Unlike the Gospels, the Apostle Paul doesn’t tell us a story about the empty tomb he gives us an argument.
“By this Gospel you are saved…for what I received I passed on as of chief importance: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
And Paul continues for 30 more verses:
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith is a waste of time…for if Christ has not been raised we are all liars and you are still in your sins.”
The oldest sustained Easter account doesn’t come from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John but from St. Paul, and what St. Paul gives us isn’t a story with angels and an empty tomb.
He gives us an argument.
When the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth he doesn’t spin an inspiring story. He doesn’t muddle it with metaphors about butterflies or springtime renewal. He doesn’t contort it into cliches about hope beyond the grave or love being stronger than death.
No, he mounts an argument that the grave really is empty. He marshals evidence that Jesus Christ IN FACT has been raised from the dead.
Paul already knew what most of us are just now learning in the midst of this pandemic; namely, when it comes to Easter, what you need is NOT spiritual uplift or subjective inspiration. You don’t need Easter-themed advice about how to live your best life now.
What you truly need is a God who is REAL.
Because if God is real, if Christ is Risen indeed, then nothing else matters- certainly not your problems.
And if God is not real, then nothing matters.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ, by definition, is beyond reason, but belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is NOT unreasonable.
And, for those in the church at Corinth who crossed their fingers and their toes at Easter, the Apostle Paul makes an argument.
Christ was buried, Paul reminds them.
As Paul puts it in the Book of Acts, “these things didn’t happen in a corner.”
In other words, Christ’s empty tomb first was proclaimed to the very people who had seen him die and who could have gone to his grave with a wheel-barrow and brought back for themselves his nail-scarred bones. Had they been there.
Christianity is the only movement in history that began after the death of its leader.
It’s because, Paul tells the Corinthians, after he was raised from the dead, Christ appeared to over 500 people— actually, more than 500 people because, according to Jewish counting custom, Paul only mentions the men.
And among those 500 plus people encountered by the Risen Christ, Paul writes, was James, the half-brother of Jesus who had not been a disciple of Jesus and who thought his brother Jesus was a total nut job while Jesus was alive.
But we know, even from Roman historians, that after Jesus’ death James testified to his resurrection and was eventually condemned by the same chief priests who had condemned his brother.
James was condemned, just like his brother, for confessing that his brother Jesus was the Christ.
The resurrection is beyond reason, but it is NOT unreasonable, Paul argues.
How else do you explain me, Paul says to the Corinthians. After appearing to over 500, finally as to “an aborted fetus” (is how he puts it in the Greek) Christ appeared to me.
Why is the burden of proof always on the believer?
If you’re going to dismiss Easter as a fool’s day, fine, but then you have to explain how it is that, right after the resurrection, an Ivy League fundamentalist about God’s Law, a Pharisee, began to willfully break the first and most important commandment by worshipping a man— a dead man at that— as God.
You also have to account for how else it could’ve happened that Paul was not only forgiven by the first Christians, whom he had persecuted, he was given authority by them. They made him an Apostle. The Apostle Peter even referred to Paul’s writing as scripture, the Word of God.
Look, I’m not an idiot. I know modern medicine and science cannot explain the resurrection of Jesus, but it’s intellectually dishonest to turn the resurrection message into a metaphor.
You don’t have to believe it.
But you owe it to the first Christians to take their testimony or leave it.
Do not turn it into something else entirely.
They didn’t believe the resurrection message was a metaphor or a myth.
They didn’t think Easter was really about timeless truths.
They thought it was the truth.
That it actually happened.
At Jerusalem, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Caesar Augustus, on the Sunday morning after the Passover when he died between noon and 3 in 33AD. Around tea time, as Monty Python’s Life of Brian puts it.
Christianity is not a worldview. Christianity is not a philosophy. It’s not a social program or a political agenda. Christianity is not advice or a way of life or helpful lessons for your kids. Christianity is not a tradition of teachings or a set of spiritual practices.
It is not a morality.
All the little details in the texts, they’re there to reinforce to you that it happened. In history.
And if it didn’t happen, all the butterflies and sentimentalities in the world can’t mask over the fact that not only are we wasting our time every Sunday, we are worse than liars. We’re still in our sins.
No, worse even still— if God has not raised Jesus Christ from the dead, then Death has the last word.
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