Easter Just a Pep Talk?

He’s alive!  He’s alive!  Thank God Almighty, He’s alive!  I can’t count how many great Easter sermons I’ve heard over the years.  Like a rousing pep talk, they fire you up and inspire hope.  Hope in Jesus’ resurrection.  Hope that, because He lives, so will we.  Hope that we will spend eternity with Him in paradise.  But is that all there is to Easter?  A great pep talk? 

As a baseball player in high school and college, I heard a number of great pep talks.  I’ve had coaches give us rousing pep talks that fired us up and inspired us to play our best.  As a result, many times we were victorious.  But I’ve also had coaches give us amazing pep talks, movie quality pep talks, and we still lost.  The harsh reality was that the other team was better. 

One of the most honest pep talks I ever heard came from my high school baseball coach.  We were on the bus, traveling to play one of the best teams in the State.  They had a couple of major league prospects, were all abnormally big for high school kids, and, to top it off, had home field advantage.  Normally on the bus ride over, my coach would turn around, look us in the eyes and give us a motivational pep talk--he came up with some of the most clever I ever heard.  But this time, he just looked down at the aisle of the bus and kept repeating, “We’re going to lose today.  We’re going to lose big.  We’re going to get crushed.”  To be fair, he may have been trying a little reverse psychology, trying to get us angry or take the pressure off so that we would play inspired and miraculously defy the odds.  We didn’t.  He was right.  We got crushed.  But at least he was honest.

Is this what Easter is like?  Just a great pep talk that fires us up emotionally but has no basis in reality?  Is it all just wishful thinking?  Like flipping a coin, like a cosmic crap shoot, it might turn out to be true.  But it might just as well not.  Until we “get into the game”, until we die and find out, there’s no way to know.  And, left with this uncertainty, we just give ourselves a good pep talk every year to make ourselves feel better in the midst of life’s vicissitudes.

If this is all there was to Easter, I wouldn’t be writing this.  Like many others, I wouldn’t be Christian if all there was to Easter was a great pep talk, just wishful thinking.  Like many others who came to faith in Christ in the same way, I wouldn’t be Christian if there wasn’t any certainty that it is true.

And like many others who originally didn’t want it to be true but became Christian anyway, I realized that the whole thing hinges on Jesus’ Resurrection.  As Paul says in I Corinthians 15:12-19, if Jesus didn’t rise, then the entire faith is in vain and Christians are the most pathetic of people.  But if He did rise, then this is the only place to find “the words of Eternal life”. (John 6:68) 

Back then, I had only discovered about one tenth of the evidence I know now.  But even with the little I did know, I found that it is much harder not to believe He rose than to believe He did.  Admittedly, when it comes to the big questions of life--meaning, God, death--there is no absolute certainty to be found.  But, when it comes to the evidence for the Resurrection, there quite of bit of certainty to be had.  In fact, I eventually found enough evidence to make the Resurrection a virtual certainty.  That, and not some pep talk, is why I believe.

Because there is such an embarrassing wealth of evidence for the Resurrection, I can only give a sample of one small piece of one part of the larger puzzle that helped convince me.  But it is something that defies any other explanation.

For scholars who study the early church, one impenetrable mystery baffles them above all others: How did a group of First-Century Palestinian Jews ever come to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh?  Despite some popular notions to the contrary (like the impression given in the Di Vinci code that the Council of Nicea invented the divinity of Jesus), there is a consensus among modern scholars that, as early as we can trace--within a few years, perhaps even months, of Jesus’ death--those first Jewish disciples of Jesus were worshiping Him as Lord.  In other words, they viewed Him as equal to and reigning alongside the One True God of Israel, Yahweh.  Actually, they had come to believe that Yahweh was two Persons, Father and Son, and that through the Son, they had experienced Yahweh’s presence in person.  I cannot overstate how unimaginable this would have been for First-Century Jews.  It wasn’t just blasphemy in the highest.  It was absolutely unintelligible.    

Oh, they could imagine a divine human.  Many of the pagan religions surrounding them believed that some of their gods had become human, at least in some kind of hybrid sense.  But Jews could never imagine their God actually becoming a human being--or being more than One Person. 

I have a need for speed.  I especially love going fast around corners.  I can imagine a car that can go two-hundred miles an hour around a ninety degree corner--how cool would that be!  But I can’t imagine that actually happening.  The laws of physics make it impossible. 

In the same way, Jesus’ first disciples could theoretically imagine the idea of a (false) god becoming human.  But they could never imagine Yahweh, the One True God, actually becoming human.  The spiritual laws at the core of their worldview, namely Monotheism, made that hopelessly impossible.  Unimaginable.  Unintelligible. 

Why does this matter?  Because the only way these disciples could ever imagine, let alone believe to their deaths, that Jesus actually was Yahweh in person is if He appeared to them in a way that was just unimaginable.  See, as remarkable as someone coming back from the dead might be, if Jesus just appeared to them in a form they were conditioned to expect, that would only cause them to conclude that Jesus had been vindicated by God as the thoroughly human Messiah.  The thought would never--could never--enter their minds that He was divine. 

To make such a quantum leap, to imagine the unimaginable, to stake their lives on something that would have been thoroughly unintelligible previously, means that there was something about the nature of His appearance that blew their minds; that was something they could never imagine; that convinced them He is God.  (There are clues in the Gospels about what this might be, but I will have to get into that some other time) 

Why does this matter?  Because it makes it extremely unlikely, if not impossible, that they imagined the whole thing.  Outside of Jesus’ actual resurrection, some kind of mental delusion is the only good alternative explanation people can find for this early Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity.  The objection is that the disciples must have experienced some kind of hallucination, autosuggestion, or cognitive dissonance.  But, as some skeptical scholars will even admit, based on what we know about these kinds of mental projections, rarely, if ever, do people project visions of something that exceeds the contents of their minds--in other words, what is intelligible for them to imagine. 

For Jesus’ appearances to trigger such a previously unimaginably and unintelligible belief, there must have seen something about the nature of these appearances that the disciples never could have conceived of before.  In other words, the overwhelming probability is that they weren’t experiencing some kind of mental delusion.  They were seeing something objective, something “out there” in the real world.  They were seeing Jesus, truly risen from the dead, albeit in a way they never would have imagined.

Is Easter more than a pep talk?  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!  He’s alive, He’s alive, thank God almighty, we have every reason to believe He really is alive!

I hope you had an awesome Easter, and, more importantly, that you will always know the profound peace, unspeakable joy, and unshakable love that flows from His resurrection victory.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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