Sunday, April 12th, 2020
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
Jesus died; but he did not stay dead. He died and rose again.
These are the two essential, indisputable tenets of Christian dogma and confession. Neither may be altered or nuanced — not even a little bit. They are non-negotiable, not mythological, and not relative. They are absolute fact, actual, historical yes-it-happened facts no. 1 and 2.
So, one must deliberate and decide: Are these claims true? Do you believe these tenets or not? Ultimately, there is no fence-sitting, no middle ground. A choice must be made. You must vote. You either believe and confess these tenets as truths, or you are not actually a Christian. No matter what you say, nor how nice you are. What, then, will you choose?
If the previous statement comes across as overly rigid, too narrow, pushy, or somehow stingy, consider what is at stake. The core of Christian doctrine and the basis of Christian hope hinge on what happened within history, within a very narrow window of time. The hinge of history is played out in the person and the terminal life events of Jesus, the Nazarene, in just three days. We claim that he died a particularly painful, gruesome, and brutal death, but shortly thereafter rose again to life, life eternal.
There’s very little historical dispute about whether Jesus of Nazareth was actually executed by crucifixion. Most historians will concede that the preponderance of evidence shows this was true. So yes, his death really happened. His crucifixion happened. But in and of itself, as one execution among others, his crucifixion carries little historical significance. It’s just another sad event, another tragedy.
What matters is what happened afterward.
His followers made a big commotion. They made an astonishing claim and, with it, a very big commotion. They went around saying that Jesus of Nazareth did not stay dead. It was a fantastic claim, but not necessarily the first time fervent followers had said something similar. His followers were not just pointing to an ethereal myth. They argued with specificity. They named eyewitnesses. They pointed to exact times and precise places. It actually, historically happened, they said. It was more than just another vacuous myth.
Jesus died in a particular place, but did not stay dead. Instead, he rose at a specific time and place. What matters is that he did not stay dead. And, a group of witnesses relentlessly and stubbornly verified their claim with times, locations, and names.
In 1 Corinthians 15:17 the Apostle Paul — who was not initially a follower of Jesus, nor even a believer in Jesus — says that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile. Notice that he calls Jesus “Christ” here. That name change is significant. Jesus is his historical name (kind of, it is actually closer to Joshua, but that’s an explanation for another day). Christ is a scriptural title. By referring to Jesus as Christ or Messiah, Paul is using scriptural shorthand to interpret who Jesus was and what he did. That Jesus is the Messiah explains not only the end of Jesus’ life on earth, but the entirety of his life and mission. If you look back to the prophecies of the Old Testament, the explanation of Jesus is there, waiting to be discovered. His life was foretold centuries in advance. His mission was explained in detail, long before he was even born.
In summary, then, as a historian, someone may say that Jesus of Nazareth died a tragic early death, and his followers then went around claiming that he rose again. As a Christian, someone must say that it was the Christ who died, but shortly thereafter rose again, invincible over sin, satan, and death.
He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose, He arose, Alleluia, Christ arose.