Let's start with Good Friday, the day that marks when the Lord Jesus was crucified by Romans soldiers. Two ancient historians, Josephus, a Jewish historian writing at the end of the 1st Century AD and Tacitus, who is considered the most important source on Ancient Rome who wrote at the beginning of 2nd Century, both noted in their histories that Jesus was crucified. Neither of these men were follower of the Lord Jesus, but they both affirmed that Jesus was crucified by the authority of Pontius Pilate ( Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.63-64; Tacitus, Annals 15.44). A contemporary scholar, a man who is highly critical of the Bible, John Dominic Crossan stated in his book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever by” – (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperCollins, 2009, 163). The New Testament clearly affirms that the Lord Jesus died, but it is not just the New Testament that makes that affirmation.
What about Easter? Easter marks the day the Lord Jesus was resurrected or rose again from the dead. Given that I am a pastor, and I have said publicly a number of times that the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the hinge of history, you would probably expect me to say that I believe the Lord Jesus rose again. My authority for that conviction is the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 15 is a chapter in the Bible that has influenced me hugely. But I recognize that not everyone believes that the Bible is the Word of God. But I do not think you have to believe the Bible is God's Word to see that the resurrection is a historical fact. Critical scholars of history do believe there is reason for us to understand that the resurrection was a historical event. Those scholars, many who do not consider themselves followers of Jesus see good reason to believe the resurrection happened. They point to a few things that lead them to conclude that:
(1) The disciples sincerely believing that Jesus rose again - the disciples claimed that they believed it to the point they were willing to suffer and die for that belief
(2) The conversation of Saul the church persecutor to Paul the apostle
(3) The conversation of skeptical James the brother of Jesus
A slightly smaller number of critical scholars, probably 75% of those who seriously study the resurrection also believe the empty tomb is a historical fact. Again, not every scholar or person believes the resurrection took place, but there is noted historical evidence to suggest that it did take place (For more information on this topic, please see Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Kregel, 2004).
Clearly part of the challenge for anyone considering the Resurrection is the fact that dead people stay dead. That is our experience. The Resurrection by nature would have to be a miracle. Anthony Flew, who, during his life, was considered to be the world’s foremost philosophical atheist was not willing to affirm that the resurrection was a historical event. But he was willing to say, and did say, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religions." (Antony Flew Interview in Philosophia Christi Winter 2004). This comment from a man who was also considered one of the chief philosophical commentators on the topic of miracles.
The events being celebrated this weekend are historical events. But they are more than historical events. They are are events that change history, and can your life. If you would like to know about how Good Friday and Easter change history and your life, please contact me. I would love to talk with you about either.