Islamic terrorists at the New York World Trade Center and Christian Cultists at Waco Texas connect violent acts with the worship of God. Both of them challenge the common assumption that it doesn't make any difference what you believe, as long as you are sincere. Americans have been trained to have faith in faith, to show respect to any act of believing.
But it does make a difference what you believe. Faith is important. Unless you stand for something, you are apt to fall for anything. But standing for the wrong thing can destroy you and your world.
I choose to believe that which has been tested by the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament and 2,000 years of church history. In the words of the classic Apostles' Creed, I believe Jesus was crucified, dead and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead." Is it true? Did it really happen? If so, it is truly extraordinary. The ordinary is what we see driving down the 605 freeway past Rose Hills Cemetery with two thousand acres of graves. And every grave contains the body of someone who stayed put.
Jesus didn't stay put. I believe that Jesus died and on the third day
Night seems to be the time for ghosts. Rarely do you hear of anyone seeing a spook in the light of day. Perhaps it is because evening shadows make us more susceptible to other-worldly phenomenon. That makes it all the more amazing that when Jesus arose from the grave he met his disciples in broad daylight and not once but several times. It is one thing to see a specter in dim twilight which might be the neighborhood cat and quite another to see a friend who died on Friday have breakfast with you a few days later (John 21:1- 24). It is one thing for a confused, excitable person to meet someone they thought was dead and quite another for 500 people to meet that person (1 Corinthians 15:6). Yet that is exactly what happened. And it happened over a forty day period.
The book of Acts gives an account of nine sermons preached by the apostles during the first twenty-five years of church history. And every one was an Easter sermon. Every sermon was centered on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At one point the people in Athens got confused thinking Paul was preaching about two gods: Jesus and Anastasia (Acts 17:18). The name, Anastasia, is the Greek word for resurrection. It was constantly on Paul's lips: "Jesus and resurrection Jesus and resurrection."
The gospels do not explain the miracle of the resurrection. The miracle of the resurrection explains the gospels. Without the resurrection there would be no believing apostles to write the gospels. As Paul said, "If Christ has not been raised from death we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe" (1 Corinthians 15:14 TEV).
I believe Jesus rose again from the dead not only because of the historical evidence, but because of personal experience. Paul said, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10). Notice Paul did not say, "I want to know about Christ," but "I want to know Christ." Not information but association was his desire. And mine too.
The resurrection of Jesus is not just a matter of faith, it is a matter of fact. It's not mystery but history. The resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history without which history makes no sense. The resurrection of Jesus reversed forever the inexorable law of decay and death so that history is no longer a dead end street; it is a highway going somewhere (Ephesians 1:9-10). Fifty years ago the editor of Life Magazine wrote: "The resurrection is a vast watershed in history. It cannot be tested for truth; it is the test for lesser truths. No light can be thrown on it; its own light blinds the investigator. It does not compel belief; it resists it. But once accepted as fact, it tells more about the universe, about history, and about man's state and fate than all the mountains of other facts in the human accumulation."
The resurrection is an extraordinary miracle, but what does it mean?
The resurrection of Christ is current events. You have to make a choice. You can live as though Christ arose from the dead, or live as though he did not. To live as though he arose means you have to change your way of living, i.e. as Paul said, "repent." God raised Jesus from the dead not just as an allegation that you will go to heaven when you die, but as a declaration that Jesus is alive on planet earth. The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of life. He is not just standing on the shore of eternity beckoning you to join him there. He is standing beside you strengthening you in this life. The good news of the resurrection is not only that you will die and go home with him, but that he has risen and goes home with you.
The resurrection of Jesus is also a future hope. It tells you that death is not the end of life. It is a comma not a period. There is more to follow. Specifically, there is a day fixed on the calendar of eternity when God will judge the world in righteousness. Are you ready for that day?