In July, 1862, Abraham Lincoln drafted the first pass at the emancipation proclamation. It wouldn’t go live nationwide until January, 1863. And like any idea that threatens to change people’s lives, it took some getting used to. People’s love for good news is only outweighed by their fear of change. Or to put it another way, if you take someone out of a log cabin in Kentucky and put them in a mansion in Beverly Hills, they might not adapt so easily. You may recall a quaint little tv show about this in the 60’s called the Beverly Hillbillies. Contrary to the lofty ideals of thousands of former slaves packing up for a well deserved weekend at the beach to celebrate the emancipation proclamation, it took many years for the effects of that freedom to be realized. One slave claimed to believe in Mr. Lincoln, and had heard of the emancipation, but was heading out to the field to tend to it because even though he was told that he was free he simply didn’t know what that meant. And so it is with the Gospel. The Gospel means “good news” and news is to report that which has happened. The cross and resurrection is the emancipation proclamation of Heaven over humanity. You are free. Yes, you. Even YOU! The Holy Spirit will teach you how to be free.
I believe in God because of Jesus. I believe in Jesus because of the resurrection. And I believe in the resurrection because of the disciples. We can argue the existence of God, the validity of Jesus, or the legitimacy of the resurrection. But the life and death of each of the disciples is the greatest historical case for the resurrection. These men, one moment huddling in fear, have an encounter with the resurrected Christ, and that changes them forever. Ordinary men don’t die for a lie. And each of them separately, with no way to easily contact the other, was killed or tortured and none of them ever said, “Stop! We made the whole thing up.” That’s simply astonishing.
How did they die?
James was the first Apostle to be martyred. Herod Agrippa seized him when he was in Jerusalem in the year 42 and had him beheaded. Andrew preached the Gospel in Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. He was crucified in Achaia at Patras in the year 61. Tied to an X-shaped cross after being scourged, he hung there he preached to people for two days before he died. Peter was martyred by Nero in the year 67. Peter was crucified, by request, upside down, out of reverence for Jesus. His request was granted. Paul was beheaded on the same day as Peter outside the walls of Rome. Simon was crucified at Edessa in the year 67. Matthew preached in Africa and was martyred by the sword in the year 65 in Ethiopia. Thomas was stabbed to death at Mylapore, India, in the year 74. Matthias (who replaced Judas) was crucified in the year 65. Jude was clubbed to death the same year in Persia. James the less had it rough in Jerusalem. The religious leaders took him to the pinnacle of the temple and told him to renounce Christ before all the people who were gathered below. Instead he proclaimed Christ resurrected and they cast him off. Still living after he hit the ground, a man stepped forward and smashed his head in with a club. Philip preached the Gospel in Greece and he was martyred at Hierapolis in Persia in the year 62. Like Peter, he was crucified upside down. Bartholomew was skinned alive in Armenia in the year 72. John was the only one not martyred. However, in the year 95, he was taken prisoner at Ephesus and sent to trial in Rome. Sentenced to death, he was boiled in oil before the Latin gate. Miraculously he survived and was exiled to the island of Patmos. He was later freed and died at Ephesus in the year 100 when he was eighty-eight years old.
So this Easter, I’m compelled to look around me at the arguments of people against the existence of God and the validity of Jesus, and each one has their theories. But the resurrection has moved from theory to fact in my heart because of my own encounter with the resurrected Christ. I understand now, how these men found a cause worth living and dying for. And it’s their lives, message, and deaths that solidify for me the truth of the resurrection, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the everlasting love of the Father. May Easter weekend bring each of you a life changing encounter with the resurrected Christ.
(For anyone who wants to do research on this, I highly recommend Historian Michael Licona’s incredible work called, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach”. At 700 pages and more than 2000 footnotes, Licona has done his homework. Also for the especially studious scholar, see the writings of historian, Josephus, Eusebius, and the early church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, Tertullian and the list goes on.)