Chelmsford Cathedral
 
Why I am a Christian

An interesting and thought-provoking article by Paul Beasley-Murray on why he is a Christian will be printed in Cathedral Life Weekly this week.  Unfortunately space doesn't allow for the whole article to be reproduced and so below is Paul's full article, taken from a talk given to Felsted school earlier this year.

Jesus calls us to place our hope in him: "Do not be worried and upset.  Believe in God, and believe also in me.  There are many rooms in my Father's house, and I am going to prepare a place for you.... I am the way; I am the truth; I am the life; no one goes to the Father except by me" (John 14.1,2, 6).

Jesus alone can give us life:  "The truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised.... This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life.  When the body is buried it is mortal; when raised it will be immortal.  When buried it is ugly and weak; when raised it will be beautiful and strong.  When buried it is a physical body; when raised it will be a spiritual body......  When what is mortal has been clothed with what is immortal, and when what will die has been clothed with what cannot die, then the scripture will come true:  'Death is destroyed; victory is complete'.  Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your power to hurt?  Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15.20, 42-43,54-57).

Death is a constant issue in our house. Caroline, my wife, in her role as HM Senior Coroner for Essex has to deal with some 7000 suspicious deaths a year. And of course in my role as a minister I often have had to deal with death.   

But death is not just an issue for coroners and ministers to deal with – it is an issue we all have to deal with.  As one wit put it, ‘Death and income tax are the two unavoidable certainties in life’. The big question we all have to face is:  Is death the end?  Or is there life beyond death.

When Cardinal Hume, the former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he rang to tell his friend the Abbott of Ampleforth.  His friend said: ‘Congratulations!  That’s brilliant news.  I wish I was coming with you’!   

When I was in my late teens Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of my heroes: he was a great German Christian put to death by Hitler’s henchmen. As he was taken away to be hanged, he said, “This is the end.  For me the beginning of life

What a difference Jesus can make to living – and to dying. It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that I am a Christian.  Yes, there are no doubt many other reasons why a person can decide to follow Jesus, but for me this is the key.

Yet, we have to admit that from a purely rational perspective, belief in the resurrection of Jesus is absurd.  Dead people do not rise from the dead.  Death is always final.  Or is it? Lord Byron claimed that there are times when “truth is… stranger than fiction”.  I believe that the resurrection of Jesus is one of those times.

Just look at some of the evidence.  Have you ever noticed that all four Gospels agree that women were the first to discover the empty tomb and to receive the news of the Resurrection?  No first-century Gospel writer would ever have dreamt of mentioning women as witnesses of the empty tomb, unless it happened to be true.  For women in those days did not count; they were not allowed to give evidence in court.   And yet in the New Testament the story of the empty tomb rests in the first place on the evidence of the women.  

All kinds of weird and wonderful suggestions have been made to explain the empty tomb.  

But on careful examination none of these arguments holds water. The tomb was empty because God raised Jesus from the dead.

Another major piece of evidence for the resurrection are the appearances of Jesus.  

Some have suggested that these so-called appearances were subjective visions rather than objective events, akin to the hallucinations the bereaved sometimes experience. 

But the reality is that the resurrection appearances of Jesus came as a genuine surprise to the disciples – far from looking for an excuse to believe in the resurrection, they were frightened by what they experienced.  Furthermore, the appearances involved not just one or two individuals, but also groups of people – the Apostle Paul even spoke of a group of more than five hundred seeing Jesus at the same time. But hallucinations tend to come to individuals – a group of people never see the same thing, unless there is an objective basis to what they see.  

Then there is the fact that the resurrection appearances took place at different times and in different places – whereas by contrast psychic experiences are normally limited to particular times and places.  

Murray Parkes, a distinguished psychiatrist, in his monumental Bereavement Studies of Grief in Adult Life commenting on the hallucinations experienced by the bereaved, wrote: “No matter how happy the dream, there must always be a sad awakening”. But the resurrection traditions of the New Testament never mention any such ‘sad awakening’.  There never came a point when they realized it was but a dream.

The fact is that the stories of the empty tomb and of the resurrection appearances are not literary devices to ensure that there is a happy ending to an otherwise tragic tale, but rather are grounded in reality, grounded in truth. 

But that is not all. I am a Christian not just because I believe God raised Jesus from the dead – but because as a result death need not be the end for you and me. The Apostle Paul put it this way:  “The truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised” (1 Cor 15.20).  

The Bible teaches that in rising from the dead Jesus has blazed a trail through the valley of the shadow down which those who have put their truth in him may follow too. Or in the words of Jesus, with which I begin every funeral:  "I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live" (John 11.25).  Do note that the Christian message at the point of death is not: ‘All will be well – whatever’.  That is sentimental untruth.  Rather: ‘All will be well for those who have put their trust in the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus’.

Some years ago Caroline and I were guests at a dinner in Cambridge:  a fellow-guest was Professor Sir Norman Anderson, a distinguished academic lawyer.  He and his wife Pat had  in many ways had a hard life - they had lived to see their three adult children die. Their son, Hugh, was a brilliant student at Cambridge, President both of the Cambridge Union and of the Cambridge Labour Club, when in 1970 he died of an inoperable brain tumour at the age of 21.  A few days later, Prof Anderson spoke on BBC Radio 4.  After explaining why he was convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead, he continued: "On this I am prepared to stake my life.  In this my son died, after saying, 'I'm drawing near my Lord'.  I am convinced that he was not mistaken".

When my father died, we ended his death announcement in The Times with these words of Apostle Paul: "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15.57).  That is why I am a Christian.

 

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