I Peter 3:15 says, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord; and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” My hope is in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and the reason for that hope is because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. In I Corinthians 15 Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”
A great danger for people who have grown up in the church is that they have heard about the resurrection of Jesus so many times and for so long that they can begin to take it for granted. But it is amazing for a man to come back to life like that. This wasn’t just someone mistaken for dead, like the ‘90 minutes in heaven’ stories. This was stone cold dead, after being flogged, executed in a most horrible way, stabbed to make sure he was dead, put in a sealed tomb, and there begin the process of decay for almost 40 hours. And then, come alive. You don’t see that every day— or ever.
I like to read biographies of famous people. Some people I read about are still alive, though most have died. And all those who have died are still dead. Except one. That includes all the religious leaders that have come and gone—Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, and all the rest. Even their most dedicated followers will readily admit they are dead. Therefore, no one should ever take the story of the resurrection of Jesus for granted. It is unique in all of human history. It was God himself who, in Jesus Christ, lived and died and rose again. This is the reason for the hope that we have in us.
That is, if Jesus did rise from the dead. Not everyone believes that, of course, not even everyone that belongs to a church. There was a time when I was pretty sure I didn’t believe it anymore, but I was still going to church (at least for a while). I had decided I would go until I moved out of my parents’ home, where I would have otherwise been endlessly pestered if I ever missed Sunday morning worship. I decided it would be easier to fake it for a while, and then gradually drift away when I moved out and my parents weren’t looking.
But then something happened. I decided to take the time to look into it. After all, there were some smart people I knew that did still believe this story. Someone told me about a few books that made sense out of what I saw as nonsense in much of the Bible, and they talked me into reading them. Even though I was a teenager and was quite sure I already knew almost everything, I thought it might be a good idea to see if there was anything I might have missed on this subject. After all, this question did concern what would happen to me after I died, which I knew even then could happen any time. And I also knew that after my death, I would be dead for a very long time.
So I read the books that were suggested and was amazed to see there were other people who had wondered about the same things that I was wondering about. And these people had gone through the bother of looking into it, and had come up all kinds of interesting, amazing, and convincing things that had never occurred to me. A few books led to a few more and then to dozens of books. I began to believe again that the Bible made sense and told the truth, that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and that He still lives. The most convincing books I read were by people like myself who at first did not believe, and then after taking the time to look for the answers to their hard questions, came to faith.
Not only did I then decide I really did believe in Jesus, but I also decided I would become a pastor and tell others about “the reasons for the hope that we have within us.” So I went to seminary where my faith was challenged and deepened, and then to my first congregation out in the northwest corner of North Dakota. I was eager to share all this information I had about how Jesus really rose from the dead. But I was surprised to find that none of the ranchers out there were asking that question. “Of course, Jesus rose from the dead,” was their usual response, “doesn’t everybody know that? Tell us something we don’t know.”
But that was 35 years ago. Since then the Christian faith has been under assault, ridiculed on television and in movies, blasphemed in popular music, and marginalized by our government. For many people, religion is no longer a matter of truth, but a matter of whatever you find useful. So now, more than ever in my lifetime, the case has to be made for many people, and we have to be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus.
I hear from people who have children and grandchildren and friends who are like I was, not sure they want to believe in God anymore. I understand that. They ask me what they can say to them. There are all sorts of things to say, all sorts of answers worth considering. I could say, “Here is a list of 25 books that I found helpful. You and your loved ones read all these books, let me know when you are done, and then we can all have a talk.”
Do you think that will work? I don’t either.
But you could watch a movie together. That would be much easier. The movie Risen has recently been released on DVD. Risen, as in, ‘Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.’ Most of the recent movies based on Bible stories have not been all that good, but this one is tremendous. It tells a great story, it contains a powerful and true message, and you should see it. (continued…)
I Peter 3:15a — In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
I Corinthians 15:19-20a — If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.
Acts 1:3a — After his suffering, (Jesus) presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.
Grant me, Lord,
the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to me on earth.
Lead me to repent of my sins, the evil I have done and the good I have not done;
and strengthen me to follow the steps of your Son, in the way that leads to the fullness of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer (adapted)