(Presented on Easter Sunday, 2016)
It seems to me that feelings against Christians and Christianity are on the rise all over the world. For example, not long ago I received a news summary from Far East Broadcasting Associates which had this in it: “A major inquiry into the place of religion in modern society says that Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is. The two-year commission, chaired by the former senior judge Baroness Butler-Sloss and involving leading religious leaders from all faiths, calls for public life in Britain to be systematically de-Christianised…” (FEBA Snippets – January 2016)
The same paper also had this to say about what is going on in Britain, “Christian Mps (that is Members of Parliament) have warned that Sunday schools could be banned from teaching that marriage is between a Man and a Woman. The Mps said government proposals to subject Sunday Schools to Ofsted inpections, ‘could have a seriously detrimental effect on the freedom of religious organisations.’…”
If that’s what’s going on in Britain, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some bureaucrat on this side of the pond who are thinks it’s a good idea too. Personally, the very thought of having to inspect and monitor thousands of Sunday School classes is enough to bring on a migraine. So, being as I’m such a helpful and considerate person, I have a modest proposal which would save the government all kinds of time and trouble. It wouldn’t require any two-year commissions chaired by former judges. And, it doesn’t involve hiring a bunch of inspectors to make sure the Sunday Schools are politically correct. Just think! The money that would free up could be spent on more important things – such as repairing the roads.
If the government really wants to destroy Christianity, if it really wants to de-Christianize the country, it’s very simple. All it has to do is to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead. If the resurrection didn’t happen, the whole thing falls apart.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating when I say that Christianity falls apart without the resurrection, here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say on the subject. “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 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. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NIV)
To paraphrase what Paul said, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is a scam. We’re wasting our time. We might as well go home and play tiddlywinks.
So, since all we have to do to get rid of Christianity is to prove that the resurrection didn’t happen, how can we go about it? Here’s an idea: Let’s say that the soldiers who were guarding the tomb went to sleep. While they were dozing, Jesus’ disciples swiped the body and claimed that He rose from the dead. Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? In fact, this is exactly what the authorities did claim at the time (Matthew 28:12-15). But wait a minute! If the soldiers were asleep, how could they know what happened? And, if they admitted to sleeping on duty, then how come they didn’t get punished for it? The penalty for sleeping while on guard was death. So why were these guys still walking around bragging about what happened while they were zonked out? Hmm. Perhaps this explanation isn’t so reasonable after all.
Well, there is another simple explanation as to what really happened. It should be obvious that the women and disciples just went to the wrong tomb. They got mixed up and happened to visit an empty tomb instead of the one where they buried Jesus. But if that’s the case, how come nobody pointed them to the right tomb? When Mary was talking to the person she thought was the gardener, why didn’t he say, “Lady, there’s no reason to get all upset! You’ve just come to the wrong place. Let me show you right one.” And, when the rumors started making the rounds that Jesus had risen from the dead, why didn’t the authorities hold a press conference at the correct tomb? All they had to do was produce the body and the ridiculous notion would have been stopped in it’s tracks.
Perhaps Jesus’ body wasn’t in the tomb because He really didn’t die on the cross, after all. The coolness of the tomb revived Him and He managed to escape. Really? Granted improbable things happen, but this is just a little too thick. Even granting that the Roman soldiers somehow bungled the job when they killed Jesus, His escaping the tomb would have been even more miraculous than the resurrection. When the women went to the tomb to finish their burial customs, they were worried about how they could move the stone away from the entrance. Now, if a bunch of able-bodied women didn’t have the strength to move the stone, then how is someone who is severely injured, weak from dehydration and blood-loss, and weighted down with 75 pounds of spices (John 19:39-40) supposed to somehow unwrap himself from the burial cloths and roll the stone out of the way?
Since that notion doesn’t hold up too well, then what about saying that people imagined they saw Jesus after resurrecting? The appearances must be some sort of wish-fulfillment or mass hysteria! The odd thing is that Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect Him to rise. They were at least as shocked as anybody else when Jesus appeared to them after the crucifixion. And what’s really weird is that even Jesus’ closest associates didn’t recognize Him at first. How can something be a wish fulfillment if you aren’t wishing it at all? And not recognizing the person you desperately want to see flies in the face of all psychology. Hallucinations don’t work that way. And are we going to say that over 500 people who saw Jesus during the same incident had exactly the same hallucination at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6)? Tell me another!
While all the arguments against the resurrection don’t hold water, there is a powerful argument for the resurrection. After the crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples were a thoroughly disillusioned, discouraged and frightened bunch. They met behind locked doors because of fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Yet, only 50 days later this same bunch of frightened, discouraged people boldly and publicly laid the responsibility for Jesus’ death at the feet of the same authorities they’d been so scared of earlier. It’s almost as if they are totally different people. Something happened during those 50 days to change these men from cringing cowards to fearless preachers. There’s only one thing that makes sense: They encountered the risen Christ. They were so convinced of the truth of the resurrection that all of them were willing to stake their lives on it. They never backed down from their story even to save themselves from gruesome deaths.
People have been trying to disprove the resurrection for 2,000 years. They haven’t been able to do so – and they never will. No government commission or blue-ribbon panel will ever be able to change the facts. Christianity is here to stay whether they like it or not.
Because the resurrection is true, it also gives us hope. In the same passage we read earlier, Paul goes on to say, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22 NIV)
Because Christ rose from the dead, we have hope that we also will rise. Death is not the end.
We’re here today to remember and celebrate the resurrection. The bread we eat and the juice we drink commemorate Christ’s death on the cross. But they also look beyond the cross. Today as we partake, let’s also remember the hope we have because Jesus conquered death. By His resurrection He broke the power of death, so we might live.