The reality of Christ’s resurrection affirms our faith.
Michael J. Berg
Christianity is the only religion that claims it can be proved false.
This sounds odd, but it is exactly what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). It is as if Paul wrote, “Show me the dead body of Christ, and I will not believe and neither should you.”
Christianity offers a way to invalidate its own teachings and does it in its own sacred texts. No other religion does this. Why would they?
Fact: Jesus rose
I do not mean that Christianity is actually false; I mean that Christianity relies on facts. If the stories of Christianity, specifically the resurrection of Christ, turn out to be mere myths, then the whole thing falls apart. What would be the point of following Christ if he cannot fix our ultimate problem: sin and the death that follows? We would then remain in sin and have no hope past this life (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Is he only a moral teacher then? Is he really any better than any other inspiring figure if he remained in the grave? And why should I listen to him and not another teacher since they all die and stay dead?
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,” as Paul so beautifully proclaimed (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul’s proclamation is backed up by eyewitness accounts to this historical fact. When Paul was on trial for preaching Christ, he made this defense: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25,26). Paul was saying that the actions of Christ are verifiable facts. They were not done in secret (in a corner) but out in the open. Go investigate! There are eyewitnesses. This really happened.
This is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and other religions. Christianity is concerned with reality. It is not a religion of mere morality, useful myth, or personal enlightenment. It is a religion of history. Other religions are not as concerned with these matters. Their purpose is to be a path to enlightenment or a useful story which helps humans navigate life. They offer a personal spirituality divorced from historical fact. Their ultimate goal is not correspondence to historical reality but rather a spiritual journey or moral code. It is not their ultimate end. Not so for Christianity. If Jesus did not pay for sins and conquer death with his resurrection, then Christianity’s teachings are lies and should be shunned. This would also mean that the followers of Christ have been duped and should be “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Our faith is not a blind faith. Yes, faith is being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1), but it is not blind. It is based on fact. The facts of Christ’s life and death are independently true of our believing them to be true. It is the Holy Spirit who makes our irrational and unbelieving hearts certain. What comfort! These facts of history remain true whether I have a good faith day or a day full of doubt. I do not have to base the truth of my salvation on my feelings but rather on the historical fact of the resurrection and the promises of the Holy Spirit to strengthen my faith.
And what confidence! You can almost see Paul’s confidence leap off the pages of his letters. It is as if he said, “Go ahead and investigate. I am so confident in these facts that I will even give you a way to debunk my faith. I know for sure that Jesus actually rose from the dead.” A personal confidence and comfort then emerges in the face of death. Listen to Paul’s challenge to death, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Paul’s bold taunt to death is only possible because Christ won an actual victory in an actual time and in an actual place. This is no myth, and his faith was no placebo.
Another fact: You were baptized
Another fact of history provides you with the same confidence: your baptism. There were eyewitnesses to this event. You probably have a certificate that documents exactly when and where you were baptized. You may have pictures or a video proving it happened. You might even remember it! Your baptism is a fact of history like any other fact. As assuredly as the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 or last night’s basketball score, your baptism is a fact of history that cannot be undone. You cannot unring that bell. Your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, which is also a fact of history that cannot be undone, means that your resurrection is secure.
So Paul’s confidence is your confidence. It’s a confidence in the face of death and, really, before any challenge in this life. You have already died with Christ. Paul reminds us, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). Why should death scare us when we have already been crucified with Christ? We have already been through a death and came out the other side unscathed. Our sinful natures were crucified, died, and were buried with Christ. We were resurrected with Christ in his righteousness. We are forgiven. We rise to live a new day every day until that one day when we enter paradise. Christ gives us permission to go through any tragedy, darkness, challenge, or heartbreak in this world. We have already been through a more daunting experience with Christ than anything this world can throw at us. Our historical baptisms connect us intimately with the historical death and resurrection of Christ. Our faith is built on a solid foundation that cannot be shaken.
Frame your baptismal certificate and hang it on the wall in your bedroom. Look at it every morning and say, “Bring it on, world! Whatever you have in store for me today, I will survive. You can rip away from me my wealth or my health, my job or my house, even my life, but you cannot undo these facts of history: Jesus rose from the dead, and I am baptized into his death and resurrection. My inheritance of heaven is secure. Nobody can take that away from me.”
We echo Paul’s confidence every day: Where, O world, is your power? Where, O devil, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
So we sing with joy this Easter season, a joy grounded in the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection:
“This is a sight that gladdens—What peace it does impart!
Now nothing ever saddens The joy within my heart.
No gloom shall ever shake, No foe shall ever take
The hope which God’s own Son In love for me has won” (Christian Worship 156:3).
Michael Berg, a theology professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at St. Philip, Milwaukee.
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Author: Michael J. Berg
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019
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