While working on my masters degree I had a conversation with another student about the resurrection of Jesus. She made a statement that at first might indicate an incredibly strong faith in God; “If the body of Jesus was found in a tomb somewhere, it would not shake my faith at all”. Far from this being an example of incredible faith, I found it to be the height of both hubris and folly. Hubris because it dared to claim a greater faith than even the Apostle Paul could admit for himself. Folly because that same Paul said that if Jesus is in fact NOT risen from the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men.
Paul put it this way when he wrote to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”. 1 Corinthians 15:14-18
The woman who said that her faith would not be shaken if Jesus never had risen, did not understand the absolutely crucial, linchpin place, that the resurrection has for followers of Jesus. Paul understood that the resurrection was the game-changer. Because Jesus rose from the dead, everything was now different. It was the resurrection that vindicated Jesus after his humiliating death on the cross. It was the resurrection that demonstrated his victory over sin and death. It was the resurrection that lead to his being seated at the right hand of the Father and at whose name every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
If the resurrection had never happened then Jesus was simply one more religious teacher who led people astray, only to disappoint them in the end. Rabbi Gamaliel understood this when he told the religious leaders to leave the disciples alone. He said that if Jesus was a nobody who was still in the grave then this talk of him as a messiah would fade away, just like it had so many times before with other religious zealots. Paul understood that if the resurrection had never really happened then the whole Christian faith was a sham. It was people preaching lies about God. It meant that their faith was only a faith for this life and that was a huge waste of time and effort.
But Paul was adamant that the resurrection was real. Jesus had risen from the dead. His resurrection was the down payment for us, the guarantee that all who had faith in Jesus would also rise from the dead one day. Jesus is the pioneer who leads the way for all who trust in him and in the reality of his resurrection.
My friend from graduate school is someone who Paul would say is to be most pitied. She has a faith that really has no future. It is a faith that does not need a risen savior. Without a risen savior, one who is still in the grave, there is only the grave for us. Our faith is for this life only. If Jesus had never been risen then there is no reason to follow him. He is just a guy who died 2,000 years ago and is still dead. And no matter how much we believe in him, when we die, we will be just as dead for just as long and stay that way. No hope. No future. No life eternal. If Jesus is still in the grave then Christianity is a giant lie.
But because he is risen, we have life and hope, and a future that is beyond our most vivid and beautiful imaginations. We have a purpose in this life that will find it’s fulfillment in the next. We have a God who is worthy of our adoration and praise. We have a message to take to people that can change their lives, now and forever. We have a relationship with a very real God who loves us enough to pay the ultimate price for our reconciliation with Him. We have the power to bring that reconciliation to the world, healing to the broken, dignity to the oppressed, joy to the grieving, laughter to those who weep. I could go on and on because the resurrection changes everything. From the moment He burst forth from the tomb, nothing would ever be the same again. A world that was spiraling down into darkness and oblivion, became a world that could be lifted higher and more glorious, all because He is risen.