Of all the religions of the world, only Christianity claims an empty tomb for its founder. The physical resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. British theologian Michael Green said it well when he noted, “Without faith in the resurrection there would be no Christianity at all.” Noted biblical scholar, professor, and author Wilbur M. Smith said that, “The resurrection of Christ is the very citadel of the Christian faith. This is the doctrine that turned the world upside down…” Indeed it did.
C.S. Lewis notes that, “In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection,” or more accurately, a witness of the resurrected Christ. He adds that, “to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection.” And preach they did.
The transformation of the disciples of Jesus is one of the greatest evidences of His resurrection. For decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection they preached His “good news.” Biblical references and strong extra-biblical sources have almost all of the disciples dying martyrs’ deaths. James, the son of Zebedee, according to Scripture was, “put to death by the sword (probably beheaded).” According to early church historians Peter was crucified in Rome, and Paul (of course not one of the original 12, but an apostle nonetheless) was beheaded there. Strong church tradition has Thomas, the “doubting” disciple, being run through with a spear.
The manner of martyrdom of the other disciples is less clear, but strong evidence suggests all, save John, died horrific deaths because of their faith. Their unwavering efforts spread the gospel to many regions of the world, including Rome, Greece, Armenia, Persia, Syria, India, Egypt, Libya, Arabia, and North Africa.
The faith of Jesus’ Apostles spread to thousands upon thousands in a relatively short period of time. Many of the early believers suffered intense persecution as well. Fulton Oursler, in The Greatest Faith Ever Known, notes that “Thousands of these men and women would die themselves in the arena, burning on pitch-soaked pyres, crucified, they would die for Jesus Christ, and for the Faith, the Church that Christ founded.”
The persecution of the church continued for centuries. After Constantine’s conversion in the year 312 the church passed from persecution to privilege. Councils were called, the Scriptures were translated into various languages, and missionaries carried the gospel to ever farther reaches of the world.
The influence that Christianity has had on the world can be measured in practically every facet of life. Everything from the family, to science, government, medicine, art, literature, business, and so on, has felt the impact of the message of the Resurrection of Christ.
The world’s first university, birthed in 1088, was The University of Bologna in Italy. It was founded to teach canon law. The second oldest university, The University of Paris, grew out of the cathedral schools of Notre-Dame and soon became a great center for Christian orthodox studies. Dr. Alvin J. Schmidt, in his book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, points out that every college established in colonial America, except the University of Pennsylvania, was founded by some denomination of Christianity. He adds that, preceding the Civil War, 92 percent of the 182 colleges and universities in the U.S. were established by some branch of the church.
Many of the greatest artists in history: Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Donatello, Da Vinci, and Salvador Dali were Christians. This is evident in that many of the great works they produced were scenes or characters from Scripture. Beethoven, considered by many to be the world’s greatest composer, composed some of the most profound Christian masterpieces of history. Johann Sebastian Bach was, as one scholar put it, indeed “a Christian who lived with the Bible.”
Americans are the most generous people on the earth. Take note of the number of influential charities inspired by Christianity. Among them are The Salvation Army, Campus Crusade, Catholic Charities, Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, and the YMCA. Through charities such as these, and through the efforts of tens-of-thousands of U.S. churches, and tens-of-millions of U.S. Christians, Americans account for nearly half of all charitable giving worldwide. What’s more, the U.S. government gives more than any other nation on earth.
Christians lead the world in caring for the sick and dying among us. As Virginia Health Information notes, “Some of the earliest hospitals existed in ancient Rome in 100 BC as important centers for the emergency care of sick and wounded soldiers. With the spread of Christianity, hospitals grew as part of the church's mission and became part of the community as they tended to health care not only for soldiers but also for all who needed it.”
The first hospital in North America, the Hospital de Jesus Nazareno, was founded by Cortés. With the aid of Benjamin Franklin, the first hospital in the U.S, Pennsylvania Hospital, was founded by a Quaker, Dr. Thomas Bond. The Catholic Church alone operates over 1,100 hospitals and long-term health care facilities in the U.S. What’s more, a 2010 study revealed that Christian hospitals in the U.S. outperform all others. About 25% of U.S. hospitals are Christian.
The great nation that we inhabit was founded almost exclusively by Christians and upon Christian principles. On July 4, 1837, in a speech delivered in the town of Newburyport Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, and the 6th U.S. President, proclaimed,
“Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day? [Independence Day] Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth?”
Witnessing the events of the Revolution as a boy, and no-doubt hearing from his father of the raucous debates that gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and then going on to serve his country in many various capacities, John Quincy Adams saw that Christmas and Independence Day were fundamentally linked. And of course, the “Redeemer’s mission” was not complete until He hung on the cross, died for our sins, and then left His earthly tomb. Adams understood well that the Founders took the principles that Christ brought to the world and incorporated those into civil government. This is what makes the U.S. government so distinctive, why it has been so durable, and why, to this day, we are the greatest nation the world has ever known.
The United States has become the world’s wealthiest, most powerful, most influential nation in world history. Standing for freedom and justice and operating out of love, whether through its government or private citizens, the United States of America has come to the aid and rescue of billions of people around the world.
The current year is 2016. This is not 2016 years from Caesar, Buddha, or Mohammed, but from the birth of Jesus Christ. Dan Flynn notes that, “The attempt to replace Anno Domini (AD) and BC (Before Christ) with BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) is yet another exercise in futility. Doesn't this Common Era, after all, begin with the life of Christ?”
The impact of Christ’s resurrection can be seen in institutions and industries, in calendars and carols, in tribes and in nations. As I said earlier, virtually every facet of our lives has been impacted by the empty tomb left by Jesus. However, I believe that the power of Jesus is most noticeable in the lives of individuals who have surrendered to Him. Though we may acknowledge Him on our currency, and measure our years from His birth, our only real hope is in His resurrection.
Copyright 2016, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World