The Easter Bear

Forget the Easter Bunny, it is time to bring the Easter Bear out of hibernation.  The Easter Bear has the teeth and claws to shred at least three common myths about the resurrection that hatch every year around Easter as people try their best (and fail) to show that the bodily resurrection of Jesus did not happen.

Megan Almon wrote a synopsis of the Easter Bear argument in her Resurgence article, “Debunking 3 Common Myths about the Resurrection“:

It’s the thing that makes or breaks Christianity. According to Paul, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:17).

And because it’s a historical event, it’s testable. For years, scholars have studied the details surrounding the Resurrection. The facts most widely accepted by Christian and non-Christian scholars alike include:

• Jesus’ death and burial

• The empty tomb

• Post-Resurrection appearances

• The rise of Christianity

Think of the acronym “B.E.A.R.When it comes to testing the Resurrection, you have to think like a good investigator. Any explanatory theory must have sufficient scope and power—it must cover all of the facts in a compelling way.

For centuries, naturalistic theories have been raised that attempt to explain away a supernatural raising from the dead.

The Conspiracy Theory

This was the first counter-theory proposed by the authorities when they asked the guards of the tomb to lie and say the disciples had stolen the body. It was revived by the deists of the eighteenth century.

It accounts for B and E. (Note: The fact that the guards were asked to lie about how the tomb became empty implies that it actually was empty.)

It accounts for A only if the disciples lied about having seen Jesus. If they continued their ruse, R is covered as well.

While the Conspiracy Theory barely passes muster in its scope, it fails in its power.

Not only would the disciples have had to lie to account for A, but James, Paul, and the 500 witnesses Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 would have had to lie as well.

Finally, the unlikelihood of all of the remaining the disciples dying for an elaborate lie raises questions. Furthermore, the lie itself must be considered.

N.T. Wright writes, “They were not refusing to come to terms with the fact that they had been wrong all along. On the contrary, they were indeed coming to terms with, and reordering their lives around, dramatic and irrefutable evidence that they had been wrong.

That’s why they ran in fear.

Whatever the disciples may have hoped would happen in terms of the Messiah they envisioned—one who would conquer the current order by military might—is not what they described after that first Easter.

The Swoon Theory

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schleiermacher and other critics claimed that Jesus was only nearly dead when he was taken down from the cross and entombed.

The theory succeeds in its scope, accounting to some degree for B, E, A, and R, but it fails to do so with power.

The very idea that days after the crucifixion, a near-dead Jesus could remove the massive stone covering the tomb entrance is just not believable. If the tomb was in fact guarded, that casts further doubt.

In such a weakened and battered condition, it is unlikely that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances would have recorded such a picture of glorified health. It’s even less likely that Peter and the others would have found Jesus’ pitiful figure on their doorstep and later proclaimed before their own brutal deaths, “He is the risen Lord!”

The Hallucination Hypothesis

As an attempt to explain Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, this theory claims the disciples simply hallucinated having seen the risen Christ. Because it only accounts for A, it must be paired with another theory in order to get off the ground in the scope category.

Furthermore, it fails to be compelling. Hallucinations are, by definition, the product of a single mind. It would be impossible for even two of the disciples to share the same hallucination, much less all of them, plus James, Paul, and the 500.

And even if widespread hallucinations were possible, the production of the body—any body—would have dispelled the myth or, at the very least, caused enough damage so that Christianity’s spread may have halted. But there is no record of such an attempt, and the new faith spread like wildfire.

Resurrection

Working with the “BEAR” minimum—a handful of details considered accurate even by critics of Christianity—the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most sufficient and compelling explanation of what happened in history.

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Spurgeon on Sanctification

“Sanctification, in its operation upon our character, consists of three things.  First, we die to sin.  A wondrous death!  By this Jesus strikes at the heart of evil.  The death of Christ makes us die to sin.  After this comes burial.  We are buried with Christ; and of this burial, baptism is the type and token.  Covered up to be forgotten, we are to sin as a dead shepherd to his flock.  As the sheep pass over the dead shepherd’s grave or even feed there on, yet he regards them not – so our old sins and habits come about us, but we, as dead men, know them no more.  We are buried to them!  [Thirdly,] to completer our actual sanctification, we receive heavenly quickening.  ‘Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’ (Rom. 6:8).  Yes, we do live in Him and by Him, for, he that believes in Him ‘hath eternal life’ (John 3:36).  I trust you know what that means.  Have you been thus dead, thus buried with Christ?  Are you now thus quickened in the likeness of His resurrection?  This is your joyful privilege if you are, indeed, believers in Christ and joined unto the Lord in one spirit.”
-C.H. Spurgeon (Sermon 2197, 1891)

The Life of Condemnation Without Easter

An article in The Washington Post by contributing author, Eric Reece who “is a writer in residence at the University of Kentucky, where basketball is the true religion”, wrote that we need to save Jesus by ignoring Easter.  Reece declares that we need to forget the resurrection and focus on living the teachings of Jesus, the “radical Jewish street preacher”.  His logic is that if we stopped paying attention to the death and resurrection of Jesus we could get around to living the teachings of Jesus whose “words [were] so radical, they got him killed, words so radical, they might still bring about the end of empire and the beginning of the kingdom of God.”

Eric Reece completely misses the point.  Apparently he has not realized the crushing weight of condemnation and guilt that a person would incur if they attempted to live out the words of Christ.  Read Matthew 5-7 and tell me that you can do that on your own?  How about the “simple” ethical command of Jesus, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)?

The joy of the Christian is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ those who believe in Him as their Savior will be made perfect in the eyes of God based upon the Person and work of Christ and not on their own sinful and hopeless self-effort.  Not only that, it is Christ who is also in the process of making us holy from the inside out in our living to match our perfect positional standing in Him (Hebrews 10:14).

Do Christians emphasize the life and words of of Jesus?  Absolutely!  But Christians are also very clear that without the death and resurrection of Jesus, the “gospel of Reece” is not good news but a sentence of condemnation under the law.

It is also puzzling that Reece would talk about the words that got Christ killed.  Those radical words were not His moral teachings but the declaration that He is the Christ, the Son of God, God Himself in the flesh who is the ultimate Judge of the universe (Mark 14:61-64).

Reece also places his blame on American Christianity as though it is unique in its emphasis of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Yet Christians have always believed in and emphasized these facts.  The very foundation of the Christian faith is based on the factual bodily resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15).  The fact that a bunch of cowardly disciples who were hiding in a house would turn into brave declarers of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is just one of many points that show the truth behind the resurrection.

The writers of The Resurgence give a few more examples:

Jesus Died

Jesus was really dead. He was beaten and scourged. Many people died just from the scourging. And then he was nailed to a cross with three spikes that were 7–9 inches long and a half-inch thick. And to make sure he was dead, they speared him in the side to pierce both his lung and heart. He died the death we should have died. He died in our place for our sin.

Jesus Was Buried

Jesus was also buried and everyone involved knew where. The tomb was sealed with a Roman seal and guarded so nobody would mess with it. The chief priests, disciples, and followers of Jesus all knew where it as. It was under Roman guard. His body wasn’t misplaced; it was in a tomb for three days.

Jesus Rose from the Dead

Jesus rose from the dead. He showed up to his disciples and followers and then to over 500 people who saw him (1 Cor. 15:6). His disciples didn’t steal his body and promote a hoax they claimed to be true and for which they would all later be killed violently. He didn’t pass out on the cross, resuscitate later in the tomb, tear off the 75 pounds of linen burial cloths, push back an enormous stone by himself, and then overpower armed guards. His resurrection proved his victory over sin and death and ensures believers’ regeneration (1 Pet 1:3-5), justification (Rom 4:25), and future resurrection (1 Cor 6:14).

What Billions of Christians Have Always Believed

The Apostles’ Creed, the oldest and most popular creed of the church, summarizes 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 and states, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried…On the third day He arose again from the dead.”

This is what billions of Christian have always believed and what over 1 billion Christians will celebrate this Easter. There are good reasons for believing it and no good reasons not to believe it.

Save Jesus by ignoring Easter?  The thought not only condemns the listener to this false gospel to a life of hopelessness but completely distorts the life and teachings of Jesus.

Bunnies, Eggs, and Easter

Since When Did Bunnies Have Eggs?  That is a good question.  Another great question is, “How did bunnies and eggs end up as the trademarks of Easter, a weekend that is supposed to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ?”

On the one hand, I enjoy devouring the chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and cream filled chocolate eggs that arrive with the Easter season.  I really enjoy them when I can get them for over 50% off the day after Easter.

On the other hand, it is a tragedy that those elements are what come to mind when Easter is mentioned instead of the triumph of Jesus Christ over death itself providing us with a “receipt” declaring that His sacrifice on the cross for our sins was acceptable to God.  Proof forever that whoever believes into Jesus as their Savior is assured of salvation.  Jesus, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 ESV).

The Resurgence does a quick history of the egg-laying rabbits in their article Since When Did Bunnies Have Eggs:

How in the world did the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, the most sacred and central event in Christianity, come to be represented by a fluffy bunny who mysteriously has colored eggs and gives out cheap candy to kids?

The Easter Bunny is a commercialized cultural commonplace around the world (though it may be losing ground to the Easter Bilby in Australia), yet for all its familiarity, the Easter Bunny’s true origins are a mystery. 

Eggs and Bunnies

Eggs and rabbits have been used as traditional symbols of springtime fertility and rebirth by various cultures throughout history. Eggs symbolize new life about to emerge, while hares and rabbits are conspicuous in the spring because they breed… like rabbits. The hare’s association with Easter may be a holdover from the ancient pagan spring festivals of Europe. According to Bede, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon church historian, the British pagans used to celebrate a spring feast in honor of the goddess Eostre, who was represented by the hare.

Eostre and the Hare

When Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) sent missionaries to the British Isles, he instructed them to adapt the existing religious places and festivals for Christian use. He wrote, “Since the people are accustomed, when they assemble for sacrifice, to kill many oxen in sacrifice to the devils, it seems reasonable to appoint a festival for the people by way of exchange. The people must learn to slay their cattle not in honor of the devil, but in honor of God and for their own food…” Because the celebration of the Resurrection replaced the old spring feast of Eostre, the Christian holiday came to be called Easter, and Eostre’s pet animal the hare apparently came along for the ride.

Osterhase

The first known mention of the actual Easter Bunny comes from Germany in the 1600s, where the cute little guy was known as the Osterhase, or “Oschter Haws.” German immigrants came to America with a tradition in which the kids would build nests around the house out of hats and bonnets, and if they had been good children, Osterhase would leave brightly-colored eggs in the nests. The tradition grew and spread over time, and eventually Osterhase turned into the Easter Bunny and began giving out chocolate and candy as well as eggs.

The Resurrection

Easter is still celebrated as a major holiday all around the globe, but the truth of Jesus’ gory crucifixion and glorious resurrection is often obscured by the garish cartoon bunny in the stores and the gaudy displays of springtime fashion among the religious. Traditions of cute bunnies, marshmallowy creatures, colored eggs, and little girls in pink dresses are harmless enough, but at the same time we must not let anything obstruct our view of the earth-shattering reality represented by Easter. There’s nothing cute or cuddly about the fact that we killed God. When we were his enemies, he came to us, suffered in our place through the horror that was Good Friday, and rose from his grave on Easter Sunday so that we will one day rise from ours. The curse is broken, and we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus because we know we will one day experience it (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Let’s be joyful, let’s never shrink from speaking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and let’s never trivialize it.

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Zombie Jesus

Zombie Jesus.  No, this is not the movie sequel to the Canadian low-budget classic Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.  Rather it is part of a funny, though intended to be insulting email that I received as a reply to my invitation to  church on Easter Sunday.  It read (with bad punctuation and all), “i will not be attending your zombie Jesus festivities”.

On a humorous note, this note that was intended to be insulting to Jesus and my intelligence for believing in Jesus actually revealed his ignorance of the state of the mythological undead.  A zombie, as defined by urbandictionary.com, is “a deceased human being who has partially returned to life due to indeterminable causes. The brain retains base facilities, namely gross motor function. In its near-mindless state, it grasps no remains of emotion, personality, or sensation of pain.” With this basic definition in mind only the most ignorant would even consider calling the resurrected Jesus a zombie as all accounts have him fully alive by a determinable cause with full brain & motor capacity complete with complex thought, personality, and emotions.

So how does one justify belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ?  While on trial, the apostle Paul answered with this simple question, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).  If that logic is not enough, let us look at some of the evidence that caused the twice knighted Guinness Book of World Records most successful lawyer in the world, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, to declare after several years of study, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”

First, there is the empty tomb.

Jesus Seminar contributor John Dominic Crossan believes that there is no empty tomb because Jesus’ body was probably thrown into a shallow grave and was then dug up and consumed by wild dogs.  Unfortunately for Crossan the fact of one of the earliest Christian creeds (1 Corinthians 15:3-7) and the reliability of Joseph of Arimathea’s actions have some scholars stating that “the honorable burial of Jesus is one of the earliest and best attested facts that we have about the historical Jesus” (Case for Christ p 210).

On the morning of the third day the tomb was discovered to be empty by several witnesses.  Did the disciples steal the body? Not unless they could get passed a bunch of guards in order to propagate a lie that they would eventually go on to be killed for without ever recanting of the story.  While people do die in a cause that may be a lie (like the 9/11 hijackers), people do not willing die torturous deaths for what they know to be a lie.  What if they went to the wrong tomb? Then the Jews would have simply pointed them to the correct tomb or produced the body themselves.

Some people even have the absurd claim that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but actually just swooned. The theory is that the cool tomb revived Jesus and he simply walked out of the tomb.  This theory is quickly put to death because people do not survive a Roman crucifixion. The pre-crucifixion flogging often killed people and caused a lot of blood loss. Then there are the dislocated joints and nails driven through the hand and feet which makes even the thought of Jesus pushing a giant rock seal out of the way and walking out of the tomb laughable. The Romans also made sure Jesus was dead by sticking a spear into His heart because if Jesus wasn’t dead the guard’s life was forfeit.  Also, the linen grave clothes would have suffocated Him even if he survived the spear to the heart.

Second, there are the evidences of people seeing the resurrected Jesus.

The Bible records Jesus appearing to individuals such as Paul and Mary Magdalene, but also to groups of people such as the disciples as a group, to a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus, to over 500 other witnesses, as well as other instances.  How does one explain away these eyewitness accounts?

Some claim that these are legends. Unfortunately this claim falls short based upon the aforementioned people not dying for a lie, the early Christian creeds that arose shortly after the resurrection and too early for legends & apocryphal stories to take root, and the evidence of the empty tomb that needs to be explained away.

Others claim that the appearances were hallucinations or the result of groupthink.  Hallucinations happen to individuals and cannot be witnessed by others.  Also, groups of people don’t have the same hallucination at the same time.  As for groupthink, Anthony Flew stated when he was still an atheist that he doesn’t like that argument because it cuts both ways since you can say, “Christians believe because they want to, but atheists don’t believe because they don’t want to!” Also, you have all of the disciples defending the resurrection to the death, something participants of groupthink do not do, you have active opponents to the faith such as Paul and James saying that they too saw Jesus and believed, and you have the empty tomb to explain away.

Third, there is other circumstantial evidence.

Some of this evidence includes the disciples dying for their beliefs, the conversion of skeptics, the dramatic changes to the Jewish social structure & life that started after the resurrection, the start of communion and baptism, and the emergence of the church. For more on these, I recommend reading The Case for Christ.