I'm studying for my Easter sermon. I have to be honest, sometimes I get intimidated by Easter sermons. It's not that I don't enjoy preaching about the pivot point of our faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's just that I know on Easter there are those people sitting and listening to my message that probably don't want to be sitting and listening to my message. (My friends could joke and say this is the case every Sunday!)
Some preachers get really fired up by a crowd of non-church people. They are gifted evangelists who are always at ease sharing their faith with hostile hearers. In a Christian sort of way, I envy them. I get nervous. This is a big moment. This could be the only time that some people will hear the gospel. I don't want to mess it up. This is where God reminds me that He can use my clumsy gospel efforts and form the words to penetrate the heart of sinners. He is sovereign and for that I'm glad.
This year, God has impressed upon me this central idea of the Resurrection: Christianity is not about Christians, but about Christ. Let me explain:
Perhaps the biggest reason that nonbelievers give for not putting their faith in Jesus Christ is the shoddy faith of his followers. I believe it was Gandhi (but don't quote me) who said he'd follow Christ were it not for Christians. This is a sad commentary on Christians and the state of the church. And it's the cause for much lament in the evangelical community today, with competing perspectives battling to define the church's mission.
There's a place for this introspection. And it's true that our lives as believers must adorn the gospel well (Titus 2:10; 1 Peter 3:33-4). It's true that we, Jesus' followers, are the only Jesus the lost will see.
And yet, the point of Christianity is not that it produces the best, most disciplined followers (though history might actually argue that point well). But let's assume that, overall, Christians haven't done the best job of representing Christ. It's a big assumption, but let's go there. This, still, is not the point of Christianity.
The point of Christianity is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He's alive. He defeated sin and death.
The truth is that there may very likely be more disciplined adherents in other religions. There may be more moral, more socially responsible, kinder, gentler souls. But, the point is not that Christianity makes the best people. It's that Christianity points to Jesus is risen.
Because the point is not that God needs more highly disciplined religious people. Even the highest, most disciplined people fall far short of perfection. Even the most religious can't be religious enough to erase the curse of their sin. The best of us, regardless of religion or system or code, fall way short. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that even he, the most spiritually astute, religiously devout man of his day, needed to be supernaturally regenerated by a power that could only come from above. This is why the rich young ruler in Luke 18 went away sad. He had followed the law, point by point, and still Jesus poked holes in his righteousness. This is why Paul said he counted his strict adherence to the law as "dung" (Philippians 3:8). His works were good, but as a covering for his sin, were as useful as dung. This is the message of the prophet Isaiah, who proclaimed in Isaiah 64:6 that our best attempts to satisfy God with our goodness are like "filthy rags."
The point is that we need something supernatural. We need God Himself to provide a solution. And God did. Jesus came to this earth, in the flesh, absorbed the just wrath of God against our sin, finished the work of atonement, and rose again from death on the third day. Jesus defeated sin and death and His life gives life to dead souls.
The Resurrection is not just a nice capstone to a wonderful religious story. The Resurrection is the story. Jesus wasn't merely a good example to show us how to be better people on the earth. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that our dead, spiritually unprofitable souls could experience the regeneration of new life.
So, to the Christian who constantly chafes at his inability to be a good example at work, at home, at play, who broods over the incomplete picture He is giving of Christ, take heart. Know that you're not the story of Easter. Jesus is. You don't have to be perfect on Holy Week, because Jesus was. Draw on His love for you and when you do, that love and life will naturally flow out in a way that will point others to the Resurrection they need.
And to those who read this who have rejected Jesus: I say with tears, don't wait to acknowledge your sin, God's coming judgment against it. Don't wait to fall on your knees in faith at the foot of the cross. Don't wait to accept the rescue of salvation Jesus offers freely. And most importantly, don't confuse the inconsistencies of Christians like me with the perfection and life of Jesus Christ.
Because us sinful, sometimes nasty, flawed followers are not the story of Easter. Jesus is. He's alive.