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As I was getting ready to complete my investigation of the child in the manger, I kept returning to the fact that Christmas doesn’t mean very much without Easter.
That’s because Christians believe that Jesus wasn’t born into this world merely to identify with us, console us, or even lead us. His assignment from the outset, they claim, was to die for us — to actually lay down his life as a spiritual payment for the wrongdoing we’ve done, so that we can be released from the penalty we owe. It’s his-life-for-ours, with the result being, as the old Christmas carol “Hark! The Herald Angels” says, “God and sinners, reconciled.”
So while the eyewitness evidence gave me confidence in the reliability of the Gospels, the scientific evidence corroborated their trustworthiness, the profile evidence showed that Jesus fulfilled the attributes of God, and the fingerprint evidence established that he’s the Messiah, it was the evidence of Easter that really clinched the case for me.
In other words, anyone can claim to be the Son of God, as the baby Jesus grew up to do, but it was his miraculous return from the dead that authenticated that claim once and for all. To me, the evidence was conclusive:
The Empty Tomb
Christ’s empty grave is reported or implied in extremely early sources — Mark’s gospel and the 1 Corinthians 15 creed that Blomberg mentioned — which date so close to the event that they could not possibly have been products of legend, Dr. William Lane Craig told me.
Also, the site of Jesus’ tomb was known to both Christian and Jew alike, so it could have been checked out by doubters. In fact, nobody — not even the Roman authorities or Jewish leaders — ever claimed that the tomb still contained Jesus’ body. Instead they were forced to invent the absurd story that the disciples, despite lacking motive or opportunity, stole the body — a theory not even the most skeptical critic believes today.
he evidence for the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus didn’t develop gradually over the years as mythology distorted memories of his life. Rather, as Dr. Gary Habermas said, the resurrection was “the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning.”
The ancient creed in 1 Corinthians 15 mentions specific individuals who encountered the risen Christ, and Paul even urged first-century doubters to personally talk with these eyewitnesses to determine the truth of the matter for themselves. In fact, Paul’s own conversion from skepticism to faith, like that of James’, is inexplicable apart from the resurrection.
In addition, the book of Acts is littered with extremely early affirmations of Jesus’ resurrection, while the Gospels describe numerous encounters in detail. In all, more than 515 individuals met the risen Christ in a variety of circumstances over several weeks. “The appearances of Jesus are as well-authenticated as anything in antiquity,” said British theologian Michael Green. “There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”
Dr. J. P. Moreland pointed out that the disciples were in a unique position to know whether the resurrection actually happened, and they were willing to go to their deaths proclaiming it was true.
Moreland’s logic was persuasive. “Obviously,” he said, “people will die for their religious convictions if they sincerely believe they are true.”Religious fanatics have done that throughout history. While they may strongly believe in the tenets of their religion, however, they don’t know for a fact whether their faith is based on the truth. They’re simply not in a position where they can know for sure. They can only believe.
In stark contrast, the disciples were in the unique position to know for a fact whether Jesus had returned from the dead. They said they saw him, touched him, and ate with him. And knowing the truth of what they actually experienced, they were willing to die for him.
Had they known this was a lie, they would never have been willing to sacrifice their lives. Nobody willingly dies for something that they know is false. They proclaimed the resurrection to their deaths for one reason alone: they knew it was true, because they had personally encountered and experienced the risen Jesus.
So, ironically, it’s the evidence for Easter that provided the decisive confirmation for me that the Christmas story is true: that the freshly born baby in the manger was the unique Son of God, sent on a mission to be the savior of the world.
God’s Greatest Gift
After spending nearly two years investigating the identity of the Christmas child, I was ready to reach a verdict. For me, the evidence was clear and compelling. Yes, Christmas is a holiday overlaid with all sorts of fanciful beliefs, from flying reindeer to Santa Claus sliding down chimneys. But I became convinced that if you drill down to its core, Christmas is based on a historical reality — the incarnation: God becoming man, Spirit taking on flesh, the infinite entering the finite, the eternal becoming time-bound. It’s a mystery backed up by facts that I now believed were simply too strong to ignore.
I had come to the point where I was ready for the Christmas gift that Perfecta Delgado had told me about years earlier: the Christ child, whose love and grace are offered freely to everyone who receives him in repentance and faith. Even someone like me.
So I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, admitting and turning from my wrongdoing, and receiving his offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus. I told him that with his help I wanted to follow him and his ways from here on out.
There was no choir of heavenly angels, no lightning bolts, no tingly sensations, no audible reply. I know that some people feel a rush of emotion at such a moment; as for me, there was something else that was equally exhilarating: there was the rush of reason.
Over time, however, there has been so much more. As I have endeavored to follow Jesus’ teachings and open myself to his transforming power, my priorities, my values, my character, my worldview, my attitudes, and my relationships have been changing — for the better. It has been a humbling affirmation of the apostle Paul’s words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
And now, what about you?
Perhaps, like the first-century sheepherders, your next step should be to further investigate the evidence for yourself. You need to get answers to the spiritual sticking points that are keeping you from following Jesus. It’s my hope that you’ll promise yourself at the outset that when the facts are in, you’ll reach your own verdict in the case for Christmas.
Or maybe you’re more like the magi. Through a series of circumstances, including the reading of this book, you’ve maneuvered your way through the hoopla and glitter and distractions of the holiday season, and now you’ve finally come into the presence of the baby who was born to change your life and rewrite your eternal destination.
Go ahead, talk to him. Offer your worship and your life. And let him give you what Perfecta Delgado called the greatest gift of all.
Adapted from The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel
Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Vaughn, published by Zondervan, used with permission.