Yesterday we celebrated a ridiculous claim: that a dead man came back to life. Not that he was resuscitated. But that he was made alive again, eternally. That he, Jesus, is still alive. The truth of Christianity hinges upon the reality of the resurrection. There are Christians who think that the resurrection is just a metaphor for the work that God can do in our lives. But I'm with Paul, who speaks for the early Christians when he writes, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith." He later says that if the resurrection didn't happen, "we (Christians) are to be pitied more than all men" ( 1 Corinthians 15).
So why do I believe the resurrection happened? And then, why do I think the resurrection matters?I can't explain the existence of the Christian church without the resurrection. From all we can tell, historically speaking, Jesus died a criminal's death and then his followers scattered and/or hid. They were an oppressed and powerless group of poor Jewish men and women under Roman rule. But many, if not all of the twelve disciples (excepting Judas, who killed himself) were executed because they continued to preach that Jesus was the Christ, the King, the Son of God. Peter went from a scared fisherman to a person who boldly proclaimed the universal need to know Jesus personally, and he claimed that the reason he preached was the resurrection.
Similarly, this group of Jews changed their Sabbath day. For centuries upon centuries, they had kept the Sabbath on Saturday. It was a mark of distinction, of pride and of holiness, not to mention obedience to God. They even observed the Sabbath the day after Jesus died (he died on a Friday). But within a few years, the Jews who worshipped Jesus (it was a few decades before they started to see themselves as distinct from the Jews who didn't follow Jesus, and also a while before non-Jews were invited in) were observing the Sabbath on what they now called, "The Lord's Day," which was the day of the resurrection. It's hard to imagine what else would make such a cultural shift possible.
There are accounts in the Bible (including the aforementioned 1 Corinthians 15) where Paul lists eyewitnesses, large groups of people who saw Jesus after he was raised from the dead. They knew as well as we do that people can't be crucified and then get up and walk around. We don't need modern science to convince us that once you're dead you're dead. But hundreds of people claimed to have seen Jesus, the crucified one, risen from the grave.
The other reason I believe in the resurrection is because of the "why it matters" question. Whole books have been written on this point,(see, for instance, N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope). But basically, I don't believe that the transformation of human lives is possible through anything other than rebirth in Christ. In my next post, I'll try to explain.