One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity…freed from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world…with which you could not do that is Christianity. [For instance, in Buddhism or Islam, you could take away the few miracles and in no way affect the central teachings.] But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away, there is nothing specifically Christian left. —CS Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970.
Last night was Maundy Thursday, the night of shadows, the night that Jesus Christ was arrested in the garden and tried. Among historians, that teaching of the Christian faith is not much in dispute.
Today is Good Friday, the day of great sorrow when the innocent Christ was sentenced and executed by crucifixion. In the history of human jurisprudence, there have been a great many miscarriages of justice, a great many innocents falsely accused, tortured and executed. That a popular Jewish rabbi would suffer such a fate at the hands of the Romans is not particularly remarkable.
On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, he lay in the tomb. His body cooled. Rigor mortis stiffened his arms and legs. His wounds dried. He was encased head to toe in a linen burial cloth, mummy-like. Nothing noteworthy here. He was buried according to the standards of his culture and time.
But on Easter Sunday, the unremarkable turned unbelievable. At the first light of dawn on the first day of the week, an angelic being rolled away the stone that had closed the entrance to the tomb, and Jesus Christ stepped out into the cool air of the Judean morning and walked into history.
CS Lewis has it right: from the virgin Mary’s conception to the moment Jesus shook off the burial-wrap and turned his back on death, the Christian story is from cover to cover one grand miracle.
Take away the grand miracle of the incarnation of the infinite God, his sacrificial death on the cross, and his victorious defeat of death in the tomb, and what you’re left with is a somewhat charismatic Jewish rabbi with a popular following who died too young. What you’re left with is a story not so very different from so many others, leaders of revolutionary movements who lit fires in the bellies of their followers but came to a bad end. In recent history, names like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and John Fitzgerald Kennedy come to mind.
In their lives and their martyrdom, these men made a difference. The spirit of their teachings and their causes still lives. But let’s face facts: their influence today is miniscule compared to what it might have been had they lived. They were cut short by death, and their work was cut short with them.
Not so with Jesus Christ—it is the claim of the resurrection that has lit a 2000-year-old fire under Christianity. The resurrection, if true, puts Jesus in a different category from all the rest.
Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. —1 Corinthians 15:12-14, The Message (Paul speaking)
Is it true? Did Jesus Christ really break the grip of death and walk out of the tomb a free man? Or is it all a sad myth perpetuated by the disappointed disciples of a dead rabbi?
Have we stumbled onto something remarkable, something wonderful in this resurrection business? Or are we deluding ourselves, we who claim to be citizens of a rational, scientific era?
It’s Easter once again. Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead, yes or no? 2000 years later, the question hasn’t gone away. Whichever answer you choose, it will profoundly change the course of your life.
What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! —Philippians 3:8,9, The Message (Paul speaking).
The Christian story, the Christian faith, is to the very core one grand miracle. And what a miracle it is—the resurrection of the dead! Eternal life! Forgiveness and redemption offered freely by God himself, a gift from the heart of a God whose love for us is boundless.
It’s one grand miracle, all right.
What does your heart tell you? Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?