Christians celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday annually as they believe that Jesus had died and risen from the grave. In fact, the death and the resurrection of Jesus have been the foundation of Christian faith for centuries, even millennia. However, not everyone in the world has the same conviction – there has been a view that Jesus had not actually died on the cross, but he was miraculously saved by God and raised bodily to heaven during crucifixion. Thus, according to this view, if Jesus was not even dead, he was also simply not resurrected.
However, if neither the death nor the resurrection of Jesus was the case, all Christians in the world would have been deceived over the course of human history. As Paul wrote in his letter, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19, ESV). In other words, we Christians believe that since Christ has been raised, our faith is not futile, we have been set free from the bondage of sins, those who have died in Christ will receive the promised eternal life, and we (who are still alive) do have hope in Christ, not only in this earthly life, but also for the afterlife, where we will spend eternity with God and his beloved people in a glorious heaven.
Nevertheless, to some people, this kind of faith does not even make sense and thus not everyone can readily accept it – at least not everyone can understand it. But I believe that in order for us to grasp the meaning of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, we have to admit in the first place that we are all sinners (humanity has fallen) and the earth we live in now is perishing (the world is broken). Now, as we look at our world today, we might ask ourselves something like “Are the death and the resurrection of Jesus still relevant today?” or “Do we really need God to die on our behalf?” or, what will be addressed here, “What if Jesus was neither dead nor risen from the death?” Let’s take a closer look…
What if Jesus did not really die?
No story of God’s love. If Jesus had not died, there would have been no story about God coming down from heaven reaching out mankind and to give his life for them. We may then imagine God as an “ignorance being” who does not really care about what is going on in the world, including the struggles and sufferings of all creatures. There would have been no life-changingly divine interaction between human and the Creator if Jesus had not sacrificed himself. We probably know the best expression of love is to sacrifice our own life for someone’s sake: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). Suppose you have a friend who loves you so much that he is willing to die on your behalf when he knows that you are convicted of a death penalty as a consequence of a crime you’ve committed. Are you going to call him “stupid” or “savior”? Well, if we don’t realize that we are sinful and how much we need God’s compassion, forgiveness, and restoration, the death of Jesus might be a foolishness for us. Otherwise, when we humbly confess that we can never earn salvation by our own efforts, that’s the time we realize that Jesus is truly a Savior.
No hope for true justice in life. Seeing injustices in our world is easier today than it has ever been. Every day we can actually find heart-breaking news around the world on social media. We probably think, “It’s fine” as long as the tragedy did not happen to someone we are familiar with. But, what if such unexpected things befell our beloved ones? Would we still have hope and belief that all things work together for a good purpose? I believe the answer is “yes, amen” if we believe that Jesus had died for us (and vice versa). Here is the rationale: Jesus had died the worst possible way a human could die – not only about the “method” of his death (crucifixion), but also about his “status” in which he died in innocence, meaning he had no guilt that deserved him such a terrible way of death. In other words, the death of Jesus was a result of injustice… and also an evidence of the brokenness of the world and humanity. By such a gruesome and humiliating death, Jesus had gone through the worst possible struggles and sufferings a human could experience. Thus, we know that we are not alone when we struggle with any problems or suffer from any diseases in life. We have hope that a true justice does exist and is yet to come in this world because God has a power to restore everything: “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18, NIV). After all, we have a courage in Christ whose death brings us freedom and salvation from all sin, shame, and pain.
No God’s authority over all things. The death (and the resurrection) of Jesus is a demonstration of God’s sovereignty and authority. Even a layperson knows that God the Creator has an authority over life and death, a power to give and take away life. Now that Jesus said, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” (John 10:18, NLT), what do you think of he is? If he has the authority to give and take up life, then he is not merely an ordinary person just like us, isn’t he? The moment before he died, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Now we know that the work of salvation has been completed by God himself and no man should ever work for his own salvation. The bondage of sins and the power of evils have been defeated by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross once and forever. Our lives now belong to God alone and it is he who has the ultimate authority over us. God is now at the center of our lives and the throne of our hearts. God is in control over all things in our world. What a great privilege to be owned by the Creator of this universe! This all were not the case if Jesus had not died.
What if Jesus did not rise from the death?
No victory over death and sins. There is a lot of uncertainties in life, yet one of the certainties is that we will all die one day (unless God is willing to take us directly to heaven). Christians believe that there is an afterlife, and thus there must be a consequence of all the things people have done in life. We believe that salvation has been given by God’s grace through our faith in him: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8, NLT). Many people have fear in death and understand it as the end of their existence on earth. However, the Bible tells us that death is the final enemy to be destroyed and, in fact, has been defeated by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him.” (Romans 6:9, NLT). Since Christ has risen victoriously from the grave, he is able to grant us, his beloved followers, the same victory he’s already won. Now, suppose you become the follower of a “God” who claims himself as a “loving, just, and powerful God.” Don’t you think such a “loving God” should be able to give an assurance for your salvation? If he really loves you, would he boldly say, “Believe in me, and you’ll be saved. 100% guaranteed” or do you think it’s just fine if he says, “Even if you believe in me, I can’t guarantee your salvation. It’s all up to you, o human. If you are morally good, you might be saved; if you are not good enough, you won’t probably be saved.” Which one do you think is the genuinely good God? Remember, both are loving, but only one of them is mighty to give you a certain hope for salvation. I believe salvation is a God-centered project, not a human-centered work. It is God himself who took the initiative to liberate us from the fear of death and give us a victorious life by the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All this would be the case if Jesus had risen, and thanks be to God that he is risen indeed!
No hope for eternal life. I wonder if you’ve been in a very good moment that you feel like going to live forever (or you want time to move slowly or, if possible, just stop there so you’ll be in a long-lasting happiness). We all might have felt that way – perhaps it’s like a glimpse of heaven. Even though the reality of life often disappointed us, in our hearts we still long for a life with never-ending joy. It’s everyone’s dream: an immortal life in eternal happiness. Would you be happy if someone help you realize such dream? Or, at least, if someone promises to give it freely to you? Did you know that someone does exist, he is alive, and his name is Jesus? This is his promise, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV). I believe it’s also God’s desire to spend eternity with us, his beloved children. For this reason, he gives us eternal life as a gift, not a reward. You know that a gift is given out of the generosity of the giver while a reward necessitates labors from the receiver. Life is a gift – God gives us the breath of life and a good health; we don’t have to pay anything for breathing. Isn’t it amazing how he has promised us the gift of eternal life too? “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV). Our earthly life now is a God’s given opportunity to trust his promises, to obey his commands, and to do what pleases him… before we see him face-to-face. Though we can only see him now with the eyes of our hearts (faith), yet God gives us an unfailing hope, through his promises, that one day we’ll see the realization of our dream. And this would only be possible if Jesus had risen… and thanks be to God, he had conquered the grave!
Life is miserable. Is this too blatant? If there is no resurrection, there would be no hope for eternal life, then we would all simply live to die. Our life would be meaningless and purposeless, we might think that we have a right to do anything we want because life is only once. Everyone would be trapped in a pursuit of worldly treasures, fame, and pleasures. All of sudden, this world would become a more chaotic place. We’ll see crimes and wars everywhere more than ever in history, and the victims, including innocent children, would all die in vain – so would the disciples of Christ, the saints, and the national heroes. You would never be able to see your beloved ones again – there would be no reunion and feast in heaven. Wouldn’t it be painful to experience such reality? Thanks be to God for giving us good news: the Savior has come and there is salvation in his name. Only he, who has risen from the dead, is able to save people from the death. No wonder Paul said, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV). He wanted to know Christ, take part in his sufferings, resemble him in his death, and experience the power of his resurrection. In other words, Paul believes in the resurrection of the dead because Jesus Christ has risen. Would you believe that too?
First draft written by March 28, 2018 and finalized by April 26, 2018 in Vancouver