I inherited Christianity. That is to say, I was raised in a Christian household, went to Sunday worship, and attended Christian schools. My life was marked by the faith of my forefathers.
Yet true faith can’t be passed on as a family heirloom. Each person must trust in Jesus for themselves through the Holy Spirit. In my late teen years, that was a problem. Like most adolescents, I went through an existential crisis. I began asking myself: Who am I? Is God real? Did we make up this faith? Does Charles Darwin have a more plausible explanation for reality? The more questions I asked, the more I seemed to float away from my faith, like a satellite drifting out of orbit.
One day in religion class, the now sainted Pastor Stephen Hintz was teaching on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. He mentioned the fallacies of the “swoon theory,” namely, that Jesus never truly died but was only unconscious. And we talked about the holes in the logic of the “stolen body theory,” namely, that someone just stole Jesus’ body and said he was resurrected. He told us that none of these explanations disprove the resurrection. Although his thoughts were helpful; they didn’t seem compelling.
But then Pastor Hintz talked about the rapid growth of Christianity after the martyrdom of the apostles. He said most of Jesus’ apostles died saying they saw Jesus alive. Matthew, Peter, James, Paul, etc. died testifying that Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to them alive and well. Then Pastor Hintz said, “Many people will die for what they hope to be true, but no one will die for what they know to be a lie.” In other words, there are some who will die because they really want to believe they are following the truth. (Consider the mass suicides of the members of Jim Jones’ cult or the more recent suicide bombers.) But the apostles didn’t just claim to hope or want Jesus to be alive. They said that they saw him, touched him, and ate with the resurrected Savior.
Jesus’ bodily resurrection completely transformed the convictions and courage of the apostles. After Easter, Peter, who had earlier denied Jesus before a young servant girl, stood before the same courtroom that crucified Jesus and testified to his resurrection. The apostle Paul persecuted Christians to the point of death but then after being confronted by the resurrected Redeemer, lost all things, even his life as a witness of the living Lord Jesus. Thomas, who unfortunately earned the nickname Doubting Thomas, reached all the way to India, where he preached that Jesus rose from the dead. Thomas suffered a martyr’s death.
When Pastor Hintz taught us these truths, I felt a new clarity and conviction. This faith that I had received from my ancestors was not just built on cultural traditions and ancient myths. My faith was based on historical facts. I came to believe that if all the apostles were willing to give up their lives rather than renounce the resurrection, well then why couldn’t I? This short lecture started a new trajectory in my life that eventually led me to become a full-time preacher of the resurrection of Jesus.
How about you? Does the fact that the apostles died declaring that they saw Jesus alive change anything for you? Does the “Easter myth” become the Easter history? Do your prayers become a conversation with a living God instead of just a practice of personal meditation? Does the religion that you inherited from your family become your own personal faith?
I pray that somehow these facts might restore your faith the way they did for me almost 25 years ago. Jesus has risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Let’s be like the apostles and give up all things for these facts.