On occasion I have heard someone declare that one thing or another serves as the foundation of their faith. Sometimes it is the Bible. Sometimes it is the love Jesus taught. Sometimes it is even Jesus Himself. But the fact is none of those are a sufficient foundation for our faith. What we need is something entirely more solid than that. Thankfully, we are given a huge clue as to what this is by the Apostle Paul. Late in his letter to the believers in Corinth Paul reminded them of the core essentials of the message he proclaimed to them when he first rolled into town. Specifically he said, “The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says…” Here in this unassuming little declaration of Paul what we find is actually the whole heart of the Gospel. It comes in three parts: 1. Jesus died for our sins as foretold in the Scriptures. 2. Jesus was buried (He was dead, after all). 3. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, again, as foretold in the Scriptures. That’s it. That’s the whole Gospel. If someone could wrap their heart and mind around these three truth claims everything else normally associated with the Gospel would flow from there. Everything else in the whole of Christianity is secondary to these three truths. And of these three truths, there is one that stands out as the most important of all: Jesus rose from the dead.
The historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is what sets the Christian religion apart from every other world religion. It is what makes Jesus worth following. Apart from the resurrection the whole of the Christian movement would topple and smash into a million pieces, not possible or event worth putting back together. Our faith is rooted in an event.
Indeed, when you read through the book of Acts, what is it that the apostles kept coming back to in their preaching? The resurrection. Every time they proclaimed the Gospel, they centered their presentations on the resurrection. Consider this for a moment in light of what else we know about Jesus that would seem to make pretty interesting Gospel presentation material. They never talked about His miracles as particularly important. They never spent much time on His teachings. The kingdom of God didn’t feature very prominently in their sermons. They simply repeated over and over and over: Jesus died, Jesus rose. They talked about the resurrection so much that some Gentiles actually thought it was the name of another god.
But, and this is key, they never talked about it as if it were simply an idea. Today, there are a lot of people both outside and inside the church who talk about the resurrection in idealistic terms. They do this because they don’t really believe it happened. And why should they? In the sum total of our experience dead people stay dead. Except this one time 2,000 years ago. And these guys were all witnesses to it. Indeed, the apostles spoke of the resurrection specifically as if it were an actual, historical event to which they were eye-witnesses. They weren’t telling people about some crazy idea or vision or dream they had. They were telling people about something they saw: “Jesus came back from the dead and I saw Him alive!” I’ll tell you, given the choice between the guy who rose from the dead and some guy who didn’t I’m going with the first one and whatever He said. Our faith is rooted in an event.
Thinking a bit further on this, the resurrection is the only plausible explanation for several otherwise nonsensical historical realities. Jesus’ body was not in the tomb guarded by an elite squad of Roman soldiers on Sunday morning. The disciples went from cowering in fear to boldly proclaiming the guy who died had come back to life before the very same group of men who had engineered his death in the first place. James, Jesus’ half-brother, went from rightly rejecting the silly-to-him notion that his brother was the Messiah (think about it: what would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Messiah?) to being the very influential leader of the flagship Christian church whose wisdom (with Paul’s leadership) sparked the opening of the church to people like you and me. None of these facts make sense apart from the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Now then, why does this matter? Why does it matter so much that the resurrection is a historical event, the historical event in fact that serves as the grounding of our entire worldview? It matters because it gives us something solid to which we can anchor our lives when the storms surge. I said a second ago that many people today, including many in the church, talk about the resurrection as if it were merely an idea. There are all kinds of creative proposals for what “really” happened instead of Jesus walking out of His tomb alive after having been dead for three days. They all have one thing in common, though: they turn the event of the resurrection into a really powerful idea. Ideas are powerful. History bears witness to this fact. But an idea, even a good idea, can only take us so far. When we are in the middle of a storm, if all we have to go on is a really powerful idea—meaning a construct of the mind and not a historically certifiable reality—when the storm gets bad enough we’re going to throw out the idea and grab a hold of whatever seems like it’ll work. Idealists always become utilitarians in the foxhole.
But, as followers of Jesus, we have something better than simply “what works” sitting at the bottom of our faith. We have a verifiable historical reality. Our faith is rooted in an event. We have an imminently rational reason to press on toward the goal in spite of what the world throws our way. Two thousand years ago a man named Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross, buried, and three days later he walked out of the tomb alive. This and only this serves to justify everything He said and did. And if that’s the case, His mission now supersedes everything else. Nothing we face now takes precedence over the cause of advancing His kingdom. We can endure all things because of the resurrection. Our faith is rooted in an event. So the next time you hear somebody try and tell you that their faith is rooted in the Bible or Jesus or His teachings, encourage them to plant it in something entirely more solid than any of those. Tell them to root it in the event that makes those things worthwhile. Our faith is rooted in an event. Celebrate with exuberance this Resurrection Sunday.