There is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen from the dead
There is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen from the dead. As St Paul said, 'And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith'. Can so many people be wrong? Can some of the best people, men, women and children all - over the two millennia - who have ever lived this human life - be wrong? Great minds, great humanitarians, gifted, skilled, high achieving - can they be wrong? John Sebastian Bach, for example, David Livingstone, 20th century Christian saints such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who took part in a failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler or Janani Luwum the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, murdered by Idi Amin. What about Queen Margaret of Scotland and Florence Nightingale? Whether you agree with the monarchy or not, the present Queen Elizabeth is a convinced Christian. She does not need to be. She is an able woman capable of discernment. It is not just the poor in spirit that are blessed. But - can so many be wrong? Richard Dawkins and his pals certainly think that all they were all wrong and we are wrong too. It is not too hard to refute their heavy handed and unsubtle attacks on Christianity. But it will always be a stand off and stale mate.
Much more difficult it is to answer the question by saying, ‘Yes - it is possible that people can be wrong in their understanding of God’. Muslims believe that Mohammad was God’s last and true prophet. Can so many of them be wrong? We would say so. But where is the proof? We cannot prove mathematically that Christianity is true and Islam is not. Christianity is not about 100% provable certainty. We cannot say in this day and age that because the Bible says Christianity is true that it is necessarily true. That is a circular argument. Muslims say that Islam is true because the Kor’an says it is true. There is no independent test that validates such a claim. So - can we reasonably and rationally explain the foundation of our faith in reality and not in fantasy, in truth, not in delusion, with common sense rather than suspension of our critical faculties? After all, there is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen from the dead.
At an observable level, we can make a strong case for the truth of Christianity. There is no denying that over 2 billion of the world’s population can be identified as Christian. It is true that at present there are more Christians than Muslims. It is also true that Christianity is growing faster than Islam due in part to the extraordinary acceptance of Christianity by the Chinese. It is true that Christians at their best are good people. A Chinese Christian businessman said on TV recently that because he is a Christian he is trusted in business. He does not do graft and he will not cheat on his customers. Chinese politicians recognise that they do not need to be afraid of Christians - they are law-abiding and helpful citizens. They recognise strategically that political freedoms require a voluntary code of conduct or else societies collapse. Christianity could be the guarantor of political liberty in China as it has been throughout the centuries for others, including ourselves.
Contrast for a moment the state of affairs in Muslim countries after more than 1300 years of Islam. Mayhem and chaos in the most Islamicised of nation states, Pakistan - a failed state, Afghanistan - a failed state, Libya - a failed state. Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and others - politically unstable whose societies do not have strong civil institutions - some have none at all.
All of this can be traced back to the respective origins of Christianity and of Islam. Jesus lost the battle of and for this world as far as visible success goes. Mohammad won the battle of and for this world in visible, political, social and military terms. Both Jesus and Mohammad could be described as failed preachers. Jesus having convinced no-one that he was the Messiah. Mohammad having totally failed by preaching to achieve power to reform society. The difference was that Mohammad took matters into his own hands and compensated for his lack of success as a purely religious or spiritual candidate. Jesus on the other hand went to His cross and died an excruciating death trusting all to the God he believed in as his Father. According to all human logic, nothing like Christianity could ever have spring from such a fate - so grievous and appalling an end to a human life. It never has since. There is no reason for us to be here if Jesus had not risen from the dead.
Let us rehearse again the positive contribution that Christianity has made to world history in the form of humanitarian and charitable global inspiration and some of the operations which resulted. The Red Cross - a Christian idea. The Samaritans - a Christian idea. Christian Aid - a Christian idea. The Hospice Movement - a Christian idea. A school in every parish - a Christian idea. Hospitals - a Christian idea. Truth and Reconciliation - Christian ideas. Peace and Love - Christian ideas. Forgiveness and restoration - Christian ideas. Equality of all humanity before God - a Christian idea. Personal freedom and responsibility - Christian ideas. Imagine the world without these thought, ideas, values, practical consequences? They did not come from nowhere. They didn’t just appear among us. You don’t need to imagine - just look at the middle east. UN humanitarian workers beheaded in Afghanistan recently. Christian Dr Karen Woo shot dead and Linda Norgrove kidnapped, killed in a botched rescue attempt. Multiply that by a hundred and by a thousand and by a million fold and you have the future without Christianity’s human and restraining influence on the violent human spirit. Islam gives expression to this violent human spirit and justifies it theologically. Jesus - our Jesus - came back from the dead with words of peace, love and reconciliation. The difference is stark and clear and absolute and unarguable. There is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen from the dead.
It is possible for some Christians to be wrong in their understanding of God. We have to admit honestly that some Christians in every generation and century have themselves been wrong in their understanding of God. So we had resorted to armed warfare, we had slavery, we had the bad aspects of colonialism, we had class distinction, we had sectarianism, we had misuse of the Name and Purpose of Jesus. We British did this - in our history, as did others. These things have sullied the larger picture of Christianity’s contribution to the world. But all this makes our sense of wonder at being part of Christianity the greater.
There is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen form the dead. We celebrate Jesus’ victory over the world, over human finitude and death, over sin and evil. We celebrate Jesus’ giving to the world of the elemental power of creation - the Holy Spirit - which we share in and sense in our worship. We celebrate the victory of goodness and truth and love and peace - remembering that this had not happened before and has not happened since. We celebrate the knowledge of eternal life and personal salvation. Even if our understanding of these is not one hundred per cent as it was not for St Paul either - he said - 'now we see in a glass darkly but then we shall see face to face' - we can rejoice because there is rejoicing there for us. It is not our own motivation to rejoice but the gift of rejoicing that comes from Jesus himself to each of us. For there is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen from the dead.
Our faith is inspiring and strengthening because its origins are not in what the world calls ‘religion’ but in the risen Jesus Christ Himself. He validates Himself and he authenticates Himself. To you. To me. To anyone who will open heart and mind to Him. He greets us heartily, joyfully, sacramentally in bread and wine - symbols of his life among us and of his dying for us, symbols of spiritual life everlasting, of a union and reunion with our Lord and Saviour in heaven. There is no reason for us to be here if Jesus has not risen from the dead.