The following-abbreviated article, “How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism” by columnist Lee Strobel is quoted with permission from Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly.
It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. This was not part of the deal when we got married! I thought she was going to turn into some sort of self-righteous holy roller – and I didn’t want anything to do with it.
But over the following months, I was surprised – and intrigued – by the positive changes in her character and values. Finally, I decided to take my journalism and legal training (I was legal editor of the Chicago Tribune) and systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity.
I quickly determined that the resurrection of Jesus was the key. Why? Because in a variety of ways, Jesus made divine claims about himself. He told a crowd in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” He was saying that he and the Father are of the same nature or essence. The audience understood what he was asserting – they picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy because, “You, a mere man, are claiming to be God” (v. 33).
True, anyone can claim to be divine. But if Jesus backed up his claim by dying and then rising from the dead, then that’s pretty good evidence he was telling the truth.
The apostle Paul recognized this centrality of the resurrection. “If Christ has not been raised,” he said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “your faith is futile; you’re still in your sins.” So over a nearly two-year period, I explored the historical data on whether Easter was myth or reality. I didn’t merely accept the New Testament at face value; I was determined only to consider facts that were well-supported historically. As my investigation unfolded, my atheism began to buckle.
Was Jesus really executed? We have evidence so strong that even atheist historian Gerd Lüdemann said Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “indisputable.”
Is the resurrection a legend? Not a chance. Experts tell us it took more than two generations of time in the ancient world for legend to develop and wipe out a solid core of historical truth. Yet we have a report of the resurrection – that Jesus appeared to named eyewitnesses, including a skeptic and an opponent whose lives were changed 180 degrees – which scholars have dated to within months of Jesus’ death.
Was Jesus’ tomb empty? Scholar William Lane Craig points out that its location was known to Christians and non-Christians alike. He said if it hadn’t been empty, it would have been impossible for a movement founded on the resurrection to have exploded into existence in the same city where Jesus had been publicly executed just a few weeks before.
Besides, even Jesus’ opponents implicitly admitted the tomb was vacant by saying that his body had been stolen.
But nobody had a motive for taking the body, especially the disciples. They wouldn’t have been willing to die brutal martyrs deaths if they knew this was all a lie.
Did anyone see Jesus alive again? We have at least eight ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, that confirm the apostles’ conviction that they encountered the resurrected Christ. Jesus appeared to groups of people on three different occasions – including 500 at once!
Was this some other sort of vision? This wouldn’t explain the dramatic conversion of Saul, who was an opponent of Christians, or James, the once-skeptical half-brother of Jesus. Each saw the risen Jesus and later died proclaiming he had appeared to him.
In the end, after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion: it would actually take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus. That’s why I’m now celebrating my 32nd Easter as a Christian.
Posted on Thu, March 24, 2016
by The Lafourche Gazette