The New Testament writers don’t just say that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead—they actually back up that testimony with dramatic action. First, virtually overnight they abandon many of their long-held sacred beliefs and practices. Among the 1,500-year-old-plus institutions they give up are the following:
-The animal sacrifice system– they replace it forever by the one perfect sacrifice of Christ.
-The binding supremacy of the Law of Moses– they say It’s powerless because of the sinless life of Christ.
-Strict monotheism– they now worship Jesus, the God-man, despite the fact that 1) their most cherished belief has been, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4); and 2) man-worship has always been considered blasphemy and punishable by death.
-The Sabbath– they no longer observe it even though they’ve always believed that breaking the Sabbath was punishable by death (Ex. 31:14).
-Belief in a conquering Messiah– Jesus is the opposite of a conquering Messiah. He’s a sacrificial lamb (at least on his first visit!).
And it’s not just the New Testament writers who do this– thousands of Jerusalem Jews, including Pharisee priests (Acts 6:7), convert to Christianity and join the New Testament writers in abandoning these treasured beliefs and practices. Even references from ancient non-biblical sources attest to this Jewish movement we now call Christianity.
J. P. Moreland helps us understand the magnitude of these devout Jews giving up their established institutions virtually overnight:
[The Jewish people] believed that these institutions were entrusted to them by God. They believed that to abandon these institutions would be to risk their souls being damned to hell after death. Now a rabbi named Jesus appears from a lower-class region. He teaches for three years, gathers a following of lower- and middle-class people, gets in trouble with the authorities, and gets crucified along with thirty thousand other Jewish men who are executed during this time period. But five weeks after he’s crucified, over ten thousand Jews are following him and claiming that he is the initiator of a new religion. And get this: they’re willing to give up or alter all five of the social institutions that they have been taught since childhood have such importance both sociologically and theologically. . . . Something very big was going on.
How do you explain these monumental shifts if the New Testament writers were making up a story? How do you explain them if the Resurrection did not occur?
Second, not only do these new believers abandon their long-held beliefs and practices, they also adopt some new radical ones. These include:
-Sunday, a work day, as the new day of worship
-Baptism as a new sign that one was a partaker of the new covenant (as circumcision was a sign of the old covenant)
-Communion as an act of remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for their sins
Communion is especially inexplicable unless the Resurrection is true. Why would Jews make up a practice where they symbolically eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus?
Only an “impact event” like a Resurrection could explain such a swift and monumental shift in Jewish thinking and practice. What’s an impact event? An impact event is something that is so dramatic in your life that it changes you forever. It’s something that you can’t forget. For those of you are old enough, where were you November 22, 1963? It’s my earliest memory. Although I was only two years old, I can still see my Mother weeping uncontrollably in front of the TV– “The president has been shot!” For those a bit younger, where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you when the second plane hit the tower?
Why can you remember where you were and what you were doing on September 11, 2001 but not September 11, 2007? Because an impact event changes everything. An impact event known as the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything for thousands of Jews two thousand years ago, and today it can still change you, me and the rest of the world. That’s why we still celebrate Easter.
(If you want more on this, get our book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Some of this post is adapted from Chapter 11.)