Easter - a day of candy, chocolate, chicks, and colored eggs; baskets, bonnets and bunnies; shiny shoes, frilly dresses, family, food, pastel colors, ribbons, Easter-egg hunts and lilies.
For many Easter is a yearly pilgrimage to grandma’s house. There, the sounds of family laughter and the gastronomic fragrances of memories past converge in a grand celebration of heightened senses.
To some the celebration of Easter still carries religious overtones acknowledging that a man called Jesus of Nazareth, who had just days earlier been executed by way of crucifixion, raised Himself up from the cold grip of death and stepped outside of the tomb. Or, so the story is told ...
Oh, there are countless theories about His “resurrection”. Perhaps Jesus never really died but instead, “swooned”. Perhaps the cool dark and damp enclosure of the tomb served to revive His beaten and bloodied body. Or, maybe, just maybe, His followers - like Judas who betrayed Him, or Peter who on three separate occasions denied he ever knew Him, or all of the others who ran and hid when Jesus was arrested, perhaps somehow they summonsed up the courage to overtake the Roman guards protecting the tomb, the resolve to break the Roman seal and the strength to roll back the massive stone to remove the corpse.
It’s perplexing. Logic suggests that if indeed Jesus was dead these few remaining followers, who fled from Him when He needed them most, would not concoct a risky scheme to steal his body and compromise their own safety. Had they not just witnessed Him die in agony on a Roman cross? Would they not be better off quietly returning to their previous vocations? They could simply pick up where they had left off - before following Jesus. There were still fish to catch, sick to tend to and taxes to collect. They could start life over and forget about having been duped by the charlatan, Jesus.
Was it possible that their egos so overwhelmed their ability to reason that they collaboratively, even willingly, braved beatings and scourging, beheadings, and crucifixions just to save face. Were their words so powerful, their delivery so polished, their persona so overwhelming that they ultimately influenced countless thousands to believe their message and thus follow their misguided footsteps? Maybe ...
Maybe they had no other option. Maybe following Jesus to a martyrs death WAS, in their minds, their only option. Perhaps they felt they had already sealed their fate of ridicule and embarrassment. Perhaps they foresaw a life of continual chiding, having left all they had to follow this vagabond dreamer who now lay dead in a borrowed tomb. Maybe it was easier to die. At least in death they might leave a more honorable legacy to those remaining.
On the other hand, why didn’t they just deny Him - like Peter did? Why didn’t they agree to absolve themselves and confess openly to the political and religious leaders - and to their fellow citizens, that they never realized what a troublemaker Jesus was intending to become? They could have pleaded their case that had they known where Jesus was headed they never would have followed. They might even have been honored for taking such a stand and for bringing this fledgling sect to an abrupt end.
These men had options. Did they choose and option that was reasonable?
Okay, okay, THESE were Jesus' former followers. But what about the testimony of those who hated Jesus? What about those who had never followed Him, were never duped, but instead made it their personal ambition to search out and kill Jesus followers? What would someone like that possibly gain by making a sudden about-face to become a Jesus follower?
What about Saul of Tarsus?
Think about this fella for a moment. He most certainly existed since somebody had to have written the books of the New Testament attributed to him. So, why not him? And why not accept his brief autobiography?
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but reared in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated according to the strictest care in the Law of our fathers, being ardent - even a zealot - for God, as all you are today.” - Acts 22:3
“Circumcised when I was eight days old, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew [and son] of Hebrews; as to the observance of the Law I was of [the party of] the Pharisees, as to my zeal I was a persecutor of the church, and by the LAW’S STANDARD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS - [supposed] JUSTICE,UPRIGHTNESS AND RIGHT STANDING WITH GOD - I was proven to be blameless and no fault was found in me.” - Philippians 3:5,6
“[Yes,] I harassed (troubled, molested and persecuted) this Way [of the Lord] to the death, putting in chains and committing to prison both men and women. As the high priest and the whole council of elders [Sanhedrin] can testify; for from them indeed I received letters with which I was on my way to the brethren in Damascus in order to take also those [believers] who were there, and bring them in chains to Jerusalem that they might be punished.” - Acts 22:5
So Saul was a Roman citizen (born in Tarsus), of Jewish heritage, educated at the feet of Gamaliel a celebrated scholar of Mosaic Law. He was a self-proclaimed religious fanatic and celebrated persecutor of Jesus followers. In fact, the first introduction we have of him is during the stoning of Stephen.
“Then they dragged him (Stephen) out of the city and began to stone him, and the witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” - Acts 7:58
And because Saul so ardently felt he was doing the will of God by persecuting these Jesus followers, he could consider himself absolutely blameless! Why in the world would Saul abruptly change his direction and become a Jesus follower himself? WHY? He gives his answer in the Book of Acts:
“But as I was on my journey and approached Damascus, about noon a great blaze of light flashed suddenly from heaven and shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me - harass and trouble and molest Me?’ And I replied, ‘Who are you Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am JESUS, the Nazarene, Whom you are persecuting.’” - Acts 22:6-8
As a result of this meeting, Saul, now known as the Apostle Paul, became an evangelist to the Gentiles for the cause of Jesus. As a result of this meeting, the Apostle Paul wrote numerous letters to the early Christian churches - many of those letters make up the New Testament of the Bible. As a result of this meeting the Christian message spread like wildfire throughout the world and Jesus followers continue to celebrate an empty tomb, a risen Savior, a coming Messiah, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
It begs the question, “was all of this accomplished for the cause of a dead man?”
Maybe not ...