By Ben Witherington IIIScripture scholar/Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.

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In 1978, I was at a little Methodist chapel outside Durham, England, about to preach the Easter service, when the chapel steward raced out to me all in a bother. Looking at me with some fear and trembling, he said, "I am ever so sorry, but I must ask you something before you go in to the service." I responded: "Go ahead." Timidly he asked, "You do believe in the resurrection, don't you?" I assured him that I did. Looking mightily relieved, he said, "Thank goodness, I am ever so glad. The chap we had last year didn't, and he just talked about the cycle of the crops and the popping up of the spring flowers. It was awful. Nothing about Jesus at all."

But all of this is simply on the periphery of Easter for me. The heart of the matter is not "beauty in the ordinary" or the rites of spring, but a unique historical miracle that has spawned other miracles ever since.

To put the matter directly, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to his disciples shortly thereafter. There are those who dispute that this was an historical event, but the evidence is pretty compelling. The gospels tell us that the inner circle of disciples denied, betrayed, and deserted Jesus in his hour of greatest need. They tell us that his death was basically witnessed by a few female disciples, and that it was these women who first went to the tomb and encountered the risen Jesus.

Several things must be said about this:

1) By all accounts, Jesus died by crucifixion--the most shameful and public way to die in antiquity. In an honor-and-shame culture, Jesus' death by crucifixion should have put an end to his following and stopped any trumpeting about Jesus being the messiah or savior (see Luke 24.19-21: "We had hoped [past tense] he would be the one to redeem Israel"). It is very difficult for historians to explain the transformation of the inner circle of Jesus from cowards to some of the most courageous people of their era if Jesus did not arise and appear to them.

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