Basics of the Christian Faith
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
When it comes to helping me understand lostness in our culture, I am deeply indebted to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, George Barna, and George G. Hunter III. The writings of James Emery White, Josh McDowell, and D. James Kennedy have been priceless. No one excels Lee Strobels. He knows the pulse and heartbeat of USA lostness. My deepest debt is to my dad, the greatest soulwinner I’ve ever known. From my youngest days, his example kept lostness at the forefront of my thinking.
INTRODUCTION: THE CHRISTIAN ROSE
Christianity can be pictured as a rose: flower, leaves, thorns, stem, root. The crowning beauty of the Christian Rose, the beautiful flower itself, is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The leaves, which absorb sunlight and make a rose possible, are the eyewitnesses and written record that bear credible witness to Christ’s resurrection.
Thorns are the painful, prickly, unappealing parts of a rose. In Christianity these include suffering, hypocrites, Jesus as the only way, Hell, evolution, and having to be born again.
A stem holds the rose together. In our faith this role falls to believers who live faithful lives. The root, without which a rose cannot live, is each believer’s heart.
THE FLOWER: THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
If Christ rose from death, all of Christianity is true. If Jesus did not rise, none of our faith is valid. Every detail of Christianity hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Paul the Apostle bluntly said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished” (I Corinthians 15:17-18 NAS). The resurrection of Jesus is everything, constituting all the petals of the flower that make the Christian Rose beautiful. Thus, we examine it first.
Here’s what everyone agrees on. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem on a Friday, about 29 A.D. Something dramatic and exciting happened the following Sunday morning.
For years the city of Jerusalem, the religion of Judaism, all the Jewish world, and much of the Roman Empire, were thrown into an upheaval over what did or did not happen that Sunday morning. The furor continues to rage unabated, engulfing the whole human race. The most controversial issue in all of recorded human history is what did or did not happen to the body of Jesus that Sunday morning.
Here’s what we know for sure. The followers of Jesus claimed the tomb of Jesus was empty Sunday morning, and He appeared to them alive later the same day.
Those who do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus offer various explanations as to what might have happened on this critical Sunday morning.
First, some advocate the swoon theory. They claim Jesus did not die on the cross. He merely swooned, fainted, slipped into a coma, and was so near death that His disciples mistakenly thought He had died.
This theory fails to take into account the horrors of Roman crucifixion. Even if Jesus had somehow survived the crucifixion, recovery would have taken weeks or months. To recover in two days would have been impossible. When facts are weighed, accepting this position requires as much faith as does believing Jesus rose from the dead.
Second, some claim the disciples returned to the wrong tomb on Sunday morning. Grieved and confused, they forgot which grave had been provided by Joseph of Arimethea. They found an empty tomb because it was the wrong tomb.
If this were the case, the enemies of Jesus could have quickly ended the controversy that soon engulfed Jerusalem. The emerging Christian Rose could have been instantly nipped in the bud. All its opponents had to do was to produce Jesus’ body. Had they gone to Joseph’s tomb, found and displayed a body, the whole argument could have been promptly settled, and Christianity debunked.
Obviously, no body was forthcoming. Believers say this was the case for one simple, obvious reason. There was no dead body to retrieve. Jesus was alive.
Third, some theorize Christ’s enemies stole His body. The religious leaders or Roman soldiers took it. To this possibility, believers incredulously respond, “Why?” Why would Jesus’ enemies have wanted to take His body? It had already been mutilated and desecrated in the worst way.
Some of our detractors answer our response by saying the desecrators may have wanted the graveclothes, which would have been valuable. If this were the case, the robbers would have quickly removed the garments, and not encumbered themselves with carrying a body.
The disciples vividly remembered the tomb was tidy (John 20:5-7). This is not the mark of graverobbers. They leave chaos, not order.
Also, the graveclothes were left in the tomb. We believers know of only One who would leave behind graveclothes, as if to say He would never need them again. Jesus who died had risen from the dead, never to die again.
If Christ’s enemies were the culprits, all the controversy would have been settled if, once again, a body had been produced. Through all the initial years of controversy in Jerusalem, no body was ever brought forth as evidence to disprove the resurrection of Jesus.
Fourth, the explanation most often used to discount the resurrection is the initial one, Christ’s disciples stole His body. According to Matthew 28:11-15, this was the original official “spin” put on the story by the local religious leaders. They paid hush money to bribe Roman soldiers into a silence of duplicity.
It seems farfetched at best to think a small band of Galilean peasants, fishermen by trade, could have overcome a delegation of Roman soldiers in the predawn hours of Sunday. Since this theory maligns the character and reputation of the original followers of Jesus, we now turn our attention to the first leaf of the Christian Rose, the eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection.