This weekend is the anniversary of the single most important event in human history. What came after was entirely different than what came before. While many dispute even the basic facts, historians have long acknowledged that the events more than two billion people worldwide will remember this weekend fundamentally reshaped the planet.
Around two thousand years ago, a Jewish rabbi was nailed to a cross. His supporters had declared him the Messiah. His detractors declared him just one of a number of frauds and charlatans that had come before and after him. The difference between him and these others, however, was his staying power. Two thousand years after the death of Jesus, his followers now spread over the entire planet.
Something had to have happened. Liberal academics have tried for years to come up with theories. Every few decades a new theory appears. What made this guy so much more unique than all those who came before or after him? History does, in fact, show that many others showed up around the same time claiming to be a messiah, but only Jesus, two thousand years later, is still thought of as the Messiah.
His followers believe that on the first Easter Sunday around 1,983 years ago the Jesus who had been nailed to a cross the preceding Friday rose again from the dead. They believe that anyone who accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior will be freely given eternal life. They believe that Jesus will give them what they do not deserve, called grace, and spare them from what they do deserve, called mercy. Not only that, they believe there is no hidden or special knowledge needed, no money required, and this free gift of life is available to anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income status, or location on the planet.
In fact, it is so easy that it is hard. The only thing people must do is acknowledge they are sinners in need of salvation and ask Jesus into their lives to be their Lord and Savior. That step — acknowledging the need for a redeemer — is both overwhelmingly difficult and highly controversial in an age when so many demand we accept everyone, sin and all, as they are.
The effect of this simple message has been transformational. While Judaism is still anchored in Israel, Islam in Saudi Arabia, and Hinduism in India, Christianity is a global phenomenon with no anchor. It shifts. It is shifting even now out of Western Europe and North America into Asia and Africa. The Christian faith is proving to be a most pernicious solvent against corrupt regimes. The Roman Empire, Islamic rulers, communists, and totalitarians have worked relentlessly to stamp it out because its message is so simple and egalitarian. We are all sinner in need of salvation.
The early Christians spread through the Roman Empire and even into India with the Apostle Thomas. They were disemboweled in the Roman Coliseum, chained and set upon by wild animals for entertainment, crucified, blamed for disasters, and used as torches to light the streets of Rome. But they endured, they spread, and within a few hundred years became the religion of Rome and the West. Christian missionaries sharing the gospel message went where others feared to go. Along the way they spread education, brought medicine, improved sanitation, and civilized much of the world.
All of this came about because of one man’s death on a cross. His friends, who were eyewitnesses to the events, spoke and wrote about what they saw. His brother James, who had rejected Jesus in life, even demanding Jesus leave their hometown, became a leader in the early church. So too with Jesus’s brother Jude. Both James and Judge authored books of the Bible and both brothers, men who did not even show up at their brother’s execution, were later martyred proclaiming that their brother still lived and was God himself.
Two thousand years ago the world changed because God wanted a personal relationship with humanity. Humanity, in turn, nailed God to a cross hoping to end that relationship. Instead, they shifted history to eternity and the grave became the halfway point between now and forever.