It was back in the 1970’s that John Lennon first urged us all to imagine that there was no heaven. It would be easy, he said, if only we’d try. In the week that it has been reported that, in England and Wales, those who identify as Christian are now in the minority, it would seem that many have followed the former Beatle’s advice.
But for me, despite it’s pleasant melody, ‘Imagine’ is a deeply depressing song for, with no heaven to look forward to, all that we are left with is what we have at present. Now don’t get me wrong, we all need to try to be kinder to one another. This week I watched Mark Gatiss’ superb stage adaptation of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and was reminded again of how the weakest in society need the kindness of the strongest if they’re to survive in what is often a hostile world. But I suspect that all of us are weaker than we would sometimes care to admit, and none of us are always as kind as we need to be to make the world a genuinely safe place to live. And so, left to our own devices, any philosophy that encourages us to believe that we can bring about a perfect society by our own efforts, ultimately becomes, not only another in a very long list of ‘just try harder’ religions, but also an experiment in altruism that is simply bound to fail. I don’t know about you but, when I look at the current state of the world in which we live, I can’t help thinking that it’s time to give up trying to go it alone – I for one need the hope of outside help and the prospect of a place to live better than I’ve ever known before.
Of course my hoping for heaven doesn’t mean that heaven exists. Nothing becomes true simply because it is imagined to be so, no matter how strongly some claim the contrary. Likewise, whether something is true or not is not determined by how many people believe it. Rather than being determined by what is currently most popular, truth is determined by the facts.
And so it is with Christianity. The truth of Christianity depends, not on any warm feelings that I may get from considering a God of love but rather on the veracity of Christianity’s historical truth claims. To be specific, Christianity stands or falls on whether or not Jesus Christ died on a cross, was buried, and, three days later, rose again from the dead. If these things did not take place then I am deluding myself and, irrespective of how comforting I may find my Christian beliefs, I am wasting my time attending church each Sunday morning. On the other hand however, if the resurrection is true, then it really does change everything and gives us all good reason to confidently hope for that brighter future we all so long for.
Christianity is unique amongst the worlds religions in that it makes such historical truth claims, claims which not only can be tested but which stand up to intense scrutiny*. For me, therefore, so the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus is not so much a matter of faith but more a matter of historical record, attested to by reliable eye witnesses who were present at the time. Faith then comes in when we believe as true what God says about the meaning of those events and, as a result, entrust our lives to Him.
So what is the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent when Christians traditionally remember the hope that they have in Christ. Today, the second Sunday in Advent, is a day when Peace is the traditional focus. And Peace is one of the many benefits that the death and resurrection of Jesus brings about.
As we are all too well aware, war is very much part of life, with numerous conflicts currently taking place right across the world. Jesus himself said that in these days there would be ‘wars and rumours of wars’ [Matthew 24:6]. But the Bible also speaks of a time when all conflicts will end, when nations will ‘beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’. Furthermore we are assured that a day is coming when ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’, [Isaiah 2:4]. One day there really will be peace on earth.
But this isn’t the only peace that the Bible speaks of. More significantly we are all offered individual peace terms with God, terms by which all hostilities between ourselves and God come to an end. And amazingly, despite it being our rebellion which has soured the relationship between ourselves and our creator, rather than something being asked of us to put things right, it is God himself who fulfils all the requirements of the peace treaty.
For on the cross, our sins were paid for when Jesus took there the punishment we deserved. As the prophet Isaiah makes plain
‘…he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.’ [Isaiah 53:5]
Because of the cross, all the causes of enmity between God and man have been dealt with.
Because of the cross the war that raged between us is over.
Because of the cross we really can know peace with God.
What Jesus suffered for us was truly awful. Even before being nailed to piece of wood and left to die he suffered horrendously at the hands of those whose true nature was being given free reign. As Matthew records
‘…the governors soldiers took Jesus…They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they said. They spat on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him’ [Matthew 27:27-31]
Paradoxical though it undoubtedly is, that such violence should be the path to peace is nothing short of astonishing. Even so, that is what it took. Furthermore it was even for those who inflicted such suffering on Jesus that that peace was secured. For even as he hung on the cross and yielded up his life, Jesus prayed for those who were treating him with such disdain. ‘Father, forgive them’, he said, ‘for they do not know what they are doing’. [Luke 23:32-34].
And we too can be included in his prayer. Hear God’s words spoken to you through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned. [Isaiah 40:1-2a]
These are indeed comforting words, spoken by ‘the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort’ 2 Corinthians 1:3]. And they are words that were later reinforced by the apostle Paul when he wrote that
‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. [Romans 8:1].
No matter the depth of their wrongdoing, those who accept God’s terms of peace, those who surrender to the one who overwhelms them with love, those who are gladly conquered by one so much greater than they are themselves, they are the ones who, because of the cross, are completely forgiven, they are the ones who really can know ‘the peace of God that passes all understanding’. [Philippians 4:7]. And what a peace it is – one that will never ends and one that sustains in even the most unsettling of times.
And so, as Christmas draws nearer on this, the second Sunday in Advent, all I am saying is, like John Lennon before me, ‘Give peace a chance’.
*The evidence for the resurrection is well documented and a couple of links follow for those interested can be found below:
Other related blogs:
To read ‘Advent 2022: Part One: Hope’, click here
To read ‘Rest Assured’, click here
To read ‘In Loving Memory of Truth’, click here
To read ‘Good Friday 2022’, click here
To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here
To read ‘I’ll miss this when I’m gone’, click here
To read ‘Everything is Alright’, click here
To read ‘Order out of chaos’, click here
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read, ‘But this I know’, click here
To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.
To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here
To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here
To read ‘Covid -19. Does it suggest we really did have the experience but miss the meaning?’, click here. This is a slightly adapted version of “T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’.
To read ‘The “Already” and the “Not Yet”’, click here
To read ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac – Law or Gospel?’, click here
To read ‘on being confronted by the law’, click here
To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it Rhubarb?’, click here
To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here
To read ‘Real Power’, click here
To read ‘Three Lockdown Songs’, click here