At Easter, we remember Jesus — who died ‘so others may live!’

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Long ago, before I was a pastor, I served six years in the Air Force. I stood at attention one day at basic training, covered in equal parts of anxiety and sweat. The instructor was a pararescue jumper, or a PJ. He ordered us to yell out “so others may live” with each pushup we did. That’s the PJ motto. They train for years, taking courses in nursing, combat medicine, underwater rescue and weapons. Their entire personality, their ethos, is built around the idea of self-sacrifice. Their core value is serving and saving others. That is why when they do pushups they yell out, “So others may live!”

The story of Jesus echoes that same core belief of self-sacrifice. But some may ask, how can Christians trust the story of Easter and why do they believe? We believe in the eyewitness accounts of Jesus.

Unlike Alexander the Great, who was written about 400 years after his death and whose historicity is supported by five main documents, the historical Jesus is supported by 18 different sources outside of the Bible, written only 25 to 50 years after the events they described. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning the eyewitness accounts of people who saw Jesus after he was crucified. These witnesses include the disciples and the 500 who claimed to have seen him after the crucifixion.

The disciples mentioned in verse 5 include Peter. Here is a man I can relate to; he speaks often, and loudly. He is a guy who does not always think before he speaks, but after he witnesses the resurrected Jesus, he becomes a preacher and encourager; he is transformed.

What about John? He is a disciple who was called “son of thunder.” He was a fisherman known for being into fights and being an all-around jerk. Jesus comes into his life and transforms him into a humble, sensitive, caring man. He spends so much time with Jesus that he starts planting churches and discipling his own friends. In fact, if you read letters that he wrote, they sound like the language of Jesus. He is no longer self-focused, but instead takes spiritual care of others.

What about Thomas, good old doubting Thomas, who asked to see and touch the spear wound of Jesus before he believed? How was he transformed? He had so much faith in Jesus as the son of God that he traveled to India and preached the Gospel, eventually dying for his faith.

Look at the more than 500 people mentioned in verse 6. Paul writes that some have already passed away (fallen asleep), but most are still alive. He is saying, “If you do not believe my eyewitness account, there are hundreds of people I can point you to that will tell you all about Jesus.” His brother James for instance, mentioned in verse 7, had clearly declared in the gospels that he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. Angry that Jesus was not working in Joseph’s shop, he told Jesus to stop ignoring their family. Yet after the crucifixion, he becomes one of the main leaders of the early church.

What changes? James says he saw Jesus alive after his supposed death. Then even though it was unpopular, risky and illegal, he became a follower of Christ. These eyewitnesses were forever changed by seeing Jesus. Their personalities stayed the same, but the expression of their faith fundamentally shifted the trajectory of their lives.

The sacrifice of Jesus reminds me of a story I learned while preparing a briefing at the NCO academy. Senior airman Jason Cunningham arrived midway through the battle of Takur Gal. A PJ, he immediately began rendering aid to the injured special operations service members. Shortly thereafter, he was mortally wounded, yet he continued to render aid. Selflessly caring for his fellow service members, Cunningham valiantly continued monitoring his patients until he handed them off to another medic and then passed away. Today, we as Christians hope in Christ because he died for us. Fulfilling the PJ motto, Jesus died and rose again that others may live. He valiantly gave his life that we might live.

Joshua Peeler is senior pastor of Pittsboro’s Mt. Olive Baptist Church.

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