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Jesus died a criminal’s death. He was executed in the most brutal method the Romans had at their disposal, crucifixion. And his closest friends were very afraid that their death was next. Other than John, the men who had been in his close band of disciples didn’t even witness his execution. The women were there—Mary, his mother, and other women followers. But the men were hidden away, afraid that their death sentence would come next.
Within a few years of this execution, however, there was a group of people calling themselves “Christians.” There were people proclaiming a message about Jesus throughout the Roman Empire. And again, except for John, all of Jesus’ closest disciples—those guys who had been hiding out—went to their death because they refused to stop sharing what they called the good news about Jesus, that God had raised him from the dead.
Two thousand years later, Christianity is a major world religion. It has shaped culture and changed millions, if not billions, of lives. It influenced the overthrow of slavery in the British Empire and in the United States. It influenced the development of our constitution and our legal system here in the US. Most of us still mark time in reference to Jesus’ birth. Somehow, almost overnight, Jesus went from being a tragic story of yet another peasant leader who was executed to a person proclaimed and worshiped. What happened?
Most of the books in what we call the New Testament were written in order to answer that question. And those books say that what happened is that God raised Jesus from the dead.
In the Gospel of Luke, the angels tell the women, “He is not here; he has risen!” Soon, the women meet Jesus, the one they had seen crucified. They meet him face to face. They touch his hands. They watch him eat breakfast. And don’t think that just because they didn’t have modern technology they weren’t surprised. Being raised from the dead was just as impossible, just as absurd, two thousand years ago as it is now. And yet these women and men staked their lives as witnesses to the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead. Were they crazy? Or did it happen?