This article originally appeared in our local paper, “The Manchester Journal.”
Easter is here again, and with it comes global celebrations of Jesus’s resurrection. It may be shocking to find out that Christianity is the world’s largest, most diverse religion today. But it should be equally shocking to imagine that probably the majority of residents in our well-educated town have never read one of the four Gospels that lays out what Christianity believes, including the resurrection of Jesus. A 2017 Lifeway survey found that over half of Americans have read none or little of the Bible.
In her book Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions For the World’s Largest Religion, New Englander Rebecca McLaughlin explains the global diversity present in Christianity today: “But, ironically, our habit of equating Christianity with Western culture is itself an act of Western bias…if you care about diversity, don’t dismiss Christianity: it is the most diverse, multiethnic, and multicultural movement in all of history.” (45) She goes on to explain that around the globe, the people most likely to be Christians are women of color. Projections by sociologists don’t see this changing anytime soon. McLaughlin elucidates: “…by 2060, the latest projections suggest, Christianity will still be the largest global belief system, having increased slightly, from 31 percent to 32 percent of the world’s population.” (12)
But what is the basis of what so many Christians from so many backgrounds around the world believe? Citizens of today’s world should be conversant with a faith that pervades so much of society. The Bible calls the basis of what Christians believe “the gospel,” while “The Gospels” are the four foundation documents of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The term “gospel” can be translated “good news.”
The good news about Jesus is that he died on the cross to atone for the sins of all who will believe in him. He suffered and died publicly on the cross as the punishment for the sins of all who believe in him, so they will never have to pay for those sins themselves. The Gospel of John famously makes this good news clear: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The Bible teaches that our sin separates us from God, but that Jesus is the bridge that brings us back to God. We can have forgiveness of sins today, and forever in heaven with God precisely because Jesus died, but also rose again. As the resurrected Jesus himself proclaims: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) Jesus literally claims to have the key that can close the door to death for you, and give you eternal life.
This is why Christians celebrate Easter. We believe that Jesus didn’t stay dead. The story of Easter is that Jesus rose from the dead again. Those who believe that this really happened call themselves Christians. In identifying that their lives are united with Christ and in calling him “Lord,” they are identifying themselves with him in his death and resurrection.
No one really finds this easy to believe. His disciple, Thomas, who had been with him for three years, did not believe when the other disciples said they had met Jesus who was alive again. When Jesus appeared to Thomas and challenged him to put his fingers in the nail marks, and his hand in his pierced side, Thomas fell down at Jesus’s feet and confessed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Christians around the world, Christians of all ethnic backgrounds, Christians in our own community, are people who have said to Jesus after they have believed that he is their savior, risen from the dead: “My Lord and my God!”
So, what do you know about Christianity? Have you ever read one of the four Gospels that lays out the foundation of the world’s largest, most diverse religion? I challenge you this Easter to become conversant with Christianity by reading the Gospel of John. But beware. Within its pages, you will hear Jesus say this: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) Jesus is not content for us to simply come to learn about him. He also wants us to know him today. As Christians around the world will be celebrating this Easter, he didn’t stay in that tomb. He is alive today. That is not only worth celebrating, it means that all that he said is true.