April 4, 2020 | By Jay Ashbaucher
When my sister, myself, and my brothers were kids, we looked forward to Easter. It meant a basket full of candy and the fun of dying colorful eggs and having them hidden so we could find them. These were happy family traditions, and I would not want to diminish the joy of those days. I don’t remember, however, anyone connecting those things with the resurrection of Jesus, a historical event about his dead body coming back to life, never to die again. Why was the resurrection of Jesus not considered a big deal?
Throughout my years since then, I have come to view the resurrection of Jesus with much more seriousness and insight into its importance and meaning. It began with a fear I had at about the age of twelve. One night it hit me that I would one day die. It scared me, and I panicked. I did not want to die, and I cried uncontrollably. My mother comforted me by telling me that I did not have to die. I listened to her quote of Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then Jesus asked a question, “Do you believe this?” This info about Jesus was the greatest good news a kid in my predicament could ever hear. I found myself believing it, and amazingly, it brought me immediate relief from my fear, has changed my whole life, and continues to do so as I realize more of its implications.
One day I came across the writings of a man who put forth a convincing argument that Jesus’ resurrection was nothing more than a mythical story to get people to follow a certain religion. His argument was that dead people do not rise from the dead. Did you ever see a person who died come to life, never to die again? No! Since we know from our experience that no one comes back to life, the likelihood that it never happened far outweighs the likelihood that it actually did happen. Therefore, scientifically speaking, dead people stay dead and there is no way it can happen, at least, no way yet discovered.
Such arguments produce doubts in people’s minds; I was lost for an answer. Then a historian said to me that there are things outside the realm of science that are true. The issue of Jesus’ resurrection is not a scientific issue that can be proven or disproven by scientific methods. It is a historical issue that must be proven or disproven by historical methods. The question is this, does the resurrection of Jesus have substantial evidence that it did happen? Many events in history only happen one time, so it only takes once to make it true. I have since learned that the evidence for the resurrection is quite convincing. I recently read a new book by a renowned atheist who came to believe in a god through newly discovered scientific evidence. He included in the back of his book an appendix presenting evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It was one of the issues he wanted to explore after coming to believe in a god.
I wondered what it must have been like for the people who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection after his death. Based on reasonable evidence that the New Testament itself is a reliable historical document, the reports of people who saw Jesus die, and then saw him alive again, are quite believable. These were people who grew very close to Jesus. Their friendship and love for each other was very deep. They saw Jesus do extraordinary things and we’re sure that the promises he gave to them, he was certainly able to make happen, including their own resurrection from the dead. Then he died and was gone. Even though he had told them a number of times that he would suffer, be killed, and rise from the dead, when he died they were disappointed and heartbroken. This person they trusted to provide an everlasting future of goodness for them was put to death by enemies, and all they hoped for was now lost. They were dejected, hiding in fear for their own lives. Even when reports came to them that Jesus was seen to be alive again, they would not believe it. No! It was over for them and nothing could convince them otherwise. But something happened that brought to them such joy as they had never experienced before. He came to them in his resurrected body. So convinced were they that Jesus was alive again, and everything he taught and promised was true, that they went everywhere proclaiming that he was alive and available for anyone who needed what he had to offer. They even died a martyr’s death, refusing to denounce what they knew was true.
I have given a lot of thought to the resurrection of Jesus, and what that means for me and others in our everyday living. Certainly, it means that we, through faith in him, have eternal life, but there is more, much more. I’ve come to realize that before resurrection comes suffering and death. I took a tall empty glass pop bottle and painted on it a scene of mountains, green fields, and the sun in a clear blue sky. On it I painted the words, “Life out of Death”. I used it as a vase, and in it, I placed a few stalks of wheat with the heads fully developed. I kept it on a table, and it lasted a long time. It reminded me that one grain of wheat, dying in the ground, produces many more grains that are used to help support the lives of many people. We all go through times of suffering, some almost unbearable. Jesus suffered excruciating pain and humiliation. Mentally and emotionally, he did not want to go through such suffering. He asked God to take it away before coming to accept his suffering as God’s will.
What got Jesus through his suffering? There are a few clues hidden in the Bible that tell us how he was able to do it. Discovering those clues was like being a kid again and finding Easter eggs. It brings a sense of excitement, satisfaction, and joyfulness. According to Acts 2:25-28, Jesus knew that the Lord was present with him at all times. God’s presence kept him from being shaken. It was reassuring that God would not abandon him, though he may have momentarily felt that way. This sense of God’s presence made him full of gladness. In Hebrews 12:2 we discover that Jesus was able to endure the cross because of the joy set before him. He knew God had a plan to use his death to save many people by forgiving them and giving them new life. He knew that he would be raised from the dead and be with his Father, and would one day come again to restore the world to peace. This knowledge that his sufferings had a purpose gave him joy in the midst of his suffering. Another thing his sufferings accomplished was humility (Hebrews 5:8). He humbled himself, took his own will out of what was happening, and did what God wanted him to do. He learned humility and faithfulness in serving God, even through suffering. He wasn’t bemoaning his bad circumstances but was of a mind to help others in the midst of them. He helped his mother find a person to take care of her after he died. He assured another dying on a cross next to him that he would be with him in paradise. Another thing that helped him was to forgive his enemies. Instead of anger and hatred toward them, he trusted that God would judge them as they deserved (1 Peter 2:23). This helped him not to seek revenge on others for his sufferings.
I recently went through a time of serious mental anguish over why God would allow such suffering in people I knew and deeply loved, and why I too had to go through sufferings. It pained me to tears to see others suffer. I told God I was angry that he did not answer my prayers, angry at him for allowing suffering when all he had to do was say the word and people would be well. Of course, I got past this, regained my faith in him, and was enabled to come to peace in the face of my sufferings. I have come to see that God in many ways has raised me out of death and into life. For example, he raised me out of fear and into peace, out of guilt and into forgiveness and acceptance, out of self-centeredness and into thinking of others more than myself, out of hopelessness and into a hope that a better day is on the way.
What I came to realize regarding suffering is that I am not in charge of God, as if I deserved him to cater to my wants. Suffering humbles me and takes away any pride that I can control and overcome anything by my own reasoning and strength. Suffering brings me to trust God’s presence and that he has a good purpose for all he allows and does. Suffering brings me to a place of seeing what things in life are important, that I otherwise may have never seen. Like Jesus, I may struggle in suffering until I come to an acceptance of God’s purposes, but I learn that when there is the acceptance of my suffering, instead of fighting it, I have peace in knowing that a time of joy will come. In the midst of my sufferings, which I do not have to like, as strange as it may seem, I find that I want to glorify God with how I live my life, so that others will want him too. In our sufferings, God is molding us to be like Jesus and to see and experience things that he experienced in his sufferings.