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The Revolutionary Christ

April 10, 2017

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone . . . And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he as risen, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.” Matthew 28:1-2, 4-7[1]

Christians have always conceded with Paul that but for the Resurrection, Christianity would be useless: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15: 12-14).

Last year I summarized some of the primary reasons to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead (“Week-end Tomb”). The movie, “The Case for Christ,” based on the book by the same name by Lee Strobel, opened in theaters last week. Like the book, the movie documents Strobel’s skepticism of his wife’s newfound faith, propelling him into an investigation about the claims of Christianity with the purpose of exposing it as “nothing more than the fanciful invention of superstitious people.”[2] Strobel’s investigation led him to his knees. During his interview with J.P. Moreland, Moreland suggested that there was one category of evidence for Christ that he hadn’t asked about: “It’s the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities—well educated and not, rich and poor, thinkers and feelers, men and women. They will all testify that more than any single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them.”[3] Strobel later came to understand and experience what that meant.

The Resurrection was a revolutionary event that changed the course of history. In his book examining the meaning of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, N.T. Wright notes “Whether we believe in Jesus, whether we approve his teaching, let alone whether we like the look of the movement that still claims to follow him, we are bound to see his crucifixion as one of the pivotal moments in human history . . . his resurrection was not simply an astonishing new beginning in itself, but the result of what had happened three days earlier. The resurrection was the first visible sign that the revolution was already under way. More signs would follow.” (N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (2016) HarperOne, p. 4).

And what happened three days earlier? Jesus died on the cross for my sins and yours. He suffered on the cross and for me and for you.  That was the amazing truth that hit the disciples when the women reported to them that Jesus had risen from the dead—that Jesus really was who he said he was—God incarnate. Jesus appeared to the women and told them to “tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10). Luke documents Peter’s description of the subsequent meetings with Jesus and the disciples in the first reading: “And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him appear, not to all the people, but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10: 39-41).

The revolution began with Jesus’ death on the cross, but the Resurrection was the first manifestation that it was underway.  The early Christians were persecuted; many of the disciples were martyred for their steadfast belief in and teaching of the message of the Resurrection, the proof that Jesus was who he said he was.  They met with Jesus for days after the Resurrection, and were eyewitnesses to his power, and that he had indeed, been resurrected from death.  They had first-hand knowledge that he was the Messiah, and they were willing to die for that belief.  Most of them died grisly deaths on account of their preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They continued to fight the good fight—to spread the gospel without regard to their personal safety, because they knew for a fact that it was true.  They were the foundation of the revolution begun by Jesus.

The revolution propelled by the Resurrection continues today.  According to Christianity Today, about 215 million Christians experience very high levels of persecution world-wide.  North Korea continues to be the most dangerous place for a Christian, but Islamic extremism is the main driver of persecution.[4] Yesterday on Palm Sunday, at least 47 Christians were killed and over a hundred wounded by twin attacks in Egyptian Coptic churches.  The Islamic State claimed responsibility and threatened further attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority (Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017).

The martyrdom of the early Christians and those who continue to preach the gospel and to attend Christian churches at great risk to their own personal safety is not absolute proof that Jesus was who he said he was.  But taken with all the historical, archaeological, and geographical records, the evidence for the truth of the basic tenants of the Christian faith is overwhelming and compelling.

Reaching the conclusion that Jesus was God as he said he was, leads to the question—why did he do it?  If he was God and God is all-powerful, why did he die on the cross?  If you believe that Jesus was God incarnate, then you must believe what Jesus himself said: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God’s only Son.” (John 3:16-18, Good News Translation).  Jesus himself told his followers why he came to earth—to save his beloved people from themselves, so that we may live with him forever.  That promise was made to all who believe in him, “God’s only Son.” Jesus made it clear in this statement that God is a God of justice, and someone needed to pay for our sins.  Jesus did it, but only those who believe in him will go on from this life to live with him forever.

Why did he do it? Jesus told us in one word: love. “God loved the world so much . . .” God’s love for us is so strong, so powerful, so overwhelming that we cannot fathom its depth.  Read the evidence of the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ. Then open your heart to his love and to his Spirit.  When you encounter the resurrected Christ yourself you will understand why the revolution never died.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture readings for The Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day are Psalm 118: 15-29; Acts 10: 34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10.

[2] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (1998) Zondervan, p.13.

[3] Id, p. 255.

[4] Jeremy Weber, Christianity Today, “Worst Year Yet: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian,” January 11, 2017.


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