As we have just celebrated Palm Sunday, and are looking forward to Easter next Sunday, I am reminded of the strong historical emphasis in the Bible. Why is that significant? Let’s work through that today.
Palm Sunday is the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey while people honored Him like a king by putting their cloaks and palm branches in the road before Him [Mt 21:8]. Good Friday commemorates the day later that week that Jesus was crucified and buried [Jn 19:41-42]. Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, is the day He rose from the dead, accomplishing the mission He came here for [Mk 16:1-8]. Notice that these are all public, rather than private, events. For instance, when Moses beheld the burning bush in the desert, and heard God speaking to him from it, that was a private event; Moses was the only human there to tell what happened. However, God later confirmed that He was working through Moses via some very public events in Egypt in the form of the plagues He brought on the Egyptians. And while the Bible records a variety of private events like dreams and visions, it is interesting how often God points us back to public events that could be confirmed by multiple witnesses as testimony of His trustworthiness in the present and future. For instance, the apostle Paul refers to the Resurrection as having provided proof to all men that Jesus is the one chosen by God to judge the world [Ac 17:31]. And as Paul told King Agrippa at his trial, these things weren’t “done in a corner” [Ac 26:26]. Indeed, Paul writes to the Corinthian church listing the various witnesses of Christ, and mentions the fact that over 500 people saw Him at one time after His resurrection, many of whom were still alive at that time [1Co 15:3-8]; his readers could fact-check him if they wanted. The apostle John consistently refers to the fact that he and the other disciples had been present during Jesus’ life, and had witnessed His message and His miracles [Jn 19:34-35, 21:13-14, 1Jn 1:1-3]. Luke wasn’t a direct witness, but sought to compile a more orderly account of all the initial eyewitness reports of what happened [Lk 1:2-3], and noted that the witnesses had seen, heard, and touched Jesus after the Resurrection (i.e. Jesus was alive in the flesh and not simply a ghost or vision) [Lk 24:37-43]. And God Himself repeatedly pointed the Israelites back to the historical fact that He had miraculously rescued them out of Egypt [Ex 20:2, Lv 11:45, De 7:8, Am 2:10, etc]. In fact, He established a yearly ritual (the Feast of Unleavened Bread) to remind them of this Passover event [Ex 12:14, 25-27]. Later, when Joshua led them across the parted Jordan River, he had a monument erected with stones from the bottom of the river specifically to remind their descendants of what God had done for them in the past [Jos 4:6-7].
Why is the distinction between private and public events important? Private events depend on the truthfulness of the one recounting the event, while their account of a public event can be refuted by other witnesses if it doesn’t correspond with reality. For instance, Islam hinges on Mohammad actually being visited by an angel while he was alone in a cave. Mormonism depends on Joseph Smith actually being visited by an angel. Appealing to the actual occurrence of historical events is problematic for scammers (such as Smith’s supposed “Reformed Egyptian” that he tried claiming he had translated), but not for those telling the truth.
So, as we Christians have just celebrated one historic event and prepare to celebrate the turning point of all human history, I am grateful that God has established a public record to remind us of His actions throughout history. While there is revelation given to certain individuals directly in the Bible, God also often provided public signs and miracles to attest to the authenticity of their prophecies. We memorialize things with monuments so that we “never forget”, and God has likewise set up a string of historical events to serve as markers of His faithfulness – monuments to remind us lest we forget what God has done.