Creator rules and there is a death penalty for disobedience. Although the first created humans, Adam and Eve, when tempted by the Devil, the Enemy of God in the form a snake, disobeyed God, they are not destroyed because of God’s mercy. However, God promises that one day “the offspring of the woman” will crush the devil’s authority. Several thousand years later, this promise is fulfilled when Jesus, the Son of God and God Himself is born of a virgin and dies on the cross to redeem humankind from the clutches of the devil.
The story of the Great Flood, recorded in many cultures and religions, described how God sent a flood waters to destroy the world because of man’s constant rebellion against the created order BUT in His love and mercy preserves Noah and his family and the animals. Furthermore, God promises never to destroy the world by waters again and puts a rainbow in the sky as an sign, and there had not been another global flood since. This event shows that through the obedience of Noah, mankind was saved for a time from total destruction. Several thousands of years later, the ultimate salvation of the world would occur by the obedience of one man, Jesus Christ and this is point of Easter that Christians all over the world celebrate.
Then in around 2,000 B.C., God calls a person out of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and he responds to the call – his name – Abraham. God makes a promise or covenant with Abraham that all peoples would be blessed through his descendent. Through the next two millennia, God preserves Abraham’s descendants by his son Issac through wars, famines, exiles, political unrest. Eventually in 6 B.C., Jesus Christ is born, he traces his earthly linage to Abraham. And so two thousand years later, God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled – Jesus Christ was born and died in our place so that the death penalty for mankind’s rebellion is paid in full. The whole world can be blessed with a relationship with the Creator.
The famous 10 commandments, aspects of which can be found legal systems all over the world including that of the American and that of the British (of which Canada inherited) was given to Moses in about 1,500 B.C. This system of laws contrasted a holy God from his Creation. It spelled out the penalty of disobedience – death, though God by His love and mercy accepted partial payment – through animal sacrifice – for our rebellion. This is the Created Order – even God Himself because of His own nature, keeps to it. Man committed a crime against God and deserved death. 1,500 years later, God came Himself as Jesus Christ to pay that debt – to die in our place so that he is the ultimate sacrifice that we can be right with God. The ancient Chinese understood that and aptly portrayed this in their traditional character for righteousness is 義. It comprises the character of a lamb – 羊- over the character for oneself – 我. Is that not, what Jesus, who is described as the Lamb of God came to do, be a sacrifice for us to attain righteousness – a right relationship with God, the Creator?
1,000 years after the promise given to King David, one of greatest kings of Israel, Jesus Christ was born a King not in a palace but in a humble stable. At Christmas, we remember that well-known star of Bethlehem which God had made at Creation and placed it at the precise distance and trajectory from earth such that at the exact time of Christ’s birth its light appeared in the night sky so that even astrologers from the East recognised its significance and came to pay homage to the baby Jesus Christ who was king not only of the Jews but also of all Creation.
There are many other examples and historical literature by many authors over history compiled into what we now have as the Bible – evidence pointing to the historical person of Jesus Christ and the evidence that he was crucified and died in A.D. 30 at a place called Golgatha (in Israel/Palestine). Several books by Josh McDowell (Evidence that Demands a Verdict and More Evidence that Demands a Verdict) and Lee Strobel (The Case for Christ) are excellent accounts of how two independent atheist began researching the evidence and how it changed their lives.
More importantly, and this is the reason Christians the world over celebrate Easter – that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. A historical fact researched by many and found to be credible. For the first time reader, it may seem incredulous and you are not to be blamed for that – even Jesus’ own disciples could not believe it when they first found the empty tomb on Easter morning. One – called Thomas – even said unless he touched Jesus’ hands to feel the crater made by the nails that hung him on the cross and Jesus’ side to feel the place where the spear pierced his side to confirm his death – he would not believe. But Jesus did appear to him and over 500 others who believed and that is how we have the Christian church – numbering millions upon millions.
So how does one examine the evidence? Much of the evidence is already compiled in the Bible and one is encouraged to start there. The Bible has an added advantage of having Divine inspiration. In other words, not only do the various authors record the historical events but there is what is known as the author’s (God as the ultimate author rather than the human author) intent – where God Himself has revealed by inspiration the motives behind historical events. The Bible is likely to be reliable because of what its internal consistency – as this overview has highlighted – promises or prophecies made thousands of years before that been shown by later independent accounts to have come to pass or fulfilled. Therefore, what is says about the future is likely to be true as well.
Furthermore, if the Bible is true and there is a Created Order that exists in the universe. Then it demands a response. Firstly, one has to acknowledge that a Creator or higher power exists who created and hence sustains the universe. This demands a change of worldview but gives hope and purpose of our lives on earth – we are not merely vessels for the propagation of selfish DNA nor do we merely exist for our own personal satisfaction. Secondly, if the Creator God takes such great pains and trouble to come to earth in the form of a man to die for us to take away our sins and to reconcile the Creator with His Creation, then it must be the only way and also important enough for such a rescue to be undertaken for mankind. This also means that the Creator must love His Creation that much to have been willing to suffer what Jesus Christ had to endure on the road to the cross to die for his enemies (remember we were rebels against God deserving death in the first place). This also suggests that the rescue must have been from a great disaster (eternal death) that the Creator God has to go through such lengths to save mankind.
The Bible itself says that all have sinned (that is rebelled against God’s rule and authority) (Rom 3:23) and as the Created Order demands, a crime deserving of death (Rom 6:23a). But God demonstrates – that is he actually does something about it – His love for us in that while we were still sinners or still His enemies in rebellion against His rule and authority, Jesus Christ came to die for us (Rom 5:8), so that we can receive the gift of eternal life (Rom 3:23b). How can you receive this gift? The Bible says that if we confess with our mouth that, “Jesus us Lord”, believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from dead – in other acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then we are saved (Rom 10:9,10,13). John 3:16-17 summaries it nicely – “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. ”
If you had missed it before, this is the message of Easter.