April 1, 2012
A number of years ago, I had the privilege of climbing the famous leaning Tower of Pisa. The Tower is a remarkable structure, in and of itself, a beautiful bell tower in the piazza of the city. But what makes it famous is its remarkable lean. When construction began back in 1173, the engineer failed to consider the consequences of placing a 185-foot high tower on a stone foundation only ten feet thick that itself rests on sand, rubble and clay. In fact, the marble Tower began to lean even before the third of its eight stories was completed in 1274. Nevertheless, construction continued for another 75 years, with builders making each new tier a little higher on the lower side – a tactic that only made that side heavier, making it sink even faster. By the time it was finished, the Tower was four and a half feet off vertical. By the time it was closed for stabilization in the late 1990’s it was more than fifteen feet off vertical.
The project was flawed from the start, and although the Tower makes a wonderful tourist attraction and climbing its 294 steps certainly gives you a different slant on things, the Tower would have collapsed long ago, apart from dramatic interventions.
Foundations are of critical importance. Stable structures stand on solid ground. And that is true of the gospel, as we are reminded every Easter. The actual bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the basis for everything Christians believe. If he did not rise, we are, as Paul said, to be pitied, for believing an empty myth.
But he did rise. There can be no doubt that the Lord Jesus was crucified, declared dead by trained executioners, and buried in a recognized tomb. But on that first Easter morning that tomb was undeniably empty. Otherwise, the enemies of Jesus would have produced the body. Not only that, but undistinguished Galilean peasants who had been loyal to Jesus but devastated by his death were transformed into a band of world changers who claimed that they had met the risen Christ. Nothing in their psychological makeup can explain such a transformation. Further, the church began in the very place these events had taken place, and thousands of Jerusalemites who had first-hand information about what had happened, joined the Christian movement. Most remarkably, a brilliant and determined young Jewish rabbi, a self-appointed persecutor of Christians, was radically changed by what he claimed was an appearance of the resurrected Jesus, and, known as Paul, became the most powerful advocate of the resurrection faith. All of these are undeniable historical certainties, and only the truth of the resurrection gives a credible solution to these facts.
It was the apostle Paul who challenged high Roman officials with this challenge: “What I am saying is true and reasonable…. It was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25, 26). This Easter, we celebrate again the great event that sets our feet on solid ground. All other ground is sinking sand.