On Good Friday every year, my family join millions of others around the world at church to remember an event, that according to all normal historical precedents should not be remembered.
Why do we commemorate the execution of this one man?
His death was not extraordinary.
Hundreds of thousands of people were crucified, and even a handful of would-be Messiahs met their end in this barbaric way.
In all cases but one, however, the end of the would-be messiah meant the end of any following they might have had.
Their names are largely forgotten. We don’t remember them. Why do we remember Jesus?
There is no real doubt that the events we remember on this day actually happened.
Almost all historians, based on the biblical text and other sources, agree that Jesus of Nazareth:
- Was baptized by John the Baptist.
- Was a Galilean.
- Confined his activities to Galilee and Judea.
- Called disciples.
- Had a controversy at the Temple.
- Was crucified by the Romans near Jerusalem.
Today we remember that crucifixion, however back then it would have raised very little interest.
From the point of view of the Roman establishment and Jewish leadership, Jesus was just another trouble-maker, that would no longer be making trouble.
Jesus, who claimed to be the way, the truth and the life, was dead.
His followers scattered, just like the followers of all the other would-be Messiahs.
That should have been the end of it.
But there are two other facts that historians agree on.
- After his death his disciples continued.
- Some of his disciples were persecuted.
Why did they continue? Why would they let themselves suffer persecution in the name of someone who so obviously failed?
Something happened that changed how they saw the event of the crucifixion.
Around 25 years after the event of the crucifixion (so that’s like someone writing in 2016 about their memories of 1991), Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 the following explanation:
For 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 according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born
Very few historians debate the fact that the followers of Jesus believe that he was raised from the dead.
In fact, it is the only real explanation as to why they would have re-grouped just a few days after such a horrible event and formed a movement that started to attract more numbers than even Jesus had before Good Friday.
They believed that his appearance vindicated all he had said before his death.
They believed that he was the fulfilment of all that was written in the books of the law and the prophets had been talking about for centuries.
His death took on a new meaning. They believed that, as Paul writes, Jesus died for our sins.
He was the true sacrifice that all of those animals butchered in the temple were simply a symbolic representation of. In fact he claimed that he was greater than the temple that had shaped Jewish identity since the days of Moses. (Matthew 12:6).
All of a sudden they were reading passages of the Old Testament in a new light. For instance Isaiah 53:
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all
(Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)
There is little doubt that Jesus lived, died and his believers believed he rose again.
Those same followers became a movement that has continued to grow throughout history.
In 2010 there were 2.1 billion people who said they follow the Jewish carpenter that hung on that cross.
The historical facts are hard to argue, but Jesus never attempted to argue anybody into submission.
He invited them to simply be his witnesses. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is simply recounting a testimony just as any witness of any event would.
Christians believe that Jesus is still alive, still at work and still inviting us to be witnesses.
I know in my own life, Jesus is at work.
This man who said he was the Way, the Truth and the Life wants to be my way, my truth and my life.
He also wants to be your way, your truth and your life.
I dare you to trust Him.
 Most scholars agree on a date for the crucifixion between 30 and 33 A.D. and for 1 Corinthians between 53 and 57 A.D.