Every now and then, either in person or through the media, I hear from someone who speaks scornfully of any who believe in life after death. Sometimes the scorn is blunt; at other times unbelief is equally strong but courteously expressed.
For Holy Week I want to put down as simply as possible four reasons why this promise of life everlasting – resurrection from the dead is a cornerstone of Christian faith, and makes me impervious to the unbelief and even scorn of others.
1. I have read the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – all of my adult life. They tell the story about Jesus in different ways (the first three as historical accounts, and the fourth historical but focused on theology). Also, details vary slightly at certain points (Was there one or were there two blind men at the roadside?).
Yet all four Gospels end at the same place: Jesus Christ was falsely condemned by a hateful and scheming religious hierarchy in partnership with Roman overlords; he was brutally killed by Roman soldiers, yet he rose from the dead on the third day.
Resurrected, he then spent 40 days among his disciples to dispel their doubts and release their joy until they were finally convinced he had triumphed over death. In his teaching he promised, “Because I live you too shall live.”
The death and resurrection of Jesus speaks a triumphant word against death ¬¬ the enemy man universally fears ¬¬ and our sin that is behind that fear. It also supports the New Testament testimony that at the end of human history all sin will be judged and all Christ¬formed righteousness rewarded.
2. Within those four Gospels, are recorded several consistent promises Jesus himself made to all believers: “If I go away I will come again and receive you unto myself.” “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” “He who believes in me, though he die yet shall he live.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but through me.”
What sort of man could offer such promises? Jesus appears in the Gospels as vastly more than a well-meaning man; a well-meaning person would not utter such promises if they were false. Nor is he a deranged man because his encounters with his enemies show him as clearly in touch with reality. And his knowledge and reasoning powers are always more than a match for them.
His claim, “I and the Father are one,” is either the boast of an incredible egotist, a deranged zealot, or a man who sincerely knows and speaks the truth. I choose the latter.
Each time I ponder the gospel accounts, my faith is refreshed. But I believe not only because what I read compels me. I believe also because God’s Holy Spirit confirms this truth to the believing heart. When I believe he seals my hope for life everlasting.
3. I believe his promise of eternal life because, even at the cost of their lives, his followers across the centuries have often stood by the truth they profess. Humans do not in large numbers give up their lives for myths or fables or fairy tales. I know of no one who would surrender to death rather than renounce faith that Santa Claus exists. Yet, of Jesus’ first 11 apostles, 10 were martyred for their faith. In the early centuries of the church martyrdom was common.
And in our world today Christians are being slaughtered for their faith in great numbers. Consider what’s going on in the Middle East. If those Christians facing their death would utter just a few simple words of renunciation their lives would be spared. They refuse. We have seen over and over again in recent weeks Christians will die for the truth as it is in Jesus.
4. I have had contact with Christian community all of my life. I know we don’t all measure up. For observers with a searching eye, faults are easy to find among us. Those who disagree with Christian claims always have the Crusades to cite in scorn.
But that said, I have seen the power of God’s grace displayed in abundant measure among God’s people, demonstrating resurrection life in the here and now – in their generosity, their willingness to forgive, their passion to serve.
Kathleen and I have just spent the winter in a Christian community where the love of Christ fills many of the people with readiness to find and meet human need in His name. Some of this ministry is even dangerous. But it’s our Lord’s resurrection power here and now that prompts such service.
So, this week I review again the suffering and horror of our Lord’s passion, bearing the sins of the whole world but reaching on through to the glory of the resurrection. And I say, I believe.
Photo credit: James Emery (via flicker.com)