Easter Means Hope
We all need hope in these challenging days. There’s a popular saying about hope that goes something like this: “People can live about 40 days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for a few seconds without hope." At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection is all about hope.
Now, Christian hope is a bit different than the typical meaning of hope. Most people think of “hope” essentially in terms of a wishful desire: “I hope it doesn’t rain” or “I hope my team wins the game.” For the believer, our hope is confidence based on facts. The Apostle Paul lays out the facts: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Critics claim that the resurrection of Christ is mere myth, a fabrication by the faithful, just a fable. What if they are right? Interestingly, Paul goes along with that hypothetical assertion in his first letter to the Corinthians and declares that the result would be devastating for the Christian faith (see 15:21-19). If Christ did not rise from the dead: 1) Preaching is pointless; 2) Faith is futile; 3) Disciples are deceivers; 4) Sin is sovereign; 5) Death has dominion; and 6) the Future only holds false hope. He concludes: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). What a hopeless conclusion?!
But here’s the Good News: The Bible offers convincing proof of the facts of Christ’s resurrection that first Easter, which provides the foundation for our hope. In the cold aftermath of Christ’s agony in the garden, His arrest, His trial, His scourging, His crucifixion, and His entombment, Jesus presented Himself to His followers as having been raised from the dead. Dr. Luke put it this way: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The text says that Jesus presented them “many proofs.”
The old KJV puts it this way: “many infallible proofs.” As Luke wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he chose a technical term that means that the Lord Jesus gave His disciples such compelling, convincing evidence, that together, these proofs drove away every doubt and quelled every question that He was risen indeed. Notice the word “many.” He gave them an overabundance of evidence that having been dead, He was now alive.
Why should we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Because of the compelling and overwhelming eyewitness evidence of His resurrection. On 11 specific occasions we are told that Jesus appeared to His followers across a 40-day period. He appeared indoors and outdoors. He appeared on a mountain in Galilee and on a suburban road outside of Jerusalem. He appeared by day and by night. He appeared to individuals, small groups, and to one group as large as 500 people.
He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, at dawn, in the garden, by the tomb (John 20:11-18), and then to a group of women who were coming to anoint His dead body (Matt. 28:1-10). His third appearance that first Easter was to two discouraged disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32). When He came to their home, He blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread to them, and their eyes were opened, and they knew that it was the risen Lord. And on that same first Easter, the record tells us that He appeared to Simon Peter — a private, individual encounter between the risen Lord and this fallen follower that helped turn Him from Peter cowering before a servant girl to Peter boldly preaching at Pentecost (1 Cor. 15:5).
The fifth and final appearance that Easter Sunday was in the evening to a gathering of the 10 in the upper room, Thomas being absent (John 20:19-23). Jesus came and stood in their midst, and when they saw His hands, feet, and side, they were overjoyed to see the risen Lord. The next week, Thomas, the doubter, came face to face with Jesus. Jesus said “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Thomas fell on his face and cried: “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:24-29). According to Luke, Jesus even ate broiled fish as proof that He was risen indeed (Luke 24:36-49). This was no apparition hovering about. He had a body that functioned, one they could touch. He gave them infallible proofs. He appeared again to the disciples on the shores of Galilee, fixed them a meal and told them where to let down their nets for a miraculous catch (John 21:1-13).
In 1 Cor. 15:6, Paul mentions the most impressive appearance of all, in which He appeared to over 500 people. This was likely the same appearance recorded by Matthew in Galilee when Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16:20). But then Paul makes this stunning statement: that most of them were still alive, in AD 55 when he wrote the first Corinthian letter. He put his own character and name on the line. Look them up! Ask them! You can find them! They have identities, addresses, and families! More than half of them are still alive! Someone observed that if those 500 people had testified six minutes each in a court of law, you would have more than 50 hours of accumulated evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
The risen Christ also appeared to His younger half-brother James according to 1 Cor. 15:7. They grew up in the same Galilean home there in Nazareth, but in John 7:5, we are told that James didn’t believe in Him. And yet, something changed His brother James from being a doubter and a skeptic to becoming the first pastor of the Jerusalem church, a writer of Scripture, and a martyr for the Christian faith. Could it have been anything other than the appearance of his resurrected older half-brother, standing in the presence of this One who had grown up alongside him in that Galilean home?
Our Lord appeared to all of the apostles and then appeared before ascending into heaven from the Mount of Olives (see Acts 1:9-11). All told, there are 11 specific times scattered across 40 days, not to mention the unrecorded appearances during that time. If we simply take the evidence as it is given to us in the documents of the New Testament, there is no other conclusion than to confess that Jesus Christ who was dead, is now alive, for God raised Him out of that tomb, and He triumphed over death, hell, and the grave.
Convincing proofs. Too many people saw Him on too many different occasions for it to have been a hoax, a fabrication, a myth. There’s no way that 500 people could be kept under hypnosis. Somebody would have leaked it had it been a sham. He gave them infallible proofs.
And years later they were still convinced. The Apostle John wrote in his first letter: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1). Jesus is the audible, visible expression of the invisible God! Half a century later, John still maintained that he had seen, heard, and touched the risen Lord.
Or what about old Peter, that gruff fisherman, by no means a mystic? In his second letter, he said: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). And these same disciples who saw Him live and die and live again maintained their belief until their own deaths, most of them as martyrs. The Risen Christ offered convincing, infallible proofs of His resurrection from the dead.
What does the fact of Christ’s resurrection mean for us? Because Christ has been raised from the dead, our preaching is profitable, our faith is fruitful, the Lord’s disciples are dependable, sin is subdued, death is defeated, and the future is fabulous! Because Christ is risen, He has taken the sting out of sin. He has taken the gloom out of the grave. He has taken the dread out of death. He has given us a hope that is rock solid and sure! That is Good News we should share with others who do not yet have that same confident, life-giving hope.