For 2,000 years the humans who inhabit this planet have been either inspired or baffled by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Over the centuries billions of people have looked to his death as the ultimate expression of love. Kingdoms and empires have come and gone, and still the example of Christ lives on.
Always there have been the scoffers, never more than today. In the West the attacks on Christianity have reached a crescendo of fury not seen since the Bolshevik or French Revolutions. For some reason the faith of the followers of Jesus Christ is intolerable for the self-anointed intellectual elite in academia, the media, and government.
Of course the crucifixion and death of the Christ was not the end of the story, for the crucifixion was followed by the Easter event. Jesus’ followers believed then and now that he rose from the dead three days later. It was a resurrection. He was truly dead, not merely unconscious or in some sort of suspended animation. Not only that, he still lives.
It couldn’t happen—unless it did.
The belief in the Resurrection in itself has always been a major sticking point for unbelievers, and rightly so. It is not in the realm of human experience to witness people dying and then coming back to life by their own power. It just doesn’t happen. It couldn’t have.
But what if it did?
If Jesus really did rise from the dead as he told people he would, then any reasonable person would have to at least examine the evidence. It’s not enough to dismiss Jesus as a nice guy with some good ideas that we might all do well to take seriously. Nor can we hijack his persona for our own causes, as so many have tried to do. We’ve heard about Jesus the Revolutionary or Jesus the Gay Rights Advocate. You name it.
The problem with all these versions of who Jesus was is that they ignore what he said about himself. Jesus made clear that he was God. That’s what he said, that’s what his followers believed, and that is why he was killed. There are then three possibilities: he was a liar, a lunatic, or God come to earth. Watering Jesus down the way some people do doesn’t work. He had hard edges (like making us forgive our enemies, swine though they may be).
And if Jesus was God himself and rose from the dead, it would behoove us (to say the least) to order our lives according to what he taught. If that means making painful changes in how we live, then so be it. In that sense faith is a trap. If one is dedicated to a certain lifestyle that runs contrary to Christian beliefs, human nature being what it is, such a person understandably will find it difficult to subscribe to a faith that makes such demands.
I suppose that in dealing with the Resurrection a good starting point is to ask whether there is an Almighty God. If there is, then he is in charge of all the laws of the universe, including the creation and sustaining of life on earth. That’s the meaning of being Almighty. God can suspend the rules as in is wisdom he desires. The first converts to Christianity admittedly did not first reason out the existence of God; they saw the loving fruits of the faith, so different from the brutal pagan existence, and wanted to know what generated such love. Their inquiries led to the gift of faith, which in the end is just that, a gift that leads to a leap of faith.
For the last two millennia, brilliant philosophers, scientists, kings, and politicians believed that Jesus was God and rose from the dead. Isn’t there a tinge of arrogance in the lofty dismissal of their faith by those who insist that they and they alone have the truth? That everyone who came before them lived and thought in a Stone Age?
Western Christians, even when they failed to live up to their faith, created a culture that fostered an explosion of creativity. For all its faults, the West led the way in science, exploration, industry, the arts, and human rights. Compare what it generated to what existed in the past or prevails today in so much of the world and you have to admit that despite its failings Western culture has changed the world for the better.
The rejection of religion by modern thinkers is puzzling in light of the failures of science and government in the Twentieth Century, the bloodiest in the history of mankind. The new attacks came just when many moderns were coming to realize that Science and Big Brother (government) do not have all the answers. In Science the more we achieve the more we know how little we know. In politics we find out that power corrupts and that systemic solutions always fall short. Marx had it backwards. Faith in the power of the State is the opiate of the people, not religion.
Perhaps it is the waning of the faith in Science and Government that has unleashed the torrent of abuse that has been unleashed on Christianity of late. And then of course there is the rise of relativism and the Sexual Revolution. Unbridled sexuality as the ultimate reality is a wonderful fantasy. Look what a wonderful world it has created in terms of lasting marriages, respect for women, and love of children. The loutish Yale students who marched through the campus yelling that “no means yes” and other abominations were true children of their times.
True Christianity is the ultimate sign of contradiction in the modern world. You can’t have it both ways if you are to listen to Jesus.
Meanwhile, Christians, knowing how imperfect they are, look with joy and gratitude upon the coming of Easter. A life that so often is brutal, brief, painful, and devoid of meaning is infused with the light of hope—a light that once radiated from a tomb in an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire.