It was the winter of 1998, and the four oldest Fox children had walked from where we lived in downtown Graham over to the Pine Cemetery, pulling their sleds behind them. There was a great hill for sledding in the cemetery that attracted the kids in the neighborhood whenever we had a “real” winter. The little Foxes had been gone for about an hour when Jesse, then 4 years old, asked his Mom, “When are they going to come back from the grave?”
We stand on the precipice of another celebration of the greatest news the world has ever heard, the news that Jesus Christ came back from the grave. He is risen! He is risen, indeed. For centuries, Christians have lived with hope in the midst of suffering, have read His Word and kept His commandments, have gathered with others who believe and given their lives to telling the story, and have even given up their lives to follow Him. But the sad truth is, we live in a world that is increasingly skeptical of the absolute truth of the gospel, a world that is willing to believe almost anything except that Jesus Christ is God and died for their sins and bodily rose from the dead and is the only way to the Father. But that is the very foundation of Christianity.
A Barna Research poll last year revealed that 30 percent of those who claim to be born-again Christians do not believe that Jesus came back to physical life after He was crucified. What? That’s like saying, “I believe that Michael Jordan went to Carolina but he was never a basketball player.” Right. We don’t have to pay taxes in two weeks, either.
The truth is, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection all year round in the church because it is the very linchpin of Christianity. It is the foundation, without which the Christian faith has no meaning or purpose. In fact, Paul goes even further in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says that if Christ is not risen from the dead, then “our preaching is in vain.”
I have always wondered: What do preachers talk about every Sunday if they don’t believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Furthermore, why bother? Thorkild Grosboel, a Lutheran pastor in Copenhagen, Denmark, proclaimed a decade ago, “There is no heavenly God, there is no eternal life, there is no resurrection.” The denomination suspended Pastor Grosboel. For one week.
Ten years later, one wonders if such a proclamation today would even raise a yawn in many churches.
Justice William Bedsworth wrote about the denomination’s decision, tongue firmly planted in cheek: “I didn’t know whether to be impressed that (these church leaders) were so open-minded or confused about what their job description for pastors must look like. ‘Wanted: Educated, well-meaning individual who believes in gravity, covered-dish potlucks, cold fusion, puppy dogs, Mars bars or any combination thereof, to counsel parishioners and conduct religious services. Or not.’”
If Jesus is not risen, then our preaching is in vain. Vain preaching offers no hope, only the sad salve of learning “sin-management” or “coping strategies.” Is it any wonder that people are leaving resurrection-denying churches by the hundreds of thousands?
Jesus walked into Bethany where he knew his friend, Lazarus, had been dead for four days. He said to Martha, the deceased’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life … Do you believe this?” She wasn’t so sure. Until Jesus called Lazarus’ name and he who was dead walked out of the tomb.
Hey, I have great news. Jesus Christ conquered death. Do you believe this?