“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the
We see four essential points: 1.Christ died for our sins, and 2, was buried. 3. He rose the third day and 4. appeared to witnesses. Paul said that this was “according to the Scriptures,” that same phrase we ourselves have said in the Creed. It means that these things were foretold by the Prophets, and written in the Scriptures centuries before the actual events happened.
What has been handed down to us from the ancient Church is that eyewitnesses told their story, their good news, that is their Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostles did not preach just religious ideals, a pattern of secret Gnosis, an impressive and considered philosophy, a collection of clichés or even the Golden Rule. They told the world that Christ had risen from the dead; they had seen Him alive again. Had they not seen Him, there would be no such thing as Christianity. The Church would never have existed. The world might have remained mostly in the darkness of the violent and cruel pagan religions that we know of from ancient history and archaeology. All history would have been different, for the worse; for it is the message of Christ that has made compassion and justice possible, to what degree these ideals have prevailed among the various nations on earth.
Sadly, today the word “martyr” has been corrupted by radical Islamists. For Christians, however, the word “martyr” is a good word. A true martyr does not kill himself or others. One cannot do violence in the Name of Christ, inasmuch as the whole idea of taking up the sword for Christ, whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), is utterly blasphemous. A martyr is not an Islamist suicide bomber. A real martyr is a witness of Jesus Christ. A true martyr, a Christian martyr, is motivated by love.
The word “martyr” was not about death, and a martyr was not someone who died for a cause; that is, not until long after the Church was spreading through the various peoples of the ancient
No one would give his life for an empty tomb, so easily explained away as the efforts of a gardener. But, for our sakes and for the sake of everyone who might hear the Gospel, eyewitnesses bravely laid down their lives rather than saving their lives by recanting their testimony, that they had seen the Lord alive, raised from the dead.
We need to recognize their initial unbelief at first, when confronted with nothing more than the mystery of an empty tomb. We need to realize that they were as realistic, skeptical and disappointed as any of us would have been. Indeed, it was necessary, for our sake, that they were just like you or I would have been, skeptical and unbelieving. Even though they had seen miracles at the hands of Christ, their skepticism prevailed at first. Efforts to explain away their testimony always end up looking pathetic and weak. That is because the attempts to explain away the eyewitness testimony end up being impossible to believe, far more hard to believe than the truth of His resurrection. The whole idea of a group hallucination is the silliest. One may as well try to convince us that several people could all wake up and discover they had had the same dream.
The Gospel comes to us as history. God has invaded the sinful and sorrowful world, and has left His mark, His footprint. All of His promises have been confirmed, and with them all of His claims. Christ’s great I AM statements, identifying Himself as God, have been vindicated and proved true. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” (II Cor. 1:20) The Gospel preached by the Church is still that eyewitness testimony of Apostles and other early disciples who saw the risen Lord. We do not preach the mystery of an empty tomb, but rather the certain testimony, confirmed in the blood of martyrs, that explains that empty tomb. We preach Christ crucified as the risen Lord of glory.