I am a Christian because I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Over the years I have had many occasions to study the New Testament documents. As a PhD student I devoted three years of my life examining the implications of the resurrection of Jesus for the early church. Since then I have taught New Testament in an African university, I have been principal of a theological college, and I have pastored two churches. After using a sabbatical to further study of the resurrection, I went on to publish a book for preachers on The Message of the Resurrection. Today I am more convinced than ever I have been that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that in so doing Jesus broke down death’s defences for all who believe.
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “The truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised” (1 Cor 15.20). Similarly the Apostle Peter stated: “God gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope” (1 Peter 1.3). The hope in question is not wishful thinking – but rather hope for the future based upon a past reality.
The Bible teaches that in rising from the dead Jesus has blazed a trail through the valley of the shadow down which those who have put their truth in him may follow too. Or in the words of Jesus, with which I begin every funeral: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11.25). Jesus makes all the difference – to living and to dying.
Down through the centuries death for many people has been the bleakest of experiences. In the ancient world a certain Theocritus expressed the thinking of many of his contemporaries when he wrote: “Hopes are for the living; the dead are without hope” (Theocritus, Idyll 4:42). The 20th century pop-philosopher, Bertrand Russell, a man of no Christian faith, said much the same when he wrote: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing”. In this 21st century in a poll of over 1000 adults undertaken in the UK, 20% admitted to fearing both the way they will die and death itself; significantly the highest proportion of people fearing both the way they will die and death itself were 18-24 olds; 30% said that they fear the way they will die, but not death itself; interestingly a further 25% couldn’t or wouldn’t answer questions about death because they found the subject too emotive and too personal. At the very least death makes most people feel very uncomfortable.
The Christian message at the point of death is not: ‘All will be well – whatever’. That is sentimental untruth. Rather: ‘All will be well for those who have put their trust in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus’.
Some years ago Caroline and I were guests at a dinner in Cambridge: a fellow-guest was Professor Sir Norman Anderson, a distinguished academic lawyer. He and his wife Pat had in many ways had a hard life – they lived to see their three adult children die. Their son, Hugh, was a brilliant student at Cambridge, President both of the Cambridge Union and of the Cambridge Labour Club, when in 1970 he died of an inoperable brain tumour at the age of 21. A few days later, Prof Anderson gave the ‘Thought For The Day’ talk on Radio 4. After explaining why he was convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead, he continued: “On this I am prepared to stake my life. In this my son died, after saying, ‘I’m drawing near my Lord’. I am convinced that he was not mistaken”.
When my father died, we ended his death announcement in The Times with these words of Apostle Paul: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15.57). That is why I am a Christian.
This is an abbreviated version of a talk given to Chelmsford Rivermead Rotary Club on April 4th. You can read the full version here.