What If?

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*This post is an excerpt from my book, Reflections on the Resurrection. I hope you enjoy it!

“Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look- I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”
(Revelation 1: 17-18)

For many years, I taught, Bible, theology, and leadership courses at the C3 School of Ministry in Atlanta. At some point during the year we talked about the importance of the resurrection. I always enjoyed asking this question to the class: “What would happen to your faith if you woke up tomorrow morning and the top news story on all the networks was “The Bones of Jesus have been Discovered?”

How would it affect your faith if that was the top news story tomorrow? Somehow, scientists and archaeologist had found irrefutable proof that they had located the remains of Jesus’ physical body. What would this discovery do to Christianity? Would a discovery like this make any difference at all to our faith?

When I posed this situation to my Bible School students, I got mixed reactions. Some would want to argue about the evidence. How can we really know that this is a legitimate find? Others would say that it really does not matter if they somehow found the body of Jesus. Our faith should go beyond whether or not they have found the Lord Jesus’ human bones in some Israeli tomb.

I would usually have one or two students who understood the importance of the resurrection. “If they find the body of Jesus,” said one young man, “true Christianity will have ceased to exist. Without the resurrection of Jesus, we really do not have anything to put our faith in.”

This guy knew his Bible. He was in essence paraphrasing what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19: “And if Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God, for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave, but that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.”

The resurrection is the historical event that Christianity hangs on. Without the resurrection, our entire belief system comes unraveled. All of our theology becomes meaningless if Jesus is still dead. We have nothing to put our faith in if Jesus did not walk out of his tomb.

Remember, the early disciples proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus as the central point of their message. They understood that they were not saved by believing what Jesus taught or by obeying a certain set of precepts. They were saved by their faith in the resurrected Jesus.

The four Gospel writers present around three years of Jesus’ public ministry. They record much of his teaching, healings, miracles, and interactions with people. What is fascinating is that most of the rest of the New Testament, however, seldom mentions Jesus’ public ministry. For Paul and the other New Testament writers, the story for them is Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Don’t get me wrong. Jesus’ life story and his ministry are incredibly important. Watching how Jesus lived, listening to what he taught, and following his example are important parts of our faith. Jesus showed us how to live. He came to put a face on God. John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

N. T. Wright’s excellent book, How God Became King, discusses in great detail the importance of Jesus’ life and ministry. The central focus of Jesus’ ministry was the Kingdom of God. This was the theme of his first recorded sermon. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

Wright says, “Our questions have been wrongly put, because they haven’t been about the kingdom. They haven’t been about God’s sovereign, saving rule coming on earth as in heaven. Instead, our questions have been about a “salvation” that rescues people from the world, instead of for the world. “Going to heaven” has been the object (ever since the Middle Ages at least, in the Western church); “sin” is what stops us from getting there; so the cross must deal with sin, so that we can leave this world and go to the much better one in the sky, or in “eternity,” or wherever. But this is simply untrue to the story the gospels are telling—which, again, explains why we’ve all misread these wonderful texts. Whatever the cross achieves must be articulated, if we are to take the four gospels seriously, within the context of the kingdom-bringing victory.” (How God Became King)

The Kingdom was also the focus of much of Jesus’ teaching. Many of Jesus’ parables are prefaced by, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” See for example Matthew 13: 24, 31, 33, 44, etc. In other words, in each parable Jesus presented another facet of what God’s kingdom was like.

We could also mention the importance of Jesus’ profound message in the Sermon on the Mount. This has often been seen as the definitive message of what Christianity is all about. Many have referred to the Sermon on the Mount as “The Christian Manifesto.” In many ways, this teaching in Matthew chapters five through seven encapsulates everything that Jesus taught during his three-year ministry.

It was in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave us a model prayer to use. It was here that we get one of the greatest insights into what God’s will for the earth is. Jesus instructed us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6: 10) As we will discuss later, it would be the resurrection that would inaugurate the Kingdom Age.

May we never forget however, that as important as Jesus’ teachings were and still are today, they are not what saves us. We are not saved by following and obeying Jesus’ teaching. We are not saved by trying to follow the example that Jesus set for us. We can only be saved through an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. In reality, it is only then that we can even begin to understand the real importance of Jesus’ message.

Food for Thought- Have you ever thought about the “What if?” of this chapter? Could your Christianity survive without the resurrection?

Link to Reflections on the Resurrection

Annie and I are serving the Lord in the United States, Africa, India, and in South America. Would you consider joining our team? Just click here to get involved. Thanks so much!

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