I went to a disappointing Easter service this year. I’ve been to a few. This one was in a little church where the teaching pastor is some kind of real estate agent with the worst speaking cadence I’ve ever heard. He sounds like he is CONSTANTLY trying to remember what he was going to say next, and he pauses so much that I begin to fall asleep despite my barely legal addiction to coffee. He’s the kind of pastor who spends the election cycle reminding us that Jesus was not a Republican, and so we shouldn’t be divisive and tell other Christians that they shouldn’t vote for the party of racism, baby murder, sexual perversion, communism and porn in grade schools. Because… uh, reasons. He strongly condemned the personal belief that you are RIGHT, calling it arrogant. I don’t know what he thought about claiming to be right if in fact what you believe is true. I guess he didn’t consider it a possibility.
But I thought, HEY, even THIS GUY can’t screw up Easter, right? I mean, it’s the single most important holiday in Christian history, because it celebrates the single most important fact of human history- Jesus rising from the dead after his crucifixion. Like, just hop up there, shout HE IS RISEN! And we celebrate. EASY.
And yet, this guy managed to chip away another little piece of my faith in humanity.
His Bible verse for the day- Easter (The Day on which Jesus rose bodily from the tomb as recorded in ALL FOUR GOSPELS) was…
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
By itself this isn’t that bad, but it just got worse from here. First, he said the phrase “The Gospel is Foolishness” like 18 times over the next 20 minutes. Just KEPT. COMING. BACK.
And then we spent what felt like a LONG time watching a video where the church patted itself on the back for taking care of Ukrainian refugees. Hooray us! We’re good people! And the pastor spent some time telling us that the Gospel is EMPOWERING, and LOOK what we did because of being empowered or something.
Did I mention that the Gospel is foolishness to the world? FOOLISHNESS. It is FOOOOOOLISHNESS.
“BUT…. (Pause for dramatic effect)…. (Longer than is necessary)….. (Which is one of the reasons I fall asleep when he’s talking)… I Believe it.“
And we close with a song.
After telling us that the gospel is FOOLISHNESS 18 times, and patting themselves on the back for their goodness, he ends with a quick mention that he believes the Gospel (Uh, the power to do good things, I guess? I don’t remember if he actually talked about salvation) and we end. Now, in case you missed it, let me point out the one very vital and important thing which he FAILED TO MENTION ABOUT THE RESSURECTION ON EASTER MORNING.
It’s True. It REALLY happened.
This cretin NEVER said that it was a true fact of history. He just glibly ended with “I believe it” like a talking pony might declare that she believes in the magic of friendship. And that’s when I decided that this pastor, and probably an unsettling number of those people who call this church home, ARE NOT CHRISTIANS.
What separates Christianity from all other religions, worldviews, philosophies, or marketing schemes is, first, that
it is TRUE, and rooted in history.
Just to contrast, neither the Hindu Vedas nor the stories the Greeks had about their gods are rooted in REAL points in history, at real places. They are TALES of the gods. Not historical accounts. It doesn’t matter if you think they are real. They make no attempt to prove to you that they are.
The Koran is a lot of instructions and rules, and if it could be shown that Mohammed did not exist, it may not change a lot for the followers of Islam. The prophet is not the important part. Slave like devotion to the commands of Allah is all that matters.
But the Bible is primarily a book of history. Of course there are other genres in there, like the poetry of the Psalms and Song of Solomon, and the theology of the New Testament letters. However, the majority of the Old Testament is history, and takes place in times and places and with nations and peoples which can be verified outside of the Bible. The Gospels are biographies, and again can be verified as containing real people and places and events. They go out of their way to tell you where on earth and when in history these things happened. All of the Christian faith hinges on one particular fact of history- the Resurrection of Jesus.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15: 17
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
IF that didn’t REALLY happen, then there is no Christianity. The church could not possibly decide, “OK, Jesus didn’t really die for our sins and rise bodily from death a few days later, but that’s no reason to close the church!” Because, as the Bible itself tells us, if Jesus didn’t pay for our sins and rise from death, then you not only should close the church but you should burn it down and dance on the ashes.
The important part is not that some pastor in a dress/casual suit claims to believe it, like one might believe that the Cubs are going to go ALL THE WAY this year (they aren’t). The vitally important part is, IT’S TRUE. Jesus was the holy Son of God, he died as the payment for our sins, and he rose again on Easter morning. It’s not just nice, or encouraging, or empowering. That is TRUE.
Secondly, and as important ,
Christianity is the only faith where in you are not and cannot be saved by your own works.
So spending Easter morning patting yourself on the back for your own good works is AMAZINGLY far from the point of Easter. The Bible does not offer the moral law as payment for one’s own sins, but as a way of realizing that we need to be saved. We are saved, not by keeping commandments or by observing religious rituals, but by the work of Jesus. Every other religion says, “HERE is the stairway to heaven- START CLIMBING.” But Jesus says, “You can never make it up the stairway to heaven, anymore than you can jump to the moon. I will carry you.” Our choice is to allow him to carry us, or to remain in rebellion and die in our sins.
Romans 3:23-24 says
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
And of course you can find people and churches who have taught otherwise. Churches and Christians (or people calling themselves Christians) have gone astray or just been wrong about various things through time, but the message of the Bible has been the same for 4000 years.
If you call yourself a Christian, but you don’t REALLY think the Bible is TRUE, you don’t think Jesus was the only way to God, and you don’t think He rose from the dead, then you probably aren’t a Christian.
If you think you are getting into heaven because you helped some refugees, or because you recycle, or because you’re nicer than Hitler or the alcoholic who lives down the street, then you probably aren’t a Christian.
If the core of your “Christianity” is not what Jesus has done for you, but what you have done because you’re a “good person,” then you are not a Christian. You may be nicer than Hitler, but you are no more deserving of eternal life in the presence of Holy God than Hitler was.
The REASON why the Gospel is “foolishness” to the lost is because the grace of God is available to ALL PEOPLE EQUALLY. Not only to the NICE. Not only to the “good.” But to ALL of those who are humble enough to see that they are sinners in need of forgiveness. If you’re too busy patting yourself on the back for the good you do, then you won’t see your need for forgiveness, and when I say Jesus died for you, you won’t understand why. It will seem foolish that a perfect man had to be brutally killed for your little sins, few as they are. But when you understand the holiness of God, and the fact that you have failed to be as good and clean as you think, then the Gospel becomes a life raft in stormy seas, a parachute when the plane is going down, a fireman to carry you through the smoke as your house burns. To the self righteous, it is the empowering encouragement to KEEP DOING GOOD! But, to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.