I don’t think I have ever preached a full blown apologetics sermon on Easter Sunday morning. This year was no exception.
However, I do attempt to add an apologetic element to the Easter talk as it is important to remind everyone that what we believe is based on events that actually took place. We don’t believe the resurrection happened because it is in the Bible. We believe it is in the Bible because it happened.
A few things occurred to me as I was reading through the Easter story. So let me try and explain some of the things that you would have to believe to disbelieve the Easter story.
The first thing that struck me as a bit odd if you believed that the Easter accounts in the gospel are history thin, might seem a bit strange at first. It is found in Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel. It is the Roman centurion’s response to the death of Christ:
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ Luke 23.47
Matthew expands on Luke’s account with some additional detail, indicating that the other soldiers had the same reaction:
Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27.54
If the gospel writers had simply been writing to serve some sort of overarching theological or literary purpose, why include something that could easily have been disproved? Both gospels were written within a generation of the first Easter, so it is very possible if not likely that there were people around who had actually been there. If Matthew and Luke did make this up, they took a huge risk, because something so easily disproved would have called into question the authenticity and the value of the rest of their respective gospels.
If you believe that this was made up, you are forced to conclude that both Luke and Matthew were trying to persuade Jewish Christians that there had always been a place for gentiles in the church. To strengthen their case they independently made up a story about a centurion and Roman soldiers at the cross.
If they didn’t make up the story independently, then they colluded in a most calculating way. To make their accounts appear more authentic, they agreed on the overall narrative and changed the details to make it look more authentic.
Is it not more plausible to believe that they spoke to different eyewitnesses – or even to some of the soldiers or the centurion himself! – and recorded their recollections of that moment?
A second thing that occurred to me concerns the idea that the disciples stole the body. (We can safely rule out the mass hallucination theory. It has no weight whatsoever).
If we are to believe that the disciples stole the body – we have to in some way account for the empty tomb – then that calls into question the picture we have in the gospels of the disciples as a frightened group of men locking themselves away in case the authorities come looking for them.
The disciples of the gospels had no motivation to risk their necks trying to steal Jesus’ body from the tomb. So if we are to believe that they stole the body of Jesus, we have to believe that they were not in the kind of disillusioned, fearful state presented in the gospels.
If the gospel record about the disciples isn’t accurate, why did they allow themselves to be presented in such a bad light? And even if they were prepared to make themselves look so bad to further their deception, why did they ever allow Jesus’ body to be buried in the first place? Why risk it falling into the wrong hands? They could have taken the body of Jesus after He was crucified and hid it. The only reason Jesus was buried was because Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus asked for permission to take and bury the body of Jesus (John 19.38-41).
And if you think the whole Easter story is made up, then how on earth have the gospels and their accounts of the events of Easter survived for almost two millennia, especially when what they claim as fact could have so easily been disproved?
It seems to me that the more you reflect on Easter, the beliefs of unbelief become harder and harder to believe. And that’s before you get into serious apologetics. After all, I was only letting my mind wander during sermon preparation. Happy Easter.