I polled my Facebook friends and asked a few co-workers which of these assignment topics is more important to them?
(1) “Is the Resurrection of Jesus Believable?”
(2) “Is Jesus Really the Only Way to Heaven?”
(3) “Why Would God Judge People for the Way They Live?”
(4) “Isn’t It Arrogant to Claim Your God Alone is Real?”
I took the poll to find out which question really matters to people, rather just crank out the easiest assignment. I hope this blog series will be a help to someone. I think the question I chose is the most important, challenging the non-Christian and the Christian alike. So, before I dig into the question, I need to explain why I picked it.
The results of my polling were very interesting, mainly because of the diverse group of people I approached. My FB friends are predominately evangelical Christians from the South. By contrast, my co-workers are a slice of New England—a mixed bag of practicing Catholics, nominal Catholics, non-religious secularists, and the anti-religious. Several are electrical engineers with Master’s degrees, including two Russian, secular Jews—one of whom I’d describe as “spiritual” and the other an agnostic-leaning atheist (his words) who said all the questions are the same: “unimportant” because they come to the same conclusion of a “God” who does not exist.
So, which question won? (drum roll please)
The most popular response was number 2: “Is Jesus really the only way to Heaven?” That is not too surprising considering that pluralism is so heavily promoted in our culture. The second most popular choice number 4: “Isn’t it arrogant to claim your God alone is real?” I think that question is pretty much the same question as number 2, only with an emotional component. Speaking of emotion, one of my co-workers responded to the list with a hearty, “Oh Hell yeah, number 4!” Number 3 was next in line with surprisingly very little fanfare: “Why Would God Judge People for the Way They Live?” With the mantra “Don’t judge!” so prevalent in our society, I thought for sure it would garner a higher ranking. The unequivocal loser of the poll, and therefore the LEAST important and LEAST relevant to Christians and non-Christians alike, was number 1: “Is the resurrection of Jesus believable?” Now here’s the plot twist: that is the question I picked to write about! Hmmm…If I want to write about that which is MOST relevant, why pick the one that everyone agreed is LEAST important?
I asked myself, “Why did that one evoke the least interest?” The more I thought about it, the more I determined it HAS to be the one I write about because it is the proverbial “elephant in the room.” Think about it. Modern Christians don’t talk about the resurrection much, especially to non-Christians; and non-Christians dismiss it as myth. I can understand why non-Christians dismiss it. But why aren’t Christians thinking and talking about it in order to confront the non-Christian with it? After all, is it not the most spectacular demonstration of God’s existence and validation of Christ’s claims? Is it not at the very heart of our faith? I think if Christians were transparent, they’d agree that talking about the resurrection is very awkward. Do we really believe it? Or could it be that we subconsciously adopt the skeptic’s mind and feel a sense of absurdity behind such a claim? Do we inwardly agree with them…that we might as well claim that a UFO landed in a remote cornfield in Iowa and a space alien told some farmer to tell others to believe him or else the earth will be destroyed by his “Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?” (My millennial readers can check out that iconic cultural reference here.)
I think Christians and non-Christians alike unwittingly and wrongly dismiss the resurrection as irrelevant. My experience is that Christians do not bring up the resurrection in their evangelism—I know I haven’t—even though we read throughout the New Testament that it is THE VERY MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL. (Sorry for e-yelling, but it is that important.) We try to relate to our non-Christian friends by talking to them about common experiences such as life’s many problems and tell them that Jesus gives us hope, love, and answers. Or the more bold (and precise) of us confront unbelievers about the problem of sin and rebellion against a holy God and tell them that the only way of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God is through repentance and faith in Jesus. All of those things are true. But they still don’t mention the resurrection. Should we mention it? If we follow the example (dictate?) of The Apostles, then absolutely. The resurrection was foremost in their evangelism. Consider the very first sermon ever preached by a Christian, recorded by the preeminent Christian historian, Luke, in Acts 2:14-ff. He writes that Peter proclaimed
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Also, the Apostle Paul preached Jesus’s resurrection and defended his message as the genuine Christian gospel, confirmed by the most imminent authorities of the Christian church— those closest to Jesus Himself— James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, and John. He said, “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain and those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” (Galatians 1 and 2).
Paul clearly cited the resurrection as essential to salvation in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then [He appeared] to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then [He appeared] to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Paul went beyond his fellow Jews with his gospel of the resurrection, and preached to the Greeks. Remember, that was in ancient Athens—the birthplace of philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle— at the Areopagus itself. Granted, it was about 350 years after Aristotle. But considering we, 2400 years and a world away, know who Aristotle was, it is safe to say the Greeks in first century Athens were serious about philosophy Luke recorded the event and commented, “And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”
Furthermore, (back to 1 Corinthians 15) Paul explained:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless…we are of all men most to be pitied.
There you have the skeptic’s mind on the matter. They say to us that Christ has not been raised from the dead and Christians are to be most pitied for believing such foolishness.
Again, I think my friends and co-workers have exposed a most significant problem in our day by NOT picking question number 1. They are communicating that the resurrection of Jesus is unimportant and not even on the radar of interest. Modern Christians typically do not include the resurrection in their evangelism—which begs several questions: Do they really believe it? Are they overwhelmingly hesitant to admit it for fear of appearing foolish and pitiful in our scientifically advanced world? Or, have pastors failed to communicate the importance of it? Whatever the reasons, the church has marginalized the resurrection. If Christians ignore the resurrection message, then non-Christians surely aren’t going to think about it either!
In this blog, I must first challenge the church with this observation. If we fail to include the resurrection in our conversations, are we unwittingly guilty of Paul’s rebuke to the Galatian church and dangerously close to preaching a false gospel?— “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! …For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?”
Secondly, I have to do what I am challenging the rest of the church to do—persuade the non-Christian of a few things; namely, that not only could the resurrection of Jesus happen but it did happen, that belief in the resurrection is rational, not irrational, and finally, there are subsequent life-changing implications due to the fact of the resurrection.