Christianity is probably the only major religion in the world that makes exclusive and absolute claims about its founder, essence, and distinctives. For many Christians, the major claims of Christianity are absolute, and their absoluteness invites no room for negotiation. As a result, because of the cardinal tenets of Christianity, Christianity is one of the most intolerant and non-inclusive (theologically and doctrinally) major religious traditions in the world.
In this brief essay, I would like to reflect on five basic claims about the Christian faith, which often get Christians in trouble with their non-Christian family members, friends, co-workers, and other individuals in their circle.
1. The Trinity. One of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith is the belief in the Trinitarian nature of God. Paradoxically, Christians confess that God is three in one, and that God exists eternally as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three divine entities are one God, not three. Each one possesses equal nature, power, and authority. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit.
How could anyone in his or her right mind embrace such a theoretical and seemingly strange concept? Well, Christians believe exactly that there is only one God who has always existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God, Christians also claim, is the sovereign Creator and sustainer of all things. He created man and woman according to his own image so they could be in spiritual relationship with him and image him in the world. Christians also argue that God also created the galaxies. They also proclaim the universal love of the Triune God who always pursues his creation for relationship and intimacy.
2. Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the poor Palestinian Jewish male named Yeshua (“Jesus” as they say his name in English) who was born and lived in the first century Roman Palestine was God incarnate. Are you serious? Yep!
Christians insist that Yeshua was a historical person, and that God became a man through him—what they famously call the doctrine of the incarnation. By this theological idea, Christians seek to convey that the historical Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” simultaneously. Doesn’t that seem mythical or legendary to you? Absolutely! However, Christians truly believe that.
My first impression is that all reasonable or logical individuals would love to inquire about which one of the three divine beings—as mentioned above in # 1—has undergone the incarnational experience. Was it the Father, the Holy Spirit, or the Son?
Christians maintain that God the Son has become the brown-skinned Yeshua HaMashiach (“Jesus the Messiah”), whom the Jewish people long-anticipated to come and deliver them from the Roman Empire and exploitation. Correspondingly, for many Jewish people in the first century, the much-anticipated Jesus the Messiah would come to restore the Jewish people to God and reestablish the kingdom of Israel as it were before the imperial invasion and occupation of the Romans.
Furthermore, Christians firmly believe that Jesus is the only authentic way to God, and it is he alone who can provide absolute and direct access to God. If an individual does not believe in Jesus for who he claims (God in the flesh and Savior of the world) to be and for what he has suffered on the Roman cross on behalf of all people—that is his sacrificial death has salvific value for the sins of all people— he or she will not see God. God will not accept anyone apart from Jesus and pardon anyone who willingly rejects Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. By this daring declaration, Christians reject the merits of the works and claims of other prominent religious leaders and founders such as Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and others. It is from the perspective of Jesus’s meritorious works and what he has accomplished redemptively in his life for all people that Christians have the urgency to tell their non-Christian family members, friends, and co-workers about the lordship of Jesus Christ so that they too can experience his transformative presence and reconcile with God.
3. The Virgin Birth of Yeshua. Perhaps, the strangest thing Christians—both first-century Christians [many of these individuals sacrificially risked their lives to follow this first-century Jewish Rabbi—instead of renouncing him—to the point of excruciating death] and contemporary Christians—believe is the notion that this poor and brown-skinned Palestinian Jewish boy named Yeshua was supernaturally conceived by God the Holy Spirit. They profess that Yeshua’s young mother Mary has not previously engaged in any sexual intercourse with men before she became pregnant with baby Jesus. Therefore, the baby in her womb was originated from God, not from Joseph, Mary’s future husband and Jesus’s adoptive or supposed father.
Isn’t this Christian belief in the Virgin birth of Yeshua archaic and anti-scientific? Christians would say No! While modern science, they insist, would reject the miraculous birth of the historical Jesus, the same God who created the world miraculously out of nothing is sovereign over human biology, global history, and human nature. They maintain that the miracle of the Virgin birth does not violate the laws of physics because it is grounded in reasonable faith.
4. The Bible. Christians profess that the Christian Bible—the 66 books that contain both the Old and New Testaments—is the only authoritative and inspired Word of God. First, the modifier “only” suggests that other religious books such as the Qur’an or the Vedas is not the Word of God. That does not mean that these religious texts have no divine value in them. For Christians, these books do in fact contain partial revelation of God; by contrast, the Bible is the only religious book that contains the “full” revelation of God, in the same way they maintain that Jesus is the final revelation of God and God’s full disclosure to the world.
Secondly, the qualifier “authoritative” connotes that the Bible, not other religious books, has its source in God. It is the concept of “divine inspiration” that makes the Bible authoritative. Nothing more! Nothing less! God has spoken through biblical writers who copied down precisely God’s intended words. With this logic, God’s words are also human words or human words became God’s words because of the divine push or influence. Therefore, the words inspiration and authoritative do not undermine the human aspect of the Biblical text. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on the “divine intent” of Christian Scriptures, an element that makes the Bible distinctive and special to those who read it and believe in what it says. It is from this perspective Christians could claim that the Bible communicates meaningfully the will and plans of God for his people and all people.
5. The Resurrection of Yeshua. Has any individual in human history died and raised from the dead before? Have you ever read in a textbook about such strange incident? Perhaps, you have read in the pages of a novel or creative work that a dead character came back to life triumphantly. But, not in a historical work!
Interestingly, Christians are persuaded that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event and the watershed moment in human history. It changed the world. It transformed human destiny. In the same vein, Christians proclaim that the resurrection of Yeshua is the most significant event of the Christian faith. If the resurrection of Christ is not the cornerstone of Christianity, there is no Christianity and there is no Christian hope—both in the present and future. Christianity stands on the belief that Jesus was raised valiantly from the dead. Or Christianity fails on the conviction that Jesus did not raise from the dead, but his body decayed in the humble and eroded Roman tomb.
The resurrection of the historical Jesus has become a universal Christian conviction throughout human history that Christians sustain and proclaim it unapologetically both to followers of Jesus—as a remembrance and celebration of their shared faith—and non-followers of Jesus—to persuade them to embrace the salvific aspect of the cross of Christ. Jesus died and resurrected for the sins of the world. The historical Jesus (the Jewish Messiah) of the Roman Palestine was dead, buried, and resurrected in the third day.
What is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus?
According to Christian belief, because of our wrongdoings, all people are culpable before God. Not only sin invades our hearts and minds, sin radically transforms our thinking process, and terrifically damages our relationship with God and with people. We suffer because of our own sins. We also suffer because of the sins of other individuals we love and know, and even those we are not acquainted with or know intimately. Even creation and the environment are affected because of our bad choices.
God has created us for relationship and love; He is utterly holy, transcendent, and abhors sin and our wicked actions. None of us can never reach his demand for holiness and perfect standard of purity. Therefore, God intentionally planned our deliverance through the cross and resurrection of Christ. In his love, he graciously delivered up Jesus for us as an offering, a gift, even a substitution for our sins.
In fact, a first-century Christian writer and theologian named Paul pronounced some bold assertions about the meaning of Jesus and the significance of his resurrection to a group of people, both followers and non-followers of Jesus, from whom some were skeptical about the historicity of the resurrection:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, hin which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day pin accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me….
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2 in this life only, ewe are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-7, 12-19
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hope for all who believe and trust him as their Lord and Savior. The resurrection of Yeshua affirms that death does not have the final word.
Jesus is the final word for the world, and he is the sustaining life and everlasting joy that death or any form of human oppression denies to all of us!
Rev. Celucien L. Joseph, PhD