We have stepped a little out of the box this season at Cross Creek Church. In order to finish up our sermon series through the book of 1 Corinthians, which began in August, we have been looking at chapter 15, about the resurrection, in the middle of advent season. In one sense advent is decidedly about the incarnation, not the resurrection, or the crucifixion, for that matter. But as we lay hold of even the most fundamental Christian teaching, we know that all three form the central links in the chain of our salvation.
As we know, the incarnation, Jesus fully-God, and fully-man, is essential to the good news (Gospel) message of Christianity. In order to reconstitute humanity, enable us to resist sin and provide redemption, Jesus had to be fully God. In order to highlight how personal God’s love is, serve as a substitute for all of us who deserve the wrath of God, and function as the “pioneer” of the resurrection, Jesus had to be fully man. But whether we consider the incarnation or the resurrection or the crucifixion, Christians believe, with very good reason, not blindly, that these monumental realities are also historical events. In fact they must be or they are ultimately meaningless.
Christianity is distinctive from belief systems which are merely life philosophies or spiritual ideas, because it is grounded in the historicity of the redemptive events recorded in the Bible, performed in space and time by Jesus Christ. This is why in 1 Corinthians 15, the early church leader, Paul, says that if the resurrection is not true, then we who profess the Christian faith should not only all go home, but also should be pitied for believing something which offers no actual hope or salvation.
It reminds me of a poignant series of questions a seminary professor of mine, shared with our class. The first is this, “Would a person die for a lie?” Yes, sometimes people do. But not that many. People might profess a lie or proclaim lies, but when it comes to giving their life for it, the field is narrowed. The second is, “Would a person die for a lie, which he knows is a lie?” The field just got very slender. I suppose if someone wanted to pass along a life insurance inheritance to her struggling family she might give up her life, knowing that the cause for which death comes is false. Likewise with a mercenary soldier perhaps. Islamic terrorists don’t fit this category, though, because they believe they will go to heaven. Which leads to the third question, “Would a person die for a lie, which he knows is a lie, but that would not profit him anything?” It is tough to imagine anyone who would do this.
What does this have to do with the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection? As Paul says at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, many people witnessed Jesus as resurrected. And we know from historical accounts that almost every one of the 12 disciples, plus Paul, died horrific deaths. So, if the Christian teaching on these central acts of Jesus Christ was contrived by the early apostles, they would have known that it was untrue. Even if none would have blown the whistle on the scam, certainly not all of them would have maintained their belief to the point of death, particularly in light of the fact that if the Christian belief is not true, it does not profit Christians after they die?
“Proving” Christianity true is not like a mathematical or scientific formula, but it is a lot like a courtroom trial. When we see the evidence for its veracity, we have to take a look at its life transforming message, and ask ourselves, “What does this truth mean for me?” “What am I doing to understand it and live in it?”
If you found this discussion engaging you may also enjoy reading the following from Timothy George of Beeson Divinity, which ties in and also relates to the current crisis in the Middle East.