Virtually all religious claims are speculative. People who spout claims about the soul, eternity, and an invisible God are all eventually silenced by the grave. They can’t offer any kind of verification for their beliefs once they’re dead and gone. And if you strip away all the un-provable content from any religious school of thought, you’re left with little more than “be nice.” I don’t need some fancy mystic to tell me that; my mother will suffice.
Jesus’ claims are much more radical and far-reaching than “be nice,” despite attempts in some corners to reduce them to that. He called his followers to deny family, friends, and self, and then told them to love their enemies. He called his people to exchange the comforts and cares of this life for the unseen glories and rewards of the next. Perhaps most radically, he encouraged us to put our hopes for judgment day on the shoulders of a poor, crucified man: rather than working on our list of good deeds to sheepishly present to our Maker, we are to boldly present the goodness of Jesus on our behalf. Jesus made all these backwards claims and commands, and then followed the foolishness to his own death.
If the story ended there, Jesus would fit right in with all of the other self-appointed spiritual authorities that have come and gone. In fact, if Jesus stayed dead like any normal human being, Christians would be “most to be pitied” according to our own holy book! If Jesus remained buried, simply believing really hard wouldn’t accomplish what Christianity is supposed to accomplish, and the claims and commands of Jesus would be foolishness and tragic for anyone who followed them.
But Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, not just his death. You could say that Christians celebrate Good Friday because of Easter; they celebrate Easter because of Easter. We hope in Jesus because of Easter. We call the world to change course because the course of sin and death has already been conquered by the hero of Easter. At Easter Jesus verifies that all his crazy talk was true. At Easter, the Holy Spirit verifies as much in an unexpected demonstration of re-animating power. The Father verifies as well; He accepts the Son’s payment, producing the miracle at Easter as a receipt of His approval. And the New Testament witnesses verify that their eyes and ears have seen what was promised.
Not only does Jesus verify in the resurrection, He confronts the cosmos and its every inhabitant. In Acts 17, Paul gets at why Easter—more than Christmas or Passover or Vesak—is a confrontational holiday. “The times of ignorance God overlooked,” Paul announced soon after the first Easter, “but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” The resurrection is not just God’s dog and pony show, conjured to impress a few pious disciples. It is proof of Jesus’ total package, a final word from the other side of death. It is evidence that Jesus was the first spiritual know-it-all to put his money where his mouth was. It engraves the commands and claims of Jesus for all to receive as authoritative, not just nice-sounding. “[God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Paul himself was confronted by the risen Jesus, and knew that this event demanded the world’s attention.
The devout and irreligious alike are often much more comfortable with religious speculation than any kind of certainty. There’s not much that’s comfortable about a holy God demanding our entire being. The commands and claims of Jesus are not easy on the ears. But at Easter, Jesus buries our excuse of veiled speculation and confronts us all from the other side of the grave.