Last Sunday, worshippers were packed into St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, preparing for Palm Sunday when a suicide bomber killed 25 congregants.
As Easter draws near, the attacks in Alexandria (and Tanta) stand as vivid reminders of the hostility many feel towards Christianity. Yet, every day since the attack, it is reported that churches in Egypt have been filled with funerals, memorials, worship, and Easter celebration. The historically indomitable spirit of Christianity continues…
As Christians, we should expect to encounter opposition. Many contend Polycarp was the most famous early Christian martyr. Eusebius describes how the Roman authorities brought the beloved old pastor into an arena, and prepared to throw him to the lions… The governor who loved old Polycarp implored;
“Polycarp, please swear by Caesar!”
“I’m a Christian, if you want to know what that’s all about, sit a day and listen,” Polycarp replied.
“Then I’ll throw you to the beasts!”
“Bring on your beasts,” said Polycarp.
“If you scorn the beats, I’ll have you burned!”
“You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour, and you forget the fire of hell that never dies.”
Polycarp then prayed that his death would be an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord and, at age 86, was burned alive. While his body burned, the raucous audience began to comment that the smell was not the normal “smell of flesh” but rather a blessed aroma, like baking bread! Following the somber hour, followers of Polycarp slowly picked up each charred ash of their fearless leader, carrying them like precious jewels, to a funeral of praise.
Why are Christians, modern or ancient, despised? Why does the world turn against them? Tertullian gives us an answer in his Apology writing, “We are living aloof from the crowds…”
Christians are unique from the culture around them.
The New Testament word for “saint” has the Greek root hagios meaning, “holy ones” and refers to someone or something different. So biblically speaking, a holy person is someone different from those around them.
Because people tend to look with disdain or trepidation on those who are different, distinctiveness brings trouble, often fierce and spurious reaction. This is why Polycarp, Egyptian Christians, and many others have suffered for the faith…
But, even amidst distress, Christians continue forward with hope. They maintain a faithful reserve, a deep anchor, an indomitable spirit… Undeterred by beasts, bombs, or bonfires.
What allows Christians to remain holy when despised? Easter is our answer…
John 14:19 records seven words of Christ that changed eternity…
“…Because I live, you also will live.”
These words signal a promise wherein the life of Christ, and His death conquering power, will be imputed into the life of His saints! The apostle Paul affirms this resurrection power as the pinnacle of Christian hope – Of the 138,000 words in the composite Greek New Testament, Paul wrote 32,000 of them and to the church of Corinth he attests, “I delivered to you as of first importance… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day.”
“First importance,” Paul says: For Paul Christ’s resurrection was the pivot point of faith!
The resurrection is what makes Christianity believable. Who would invent a religion where the Founder is a crucified criminal and the followers self admittedly lose all hope? Further, who would then contend that the Founder supposedly came back to life after three days dead? The argument for Christianity is the absolutely unconscionable storyline of it all! A perfect God who redeems a fallen people (without their merit) and reestablishes a small band of fishermen, who formerly failed Him, to grow in strength and willingly die for the noble cause! Humans don’t write that kind of story, God writes that story, because God receives all the glory.
Even the secular Romano-Jewish historian Josephus describes how this stunning drama impacted ancient Palestine. In Antiquities he remarks, “On the third day [Jesus] appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
Furthermore, the resurrection is what makes Christianity powerful. The Bible links the resurrection power of Christ with the regeneration of a person to new life (1 Peter 1:3), a justified guilt-free status before God (Rom 4:25), the inheritance of a glorified body in heaven (1 Cor 15:30), and the motivation to live righteously (Col 3:1). The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in each true believer!
So, it’s the resurrection power of Christ in the life of a Christian that guides the indomitable spirit of faith and hope against all odds.
The glorious Creator of the universe used His Son’s death and resurrection to remove every roadblock between you and Him, so that His infinite power may be more extolled, and you may experience everlasting joy! This is the hope that allows Christians to endure any hardship with a smile. This is Easter.
“Let every saved man count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but also, ‘I shall rise.’” -P. Brooks
Christ is risen. So will we.