As every Christian knows, or should know, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His ascension to heaven is a crucial and indispensable part of Christian theology. It is the miracle that proves Christ's being as the Son of God, the mediator between mankind and God the Father.
Christ and the Covenant
The purpose of Christ's being sent to this earth was not only to save mankind from its sins and offer salvation and eternal life after death, but also to extend the covenant made between God and Abraham and his descendants to the rest of mankind. Jesus told the Apostles as He was about to ascend to Heaven: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Mt. 28:19-20).
And that is why Christianity spread as it did, because it offered mankind the benefits of the covenant, a life lived in accordance with God's law, a life that could conquer sin.
In Mark 16:15, we read: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Those who rejected the gift of salvation were indeed damned.
In Luke 24:44, 46, Christ tells the Apostles, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
Thus Christ affirmed the continuity between the Old Testament and the future New Testament. All things must be fulfilled in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament. And the gospel, in Christ's name, is to be preached among all nations, beginning with His own people, the Jews.
Jesus is identified in Hebrews 13:24 as "the mediator of the new covenant," the holy means that established the covenant between God the Father and the rest of sinful mankind.
We read in 1 John 5:14, "And we have seen and so testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." Christ's mission was to save mankind from its own sinful nature. And in John 11:25 we read, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
Worth Living and Dying For
Why were the Apostles willing to accept so much suffering in order to spread the gospel? Because they believed in the truth of the resurrection. They believed in the truth of Christ's miracles. Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith, president of the College of New Jersey, wrote in 1809 in his book, Lectures on the Evidences of the Christian Religion:
Men as they were, of sound understandings and of rational piety, a conviction in our minds of the sincerity of their declarations is all that is necessary to gain for them full credence to the miraculous facts which they relate. There is a wide difference between dying in attestation of a fact, and to prove our adherence to an opinion. In our opinions we may err, and an enthusiastic mind may maintain its errors at the stake with no less ardour than it would adhere to truth. But in facts, such as those related by the apostles and disciples of our Lord, subjected as they were to the examinations of all the senses, and for so long a time, it was impossible for men so judicious, so honest, and so faithful, to be deceived. And their constant readiness to seal their testimony with their blood affords the strongest proof that not the smallest doubt mingled itself with their perfect knowledge and belief of the resurrection, and of all the miraculous works of their Saviour, on which their faith of his divine mission, and of the doctrine of salvation which they proclaimed to the world, was founded.
It was indeed the miracle of the resurrection that convinced many pagans to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. And it was the honesty and sincerity of the apostles that were responsible for the fast spread of Christianity throughout the ancient world. Christianity offered a moral code for human life based on God's love of His creatures. It offered the believer forgiveness of sin, salvation, and eternal life after death. It offered liberty in Christ. Men were at last liberated from the fickle, arbitrary actions of the pagan gods, the appeasement of whom was the central substance of their worship.
The practice of Christian worship was simple and honest. The reading and explanation of Scripture became a key means of extending Christianity to the next generation. It followed the Jewish practice in which the Torah is read throughout the year as a constant reminder of God's commandments. Yet, in those early days, with little written Scripture, the Christian faith grew on the basis of the Word. And thousands believed because it offered a welcome alternative to pagan depravity.
Today, Christ offers the same salvation from depravity in a world that has fallen prey to a new twenty-first century paganism. It is difficult to understand how a civilization that worshipped the idol of "scientific progress" could so easily succumb to pagan primitivism and barbarism. In the name of freedom of speech we've allowed pornography to flourish and corrupt millions of people every day. And in the name of women's rights we've allowed abortion-on-demand to destroy millions of the unborn.
Modern Idol Worship
What all of this means is that modern man is as susceptible to corruption as was primitive man in the days of idol worship. In fact, we have today idol worship on a scale unimaginable in ancient times. Our technology has not raised our morals nor brought us closer to God. But it has, in fact, made our belief in God more essential than ever. For, if there was ever a two-edged sword, it is technology that mocks God by claiming its power to be as God.
But there are many souls in America who are not deceived by the new gods of technology and humanism. The new remnant is growing as more and more human beings become aware of the lethal seductions all around us. Despite the complexities of our high-tech culture, it is obvious that the way to salvation is as startlingly simple as it was in Roman times. The light of Christ leads the way. It leads us out of the cultural maze. It leads us to the Promised Land of freedom in Christ.