Do you know where Jesus’ closest followers were when he was crucified?
Their teacher, the God-man they’d seen perform miracles like giving sight to the blind and walking on water, had just been executed in the most shameful way possible. They thought He was their long-awaited Messiah, but now He was dead. Their beliefs were shattered and they, by association, were in danger. If it could happen to Jesus, it could happen to them. They were scared, scattered, and in hiding. They didn’t even give Him a proper burial. One of His closest followers (Peter) denied Him three times in one day. If the story ended there, it would inevitably have faded into history long ago.
But something changed…
In the coming days and weeks, Jesus’ followers (called apostles), reappeared in public. They began publicly and boldly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. They claimed He had risen on the third day, just as He said He would. They claimed they had eaten with Him and touched Him. They claimed He was the Son of God indeed.
Now here is the most curious part. Do you know what these claims about interacting with Jesus got them? Money, fame, sex, power? Quite the opposite, actually. They were persecuted, tortured, and many were killed. In fact, eleven out of twelve of Jesus’ closest followers were martyred because they would not deny that they’d been with the risen Christ.
It makes no sense that these men who were scared and hiding would all have a change of heart and decide to endure persecution, torture, and death for a lie. Not a single one ever recanted their testimony, and it was common knowledge that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the third day, with the guards there terrified. This fact pattern only makes sense if it’s true.
It’s important we make one important distinction here, because dying for a belief doesn’t automatically make that belief true. Even the 9/11 terrorists died for something they believed in. But here is the critical difference: Jesus’ followers didn’t choose to die because they believed something that had been passed down and taught to them by other people. They died for something that they themselves were direct witnesses to. In other words, if they hadn’t actually interacted with the risen Jesus, obviously they would know they were lying about it! So we have to ask ourselves this…
Who would die for something that they knew to be a lie?
It’s undeniable that something changed in the days following Jesus’ crucifixion. Something caused these followers to proclaim Jesus even unto their deaths. Something caused 10,000 people to be converted under the most hostile of circumstances in the weeks following the crucifixion. And all along, the enemies of Christianity could have squashed the entire movement if they did one simple thing, which is to produce the dead body of Jesus. But they couldn’t do it then and they never could, because His body wasn’t in that tomb.
He is risen, indeed.