Central to the Christian faith is the cross. A lot of people just accept this as given – it’s one of the most well known religious symbols – but if you think about it, it’s actually quite strange. The English word ‘excruciating’ actually means ‘out of crucifixion’ and it is normally used to describe intense pain (or, in the modern world, to exaggerate minor pain). It’s pretty scary that this cross, this crucifixion, was an execution method so cruel that we get a new adjective for pain out of it. You may or may not know that on the cross, you don’t die from loss of blood or anything, you die because your body can’t support itself and you slowly, painfully suffocate. That’s why it could take so long to die. Also (sorry if your squeamish), that’s not even the bit that excruciating really comes from. The excruciating pain would be the point where the nails are hammered into your wrists, just below the base of your palm. Why was this so inordinately painful? Because the nails are driven into a fairly big, very sensitive nerve that runs through your arm. The Romans had truly invented a foul, awful method of execution. This is what we Christians believe that our God went through. Knowing that, I don’t know why anyone would want to wear the sign of the cross unless they have a religious purpose for doing so, but that’s a rant for another time. Anyway, this opening paragraph was really just to set the scene and make people aware of what the cross actually was. Hopefully, by the end of this, every reader will be able to grasp the significance of the cross in the Christian faith. Also, let’s not forget that the cross, on its own, is useless. The Resurrection goes hand-in-hand with the Crucifixion to form the crucial point of this Christian message. Without it, our faith it empty.
Following on from that, the first thing that I have to say is that the Crucifixion and, more importantly in this case, the Resurrection are, for me, the key pieces of evidence in the debate as to whether or not Christianity is true. The apostle Paul was aware of this, and obviously the truth of it was enough to satisfy him, and he was thought to have written his first letter just 30 years after the death of Jesus. Why is it so crucial? I have come to realise (yes, I know I’m not actually that old so I haven’t exactly been pondering this for decades) that science isn’t all that helpful in debates about the truth of Christianity. Sure, science may convince some people of the existence of a god, but it can’t really answer for the truth of any one religion. Even if science could prove (and I’m doubtful that it can) that there is one god, that would still leave us choosing between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Whereas if the Resurrection really happened, not only does that prove that God exists, it also proves that the Bible is correct and therefore the message of Christianity is fundamentally true, relatively minor doctrinal points notwithstanding.
This is not the place to go into the evidence for the Resurrection, many people have done that before now and far better than I could, but I just want to make people aware that this should be the central issue for debate and investigation, not science necessarily. That’s not to say that scientific debate doesn’t have its place, but I’m sceptical about how much it can really achieve. As a final point on this, it is also interesting that a lot of people seem to investigate the Resurrection and end up becoming Christian. According to my friend Pete (who works in the industry), the director (or producer, I can’t remember which) of a BBC documentary about the evidence for the Resurrection ended up becoming a Christian. Secondly, a lawyer called Frank Morison set out to disprove the Resurrection as if it were a legal case…and ended up becoming a Christian (and writing a book called ‘Who Moved the Stone?’). Thirdly, Lee Strobel, an atheist journalist, also investigated the Resurrection after his wife’s conversion to Christianity…and became a Christian (and wrote ‘The Case for Christ’). It’s certainly food for thought.
Now for the theology. I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. Why did Jesus have to die? He had to die because we chose sin over God; we made other things more important in our lives. The Bible tells us that sin came into the world through Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12). Whatever you believe about the truth of this story, it tells us that sin is very much the fault of humanity. Let’s be honest here, which one of us has always done what God wants? I’m talking to Christians as well as non-Christians with this. With sin comes separation from God. That’s logical because sin is fundamentally a rejection of God’s authority. The punishment of sin is death (Romans 6:23) because we cannot truly live apart from God. Here’s the theological twist: Jesus died so that our relationship with God can be restored. That’s why the curtain in the Temple split when he died (Matt. 27:51) – to symbolise renewed access to God for everyone. Jesus became the sacrificial lamb for humans to pay for our sins. In line with Old Testament sacrificial traditions, he was a young male without blemish or flaw, but the key difference was that he was a man (and also God, but that’s another theological twist that I don’t really have the scope to go into here). His humanity was crucial because it meant a complete reversal of Adam’s sin – For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! – Romans 5:17
But the Crucifixion was not the end. It brought healing, yes (Isaiah 53:5), but not victory. At that point, it seemed like death had beaten God. Oh no. Three days passed, then, according to the accounts of the Gospels (which, by the way, bear no resemblance to fictional texts around that time, I should know, I’ve read some of them), Jesus rose from the dead. This is fundamental in the Christian faith because it is a demonstration of God’s absolute power over everything, even death. It is the foreshadowing (to use a term from English Lit.) of the time when all who give their lives to God will be raised into eternal, perfect life. This is the hope for all Christians.
This whole Gospel narrative demonstrates an unsurpassable act of love by the God who desires that none should perish (1 Tim. 2:3-4). It is an opportunity for all men to accept the grace of God. To finish, then, consider this. Some people have asked why Jesus didn’t a) die earlier so that his death was available from the start of humanity or b) die later i.e. now so that we can all see it and global media can spread it. I believe that Jesus died at the perfect time. Here’s why:
- The Jews were losing hope and losing sight of God amidst Roman oppression; his death helped to bring some of them back to God (the apostles were all Jewish).
- Jesus died as the Roman Empire was nearing its peak of influence. This meant that his death could be easily spread across Europe, first by Paul and then by Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire. As we know, from Europe it has been able to spread to the Americas, Asia and Africa.
- If Jesus died now, who would believe it? In a secular society with awesome special effects, any claims of a man to have been raised from the dead would be laughed away. In Roman times, a resurrection would have been very hard to fake.
There you have it, some reasons why the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are crucial to Christianity. Have a think about it, and you might be surprised where your thoughts can lead you.