By Shawn Lazar
Christians around the world celebrated the day when Jesus rose from the dead.
Truthfully, we do that every Sunday, but, by tradition and convention, it’s especially celebrated once a year—Easter Sunday.
Why do I believe that Jesus really rose from the dead?
Admittedly, the resurrection is an extraordinary claim. Although there are many documented cases of people dying and coming back to life, it is usually within minutes of being pronounced clinically dead—it’s never after three days.
As a rational person, how do I know that Jesus rose from the dead?
For one, I think about His half-brother, James.
By the way, did you know that Jesus had brothers and sisters? In fact, He had at least four brothers and two sisters:
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3).
I say Jesus had at least two sisters because sisters is plural. Then there was Joses, Judas, Simon, and finally, James.
If anyone has ever seen your bad side, it’s your family. Those of us living through the current coronavirus quarantine know all about that, don’t we? Your family sees it all—every flare up of anger, every act of kindness, moodiness, surliness, and deceit—and hopefully moments of compassion and love, too. There are no illusions when it comes to your family.
That would have been true of Jesus’ family, too.
James knew Jesus.
And he found it hard to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, none of His brothers believed His claim and they even tested and teased Him for His ministry:
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:1-5).
“Even His brothers did not believe in Him”—including James.
In fact, he (they) probably thought Jesus was out of His mind:
One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said (Mark 3:20-21 NLT).
James thought Jesus was out of His mind—but He didn’t go as far as the religious leaders who said Jesus was possessed by the devil:
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (Mark 3:22).
James worried about Jesus. The family tried to intervene, and Jesus had to distance Himself from them:
Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35).
Did James feel that sting of rebuke? Did he wonder that maybe…maybe Jesus really was the Messiah?
James probably followed Jesus’ ministry from a distance. He heard the stories. And when, after three years of ministry, he heard that Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, James must have mourned. No one wants to see his brother go to jail—especially not for being out of His mind—let alone be tortured or nailed to a cross.
We don’t know if Jesus’ brothers went to see Him hang on the cross. But His mother, Mary, was there:
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).
When Jesus saw Mary, He told the young apostle John to take care of her as if she was his own mother:
When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household (John 19:26-27).
Then Jesus died.
Now, here’s the question that skeptics ask—did Jesus stay dead?
Again, think of James.
If Jesus had stayed dead, here’s what you would have expected from James—to be sad, a little ashamed of “crazy Jesus,” but you would expect him to have remained an unbeliever. In fact, if Jesus had stayed dead, James would have had even more reason to stay an unbeliever.
But here’s the amazing thing—James didn’t stay an unbeliever.
Forty days after the tomb was emptied, we find Mary praying in the upper room with the rest of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Jesus’ brothers are there, too.
These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (Acts 1:14).
There he is, praying and waiting with the other believers for the Holy Spirit.
Later, James became the pastor of the Jerusalem church, a leader in the new Jesus movement (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:18; Gal 2:9-12), and even an author of Scripture where he humbly described himself as “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas 1:1).
From brother to bondservant.
What a turnaround!
What explains it?
How do you go from being an unbeliever who thinks his brother is out of His mind, to being a leader in the movement proclaiming that your brother is Messiah?
The best explanation for what happened is the one Christians celebrate every Easter—that Jesus really, truly rose from the dead.
As Paul recounted, after appearing to the five hundred, Jesus appeared to His brother:
After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles (1 Cor 15:6-7).
That must be when James believed.
How do I know that Jesus really rose from the dead?
I know from the result of James’s life. Only the resurrection best explains the change that occurred in him.
After witnessing the resurrection of his brother, James believed that Jesus was the Messiah. And by so believing, he received eternal life (John 11:25-26).
Shawn Lazar is Director of Publications for Grace Evangelical Society.