I sat with a man in a coffee shop. It was Easter time. He was a skeptic but one with a bit of knowledge about Scripture and the Easter story. He had experience with law. He was smart and intelligent. He believed what his five sense and his reason told him. He did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Part of the reason he did not believe was the gospel accounts themselves.
Look at them. They do vary in details, especially the details surrounding the appearance of angels to the women who came to the tomb that Sunday morning. One says two women came. One names three. Another names four. One says an angel rolled the stone away from the tomb and then sat upon the stone and told the women Jesus was not there. Another says the angel appeared inside the tomb after the women went into it. A third says there were two angels who appeared inside the tomb. All of this, with of course the fact that people just don’t rise from the dead, convinced my friend that the story of Jesus rising was a fiction.
But I think those stories, especially with their little differences, are very believable. I think it’s precisely because of those differences the stories the gospels tell are believable. Those differences of detail show us at least two facts. The first is the gospels are not a homogenized story. They are not the product of a back room meeting in which some people sat down and said, “Okay, if we’re going to get people to believe this resurrection thing we better get our story straight, so let’s get the details all ironed out.” It’s obvious that the writers of the gospels are telling the story as they saw it. And that is the second fact. The stories the gospels tell are told exactly the way eyewitnesses tell stories. Any time an event happens, and people witness it, those witnesses tell the story the way it happened to them and that always includes some variety in details. The point I’m making is the gospels are reliable because they look very much like eye witness accounts rather than a synthesized, agreed upon story. We can trust they are telling us the truth. The ancient world trusted them. Within days Jerusalem was buzzing with the news. And in a world in which no story moved faster than the speed of a horse in a shockingly short period of time Rome itself was rocked with news of a resurrection.
The world is still rocked by it. Jesus rose. Death’s reign is over. Life reigns. God reigns. The age of resurrection has come. People are coming to life. And one day, maybe soon, the world itself will be fully alive, too.