I am writing this 10 days in advance of Easter, Resurrection morning, partly because I wish to try my hand at prophecy for a few moments.
Actually, given the utterly predictable nature of the Twitterverse and most other online forums, calling a sure-thing, slam dunk a "prophecy" is probably a stretch. I am referring to the fact that, since Easter Sunday just so happens to fall on April Fools' Day this year, the banal, utterly inevitable drivel and memes that are sure to arise will undoubtedly speak of how "fitting and appropriate" it is that April Fools' Day and Easter coincide.
"Surely," the 280-character grammar assassin will opine, "no April Fools' jokes are even needed since those foolish Christians will spend their day worshiping their nonexistent Jesus on the day of his never happened resurrection."
I wish I could bring myself to be angry, but all I really feel is pity.
That Jesus did in fact exist is known and acknowledged by a near total unanimity of all competent scholars, even those who deny that he was God and even go so far as to deny that there is a God.
Agnostic Bart D. Ehrman, professor of religion and New Testament at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said, "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees." ["Forged: Writing in the Name of God," Harper One, 2011, Page 256.]
He also said, "Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed." ["Did Jesus Exist?," huffingtonpost.com, March 20, 2013.]
Craig A. Evans, New Testament professor at Asbury University in Kentucky, said, "No serious historian of any religious or non-religious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate." ["Jesus, The Final Days," by Evans and Nicholas Thomas Wright, Westminster, 2009, Page 3.]
Richard A. Burridge, Bible exegesis professor at King's College London, said, "There are those that argue that Jesus is a figment of the church's imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that anymore." ["Jesus Now and Then," by Burridge and Graham Gould, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004, Page 34.]
Far from merely existing, though, Jesus also lived, walked into the Garden of Gethsemane, was tried before Pontius Pilate, was crucified, buried in the tomb of a well-known counselor named Joseph of Arimathea and rose again the third day in triumph over death and the grave. That last fact alone explains the rise of a religion whose sale's pitch was "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24), "whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25) and "be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).
The early followers of Christ left the safety of a respectable, well-established religion for the turmoil of a despised upstart that was regarded as blasphemous. Christianity did not put wealth in their pockets or fine clothes on their back; it caused them to lose everything and despair even of life. Christianity did not give them power; it made them the targets of the powerful. Christianity did not give them the license to indulge the desires of their flesh; it taught them to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts."
In short, they had no motive at all to become Christians, save one: Jesus rose from the dead.
Having, I hope, not bored you too badly with history, may I speak very personally as I draw this column to a conclusion? The main reason I feel only pity for the anonymous internet scoffers who will doubtless be enjoying cheap chuckles on this day is that they live very tiny lives and have no idea what they are missing.
I have seen God answer such very specific prayers, things that I spoke to no one of, things with no possible answer save divine intervention, that I will never doubt the reality of the risen Christ.
I have experienced, in the darkest of times, times that would crush most people, the "peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7). I have been by the bedside of dying saints who suddenly lifted up their hands toward heaven, gasped, had the most glorious smile spread over their face and then peacefully drifted into the presence of God. I have seen the outcasts of society, life-long drunks and users, have their lives radically transformed forever, simply by kneeling at an altar and saying, "Lord Jesus, I am sorry for my sin, and I believe you rose from the dead; please save me."
Giggle all you like. Enjoy your 280-character carnival. You have chosen a tiny life, and I have chosen a glorious one. I, for one, do not regret my choice.
Bo Wagner is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, N.C., a widely traveled evangelist and the author of several books available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.