The Day that Transformed the World Forever
Of all holidays, Easter is the one that celebrates a single event that transformed the world forever. There are many religions with different founders, prophets, and teachers going back thousands of years, but only one of them has a founder who professed to be the messiah – the son of God who could save mankind.
Jesus was born in a Jewish family and lived and walked among the people of Israel. Every year, Jesus's parents took his family to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. On one such occasion, when he was twelve, Jesus got separated from his parents and made his way to the temple, where he sat with the esteemed teachers – listening, asking questions, and teaching. According to Luke 2:47, "[e]veryone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Later, when his adult ministry began, Jesus drew thousands upon thousands who flocked to hear him.
No one else in human history made the claims Jesus did to be able to deal with every last problem of the human heart. One primary reason the Bible is a perennial bestseller is that it's the most complete owner's manual to the most complex creation of all – the human species. Nowhere else can one find as succinct yet comprehensive an explanation of what God's love is all about than in the Bible's Psalms and Jesus's teaching through parables.
Another unique quality about Jesus is that he welcomed people whom no other religious leader would be caught dead with – society's rejects, reviled tax collectors, and prostitutes. By caring for outcasts and the disenfranchised, Jesus showed a radical level and standard of mercy and love never seen before. Once, when Jesus was having dinner with a Jewish Pharisee, a woman convicted by her own sin came to Jesus to wash his feet with her tears and hair and then apply expensive perfume. His host was aghast at the immoral woman's presence, but Jesus responded that God's work is to forgive sinners, and that those who are forgiven much can then love much.
Utterly unique in other ways, Jesus performed many miracles, healing the sick, blind, crippled, and deaf – the news of which traveled throughout the land, prompting many more to seek him out. And he healed them all. Jesus also confronted evil head on and drove demonic spirits out of people dangerously possessed and abandoned by society.
His work did not stop with miraculous healing.
Because God himself became flesh in the person of Jesus to save people through their own faith, he went on to demonstrate his love and power in an ultimate way that could not be missed or denied: bringing the dead back to life. One such resurrection miracle was that of Lazarus, who was irrefutably dead and entombed for four days. Upon Jesus's command, Lazarus got up and walked out of the tomb – that people would know beyond a shadow of a doubt who Jesus was.
All other religions require works to achieve enlightenment and salvation. Christianity turns that on its head: faith in Christ and all his teachings transforms the heart, from which good works naturally follow. In saying, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light," Jesus presents an ingeniously compelling appeal that even the most hardened cynic can't easily refuse.
Skeptics of the Bible's truth and the reality of Jesus need understand that there's actually much more reliable historical evidence for his life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection than there is evidence for any other historical figure of ancient times.
Consider that no one doubts the authenticity of the life and acts of Alexander the Great. Yet there are only two original biographical accounts of his life, which were written by Arrian and Plutarch some four hundred years after Alexander died. The manuscripts of Virgil and Horace, both of whom lived within a generation of Christ, were written more than four centuries after their deaths, yet no one doubts that they lived and authored poetic masterpieces. Looking at the big picture, there are about 1,000 times as many manuscripts preserving the New Testament (about 25,000) than other classical ancient works with the exception of Homer, whose Iliad is backed by 1,800 manuscripts (but still less than one tenth of the New Testament number).
We know the historical Jesus mainly through four different accounts known as the Gospels – Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John – all written within a generation or two of Jesus's life. Matthew and John provide eyewitness accounts from their years of walking with Jesus as disciples. Mark also had eyewitness experience. Luke, the doctor, learned about Jesus from his friend Paul, the apostle who wrote most of the letters of the New Testament.
Easter is the commemoration of the single event that transformed the world forever – the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross. That God would send his Son to die as a sacrifice for the sin of all who would believe in Him is an unbelievable gift – beyond most people's comprehension. That a resurrection and a joyous eternal life await believers is beyond anything anyone could imagine. That is the promise and essence of Easter.
Scott Powell is senior fellow at Discovery Institute in Seattle. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.