The Linchpin Of Christianity
We are living at a time when many people are indifferent to the message of Easter. Dr. Billy Graham once told Time magazine, “If I were an enemy of Christianity, I would aim right at the Resurrection, because that is the heart of Christianity.”
The founder of the Jesus seminar, Dr. Robert Funk, offers a perfect example of what Billy Graham was talking about. This is how Dr. Funk explains what happened to Jesus’ body after his crucifixion: “The tales of entombment and resurrection were latter-day wishful thinking. Instead, Jesus’ corpse went the way of all abandoned criminals’ bodies: it was probably barely covered with dirt, vulnerable to the wild dogs that roamed the wasteland of the execution grounds.”
When Thomas Jefferson wrote his version of the life of Christ, he removed all mention of the supernatural, including the miracles of Christ, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. This is how the “Jefferson Bible” ends: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” That’s it. The end. He died and they buried him. No mention of the Resurrection.
Even some professing Christians say it doesn’t matter. One man put this way: “Without a doubt, Jesus was raised from the dead. It does not matter at all to me if He was ‘physically’ raised from the dead.” Another writer put the matter this way: “I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb … so I would have no problem whatsoever with archeologists finding the corpse of Jesus for me. That would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition.” [Quotes from Dr. Ray Pritchard]
So, here’s the question: Does the Literal and Physical Resurrection of Jesus really matter?
DOES THE RESRUECTION MATTER?
The Apostle Paul must have faced similar doubters in his day. He addressed the Corinthian church with several reasons why the resurrection of Jesus does indeed matter. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
Let’s follow Paul’s explanation. He begins by arguing that obviously, if there is no such thing as life beyond the grave, Christ could not have come back from the dead. If this really is all there is, then obviously Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead. Of course, one would wonder how you could ever know that there was no life beyond this one. Paul now turns to the implications if Jesus really didn’t rise from the dead.
If Christ did not rise our faith is meaningless (v.14). Paul said, “14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, why are we wasting our morning in church? What is our basis for hope? Our faith becomes nothing but wishful thinking. We become like every other religion in the world. It is but a fantasy.
If Christ did not rise we are false witnesses (v.15) “More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”
Obviously, if Christ has not really risen from the dead then the Christian faith is one big hoax. When we preach about Heaven, Grace, Forgiveness, or new life, we aren’t telling the truth. These things all presuppose the resurrection of Jesus. When I stand at a gravesite and talk about seeing our loved ones again because of the promise of Jesus, it is all a delusion if Christ has not really risen from the grace. I am a liar. You lie when you talk about people who have died being “in a better place”. You lie when you talk about a Day of Judgment or Heaven. We believe these things because of Jesus and we believe Jesus because of His resurrection.
If Christ did not rise we are not forgiven (v 17). “17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
Paul gets personal. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then He was just a good man who died for a cause. His death had no power to save us. Any notion that God has forgiven us is foolish. If God is in Heaven and He is holy, we cannot and will not survive the judgment. We have offended Him and without a Savior we are lost. What makes forgiveness sure is the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and proved that His promise and His sacrifice is true.
If Christ did not rise then those believers who died are gone forever (v 18) “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”
If there is no resurrection of Jesus, there is no reason to believe there will be a resurrection of the people you love. There is no good reason to have any hope as we stand at a cemetery. Our goodbye at the cemetery is final.
It is amazing how many people refuse to believe in the resurrection of Jesus but insist on holding out hope of Heaven when someone they love dies. You can’t have it both ways!
If Christ did not rise we are saps (v.19) “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
There is a regular Internet letter that goes out in dozens of different forms. It states that a rich person in a foreign country has died and they want to get their money into the United States. They propose to give you a percentage of the money if you will help them. I understand that if you respond to the letter you will be asked for your bank account number and some kind of access code. When these people look for the money that was transferred, they find that the only money that was transferred was their money!
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we are just as gullible as these people. While other people are out doing whatever they please, we are trying to live for a Lord that was apparently just a good man. While others are only concerned about the present, we are trying to invest in an eternity that does not exist. We are performing religious deeds and actions that are meaningless!
So, to see the impact of the resurrection all you need to do is take these statements and make them into positive:
If Christ rose from the dead, then there is obviously life beyond the grave and there is the possibility that we too can live even though we die. The resurrection of Jesus opens the door of eternity just enough so we can catch a glimpse.
If Christ rose from the dead, then He is verified to be the Son of God as He said. His promises therefore are trustworthy. His teaching has the highest credibility.
Christ’s resurrection means our sin can be forgiven. Our Father in Heaven accepted the sacrificial death of Christ as sufficient payment for sin. If we put our trust in Him we can be made new. Our sin can be washed away.
If Christ rose from the dead then our faith is not a waste of time, the best investment we could possible make is to get to know Him better and follow Him more completely.
If Christ raised from the dead our testimony about eternal life is not only true; it is the most important information we have to communicate to others.
If Christ rose from the dead it means that our loved ones who have died in Christ are not lost forever; we will see them again.
So, do you see the significance of the resurrection of Jesus?
IS THE RESURRECTION TRUE?
So, the million dollar question is this: “Is the resurrection true?” Yes, I believe it is true. I believe there are several compelling reasons to believe in the resurrection.
First, there is the empty tomb. When Jesus died the Jews and the Romans both wanted to make sure that Jesus didn’t deliver on His promise of rising from the dead. The gravesite was guarded. When it was announced that Jesus was missing the push to find the body was great. They found nothing.
Would my faith crumble if archaeologists were able to prove that they had found the body of Jesus. Yes! The empty tomb is the greatest argument for His resurrection. EVERY other religious leader has been buried and is still where they were buried. Not Jesus!
Second, there are the eyewitnesses. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses. In the gospels and some of the letters we have eyewitness accounts of those who saw the formerly dead Savior. Remember, this was back in the day when a person’s word was their bond. But it wasn’t just the authors of Scripture that saw Jesus. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that over 500 people saw Him at one time. He challenged his readers to check out their story. I’m betting lots of people checked the story.
Some say the eyewitness testimony was corrupted over time. They say people changed the Bible record over the years. That’s not true. There are copies of portion of the New Testament that go back to just decades after the death of Jesus. Every archaeological study has shown that what we read in the gospels today, is most likely exactly what was written originally.
Third, there was the martyrdom of the witnesses. People may pull a scam for a while but when their life is threatened some would deny the story. History didn’t need all of the disciples to deny that they saw Jesus after His death . . . they really just needed one. But no one . . . no one who claimed to be an eyewitness denied the resurrection of Christ. They faced death and horrible torture which could have all been avoided if they had only said, “I lied.”
Think about it. People today will confess to crimes they didn’t commit so that they can get a favorable plea bargain. People will implicate others if it will save their own hide.
These early believers were so convinced of the resurrection of Jesus and the certainty of life beyond the grave that they chose death rather than deny the One who came to set them free. It’s a powerful argument.
Fourth, there are all the skeptics who have become believers. There are many people who set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus and ended up becoming one of His followers. When people examine the evidence honestly they find it overwhelming. Most of the people who deny the resurrection of Jesus start with the presupposition that it didn’t happen. They have never objectively and faithfully examined the evidence.
If you want to examine the evidence I encourage you to pick up a copy of “the Case for Easter” by Lee Strobel, or “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” or “More than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell, or perhaps “Who Moved the Stone” by Frank Morrison. There are other books but I found these very helpful and compelling.
May I confess something to you? There are times when I doubt. There are times when I look around at the gullibility of those around me and I wonder if I am just as gullible but in a different way. I look at the church and I see the people who make great professions but don’t seem to have any influence of God in their daily living. I see the way Christian people often show no real evidence of faith and I wonder if I am like those people. I look at those around me and I see them living carefree (and I would say, reckless) lives and I wonder if I am making a mistake giving so much of who I am and have to this Savior of mine.
In these times of doubt there is one thing that always gets me back on track. That one thing is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When I recount the evidence. When I review the eyewitness testimony and look at the transformation in those who were convinced of His resurrected life, I don’t doubt any longer. It is true regardless of the people around me. It is true whether I feel it or not. And because it is true, giving my life to this Jesus, is still the smartest thing to do.
What I suggest is this: the resurrection of Jesus is not something you can be neutral about. If He rose from the dead then follow Him with every ounce of strength you have. He is the Savior, He is Lord, He is One of a Kind. And if you believe He didn’t rise from the dead then you should ask yourself why you are here and you need to realize the implications of your conclusions.
If you believe Jesus rose from the dead then I need to ask you another question: “What have you done about your belief?” It’s not enough to simply “believe” the historical record. God calls us to respond to this one who rose from the dead.
If Jesus rose from the dead, I encourage you to turn to Him for forgiveness and new life. Develop a personal relationship with the man who holds the key to eternity. That relationship with Jesus can begin today. To start that relationship you must,
- Admit your own sinfulness. You need to take responsibility for your thoughts, your actions, and your intentions. No more excuses. Admit the truth about your sin.
- Second, you must be willing to turn from your sin. You may feel that you are not able to turn from your sin. That’s normal. God will give you the strength, you must want to move in a different direction.
- Third, turn to Jesus as the One who can pay for your sin and make you a child of God. In the depth of your heart, come to Jesus and say, “I ask you to make me new by your death and resurrection. I turn to you as my Savior and my King”
- Receive the new life that Christ promises and begin to follow Him as He leads you on the road to eternity.
Easter is either a joke or the most important event in all of history. You must decide for yourself whether you will embrace the message of Easter of whether you will turn away.
Sir Winston Churchill understood the significance of the Resurrection, Most of us know him as the man who single-handedly rallied the British people in the darkest days of World War II when the armies of Hitler were poised to cross the English Channel. By the power of his words he gave courage to an entire country. Before he died he planned his own funeral service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The service itself was magnificent in every way, filled with biblical liturgy and great hymns. Just as the benediction was pronounced, an unseen bugler hidden in one side of the dome began to play Taps, the traditional melody signaling the end of the day or the death of a soldier. As the mournful notes faded away, another bugler on the other side of the dome began to play Reveille, the traditional melody signaling the coming of a new day. “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning.” It was Sir Winston’s way of saying that though he was dead, he expected to “get up” in the day of the resurrection. [Quoted in Pritchard Sermon]
Ah! This is the difference that the resurrection makes to all who have put their trust in Jesus Christ the one who rose from the dead. There is a hope that lasts beyond this life. There is a reason to be confident about forgiveness. There is a reason to be sure of Heaven. There is a reason to rejoice.