Fresh off of Easter Sunday, billions of people on this planet celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus, the central tenet and claim of Christianity. On the surface, the claim seems preposterous: almost two thousand years ago, there was a homeless Jewish rabbi who lived in a backwater Roman province and died a common criminal’s death by crucifixion. He was God and proved it by rising from the dead. It sounds much more plausible as a religious fairytale, a backstory to help explain why so many Christians show up to church on Sunday. Why is it so important to Christians that we view the resurrection of Jesus as a real historical event and not a religious fairytale? Two reasons, one theological and one practical.
The theological reason is simple: if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, then we’re all wasting our time. The Apostle Paul himself said that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we’re to be pitied as Christians more than everyone else (1 Corinthians 15:16-19), because then nothing Jesus said can be trusted. Our whole faith becomes irrelevant if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead.
The second reason it’s so important that Jesus really rose from the dead is because of the difference between fairytales and historical events. One can inspire, the other actually changes your reality. Good fairytales all have the same constants: memorable characters, compelling storylines, emotional engagement, timeless morals. And one last constant: Fairytales don’t impact our everyday existence. I mean, fairytales are an escape from reality, but they do not determine your reality. No one’s going to buy a castle tomorrow so that your prince can save you from that evil dragon that’s been hassling you. No one’s bringing their light saber to work tomorrow because you’re afraid an evil Sith Lord might jump out from the next cubicle over. And no one is building a snowman expecting it to become a lifelong friend.
Historical events, on the other hand, can have all of the same elements as fairytales: memorable characters, emotional engagement, compelling storylines, timeless morals, but the difference is historical events can have a dramatic impact on your reality. The reason why America is a free nation and not a commonwealth of Britain is because we declared our independence in 1776. The American Revolution happened. It’s a historical event. The reason the United States is the world superpower and not Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan is because World War II happened. It’s not a fairytale, it’s a historical event. On September 11, 2001 ago planes crashed into the Twin Towers and changed how our generation interacts with the Middle East. How many know of someone who deployed to Afghanistan or the Middle East over the past decade? September 11 is a historical event. It happened, and it has impacted our reality.
That’s why it’s so important for Christians that the resurrection actually happened. If it’s just a fairytale, a backstory, a comforting story we tell our kids before bed, it can inspire us but it doesn’t have to change us. A historical event, on the other hand, changes everything. It helps shape and determine our reality. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, proving that he was in fact the son of God, then we’re forced to deal with that watershed moment in human history, when God visited the earth. We can never be the same.