When Linda and I saw “The Passion of the Christ” we stayed until the film credits were over. While we were both emotionally and spiritually moved, Linda had not cried until she heard an older man who was sitting right behind us say, “If that were really true, it would be the most perfect story ever.” I now want to speak to you about this issue of “truth” and the resurrection.
In my Philosophy of Religion course at our community college we are talking about death and the afterlife. The book we use includes the opinions of atheists, Hindus, and various kinds of theists (people who believe in God). I also teach about what Buddhists and Muslims believe happens to a person when they die, and what they say about how to get to the afterlife.
I also teach what, as a Christian, I believe. I spent an entire Wednesday evening sharing with and teaching my students about this. I began by telling them, “I want you to know that I really believe this. I am passionate about this. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
There are 35 students in my class. It’s a wonderful group to be with, and includes Christians, agnostics (people who don’t know what to believe about God), and atheists. I feel the class likes and respects me, and I feel the same way about them. So as I began to share about what I, their professor, believes about death and the afterlife, I did so with enthusiasm, and also an awareness of a spiritual battle now happening in that classroom. Here, briefly, is what I shared that evening.
First, I told the class that the truth of Christianity rises or falls with the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:17 – “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” While it is true that our experience with Christ means very much, the truth of our faith is grounded in an historical fact. Jesus really rose from the dead. Without this, we’re fools for being Christians. With this, we have the foundation for our hope in heaven.
Second, I had the class read an article by the Christian scholar William Lane Craig. (You can access this article here.) Bill Craig is a friend of mine (I was in his wedding many years ago), and I have thanked God for his tremendous ministry in defending our faith. In this article Bill makes an argument for the resurrection that goes likes this:
1) The appearances of Jesus after he died can be shown to be historically true
2) Nearly all biblical scholars believe the empty tomb is an historical fact
3) The best explanation for the beginning of the Christian movement is the real resurrection of Jesus
4) Therefore, it is most reasonable to believe in the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus
I then began to explain and argue for #s 1, 2, and 3. I shared with the students the idea that Christianity is an historical religion rooted and grounded in historical details and facts. Some asked questions. All took notes. As far as I could tell the class was thinking with me about Jesus and His resurrection.
Which now brings me back to the man in the theater. The story of the cross and resurrection of the Christ is the most “perfect story” ever. It is the greatest Love Story of all time. But it is not just a story. After talking about what a waste our lives would be as Christians if Jesus had not actually risen in history, Paul then writes: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Historical reasoning presents a strong inductive argument that it really happened. Thus our hope in everlasting life is grounded in historical truth.