Believe it or not, Christians claim that Jesus actually rose again – bodily and historically – from the dead on the first Easter day. Many, of course, do not believe. To them, Christians would humbly and graciously request to not prejudge the case, but to investigate it.
But what, really, is at stake in the truth or falsity of the Christian claim that Jesus rose again from the dead on the first Easter morning? Found in the Bible, in one of his letters to the Christians in the ancient city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul, who was himself formerly a sceptic and enemy of Christianity, said that at least three fundamental stakes hinged on Easter: Faith, Forgiveness, and Future.
Paul said that without Easter, there is no faith: “If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). He also says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:17). The Christian faith stands or falls with the truth or falsity of the claim of Easter. If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, then the Christian faith and religion is sheer humbuggery. Christians are deluding themselves; they are also misleading others. Christians are the world’s greatest purveyors of deception, and Christianity must be named and shamed for what it is – a global cartel that peddles religious contraband.
Paul goes on to say that if Christ has not been raised, “you are still in your sins” (v.17). Christians believe that human beings are sinners and sinful. Obviously, there are naysayers about this Christian belief. But this is a belief that is remarkably consistent with the reality of our individual hearts within and our collective world without.
The startling belief of Christianity, however, is also that God offers us forgiveness. Like a benevolent benefactor who rescues a helplessly indebted person from his financial and legal woes by paying his debts on his behalf, Jesus pays the price of our sins and guilt through the gift of his own life. And his resurrection from the dead is akin to a court certifying the payment and receipt of the debt owed. If Christ had not been raised, then that would only mean that God had deemed his sacrificial death illegitimate and unacceptable before the divine court. In other words, the debt of our sins owed before God remains unpaid and we would remain unforgiven. This is the second stake of Easter – forgiveness.
To be a true Christian (not just a nominal one) is about simply, humbly, and gratefully accepting the payment made by Jesus on behalf of humanity when he died on the first Good Friday. One is of course perfectly within one’s rights to refuse the payment. But that would be neither safe nor sensible. It would be like the helpless debtor refusing the gift of the benefactor.
Besides faith and forgiveness, the third stake in Easter is the future. Paul says that if Christ had not been raised from the dead, “then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor.15:18), adding that “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v.19). In the Bible, the term usually used for the death of a follower of Christ “sleep”. This is because followers of Jesus believe that death is not the permanent end. There is still a future beyond the grave. Because of the resurrection of Christ, and like the resurrected Christ, Christians believe that they will rise again. The ultimate hope of the Christian faith is neither annihilation nor reincarnation; it is resurrection. To be a believer in Christ is to hitch your wagon, not so much to a star, but to the Risen Son of Easter morning.
(Published in the Times Of India Speaking Tree on 9th April 2017 as Faith, Forgiveness and Future.)