An article in the Washington Post stated:
American schools are producing students with “startling gaps in knowledge” of history and literature, teaching them how to think without giving them anything to think about, the National Endowment for the Humanities charged Sunday.
The endowment said 68% of high school students questioned in a new survey could not place the Civil War within the correct half-century.
The survey of nearly 8,000 seventeen-year-olds found that 43% could not place World War I in the correct half-century, 30% could not do the same for the writing of the U.S. Constitution and nearly a third placed the date of Columbus’ discovery of the New World after 1750.
Eighty percent of these students were enrolled in an American history course in the spring of 1986 when they took the multiple-choice test.
The National Endowment for Humanities chairman, Lynne V. Cheny, blamed the poor state of humanities education on several factors including a curriculum that emphasizes skills over knowledge, a system of teacher training that stresses teaching methods over subject matter and textbooks that have become “an overcrowded flea market of disconnected facts.” Cheny went on to say, “Usually the culprit is ‘process’ — the belief that we can teach our children how to think without troubling them to learn anything worth thinking about.”
These young people and perhaps some of us are U.S. citizens who live bereft of a conscious, factual data base about our heritage. Some of us are reasonably educated people who have either forgotten or have never known the basic facts about history and literature.
The same can be said about the religious and spiritual facts of life.
The most important event of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for this event is the earthly culmination of God’s atoning work on the cross.
The Apostle Paul throughout the first fourteen chapters of 1 Corinthians 14 has dealt with many issues. Some are of only peripheral significance to the Christian faith. Others of them are more central issues of Christian conduct and faith. Now as he nears the conclusion of this letter, he reminds the Corinthians and us today of our heritage, writing, “Now I would remind you brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
This is strong language. You can’t find much stronger. Paul recapitulates the Good News which several years before he had brought to the Corinthians. He was not the inventor of it. It had been delivered to him. It was the Gospel, the news of the risen Lord.
He reminds them that they had received it. He reminds them it was something in which they stood. It was foundational to all they were. It was something by which they were saved. Now we are down to the basics, aren’t we? This is the essence of the Christian faith. It is something to which they must hold fast.
He was aware that life bombards us in ways that threaten to strip us of our faith. William Barclay puts it in these words: “Things happen to us and happen to others which baffle our understanding; life has its problems to which there seems to be no solution and its questions to which there seem to be no answer; life has its dark places where there seems to be nothing to do but to hold on. Faith is always a victory, the victory of the soul which tenaciously maintains its clutch on God.”
There is bottom-line truth here. The Gospel is not something to be handled haphazardly. It’s the most important news one can ever receive. You and I need to be reminded frequently what it’s all about. It’s important that we remember the basics.
So Paul continues to state the facts of religious and spiritual life (1 Corinthians 15:3-11).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest event of all human history, and it is the basic event and fact undergirding our faith. Why? Because it takes our vague notions of the existence of God, perhaps a loving God, and fleshes out in understandable human terms that this God loves us so much that He took upon Himself humanity and exposed Himself incarnationally to our human existence and ultimately bore upon Himself our sins, our guilt, our brokenness, our alienation to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Christ is risen!” This has been the Church’s affirmation through the centuries. You and I are privileged to declare that fact as the basis of our faith.
Obviously not everybody believes this. There are three basic approaches to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Approach one: The resurrection never happened.
You and I know people who simply deny it. They see the resurrection as absurd. It was the result of pre-enlightenment imagination. Educated people don’t believe that dead people rise from the dead. Intelligent people don’t believe that God, if there is a God, ever became a man.
Some who deny the resurrection are atheists. They are committed to the belief that there is no God. All religion is absurd except wherein it may have some culturally redeeming aspects.
On the other hand, some who deny the resurrection are quite religious. They simply don’t believe the Bible. They have developed a religious faith system that is Unitarian in nature. It holds to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood and sisterhood of human kind. There are well meaning people who see Jesus as one of the most wonderful people to have ever walked the face of this earth. He set a marvelous example. He died a martyr’s death. Somewhere buried in the environs of Jerusalem are the two-thousand-year-old remains of this person about whom such a fantastic mythology exists. Jesus is a great or the greatest man. That’s it. Our lives are in much better shape if we take Him seriously, if we follow Him and live according to His example.
Approach two: The resurrection happened spiritually.
Persons who hold to this approach see in life a resurrection principle. Even as the tulips and daffodils break out of their bulbs and move to the surface of soil once frozen solid and finally peek above the surface, bringing glorious springtime color, even so there is a death and resurrection principle in human life. Jesus died and was buried. However, what He taught lives on.
This is a more common viewpoint than some of us might realize. Kenneth L. Chafin tells about one Easter season in which he read a chapter a day from a devotional book written by a minister who was prominent around the turn of the century. The book focused on the events of Holy Week. Chafin timed his reading so that he could read the chapter on the crucifixion on Easter Eve. He describes his letdown as he read the last chapter in that book. The author did not believe the resurrection literally took place. He felt that the accounts of the resurrection in the Scriptures were nothing but faith’s expression of what the disciples had wanted to happen.
The author had imagined an Upper Room scene in which they were all lamenting that one who had loved so freely should have died as the object of such hatred, that one whose teaching had such authority should be silenced so young. Then, in the scenario he was imagining, he had one of the disciples jump to his feet and shout, “We will not let him die. The way He lived, we will live. The things He taught we will teach. The mission He had will become our mission. We will not let Him die.” The plain inference was that the church had created the resurrection.
So-called Christian theologians who take this approach refer to “the resurrection event.” By that very phrase, which sounds like they believe it happened, they are declaring that they are not prepared to affirm that He literally rose from the dead. They are “demythologizing” Scripture. They are doing their best to make this supernatural account palatable to the post-enlightenment mind. They are declaring a spiritual resurrection principle but denying its historical factuality.
When they do that, they are pulling the rug out from under “the Gospel which we received, in which we stand, by which we are saved, and to which we are to hold fast.” They are trying their best to hold on to notions about a loving and forgiving God who won’t hold us accountable for our sin. They are troubled by the thought of a blood atonement. They want to preserve all that is pleasant, nice, and understandable about the Christian faith without affirming the resurrection.
Let me be very frank. I can understand how a person might have difficulty believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it would appear then to me that that same person would ultimately have a hard time in believing their own romanticizing of the faith into spiritual principles void of the divine authority of Scripture.
Approach three: The resurrection actually happened
This is what the Church has affirmed throughout all centuries. This is the basis of our faith. Jesus Christ literally, physically rose from the dead.
All of the sentimental notions in the world cannot change reality. I am either a United States citizen or I am not. My admiration of the Swiss does not make me Swiss. My warm feelings when in Scotland do not make me a Scot. There are certain terms for citizenship in any earthly kingdom. And there are certain terms for citizenship in the kingdom of God.
God has established that kingdom, and the establishment is based on His very nature which requires righteousness, justice, and mercy. Sin cannot be dealt with lightly. Someone must pay the price of sin. The Bible says He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. The Bible says on the third day Christ rose from the dead. This is why Paul at the strategic point in his letter to the Corinthians states emphatically in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
Can the resurrection of Jesus Christ be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt? The answer is “Yes” and “No.”
I remember my own faith struggle during my later high school and early college days. Not only did I find it difficult to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I even struggled with the historical existence of this one named Jesus. I remember those times of debate and discussion with my father, a man of honest and sincere faith.
On one occasion, Father, my college roommate, Merold Westphal, and I discussed this matter into the wee hours of the morning. I wanted proof. They couldn’t give me proof. What they did was begin to help me see that there are evidences that demand a verdict. One can’t go on forever in that “never-never land.” You have to decide. History records the existence of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. Casual references in Josephus and Tacitus are amplified by the other human writers such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — persons who were witnesses to the events in His life. These persons recorded what they saw. We cannot take their reports lightly.
I personally would have a hard time proving the historicity of George Washington and the many events surrounding his life. However, there were enough people who observed him that I feel quite confident that he existed. Perhaps, though, the whole idea is a legend to give some kind of stability to our American way of life. We can play games philosophically. Much of what we believe we have to take on hearsay, the report of others who observed and carefully recorded their observations. We do not need to carefully sort out the data. Proof doesn’t come easy.
But there are evidences for the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. That fact stands in the way of all attempts to explain away the resurrection. Where is His body? Produce it. It would have been to the authorities’ benefit to have done that. There is the circumstance of the precisely disposed grave clothes. There are the numerous appearances over nearly six weeks as Jesus was “seen of them forty days.” He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden, to two disciples on the Emmaus Road, to the disciples in the locked room with Thomas absent, to the disciples in the locked room with Thomas present, to the seven at the Sea of Galilee, to the five hundred.
The very existence of the Christian Church bears witness to the fact that something happened to transform a broken, beaten group of losers into men and women who gave their very lives for Christ, whom they had witnessed in His resurrection power. Every Sunday bears its own witness to the living Christ. That is why we no longer worship on the seventh day, the sabbath. The first day is the day of resurrection. This is the Lord’s day.
Jesus Himself, in His revelation to John, states it succinctly, “… ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one: I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades'” (Revelation 1:17-18).
The British jurist Sir Edward Clarke wrote, “As a lawyer I have made up a long study of the evidences for the events of that first Easter Day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. Inference follows on evidence, and the truthful witness is always artless and disdains effect. The Gospel evidence to the resurrection is of this class, and as a lawyer I accept it unreservedly as the testimony of truthful men to fact that they were unable to substantiate.”
Let’s go back and revisit the three basic approaches to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We said that some believe that the resurrection never happened. What if it didn’t. Paul is not trying to con people into faith. He bluntly states that you and I are most to be pitied. He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19:
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 for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
It’s important to realize that the issue at Corinth wasn’t that the Corinthians didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They did, even though they were divided into factions, following the various teachers and preachers who had come through Corinth — whether it be Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, or some elitist who claimed to follow simply Christ, all of these teachers held to the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Where there was disagreement was whether or not the rest of us would also rise from the dead.
Paul is saying that if the resurrection of Jesus never happened, we are wasting our time. If he has not risen, you are dead. There is not life beyond this life. Don’t mess around with false hope. If Jesus is raised from the dead, you have the hope of the resurrection. He claimed to be the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him will not die but will have eternal life.
We said that some talk about the resurrection principle, spiritualizing it. Isn’t that good enough? Well, you can develop a very fine ethic based on the example of the dead martyr Jesus. But then there is a question whether that spiritual resurrection of His ideas is worth following. He claimed to be God.
As C.S. Lewis so aptly stated, one of three possibilities then is true. One is that He was a lunatic who thought He was God and wasn’t. Who wants to trust the ethics of a lunatic? A second is that He was a charlatan who knew He wasn’t God but was out to con people into thinking He was. Who wants to follow the ethics of a charlatan?
A third possibility is that Jesus Christ is God, that He was crucified, dead, buried, and that on the third day He rose from the dead. For me to call myself Christian and give my life to a dead lunatic or a dead charlatan is simply not where I am. I would toss out the whole Christian faith, acknowledging that there are some positive ethical teachings. But I wouldn’t hang around long enough to take them that seriously. There have been other excellent ethical teachers who have never made such fantastic claims. I’d rather follow one of them.
Then there are those who say that it really did happen. If it did, the whole Christian faith holds together. Sin and death are destroyed. Both life and death begin to make sense. Life makes sense because I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going. Death makes sense. I no longer have to deny it. I no longer have to kid myself into thinking I am still a teenager. I don’t have to try to look young, holding on to every little bit of life I can possibly hold onto, playing it safe. Christ has destroyed death and the terrible spectre of annihilation. Christ has destroyed my fear of punishment for the things I’ve done wrong. Jesus Christ is alive. Because He lives, I live both in this life and the life to come.
The other day as I was walking out of a restaurant, I saw what appeared to be three very beautiful young women deep in conversation. I was not wearing my glasses. As I got closer, I realized that their youthful beauty had been cosmetically achieved. There were telltale signs of their true ages which they were trying to deny. There were the carefully reconstructed faces and bodies that at a distance looked like women in their late twenties or early thirties, in reality masking at least twenty-five to thirty more years of age. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we don’t have to fear aging. We don’t have to fear death. Appearing to be young isn’t our ultimate preoccupation. As a result we live too. The one true fact of life is death. We no longer have to deny that fact.
Forty-four years ago a curly-headed, five-year-old boy named John Huffman got down on his knees in his parents’ bedroom in Arlington, Massachusetts, and received Jesus Christ as his Savior. I didn’t know a whole lot about myself at that tender age. I could never have dreamed what would happen in the next forty-four years. But you know, as a five-year-old I knew as much as I had to know about the greatest event in human history and my own need of that event. For I knew I had done some things I shouldn’t have done, and I had left undone some things I should have done. I knew had tried to be good but hadn’t quite pulled it off. Yet I wasn’t all bad. I knew I needed a Savior. I had heard the terms that there was one. His name was Jesus Christ, God become man, crucified, buried, risen. Little Johnny Huffman admitted some things he shouldn’t have done, some things he should have done, and asked the risen Christ to come into his life.
That’s right. This was the same Johnny who twelve, thirteen, fourteen years later was raising the ultimate questions about the historicity, the deity, and the resurrection of this same Jesus Christ. But in the midst of all that questioning, he was praying the prayer, “God, if there is a God, if your name is Jesus Christ, I commit all I know and don’t know of myself to all I know and don’t know of You as You are revealed in the Scriptures.”
I’ve had my moments of doubt and my moments of deep faith. I have my strengths, and I have my weaknesses. I’ve tried to be a good husband and a good father, but I haven’t always been either. I’ve tried to have an ethic of social concern that identifies with the poor and the hurting and is willing to give not only of my money but of my time and energy to help bind up the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds of this world. But I haven’t always been successful. I tried. O how I’ve tried. Sometimes I’ve done it right. And sometimes I’ve done it wrong. And sometimes I’ve come out with this awful “glob” that mixes both.
I don’t know how many more years I have or you have but I know one thing for sure: I don’t have one single security in this world of my making. Everything I have is based on the God who is my Father, who created me; the God who is my redeemer, who has saved me; the God who is the Holy Spirit, who sustains me. The resurrection of Jesus Christ equips me both to live and to die.
Whether you are five, or forty-seven, or ninety-seven, I trust you’ve received Jesus Christ as your Savior. If you haven’t, do it now. If you have, celebrate. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.

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