More Americans will be in church today than on any other during the year, even though we live in an age when Mr. Gallup tells us three out of four people believe religion is losing its influence on our country.
So why would millions of people still feel compelled to attend a service commemorating the alleged resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ? Probably most such folks believe Jesus was resurrected.
But there are also many within and without the church who view the resurrection as merely an allegorical myth. Others see it as a fraud perpetrated by Jesus' disciples. Then there are those who simply have never asked themselves "What's this resurrection business all about?"
Yet the evidence for the resurrection as a historical event is overwhelming, so much so that, as Josh McDowell never tires of saying, "there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus than for just about any other event in history." McDowell is a Christian apologist who has devoted most of his life to investigating the evidence for and against the resurrection.
He cites, for example, the Koustodia, the Roman Legion unit that most likely guarded Jesus' tomb to prevent his disciples from stealing his body, then claiming that his precrucifixion prophecy of being resurrected had come true.
There were 16 members of a Koustodia unit and they were the Special Forces of the legion, with each trained to protect six square feet of ground. They worked in rotating teams of four to ensure constant surveillance by fresh sets of eyes. Death was the usual penalty for a Koustodia that failed to do its duty.
Knowing this, how reasonable is it then to claim, as some skeptics, that Jesus' disciples somehow overcame the Koustodia and stole Jesus' body, then spread a resurrection lie? None of the disciples came from military backgrounds, and all of them were in hiding in the immediate aftermath of the crucifixion, terrified that they would be crucified next.
And remember, for decades afterward, the disciples all insisted that Jesus had been resurrected. They did so despite intense persecution, constant threats of being jailed or killed, and, except for John, ultimately died for their faith (Peter, for example, is said to have been crucified upside down).
If these men were all parties to a resurrection lie, surely sooner or later at least one of them would have confessed in the hope of being spared execution.
But so what? The earliest Christians were certainly aware of the crucial significance of the resurrection claim; witness the Apostle Paul's confession that "we are the most foolish of men" if the resurrection was a hoax.
Put simply, it matters because of what Jesus claimed about himself. Where other great religious figures like Muhammad gave the world codes of rules and regulations said to be from God, Jesus claimed to be God and said faith in him was the only way to heaven.
Which brings us to what McDowell calls the "Lord, liar or lunatic" trilemma. You don't just claim "I am the way, the truth and the life, nobody comes to the father but through me."
To know you aren't those things but claim them anyway would make you a liar. But then would you suffer the horror of crucifixion knowing it was for a lie?
Or you actually think you are those things, which makes you a looney unless you really are the Lord. A lunatic might die convinced that he's God, but then he's got to get himself resurrected to prove it. So the only logical conclusion is that if you get up and leave your tomb three days after being put in it, then you are indeed the Lord.
And that makes Easter the biggest deal of them all.
UPDATE: Ask Bonhoeffer what difference it makes
A friend pointed out to me earlier today a fine oped by Eric Mextaxas that appeared Sunday on the Foxnews.com web site concerning German pastor and theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer. He was a gifted man who could have stayed in America and been safe from the Nazi horror, but he instead chose to return to his native land.
And once back in Hitler's Germany, Bonhoeffer joined a plot to kill the dictator. Eventually he was caught by the Nazis and hung only a few days before Hitler's suicide and the fall of the "Thousand Year Reich." Metaxas tells us that as he walked to the gallows Bonhoeffer said "this is the end. But for me, the beginning of life."
Metaxas recently released a fine book on Bonhoeffer, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy," which makes clear that his faith was at the root of his amazing courage. As Metaxas explained in his oped:
"Do those of us who say we believe in God really believe it? Because if we do, it will affect how we behave today, this week, this month... If we believe in the word of God, as Bonhoeffer did, it will give us the courage do the right thing wherever we are. Like Bonhoeffer, we will do the right thing and trust God with the consequences. Faith and courage go together.
"Bonhoeffer's faith gave him the courage to stand against the greatest evil of the 20th century. And today we celebrate him and revile the inhuman tyrant he stood against."
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner.