Do you think our churches adequately emphasize the resurrection of Jesus? We talk a lot about his life. We talk a lot about his atoning death. And on Easter, you can count on a sermon about the resurrection.
But I don’t think most Christians truly understanding the earth-shaking, life-changing meaning of the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. I know many of us who were raised in church haven’t grasped how different our world would be if God had left him to molder in the grave. Most unbelievers certainly don’t understand the degree to which modern democratic civilization — from science, education, and social services to even the very concepts of justice and human rights — grew out of and depends on the teachings of Jesus and Christian tradition. The resurrection is a fact of history and civilized society cannot survive without the truth it represents.
Christian scripture repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the resurrection of Jesus:
During the forty days after his crucifixion, Jesus appeared to the apostles from time to time and proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. On these occasions he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:7 NLT)
Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 1:4 NLT)
For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31 NLT)
“If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless …. (1 Corinthians 15:17a NLT)
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a historical fact that proves he was the Son of God, just like he said. God raised Jesus from the dead to validate Jesus’ teaching about what God is like and how he expects us to live. The resurrection of Jesus gives us a factual basis for knowing the truth about God.
By raising Jesus from the dead, God proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus is the one we can trust to tell us what God is like and what is true and just. The truth of Christianity – and its ideas of justice and human rights – stand or fall on whether the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. If God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead, faith in Christ is worse than pointless (1 Corinthians 15).
Some skeptics doubt Jesus was a real person. Many dismiss the resurrection of Jesus as a legend. Some doubt the New Testament accurately describes his life, death, and resurrection. None of their arguments, however, can explain away the well-documented fact of the empty tomb.
The fact is, the tomb was empty – and still is. The resurrection of Jesus is a fact of history with which everyone must come to terms. It was such an incredible, world-changing event that people started counting years all over again – BC and AD signify whether an event happened before or after the birth of Jesus. The current fad of replacing BC and AD with BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) supposedly allows enlightened souls to avoid the “Christ” and “Domini” (Lord) built into the traditional tags. The fact still remains, however, the years are numbered in relation to the birth of Jesus.
One of the most important aspects of the resurrection is that without it, one religion would be as true as any other. Who is to say that Baron Samedi, voodoo’s anarchist god of death, should not be worshiped with child sacrifice? Even Jews and Muslims, who would say they worship the same one, true, supreme God as Christians, have no way of proving that their understanding of God is true. Without the resurrection, no one could know who can be trusted to teach us about the nature of God, the meaning of life, and what is true and just. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, moral values and religious tradition are merely unproven personal opinion.
The resurrection of Jesus was an actual event in history. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we know God has power even over death and evil. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we know Jesus taught the truth about how we are to live before God in an evil world. The resurrection is a fact – proven beyond reasonable doubt – that leads us to the truth about what God is like and what is true and just.
Christians who understand the importance of the resurrection will see their faith in a whole new light. Christians who understand that the resurrection is a fact of history will have greater confidence and more powerful motivation to engage lost souls with good news. And Christians will have new passion for doing justice in an evil world when they understand how much civilized society depends on Christian truth.
For more on the resurrection as historical fact, read Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt (easy) or The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (more challenging). For more on Christianity’s role in developing modern civilized society, read Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization.