Ask questions, get answers
This is Passion Week, or Holy Week, commemorating the last few days of the earthly ministry of Jesus leading through his trial, crucifixion, death and burial to his resurrection. There’s no greater week in history.
The fact that Jesus lived cannot be debated. The Roman historian and senator Tacitus referred to Jesus of Nazareth and his execution by order of Pontius Pilate in his final work, “Annals” (written ca. AD 116). It is one of the earliest written accounts.
Other historical writings, some from as early as seven years after Jesus’ burial — while the high priest who condemned him was still alive — support the veracity of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. These accounts reveal three facts that are indisputable:
1. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.
2. Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with someone whom they believed was the risen Christ.
3. As a result of the preaching of these followers/disciples, which had the resurrection as its central point, the Christian church was established and grew.
No one in the first century A.D. would have written an account that relied on the testimony of people who were not considered at the time to be trustworthy in a court of law, like women, slaves, foreigners and fishermen. No one would write these accounts as they are and ask people to believe them — unless they were true. Unless firsthand witnesses were still living.
The accounts were written by individuals who walked and talked with Jesus and saw him alive again after his death and burial, and by persons who relied on the testimony of firsthand witnesses. The apostle Paul, well-known for his prior animosity toward members of The Way — as Christ’s earliest followers were called — dedicated his life to following a Messiah he was willing to die for. He eventually did just that.
In one of his letters to the believers in Corinth, Paul wrote, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day … and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living … then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last all he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Paul said Jesus of Nazareth was dead, buried and alive again. If those reading his letter didn’t believe him, they could check with James — Jesus’ half-brother — or any of the more than 500 people who saw him alive, “most of whom (were) still living” when they received that correspondence.
Don’t believe me? Ask the hundreds of other people who saw him with their own eyes.
What greater testimony can you get than a firsthand account, than firsthand verification?
Years ago I sat in the small living room of a man everyone in that area knew as James Q. James had been part of a flight crew on a bomber in World War II and talked with me about some of his experiences. He talked about some of the everyday tasks soldiers in the Army Air Forces took part in. But he focused on one day, Aug. 6, 1945.
James said his crew and that of nearly every other bomber where they were stationed were headed out in their B-29 Superfortress bombers toward their assigned targets. Few, if any, knew the assignments of any other plane unless they were headed on the same coordinates to the same target.
Nothing so far was any different from any other day as they checked their charts and prepared to carry out their mission heading toward Japanese targets. Then a radio call came through, ordering them to stand down and return to base. Their mission had been canceled. James said he and the rest of the crew were relieved — though they always had obeyed orders, no one enjoyed dropping bombs.
After they banked and turned to return to base they saw several other aircraft returning home, as well. A few quick radio transmissions confirmed that the other missions had also been called off. Many were excited, thinking the war was finally over, though it would not end for nearly another month.
Then James and his brothers in arms noticed a B-29 still Japan-bound. Wondering if they had not received the call to return to base, the radio operator in James’ plane attempted a few times to raise them on the radio.
No answer. The plane just kept going. That plane, the Enola Gay, rendezvoused with two other B-52s over Iwo Jima and proceeded to their non-infamous target of Hiroshima.
When James and his friends and fellow servicemen heard the news later that day of the “Little Boy” bomb’s devastation of Hiroshima, what had been a day of relief became both a day of concern — what next? — and of further hope that the war was about to end.
I had read accounts of the Enola Gay’s definitive bombing run before. But hearing an account from an airman who witnessed such an important page in this chapter of history was different. You can question what you read. But how can you question the account of a man who’s been there?
It’s the same when I read the gospel accounts in the Bible. These are the unapologetic, sometimes self-effacing stories of “this is what we saw, what we did, how we messed up and what we know to be true.”
What adds to the legitimacy of the historical sources is that some who wrote them were not followers of Christ. Why write things that verify biblical accounts of someone you don’t believe is God’s Son unless those events took place?
Do yourself a big favor this week. Check into those accounts. Was Jesus who he said he was? Read what the Bible says. Read extra-biblical accounts. Go to worship services on Good Friday and Easter/Resurrection Sunday at any of our local churches.
Ask questions. Get answers. You won’t regret it.
Brett Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.