Saturday, April 15, 2006


i still remember discovering that there were people who believed that Jesus literally came back from the dead and was still alive. i was shocked. i knew some of these people, and they seemed rational and even intelligent otherwise. i wanted to be respectful of their beliefs, but i was sure they were out to lunch on this one.

the whole story seemed preposturous. if God did come as a human being, why come as the son of an unwed teenager? why grow up in obscurity in the backwater of what was a tiny, insignificant nation? why come without position or money — as a man who worked with his hands — and as part of a powerless, despised minority?

it's true that Jesus did eventually rise to prominence, first in his local area, then on israel's national stage. as a teacher and worker of miracles, he attracted large crowds — and the attention of the religious and political power brokers of his time. to his followers at least, he looked like he could be the messiah.

but the good times didn't last long. after being betrayed by one of his closest friends (a man who had traveled and ministered with him for most of his public ministry — how bad would that be?), he was abandoned by his 'loyal' disciples and then beaten severely and finally executed in the manner of the worst criminals, condemned by the very people he came to save.

his disciples were, understandably, demoralized and fearful for their own lives. they stayed out of sight for the most part, though apparently, one of them dared to join a small group of faithful women followers (including Jesus' mother) at the actual execution. afterward, another disciple (not one of the twelve) went to ask for the body, and they were able to put it in a tomb until the final preparations for burial could be made.

if the story had ended there, i wonder if any of us would even know a thing about Jesus. maybe some of his teachings would have survived to the present day, though given that much of it had to do with himself, it seems doubtful anyone would've bothered to preserve it. at best, he would've been a historical footnote.

it didn't take long for me to realize that the resurrection wasn't an optional part of christian faith. in its essence, christianity isn't a set of timeless truths or principles by which people should live — it's a reliance on someone who is really there, a relationship with someone who is still alive and active in the world. without him in the present, there is no powerful one to rescue us. 'faith' is just pretending.
if christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. then those also who have fallen asleep in christ have perished. if we have hoped in christ in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19
but when the women went, on the day after the sabbath, to complete the preparation for the burial, they were shocked to find that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. eventually, they went back to the disciples to explain, only to find that none of them would believe. later, they were all convinced, both by examining the tomb for themselves (they found only grave clothes, but no body) and by appearances of Jesus himself, in which he cooked and ate fish with them and invited them to examine his resurrected body.

the verdict of history is that, in spite of his humble beginnings and the brevity of his public ministry, Jesus is one of the most influential human beings who ever lived. most of the world still organizes its calendar around his life. the teachings of this humble man (who never wrote a book himself) have been translated into thousands of languages, and his influence has expanded across the globe. hundreds of millions of people claim to experience his presence, his guidance, and his power in an ongoing way.

even as a believer, i think it's a strange story — too strange, in fact. no one would concoct such a story and put it at the center of their belief structure, much less tout it as the universal key to life and eternity. and given the way those original disciples were subsequently transformed and their willingness to die rather than to recant… well, at the very least, they believed they were telling the truth. and if they didn't fabricate the story, who would?

the hope of the world is not a system of doctrines (even a true one), but a person — God in human flesh — who has conquered sin and death. Jesus lives and in him, we also can live — now and forevermore.

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