For me, the truth of Christianity hinges upon the reality of the resurrection. There are Christians who think that the resurrection is just a metaphor for the work that God can do in our lives. But I’m with Paul, who I think speaks for the early Christians in general when he says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” He later says that if the resurrection didn’t happen, “we (Christians) are to be pitied more than all men.” This is from 1 Corinthians 15
I guess there are really two important questions. One is, why do I believe the resurrection happened? And then, why do I think the resurrection matters?
As to why I believe (and more on why the resurrection matters tomorrow)–
I can’t explain the existence of the Christian church without the resurrection. From all we can tell, historically speaking, Jesus died a criminal’s death and his followers scattered and/or hid. They were an oppressed and powerless group of poor Jewish men and women under Roman rule. But many, if not all of the twelve disciples (excepting Judas, who killed himself), were executed because they continued to preach that Jesus was the Christ, the King, the Son of God. Peter went from a scared fisherman to a person who boldly proclaimed the universal need to know Jesus personally, and he claimed that the reason he preached was the resurrection.
Similarly, this group of Jews changed their Sabbath day. For centuries upon centuries, they had kept the Sabbath on Saturday. It was a mark of distinction, of pride, and of holiness, not to mention obedience to God. They even observed the Sabbath the day after Jesus died (he died on a Friday). But within a few years, the Jews who worshipped Jesus (it was a few decades before they started to see themselves as distinct from the Jews who didn’t follow Jesus, and also a while before non-Jews were invited in) were observing the Sabbath on what they now called, “The Lord’s Day,” which was the day of the resurrection. It’s hard to imagine what else would make such a cultural shift possible.
There are accounts in the Bible (including the aforementioned 1 Corinthians 15) where Paul lists eyewitnesses, large groups of people who saw Jesus after he was raised from the dead. They knew as well as we do that people can’t be crucified and then get up and walk around. We don’t need modern science to convince us that once you’re dead you’re dead. But hundreds of people claimed to have seen Jesus, the crucified one, risen from the grave.
At the end of the day, I don’t know of another compelling explanation for how the church got started, how the Sabbath day changed, and why people were willing to die for this faith unless Jesus was actually raised from the dead.
The other reason I believe in the resurrection is because of the “why it matters” question. Whole books have been written on this point, by the way (see, for instance, N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope
). But basically, I don’t believe that the transformation of human lives is possible through anything other than rebirth in Christ. In my next post, I’ll try to explain.