In my 30s, when Easter came around, I thought it was a cruel joke. I couldn’t forgive God for decades of a debilitating disease. The overwhelming inflammations of my body that lasted decades made the atheist part of me feel validated.
Miracles don’t exist. People’s hearts don’t change. Easter is a myth. That’s want I wanted to think.
Between the 3 days of Jesus’ public crucifixion and the alleged resurrection, the disciples were in disarray… cowardly. Peter denied knowing Christ three times, Thomas doubted. Judas killed himself. Many were hiding in caves. The Messiah is not supposed to die. Who will protect them from persecution?
Then I poked around in history. I saw people started behaving in … strange ways.
Those disciples that at one time were afraid for their lives while Jesus was still alive, suddenly became more courageous, more sacrificial, and preached a “strange new message”. The message that would have been received by some would go like this, “You disciples weren’t sure who Christ was when He was alive, you hid in caves while Romans mocked and killed him. Now you are so sure He is God and messiah all along, even though you might suffer the same fate sharing this message??”
The persecutions under Rome intensified from the time of Christ to 311 AD that included Emperor Nero using Christians as human torches, burning them alive on the roadside and being thrown to be torn apart by dogs. If you were Christian, you could have your property seized, be thrown in prison and even executed. The Jewish religious establishment that formed the center of your religious life might have stoned you for blasphemy. Why call yourself Christian at all?
It was in this harsh climate that the disciples went around the rest of the world, spreading a message of a risen Christ and that He had the power to change hearts. Each one, save for John, spread the Gospel message until they were executed. With each news of a fallen brother, the rest did not stop, they continued to turn the world upside down… starting with Rome, the epicenter of military persecution, and then the world.
“Love your enemies … pray for those that persecute you.”
Those words Jesus taught while people thought he could be messiah. Did peoples roll their eyes then? “Love those Roman overlords that treated us as dispensable second-class citizens? They jailed or killed us just for congregating!” Some would think. The child that lost a father to authoritarianism would feel insulted by such teaching, just like I felt insulted by the Easter message of hope in light of my festering sores.
Romans would practice abortions and abandonment of little children to wild animals. Women were considered inferior; they could not speak in public and most had no education. Romans promoted brutal gladiatorial contests where people were torn apart for amusement. Christians, sometimes under threat of death, changed all of that.
Sociologist Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, summarizes that “Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world.”
Like a virus, this “strange behavior” spread from the 12, to some Jews, to Rome and then Christianity went transforming the rest of the world. Patient zero was the corpse of Jesus buried in a tomb? Christianity was like the anti-COVID19. COVID19 makes people fight over toilet paper and brings death, Christianity made people be willing to give their lives make the world better and brought Life. Both spread around the world from their respective “patient zeros”.
In their book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe write:
“Christians, for distinctively Christian motives, have vastly influenced western culture in such areas as help for the poor, teaching of literacy, education for all, political freedom, economic freedom, science, medicine, the family, the arts, the sanctity of life.
Starting from Jesus who touched and healed lepers, Christians had a penchant for touching the untouchable, loving the unloved, and having an emphasis on the next world instead of this one. Mother Teresa chose to “serve the poorest of the poor and to live among them and like them.” Historian Glenn Sunshine wrote, “Christians were the first people in history to oppose slavery systematically. Early Christians purchased slaves in the markets simply to set them free.” Both Mother Teresa and the early slavery liberators did so at great personal cost when it would be much easier to go with the status quo.”
The list goes on and on.
What is it about Christianity that makes selfish men do remarkably altruistic things that are simply put, unnatural? There are people who do things because they feel good doing it, but these Christians were doing it with the threat of loss and shame.
If I were an alien observing the earth, I’d be thinking, “The humans are acting strange.”
You don’t have to be an alien to notice this. Even atheist Maoist social scientists under communist China recognize something strange is going on.
David Aikman, PhD in history and former Time magazine bureau chief in Beijing and Moscow, in his book Jesus in Beijing, writes what a Maoist Chinese social scientist discovered about the success of the West:
“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,” he said. “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.” … This was a scholar from China’s premier academic research institute, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, in 2002.
President Xi was reported to be troubled by what he sees as “the country’s moral decline and obsession with money”. Alongside rapid economic development, the culture of corruption and exploitation has become a fact of life. In the 2013 Blue Book of Social mentality, trust among people in China dipped to a record low with less than half of respondents feeling that “most people can be trusted” while only about 30% trusted strangers.
In a paper than interviewed Christian entrepreneurs in China in 2016, the researchers found the majority of the respondents tended to be more willing to be trustworthy after becoming Christians.
Matthew Parris, a well-known atheist British journalist says of Africa’s structural moral decline:
“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts … these alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do.”
“In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
These are the intellectually honest observations of skeptical Maoist social scientists and a well-travelled gay atheist British reporter.
Today we are reeling from the impact of the COVID19 virus.
None have it worse than those people in Wuhan China. There were reports of people being dragged off unwillingly to be quarantined and apartment buildings being boarded up. Most heartbreaking is the report on how a young man with cerebral palsy died of starvation because his caretakers got dragged off for quarantine. Many had an “everyone for themselves” attitude.
In stark contrast, I read reports of Christian humanitarian organizations partnering pastors on the ground distributing emergency relief as well as offering shelter to those fleeing the Hubei province facing housing discrimination. Would you offer your home to someone suspected of COVID19? Those are the same Christians that were persecuted by the Chinese government like the Roman government 2000 years before them.
I’ve seen this behavior before. Before the COVID19 pandemic was the Black Plague some 700 hundred years ago. This time, an entire Christian village, motivated by two clergymen, had the conviction to quarantined themselves to certain death for the betterment of strangers.
Medical historian, Dr. Linsey Fitzharris writes:
“The pestilence spread rapidly throughout the village. Panic broke out as villagers began making preparations to flee Eyam for contagion-free surroundings. It was then that two local clergymen, William Mompesson and Thomas Stanley, decided to intervene in order to stop the plague from spreading to neighboring villages. In a joint sermon, the two men pleaded with their fellow townspeople to recognize that it was their Christian duty to remain in Eyam until the scourge had played itself out, and to prevent the disease taking hold in other villages. Moved by the clergymen’s words, the villagers decided to make the ultimate sacrifice: they sealed themselves off from the rest of the world… In order to do this, they created a stone boundary around Eyam. No one was allowed in, and no one was allowed out.”
They built a tomb for themselves so that no one else had to die.
“… but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 2:20-21)
I can imagine them repeating the verse as they see their neighbor’s corpses being carted out of their homes as they wondered when their turn will come.
I reckon it’s what each of the apostles of Christ felt as they kept preaching in hostile territory while hearing their comrades being executed one by one. They chose to continue to certain death because they believed they were offering life to the unsaved.
When we trace to see where this miraculous moral courage and conviction started from, it all leads back to the mysterious 3 days that passed between Jesus’ public crucifixion and the empty tomb.
Even atheist Douglas Murray admits that civil society cannot be a long-term replacement without authentic Christianity as a foundation. In an interview with John Anderson, he says:
“What is the thing that is totally revolutionary about what Jesus says? It’s the commandment to love your enemies… this is a world-historical change. My own view of this is that it is possible that individuals on occasions with exceptional grace and that it is almost impossible for most people most of the time… This is not an easy thing to replicate without its foundational claim, the truth claim of Christianity.
… Can a society in the same manner if the thing that gave the source of society, is itself cut off? … Possibly, for a time. When you are running on the fumes of that implication, can it sustain forever? No. Because if you don’t believe in the driving force of it, then once the people who did believe in it died out you’re still going on a memory of it and then that dies out.”
We already saw this with China that tried to eradicate religion from the public consciousness starting over 50 years ago, decimating its moral order.
What is the foundational truth claim of Christianity?
It is that Christ died and rose again on the 3rd day. His death was to pay the price for our sins, his resurrection was proof that God accepted the payment and that everything Jesus had said was true. The resurrection is proof that we are now alive “in-Christ”. Christ is not an idea, but a living transformative savior that makes us both citizens of earth and heaven at the same time. Christians are now new creations, with a new heart, a new hope, and a new source of strength.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17, NIV)
Years ago, I wanted to hate the idea of Easter I had no good explanations for my own sufferings and bruised ego. But history raised too many questions something miraculous happened between the historical event of Jesus’ public crucifixion and empty tomb.
So instead of blaming God for my problems, I asked God that if He could change history, change waves of peoples, change cultures, change empires… then He can change my life as well. If uneducated peasants can outlast Roman Kings, then God can still make something out of my broken and diseased life.
Fast forward 10 years later, and my life was radically changed, the same way history was radically changed. Skeptics doubt the words of the disciples, just as they try to find “human” reasons for my sudden recovery. History repeats. Those who tap into Jesus always trigger similar reactions from skeptics.
Easter is when we celebrate the day Christ rose from the dead.
We will never be able to see that supposed resurrection event. iPhones weren’t created at that time to capture the footage.
Billy Graham said, “We cannot see the wind, but we can see the effects of the wind.” Billy Graham’s “wind” was blowing down strongholds of inhumanity that no social engineering or man-made ideas could. This inhumanity was not grown in poor, uneducated regions. The Greeks and Romans were the pinnacle of reason and philosophical thought. Nazi Germany and communist authoritarian China had great scientific minds. Perhaps the Bible is true, that men are slaves to their sin nature that no medicine or idea can remove. The Bible stands unique that claims we need a Savior… and a qualitative change in our nature; not behavioral modification.
If the smartest of men cannot replicate such a transformation of the human heart, it stands to reason that the idea was not man-made.
When life gets too unfair, our world shrinks down into a view that we want to feel validated by. We demand God to show Himself in ways that are arbitrary to our own sensibilities, and when God doesn’t reveal himself the way we want, we roll our eyes, mock, and pat ourselves on the back thinking we are too smart to believe in God.
But I found out that if you knew where to look, and saw what happened to everything Christianity touched, you will always feel uncomfortable because no other social engineering in the world can replicate the miraculous transformation of the human heart that started like a COVID19 outbreak from the cross of Calvary.
Christianity was supposed to die with its founder, right there. Which religion do you know can survive at its nascent stage, with no political or religious backing, but instead, years of harsh persecution after its founder was publicly executed and mocked?
I know of none.
Instead, the movement became unstoppable.
It’s almost as though God was purposefully choosing to start Christianity in the most impossible of environment just to prove a point: Political persecution. Religious persecution. Publicly executed leader. Authoritarian overlords. Unschooled disciples.
As I pondered on how impossible it was for any religion to survive in such conditions, I remembered the Pharisee Gamaliel’s advice to his council as they wondered what to do, viewing Christianity as a threat to undermine their authority. Fake messiahs have always appeared, and all of them failed.
“Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:36-39)
After Jesus, there were at least 48 other Jews or Christians that claimed to be messiahs, all of their pursuits either ended up badly or ended in obscurity.
As a skeptic, you can either think the success of Christianity was the biggest fluke in history that hacked human nature in unreplicatable ways, or wonder, what exactly happened that Easter day?
Gospel writers and martyred apostles say the empty tomb is explained by a bodily resurrection proving Jesus’ words true, atheist historians claim that the empty tomb is explained by anything else, although they don’t know what it was.
For me, it made me investigate the historical evidence of Christianity further, and changed my life in the course of my investigation.
It’s either the greatest message of hope for a dark world, that the God of all creation came personally to show us how much he loved us, to change us to who we were meant to be and make certain our heavenly citizenship; or it is the greatest mystery to be solved because it made hopelessly selfish and vulnerable men do oddly selfless things. And, this “strange” condition will still be around even after Covid19 dies out.
Either one is wondrous to behold.
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 Sunshine, Glenn S. Why You Think the Way You Do (p. 43). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
 Benjamin Kang Lim, and Ben Blanchard. “Xi Jinping hopes traditional faiths can fill moral void in China.” Source online: http://reuters.com/article/us-china-politics-vacuum-idUSBRE98S0GS20130929 (accessed on 3 March 2016).
 “Trust among Chinese drops to record low.” Available online: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-02/18/content_16230755.htm (accessed on 3 March 2020)