Summary: 1. The resurrection of Christ is more than a story. 2. It is the core doctrine of the Christian faith. 3. It is the distinguishing mark of Christianity.
In one of the great novels by George MacDonald, a Scottish writer from the 1800’s, an agnostic questions a young clergyman and asks, “Tell me honestly, do you really believe one word of all that? Did you ever notice how these Christian people, who profess to believe that their great man has conquered death, and all that rubbish—did you never observe the way they talk about death, or the eternity they say they expect beyond it? They talk about it in the abstract at one moment, but when it comes down to real life, in their hearts they have no hope, and in their minds they have no courage to face the facts of existence . . . They don’t really believe everything they say, or what they hear from the pulpit.” The problem with the young agnostic, and the problem with many like him today is: they hear Christians talking about the resurrection, heaven, eternal life, and all of the other wonderful tenets of the Christian faith, but they do not see those same people living out that hope in their day to day lives. They talk about these things as though they are realities, but when faced with a threatening situation there are some who fall apart as though Jesus’ victory over death were not true.
The first point I want to make about the resurrection of Jesus Christ today is: It is more than just a story. One Sunday morning after I had preached on the resurrection several years ago, a young woman came up to me and said, “Rev. Buchanan, I sat there with tears in my eyes this morning thinking how wonderful it would be if what you said were true.” If it were true? The resurrection is more than symbolism for a beautiful thought, it is reality. Someone has said, “The real problem of advancing the kingdom of God is not the unbelief of the world, but the half-belief of the church.”
How we view the reality of the resurrection is extremely important, for the resurrection is at the center of our faith. Christ’s death on the cross is very important, but it cannot be the end of our faith, the resurrection must be where our faith ultimately culminates. If Christ merely died for us, he would be no more or less than any other great man, but he did more: he rose from the dead. He conquered hell and the grave, and made eternity possible. If Christ only died, then the Bible says, “. . .your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). If Christ only died, then he is only a dead prophet. But if he did conquer death, he is the giver of resurrection life which is eternal.
J.B. Phillips tells us, “It is, of course, impossible to exaggerate the importance of the. . . Resurrection. If, after all his claims and promises, Christ had died and merely lived on as a. . . memory, he could only be revered as an extremely good but profoundly mistaken man. His claims to be God, his claims to be himself the very principle of Life, would be mere self-delusion.”
The thing which completely confounded the people living during the time of the early church was the tremendous courage and boldness with which the Apostles and early believers defied the threats of punishment and death. The fear of death no longer dominated them. They were not intimidated by the kingdom of the world, for something very profound had happened to them. They had witnessed a living Christ — after an awful death. Seeing that courage and faith in the early church brought many people to trust Christ for themselves. Conversely, seeing the lack of that kind of courage and faith has led many in our day to disbelieve the reality of it all. When they look at people who cannot witness to the goodness of God in their lives, then their skepticism is justified. People are attracted to a faith that is worth dying for, a faith that overcomes the fear of people and the fear of death, but they are repulsed by a faith that is so weak it falls apart in adversity, or dares not speak of God for fear of rejection. The early believers baffled, and even infuriated, the world of their day with their defiant courage. The world of our day often laughs at Christians who are afraid of life, let alone death.