It is interesting that the three major milestones in Jesus’ life have all been challenged by critics throughout history. They have scorned the probability of His virgin birth because it is so outside the norm of humanity. They have mocked His vicarious death because He hung on the cross so naked and weak. And they have challenged the idea that He rose from the grave after being three days in the grip of death. No one, they claim, gets out of this world alive. Death is the end of everything.
All three of these events have been thoroughly verified and are some of the most provable facts of history. Only those remotely removed from these occurrences have dared to question their reality. Those closest to each of these occasions were so convinced of their reality that their lives were radically changed.
What explains the change in Joseph the Carpenter to make him willing to share the possible scandal with his fiancé, Mary? He believed she had a divine encounter with the Holy Spirit. An old priest named Zacharias couldn’t speak for nine months because of an angel’s visit to his altar. His old wife, Elizabeth, knew something spectacular was taking place, because the growing child in her once barren womb leaped when her young cousin Mary suddenly appeared on her doorstep. Don’t try to convince some Bethlehem shepherds that they hadn’t been to a heavenly concert in the middle of the night. There was a Baby in a manger just as they were told. Simeon the priest and Anna the widow knew something special was happening in the temple when the Baby was dedicated. The wise men from the east knew they were not on some aimless lark! The skies had declared God’s glory, and they had seen the frightened look on King Herod’s face. They were content to go home after presenting their costly gifts to the Child in the little home in Bethlehem.
Those who actually witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus were frightened in awe at its supernatural aspects. As Jesus gave his final cry, the midafternoon sky grew dark as midnight and the ground shuddered with horror. The centurion in charge of the execution could only mutter, “Certainly this was a righteous Man.” This Roman soldier knew the one in the middle was innocently dying in the place of someone else.
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The religious authorities so believed Jesus’ tomb was empty that they bribed the frightened guards to spread the lie that his disciples, who were hiding behind locked doors, had robbed the grave. But those cowardly disciples experienced a remarkable transformation of boldness. They stood less than a mile from the empty tomb and proclaimed they had seen the risen Savior. They stuck to this testimony the rest of their lives, even to martyrdom. If it could have been disproved, Jesus’ critics would have spared no investigation. Everyone close to the scene knew it to be true.
The reason why these three events are important is because they address the three greatest needs we have: (1) we are separated from God; (2) we desperately need forgiveness; and (3) we need hope in order to live meaningful lives.
Our native rebellion, selfishness and guilt has condemned us and separated us from God. Therefore, God bridged the gap Himself in the virgin birth to be the perfect intermediary.
We were perishing under the load of condemnation and shame, and our only hope for forgiveness rested solely on divine intervention. In unfathomable love and grace, God Himself took our deserved punishment in Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary. Only by placing our faith in what Jesus did for us can we have forgiveness.
The specter of death hangs over the human family and holds us in its grip. We can avoid the subject, make jokes about it, or try to drown the thought in a sea of opiates. But the idea of eternity is scary. When Jesus rose from the dead, He broke the chains of fear and implanted the needed ingredient of hope in people so they could live an abundant life now, knowing there was life beyond this one.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.