Summary: 1. Without the resurrection, the story of Christ would be just a beautiful story with a bad ending. 2. Without the resurrection, it would have meant that Evil had won. 3. The resurrection is the prelude to the second coming.
Former NFL player Pat Tillman’s name has been in the news a lot lately. He played football for Arizona State University and then the Arizona Cardinals. But he had voluntarily enlisted with the Army Rangers following the terrorist attacks on September 11; turning down a $3.6 million contract with the NFL. He was just 27-years-old when he was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan on April 22. Pat Tillman was a man of extraordinary courage and determination — a national hero. Recent reports are now saying that he may have been killed by friendly fire. At his memorial service he was eulogized by family, friends and celebrities at a 2 ½ hour service in his hometown of San Jose, California. Pat’s father said in his brief remarks at the service: “I miss my son, and it’s not getting any better.” USA Today reported that Alex Garwood, a brother-in-law, opened his comments by pouring a glass of beer, setting it in front of the lectern, and then yelling to the large crowd which had gathered: “This (expletive) sucks.” He went on to say, “Part of me wants to give up, throw in the towel, but there’s no way Pat would accept that from us.” Richard Tillman, Pat’s brother, stood before the gathering in a white T-shirt and jeans and shocked the crowd when he said with his voice shaking: “It was amazing to be his baby brother. He was a champion. And Pat was not religious, so he’s not with God, he’s just (expletive) dead.”
When I read that story and felt the despair of those who felt the loss of Pat Tillman, I thought again of the words of the Bible that say: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). It does not matter how strong, courageous or famous you are — if you are just dead, you’re just dead. And there is no hope for our family or the friends we leave behind. Things will not get better. We are to be pitied and might as well give up. But as we read the book of Acts, we find what is without a doubt the most transforming thought ever to come into the human mind and heart: This life is not the end, it is just the beginning, because Jesus Christ has conquered death. And because he has conquered death, he will conquer our death as well and raise us to life. There is more to life. There is more to come. Jesus Christ conquered death, rose from the grave and opened Paradise — all for our sakes.
In the book of Acts, the disciples go from a small group of timid souls to an explosive group of people empowered by a new vision. As you read Acts you realize that you are hearing one theme over and over again: the fact that Jesus is alive because he rose from the dead. That one fact did more to change their lives than any other, and it has changed the world as well. It was the dynamic power of a new persuasion. Before, all was lost. There was no hope of eternity. But now, with the resurrection of Jesus, everything had changed. Peter proclaimed: “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” — so nothing was impossible now. Life had a whole new feel. Our “hearts are glad,” and our “bodies live in hope.” What changed was, as Peter said, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32). We know that God will not abandon us to the grave — but has the power to give us eternal life.
So the real symbol of Christianity is not the cross, but an empty tomb. Art historian Kenneth Clark makes an astounding observation when he writes: “We have grown so used to the idea that the Crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity, that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power was recognized. In the first art of Christianity it hardly appears, and the earliest example, on the doors of Santa Sabina in Rome [around A.D. 430], is stuck away in a corner, almost out of sight. . . early Christian art is concerned with miracles, healings, and with hopeful aspects of the faith like the Ascension and the Resurrection.”
The atoning death of Christ is essential to our salvation, but so is the resurrection. Without the resurrection we would only have a dead teacher, not a living Savior. This is why the resurrection becomes the central message of the book of Acts. It is the driving force behind the preaching, teaching and joyful lives of the believers. This is also what got them in so much trouble, for the scriptures tell us that the religious leaders, “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). It is the core motivation for reaching out with a message of hope to people outside the faith. There are at least three reasons for this, and the first is that without the resurrection, it would have meant that: The story of Christ would be just a beautiful story with a bad ending. What is the basic difference between Christianity and the other world religions? First of all, it is that Jesus claimed to be God and backed up those claims with miraculous acts of divine power. In Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he was able to say, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). These signs and wonders were not in doubt, even by those who put Jesus to death. Secondly, it is that he died and rose again — something no other religious leader claimed to do. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, all that we have is another Mohammed or Buddha. We have one more religious teacher who lies in his grave — one who was able to spout religious ideals, but not one with the power to help us face death. No hope of eternity. No hope of heaven.