Jesus Is Not A Nice Dead Guy

This week I want to pause my series on 7 Heroes of the Faith to reflect on Easter, our annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In my regular discussions with non-Christians, either online or face to face, it is Jesus’ resurrection that is almost always the sticking point. And yet, it is the central point that I always try to steer our conversations towards.

For instance, I play squash twice a week with a bunch of guys (we’ve been playing together two mornings each week for many years). Recently I gave two of them, Gordon and Spencer, a small booklet that I have recently published called Heading For Eternity: Some Stuff To Sort Out Before You Get There. (It’s designed to give to non-Christians. You can check out the booklet out here). The following week it was just me and Gordon at squash and after we had played, he started a discussion with me. He thanked me for giving him the booklet and said it had really made him think. We had a far-reaching discussion in the change room and showers – a strange place to be discussing matters of eternal consequence, I admit! At one point during our discussion, he made the comment, “I try to live my life along the same principles as Christianity and the sort of teachings that Jesus gave.” I replied, “The main difference between you and me is that I believe the Jesus rose from the dead, proving that he was more than just a good moral teacher – he was and is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.”

It is an important point. I find that most non-Christians will agree with most of the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus (in principle!) and even claim to be living by some of those principles themselves, but it is the resurrection that is the sticking point. It is one thing to acknowledge that Jesus was a fine fellow, but quite another to believe in his divinity.

I also play tennis 3 or 4 times a week (it’s a busy life!). Recently, I gave a copy of the same booklet, Heading to Eternity, to Malcolm, one of my tennis buddies. I was then absent from tennis for the next month as I was travelling, presenting seminars in various locations. When I came back and turned up to tennis again, Malcolm asked if I could visit him in order to discuss the booklet. He had finished reading it and wanted to talk about the issues it had raised. That was yesterday and I plan to visit him in the next couple of days. When I do, it will be the resurrection of Jesus that I will be seeking to steer the conversation towards.

You see, it is the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Sunday morning that changes everything. Without it, Jesus is just a nice dead guy who said some interesting stuff and lived a good life. You can take him or leave him. He poses no threat to our autonomy. He makes no authoritative demands upon our self-directed lives. We can choose to follow his teachings if we wish, just as people may choose to follow the teachings of other nice dead guys like Buddha and Confucius. If his body rotted in the tomb just like all the other nice dead guys and his bones eventually crumbled to dust, there is nothing to commend him to us as being more significant than anyone else.

Furthermore, if Jesus remained dead like everyone else who has ever died, it means that his clear claims to be the eternal Son of God and his repeated predictions that he would rise from the dead turn out to be false. In that case, we can hardly describe him as a ‘nice dead guy’ because he was either a fraud who deliberately misled people or a complete nutter with some kind of mental illness.

On the other hand, if the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead are true, it means that he is definitely not just a ‘nice dead guy’. In fact, each of those three words suddenly becomes hopelessly inadequate as a description of him. If he rose from the dead, he is not just a ‘guy’ but God in the flesh. And he is not ‘dead’ but continues to live and reign as the eternal king to whom we will all one day give an account of our lives. And ‘nice’ is far too bland a word to describe the incredible sacrificial love of the One who gave his life to purchase our forgiveness.

This is why the Easter message is so important. It also provides us with an excellent opportunity to refer to our faith. If the whole of society grinds to a halt and takes a holiday during this Christian festival, surely it gives us the right to respectfully reference our faith in the resurrected Jesus and to even ask people what they believe about him. Surely the Easter festival begs the question, “What do you believe about Jesus?”. The fact that Easter is still an officially endorsed celebration by our society gives us the opportunity – and, indeed, the right – to ask, “What do you think happened on the first Easter Sunday morning? Do you think Jesus rose from the dead?” Anyone who takes offense at such a question while they are simultaneously enjoying the holiday that commemorates Jesus’ resurrection would be a hypocrite.

I have written extensively about the strong – indeed, the overwhelming – evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and you might want to browse my previous blog posts here, using the search box on the right to search for phrases such as “empty tomb”, “Easter” and “resurrection.” There are also chapters on this topic in several of my books such as Finding God When He Seems To Be Hiding and 7 Reasons To Believe”.

I am not sure how much longer our society will officially endorse the Christian Easter celebration and give it credence by legislating a national holiday. Perhaps at some time in the future the holiday will be retained but given a new secular meaning and the Christian meaning will be officially discarded and even outlawed. But until such a time, there is a window of opportunity that presents itself to us at this time each year.

I encourage you to take it!