I’ve been asked, from time to time, what the basic element of Christian faith is.
This is a bit like when my two-year old asks me why why the moon is out during the day sometimes and at night other times.
Its a relatively simple thing to talk about, but before you know it you have to fill in a bunch of background information and resolve tangents and generally fill in a hundred gaps in their knowledge.
For my two year old, the answer is “because the moon likes to come out at night, and other times it wants to wake up in the day time.” That makes sense to him, and I don’t consider it to be lying, just talking on his level.
Explaining about how it revolves around the earth, and sometimes it is behind our side of the planet, and we can’t see it, and sometimes it is in front and we can see it, and the earth is rotating, and all of that stuff is simply too much. He will just go ask mommy, and she will have to explain it, and then he will ask me again. The answer may be relatively easy if you are talking to someone who knows the basics already, but when you have to start at square one, it becomes incredibly difficult.
So I want to start with what the earliest believers started with, which is the resurrection.
From Acts 4:1-4 – “As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
This is just one passage of many that describe the earliest Christian faith. At its core is the resurrection of the dead in Jesus. It is also the core of opposition to Christianity. It was then, and it is now.
Christians believe, at the root, that this world and this life are not our final destinations. We believe that we will someday be resurrected and put into new physical bodies with a new heaven and new earth that will be perfect. We are storing up treasures there, we are focusing our lives there.
When Christians do work in this world, we do our best. We try our hardest to make this world like the new world that Jesus promises us. But we do it because we believe that God’s will should be done on earth as it is in heaven, not simply for Earth’s sake.
For this reason we do not store up treasures here. We live for the next life.
We do this because we believe in the resurrection. Not just a spiritual resurrection, but a real resurrected body just like Jesus had. A physical body that does physical things like eat, walk and talk. We are living our lives now in anticipation of that new life.
This offends people.
It makes them very angry. It made the Sadducees so angry that they threatened to kill Peter and John for preaching this message, and eventually they did kill Peter for it.
The reason people get so angry about the resurrection is because when a Christian tells them the next world is more important than this one because the next one is eternal, and this one is short, it ruins their illusions.
The Sadduccees, which were a ruling faction of respected Jewish entrepreneurs, theologians, and temple managers, held their power by focusing on this life. They made their careers off of teaching people how to live NOW. They pursued practical solutions for this life, maintained the temple, and compromised with Rome whenever they found an opportunity. They did so because they thought their best chance at a good life was by following the rules of this world. They were not looking for a perfect life in the next world. They were looking for the best life they could manage in this world.
Being told that this life is less important than the next life took away all their power and influence. When the people are rushing to join the new Christian movement (5,000 in less than a week Acts 4:4) it was a major shock to their system and a threat to their power.
Their power was based on the here and now. The Sadducees staked almost all of their Jewish faith on the principle that this life was the only one, and there was no resurrection from the dead. This is why they always pursued a new kingdom for Israel now, and why they expected Jesus to be a political and war leader to set them free from Rome, rather than a spiritual leader who set them free from sin.
Their society and their power was based off of this principle. They focused on the here and now, and they dismissed any ideas about the resurrection simply because they could control the here and now rather well, and they didn’t want the people running off in search of eternal life.In reality it is a false problem. In reality it is Christians who have the most reason to work in the here and now. Christians have the most incentive to serve this world, because we have nothing to lose because this world is not our home.So go and live like you are on your way to heaven. It frees you to serve this world better, and it makes you a more effective witness.And don’t be surprised when the modern-day Sadduccees rise up against you either.