If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile… 1 Corinthians 15:17
When I was a teenager there was a radio discussion programme in which questions were put by members of the public to a panel of experts. As you might expect, the questions were almost always political. But the final one, to which the panellists were expected to give short and hopefully funny answers, was of a more light-hearted kind. Well, on the occasion I’m thinking of, that final question was, “If there was just one question you would really like to know the answer to, what would it be?” I distinctly remember one panellist pausing for just a moment and then saying, “I would love to know for sure if Jesus Christ really rose from the dead.”
I have no idea if that person ever came to a definite answer in his own mind, but there’s no doubt that he would have had Paul’s agreement about the massive importance of the question. Without the resurrection, says Paul, the whole of Christianity is “futile” – that is, nonsense, pointless, a waste of time. And, make no mistake, Paul is not talking about some “spiritual” or “metaphorical” resurrection. No: he is talking about Jesus’ bodily rising from the dead.
Christians have many things in common with people of other faiths, and indeed, of no faith at all. And that is good. But in the resurrection we have something which is peculiar to us alone. Christianity stands or falls on the story of the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus to his friends.
We can’t prove it. But the evidence is solid, and there are indeed various modern stories of hard-headed unbelievers, some of them with a legal training, who have examined it closely and come to life-changing faith as a result.
It is desperately sad that for millions of people, when the word “church” is used, what comes to mind are all sorts of negative images – decaying buildings, strange rituals, irrelevant preachers, impenetrable quarrels, appalling scandals, you name it – rather than the sensational good news that Jesus Christ is alive, that death has been overcome.
So… how should we respond to this great story? I suggest four things.
First, believe it! All right, I know that you can’t simply make yourself believe it by an act of will; of course not. But what you can do is open your mind to it and explore it as deeply and honestly as you can. The light of faith will dawn for the sincere and humble person.
Second, rejoice in it! If ever there was good news (that, of course, is what “gospel” means) this surely is it. The defeat of death gives us joy and hope. We have them here and now, right in the middle of life’s hurts and pains; and we have them also for the life to come. The resurrection quite literally changes everything about how we view life and death.
Third, preach it! Good news is for sharing. Many people go through life pretty much crushed and defeated – and that includes, by the way, clever, rich, talented, successful people as well as so-called “ordinary” people. The old American spiritual “Ol’ man river” has the powerful and deeply sad words “I’m tired of living and scared of dying.” And that just about sums it up for millions of people. All right, you may not be a preacher in any formal sense. But if you believe in the resurrection, what possible sense does it make to keep it to yourself?
And fourth, live it! The resurrection isn’t just a one-off miracle – all right, very nice for Jesus, but so what? No. At the heart of the Christian faith is the idea that all who believe in Jesus are, so to speak, gathered up into him to become part of him. His resurrection becomes ours too. In Colossians 3:1 Paul says that we “have been (not “will be”!) raised with Christ”. True, our resurrection isn’t yet perfect and final; but it is real nonetheless. And that means that we are to live our day-to-day lives as risen-from-the-deadmen and women, whatever that might mean in practice – faith, joy, peace, hope, love, integrity, strength, humility, forgiveness, sacrifice… To put it at the very lowest level, the resurrection should make us far better people than we would otherwise be.
The resurrection isn’t just an idea, a “doctrine”. It is a once-for-all event with consequences tumbling down the centuries for every single person who comes to believe in Jesus, the risen one. So I don’t think I can finish any better than by saying again… Believe it! Rejoice in it! Preach it! Live it!
Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that in your rising from the dead I have found new joy and hope. Please help me to live, day by day, a life which is inspired and transformed by this greatest of all events. Amen.