I want you to consider two different stories:
- In 1793, a meteor struck the area currently known as Chambersburg. The rock fragment—mostly iron—was roughly the size of a Volkswagen, and the impact could be heard from as far as 100 miles away. All official records of the incident have been lost, but we can piece together details based on one or two journals from what appear to be local residents of the time.
- In 1993, a meteor struck downtown Chambersburg. Well over a hundred witnesses saw it, including many member of our own congregation such as Lyle Geiger, Larry Goldman, and Sherry Libby.
You’ve probably seen through my transparent illustration to know that neither story is true, but if you had to rate their relative believability, which one seems more plausible? Or, maybe we should ask the question a different way: which story would you have an easier time verifying—or discrediting?
Naturally, you’d choose the second as the more “testable” tale. You might first go to the web to search for articles from the time period to confirm the events. You might chase down the witnesses we’ve named to see if they confirm or deny the details. And if they can’t back it up—or, more significantly, if these “witnesses” are just fictional characters (they’re not, by the way), then you have all the more reason to doubt my story.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SNOPES
Of course, the internet abounds with all sorts of stories and rumors. So many that it’s hard to always know what’s true and what’s not—or what lies in the foggy space between. Thankfully the internet is self-correcting, at least to a degree. Ever heard of the website “Snopes?” The folks who write for Snopes.com have done the world a great service in evaluating many of the claims you read about online. So if you ever encounter a rumor you just can’t make up your mind on, you can check with Snopes to see if it’s true. Cigarettes linked to cancer? True. Eating bacon regularly gives you six-pack abs? False. Pastor Chris Wiles irresistible to women? Kind of a grey area.
See how that works?
Here’s what I’m getting at, with both the Chambersburg meteor story and the Snopes reference: Christianity is built not on the basis of human experience, but on the basis of historical fact. This is the basis of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
See, many religions base their teachings on some abstract, personal experience. Mohammad, Joseph Smith, Gautama Buddha—these men each formed a religion based on some persona encounter they had with the divine. Now, who am I to judge whether these men really did or did not have such an experience?
Christianity is way different. In Christianity, we have Paul saying, Look, these things really happened. Jesus came back from the dead. People saw him. Don’t believe me? Ask James. Ask Peter. Sure, they didn’t have Snopes to fall back on, but they could at least name names.
NO LONGER SAFELY SECULAR
Stop and think about this for just a moment. In today’s world, we tend to evaluate religious belief based on its personal or social impact. Some have committed acts of violence in the name of Christianity, we might object, So what makes Christianity any better than any other religion out there?
That’s a whole discussion in itself, but let’s start by saying, We’re asking the wrong question. The greatest measuring stick is not “Is Christianity good?” but “Is Christianity true?” Because we can squabble over what we truly define as “good;” there’s little room for interpretation as to whether Jesus rose from the dead.
Don’t you see what that means? Suddenly the world isn’t as safely secular as we thought it was. The resurrection—the stark, historic reality of the resurrection—shatters my credulity. If I choose to reject the Christian gospel, it can’t possibly be due to a lack of evidence.
Where does that leave us? It leaves us confronted with the spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally subversive reality of the empty tomb, a barren cross, and a risen Lord. Jesus saves. Paul’s life was changed forever, yours can as well. Join us this week as we explore what this resurrection means for us.