Without Easter, we would not have a Christmas. If Jesus Christ had not risen from the dead, and proven the fact by appearing to many witnesses, He would have been only one of many itinerant preachers in Israel about two thousand years ago.
During His three years of public ministry, Jesus taught with authority, He had healed the sick, raised the dead, and gave sight to the blind. He had performed miracles and He gained many followers. When He entered Jerusalem on Holy Thursday to celebrate the Passover a large crowd surrounded Him. They covered the road ahead with their cloaks, waved palm branches, and shouted their tributes, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” ( Matt. 21:9 )
Unfortunately, Jesus had attracted the wrath of the Jewish leaders because He had openly flaunted many of their religious laws. He ate with sinners and He healed on the Sabbath. The Jews did not eat pork; Jesus declared all food clean. He called the ruling Pharisees very uncomplimentary names, such as hypocrites, blind leaders, serpents, and brood of vipers.
Because of the large following Jesus had acquired, the Jewish leaders feared that He was a threat to their authority; some of the common people even believed that He was the long-awaited Messiah who would overthrow the Roman occupiers. The leaders believed that if they killed Him, His followers would disperse and that would be the end of the problem.
However, since they were an occupied country, the Jews could not execute anyone without Roman approval. Accordingly, they sent Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate believed Jesus was innocent.
Wishing to avoid a decision which would enrage the Jews, Pilate sent Him to King Herod, who was the ruler of Galilee, where Jesus had spent most of his life. Herod also knew Jesus was no threat. Hoping to satisfy the determined Jewish authorities, he ordered that Jesus be dressed in a royal cloak, scourged and mocked. Still the Jews clamored for his death. Herod sent Him back to Pilate.
Pilate, standing on his balcony, washed his hands before the crowd, declaring that he was innocent of the blood of the just Man who stood before him, wrapped in a dirty, blood-stained cloak, with blood oozing down His face from the crown of thorns embedded in His brow. However, the Jews below, whipped up by their leaders and chief priests, insisted on Jesus’ crucifixion.
Pilate, fearing an insurrection, gave in and ordered Jesus’ death.
We know the rest of the story. Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, but He rose again on Easter Sunday. He remained on earth for forty days and was seen by many, including His Apostles.
So convinced were His followers of His resurrection that many gave their lives as testimony to the fact. Here is a partial list:
Peter was crucified upside down in Rome because he felt unworthy to suffer the same death as Christ.
Paul was beheaded in Rome, according to tradition.
Andrew, Peter’s brother was martyred in Greece.
Matthew wrote his Gospel after which legend says he died a martyr in Ethiopia.
Thomas was martyred in either India or Persia.
James, son of Alpheus, according to tradition, was thrown down from the temple by the Scribes and Pharisees, and then stoned to death.
Jude (Thaddeus) taught in Armenia, Syria, and Persia, where he was martyred. He is buried in what is now Iran.
Mark was dragged by a rope around his throat, through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, until he was dead.
Simon the Zealot was crucified in Britain.
Although there are many more, this list must suffice because of lack of space. If these martyrs were not totally convinced of the reality of Christ’s resurrection, would they have been willing to die for Him?
Not only did they suffer martyrdom for Jesus, they lived, obeying His final commission:
” Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28: 19-20