If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:13-19
This is perhaps the most unique passage in the entire history of religious texts. In this passage, the Apostle Paul hangs the entire edifice of Christian faith on a historical event: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Understand the strangeness of this. There is categorically no other religion in the history of Mankind that hangs its entire worldview and truth claims upon the tangibility of a verifiable occurrence in space and time. You will not get this with Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Scientology, Secular Humanism, or Liberal Christianity. While all these have origin stories, key founding figures, and calls spiritual wisdom and moral principles, none of them ground their essential doctrines, their whole worldviews, upon a historical event.
Christianity is different. Christianity starts not with “This is the way you should live,” as all other faith systems do, but with, “Here is what Jesus did in history, that you may live.” Huge difference.
In the passage above Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead…your faith is in vain” (v. 14). That word “vain” is the Greek word kenos, which means unreal, empty, without power. It is getting across the understanding that the faith we have as Christians is impotent, incapable of changing anything if the resurrection is but a useful myth or a mere symbol. In short, Paul is making clear that Christianity is not less than emotions, but it is not relegated to mere emotions. He is saying that it does not matter if you feel that the resurrection is true, it does not even matter if you have had a cathartic religious experience about it, and it does not even matter how many Easter sermonettes proclaim the joys of it. No, he is affirming that if the resurrection did not tangibly happen in space and time, then Christianity is bunk. The whole Faith is at best a fanciful delusion and at worst the greatest falsified travesty in the chronicles of Humanity.
Easter, therefore, is the pivotal hinge of the Christian Faith. No Easter, no Christianity.
No Easter, then not only is Christianity bunk but all sense of identity, security, and peace in this life is bunk. How so? Well, if Jesus was not raised, then there is no hope beyond the grave, and if there is no hope beyond the grave then there is no objective standard of meaning and purpose in this life except what we conjure up in our three pounds of gray matter between our ears. Countless Christian and non-Christian thinkers have made this point very forcefully in the history of human thought. The ardent atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) helps to summarize much of the literature on this when he said,
"Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving…. His origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms [and there is] no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, [that] can preserve an individual life beyond the grave… [All the] labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement [will] inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins …. [It is only] within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."
This oxymoronic view of life is what our whole vacuous post-modern culture is about. It proclaims: “You are an accident, there is no ultimate future, so live life to the fullest and be your best self!” But we know that this is inane. Such a “truth” means fundamentally that all our talk of objective “love,” all our fights for “justice,” all our language of “hope” for a brighter future, and all our desires for “identity” are at the bottom laid waste, eaten alive in the face of moral relativism and death.
The electrifying message of Easter guts the absurdity of Russell’s message. It affirms to us that God has entered history and that through love and justice He laid waste the power of death at the same to renewing our identity and giving us a glorious future. Because of Easter, history regains objective meaning, our faith is vindicated, our identities are renewed, our purpose is established, and our hope is assured.
THE TANGIBILITY OF THE EMPTY TOMB
This discussion of hope and identity is not emotional jargon, it is grounded in Reality. Precisely because of the historical reality of the resurrection we can take comfort in the objectivity of our Faith, meaning, and future. It is vitally important that you understand this Truth and teach it to your children and those around you.
The resurrection is as historical an event as Pearl Harbor, Washington crossing the Delaware, or the assassination of Julius Caesar. Understand this. There is actual historical evidence for such a claim. There is a tremendous body of world-renowned scholarship that affirms the historicity of the resurrection and the N.T. writings. I cannot get into the depths of it for sake of brevity but let me sketch out at least three points:
The fact that there was an empty tomb – This sounds insignificant, but it is profoundly important. A tomb is a particularly definable objective geographic location. This means to disprove the resurrection one need only provide the body of Jesus. Why didn’t the Romans, the Sanhedrin, or any other skeptics of the time produce such a body? Answer: Because it wasn’t there. The fact is all the Gospel writers and many Jewish, Christian, and pagan writers of the time affirmed that the tomb of Jesus was empty.
The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses – The Gospels claim that the first eyewitnesses were women. Have you ever thought of the importance of this easily looked over point? You see women were considered intellectually, emotionally, and morally deficient compared to men. Because of this their testimonies were not even permitted as acceptable evidence in the court of law in 1st Century Palestine. As the famed Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 A.D.), who lived at the same time as the N.T. authors, said,
"But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment."
The point is if you are constructing your own resurrection myth in the 1st Century you would not use women as the chief eye-witnesses to justify your position! People like Josephus would have disbelieved not merely on resurrection grounds but the fact of the absurdity of believing women to be legitimate witnesses to such an event.
The Gospel writers cited women as the eyewitnesses…because women were the eyewitnesses. In short, the fact that the Gospel’s record women as the eyewitnesses give historical authenticity to the truthfulness of the account. If they were liars or mythmakers they would not have crafted a narrative in which people (women) who were considered unreliable were the central sources of establishing the truthfulness of the event.
The fact of the transformation of the disciple's beliefs – There is no doubt that the disciples themselves did not have any kind of a religious or cultural understanding about the kind of messianic resurrection Jesus achieved. They constantly misunderstood His true purposes. But can we blame them really? Second Temple Judaism did not have any rabbinical teachings and no theological perspective on a resurrection of a single person amid history, much less the idea that the Messiah would be a dying and rising Savior. It is important to understand this. To First Century orthodox Jews the conceptual category of “dying and rising Messiah” did not even exist. For them, “resurrection” was an eschatological End of Days event for all Jews and the Messiah was to be the political figure who would come to redeem Israel from its oppressors and destroy her enemies.
The question that deserves much attention then is, “What made these 1st Century Jews transform their entire religious and cultural identities overnight?” What event could have happened that made these individuals go from Unitarians to Trinitarians; or go from believing God cannot be a man to God becoming a Man; or go from a political Messiah to a risen Messiah; or go from celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday; or go from kosher foods to freedom in what one eats? What could possibly explain all these social, cultural, and religious transformations among masses of people all at once?
Everything in their lives changed. How so!?! I would argue that the only viable historical explanation is the one they give. As the Apostle Peter said,
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2 Peter 1:16
And the Apostle John said,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:1-4
They had such extraordinary transformation because they experienced an extraordinary event: the bodily objective tangible resurrection of their leader Jesus of Nazareth. If you do not believe this, then you have to come up with some other theory to make sense of all this historical data. But as the renowned 20th Century N.T. scholar C.F.D. Moule (1908-2007) said,
“If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with? … the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church therefore remain and unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.”
In the same vein Shusaku Endo (1926-1996), the famed Japanese Christian novelist and thinker, put it like this,
"If you don’t believe in the resurrection, you will be forced to believe that something hit the disciples that was every bit amazing, maybe different, yet of equal force in electrifying intensity. For if you try to explain the changed lives of the early Christians, you will find yourself making leaps of faith every bit as great as if we believed in the resurrection to start with."
A HISTORY THAT GIVES US HOPE
It is not enough to go away from this post with historical data about the resurrection. While this is essential to ground the reality of faith, it is not sufficient to ignite it. Easter must become more than an event we celebrate, a tradition we relive, or a feeling we have – it must become living and breathing and active. Therefore, we must keep before us the Reality of the resurrection on the daily. We must understand that this event in space and time changes all of space and time. It makes our space sacred, our time sacred, our lives sacred. As one author said, “The resurrection is not a stupendous magic trick but an invasion.” It demands our attention, it remakes us into a new creation, and it destroys the powers of insecurity, indifference, and fear in the present and the future.
The Resurrection makes shows us (proves to us) that there is a future that is deeply personal, certain, and wonderful (paraphrasing Timothy Keller’s words in a sermon I heard once). This means that whatever we do in this life has true lasting impact, it is not burned up into the sea of oblivion as Russell thought. It means that Love, justice, and relationships transcend their particular moments and have real eternal significance. It means suffering and evil has a purpose and are only to be tolerated – one day to be vindicated and swept away. It means that death, the great equalizer, the tyrant of our souls, loses its hold over us – the great irreversibility of life is made reversible. All of this is achieved because the Resurrection tangibly, historically, happened for us. Easter actually happened! I cannot say any better the words of N.T. Wright (1948-present) as I close this post,
"The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice and love have won... If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense - [then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world - news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn't just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world of injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things - and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement [the] victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzche probably was right to say it was for wimps."
 Consider the works of Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Frederick Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, H.G. Wells and many others
 Bertrand Russell, “The Free Man’s Worship” (1903), Accessed from https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-free-mans-worship.html
 I would suggest to you but a small collection of works: N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003); Gary Habermas, The Case of the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004); Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017); Peter J. Williams, Can we Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018); David Beck & Michael Licona, Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020)
 If you want a more meaty discussion on the historicity of the empty tomb then consider: William Lane Craig, “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus/
 Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.219, accessed from https://lexundria.com/j_aj/4.219/wst
 N.T. Wright discusses the importance of this in Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 28-31 and all of Chapter Two
 C.F.D. Moule as quoted in John Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (United States: The Good Book Company, 2019). Original work is Moule’s The Phenomenon of the New Testament: An Inquiry Into the Implications of Certain Features of the New Testament (United Kingdom: S.C.M. Press, 1967), pg. 13
 Quoted in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 108
 Timothy Keller, Hope In Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2021), pg. xxi
 N.T. Wright, For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, p. 65-66
Recovering Our Place At Golgotha
We need to de-sanitize Golgotha. By this, I do not mean we need more R-rated visual renderings of the crucifixion narrative (Mel Gibson’s vision is beyond sufficient). Neither do I mean we need more emotional sermonetting of the brutality of Christ’s physical torture and execution (though this is a worthy venture). Nor do I mean we need new cutting-edge scientific and historical documentaries verifying the accuracy of the Passion narratives (though this too is a worthwhile endeavor). Rather by this I mean we need to recover our place in all the hellish bloody cosmic messiness that occurred at Golgotha.
We conveniently (consciously or unconsciously) tend to “sanitize Golgotha” in our minds and hearts when Easter rolls around. We tend to place ourselves in the narrative of the Passion as passive onlookers witnessing from afar what the ominous “they” did to our Jesus that day. We are reminded through song, sermon, and drama of the brutality exacted towards “our” Jesus by the hands of tradition, religion, hate, and power. Tears roll down our faces, the emotions are stirred, and our faces are flushed. BUT THEN the songs fade and the sermon is over. As quick as the image came it dissipates, we shake ourselves and move on. We get back to our daily. We get back to fighting with our spouses and yelling at our kids. We get back to our insecurity, our gossip, lust, greed, envy, pride, and apathy. So, just like going to watch a movie in the theater, we are changed in the moment but afterward go out to find something else to do.
Is there really no difference existentially between our responses to a movie and the message of the cross? Surely there is more?
Do not misunderstand. I am not saying there is no place for us to reflect upon the brutality of the crucifixion or that we are wrong if we have emotional responses to the history of it. In fact, to fail to have emotion in the face of the cross is to fail to have a soul. But that said, what I am challenging and questioning is how we ritualistically go about our reflections and remembrances of Calvary. You must ask, I must ask, has its true message gone deep enough? We are moved by it, it jerks our heart, but does it really, categorically, transform us?
I do not presume to have all the answers and I do not want you to go away from this post thinking there is any form of “ivory tower judgmental preachy wisdom” coming from this author. There is a genuine conviction of thought and reflection in what is posted.
Without going into a long dissertation, I want to propose that for us to recover the true gritty nature of Golgotha, for it to have a real penetrating and lasting effect for our lives beyond Easter Sunday, it requires at least (but not limited to) a reworking of how we process its message in our hearts and minds on the daily.
Golgotha needs to become more than a tourist attraction we visit once a year on Easter Sunday. It needs to become the ever-present witness to just how serious sin is in our daily lives and just how profound God’s love is in those moments. We need to recover OUR PLACE and OUR SIN at Golgotha so that it becomes a living, breathing, memorial that awakens us to be what it achieved – to be a people who do not shrug at sin but crucify it, to be a people who love at the expense of themselves, to be a people whose identity, meaning, hope, and purpose is restored to the intended ends of God’s glory instead of self.
ADMIT THAT YOU DROVE THE NAILS
As I said earlier, we tend to stand as passive onlookers to the crucifixion story. We cry and rage at what “they” did to Him. The problem is there is no “they,” there is only “we.” There is no room for stagnant spectators at the cross. Everyone was actively participating. The masses of Jews and Romans were beating and butchering Christ physically as much as you and I did spiritually. You were at Golgotha and so was I. We all were.
The Romans alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. The Pharisees alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Pilate alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Caiaphas alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. You did. I did. We all did. Our sins did.
Chew on that. Let it sink in. Dwell on it a while. No, dwell on it a long while.
All the soiled sins of the world were affixed to His blinding purity. All the little ones, all the big ones, all the ones you shrug off, all the ones you exact towards family and friend, all the ones you fear others to know, all the ones you still battle with, all the ones you struggle to let go. Every day when you slip back into the old self and allow sin to rear its ugly head, be reminded, that those sins, with myriads of others, are the ones seared onto the bruised body and being of the Infinitely Innocent One. All of them were put onto Him so much so that there was no epistemic distance humanly discernable between His being and sin.
Putting this all into biblical language the Apostle Paul put it like this,
God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Did you really read this? Do you get this? Do you feel this?
The whole reason, the central driving meaning behind Christ BEING SIN was…FOR US. It is about us. Because sin is personal Golgotha is personal. Golgotha was logically, biblically, unquestionably because of us AND beautifully, gracefully, undeniably for us. The great theologian John Stott (1921-2011) put it like this,
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
It is a totally different thing when you intentionally remind yourself that the only nails that really kept Christ on the cross were the ones you use on your loved ones and neighbors many times on many different days of the week. When you nail them with pinpricks, backbiting, gossip, lust, envy, pride, and the whole slew of 1 Corinthian 6 vices, you actualize in your life the things for which Christ was eaten alive. He died because of those things and for those things to lose their power of keeping distance between you and the Holy One.
THE TERROR, JOY, & BEAUTY OF GOLGOTHA
Despite all the bruising and infinite weight of demonic distress upon Him, Christ still died for us. There is horror and sweetness in this. He died for our daily sins. Think on this for a moment. How insane it is to the human mind to willingly be ripped apart by a people who shrug at Your grace and purity. Yet, in such insanity there resides unbounded sobriety and beauty.
In the face of the vileness of Golgotha, we are also met with the Face of unshakably Love. In the wake of entering Jerusalem with throngs of half-baked worshipers Jesus prayed with anguish to the Father for such a time to pass from Him, and yet without losing a breath said,
“For this purpose, I have come to this hour”
Golgotha was His purpose. Golgotha penetrated everything He thought and did. It was there at the manger, it was there at the Sermon on the Mount, it was there at the Mount of Olives, it was there at the breaking of the fish and loaves, and it was there at the triumphal entry. It was at Golgotha that Jesus’ purpose would be and was actualized into space and time and for all eternity.
And yet with such horror ever-present to Jesus’ mind's eye all His days, the author of Hebrews says,
For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame…
The cross was set before Him. That is, it was always His end goal, His telos, His purpose. And yet He had joy? The words “joy” and “cross” do not go together in any humanly conscionable way. But in and with Christ they do. Such a joyous agent as Jesus did what no other merely human agent could possibly achieve: turning the image of the cross from a symbol of maximal derision and vileness into the symbol of infinite grace and a new identity.
In a real sense, joy conquered the shame of the cross and overtook it. This is why strangely we Christians can and do need to possess a robust balance between glory and humility when we behold the cross on Golgotha.
The terror of Golgotha that we need to ever keep in our minds is that it was because of us, yet the glory and joy of Golgotha reside in the fact that it was for us. John Stott powerful put it this way,
“The essence of sin is man substitution himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”
The infinity of heavenly-wrath and holy-love crashed upon one another in a moment of space and time on Golgotha. It was in that moment that all our daily sins were vanquished of their potency and chains. This is why we can sing in ecstasy to the degree we mourn in travail over the events that transpired on the Place of the Skull.
May we never forget and readily retain the power of what happened on Golgotha.
O Golgotha! Good Golgotha!
My Lord was slain for me;
His precious blood in mercy flowed
That I from sins be free.
Therefore I pray, my Lord, reveal
So I may know that I am one
With Thee in certainty.
O Golgotha! I praise Thee, Lord,
For death was suffered there;
Released His life, redeemed my sins,
I’m freed into His care.
O Golgotha! I want to learn
All that indwells in Him;
By faith included in His work,
I’ll stand now firm with Him.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), pg. 63
 Stott, pg. 159
 Difficult finding the origin of this hymn, but it seems to be an old early 20th Century Chinese Christian hymn, most likely written by Watchman Nee. Source found in Watchman Nee, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Vol. 23, The Song of Songs & Hymns (N.p.: Living Stream Ministry, 1993), pg. 174-175
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.