As my husband and I walked to our favorite breakfast spot this morning, we wondered if there is a name for today (the Saturday before Easter Sunday) in the church liturgical calendar. After all, there is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and tomorrow is Easter Sunday, but what is today? Thomas proposed that it should be called Hopeless Saturday, for this is the day that Christ lay dead in a dark stone tomb, and his disciples were left wondering what to do after the guy they had thought was the Messiah was just crucified in front of their eyes. It got me thinking, what if Christ had never risen? How would it have affected Christ’s followers, world history, and our own lives today?
Acts 5:33-37 gives us a glimpse into what would have become of the disciples. As the Jews debate what to do about the increasing numbers of Christians, a wise leader of the Pharisee reminds them of other movements which had risen and fallen in Jewish history:
“For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.”
If Jesus had stayed in the grave, He would have been just another obscure footnote in history, like Theudas and Judas of Galilee. His followers would have eventually scattered, returning to their previous lives and jobs, such as fishermen and tax collectors. They would have been left wondering what to make of the past three years of their lives, and still waiting and hoping for the Messiah of Jewish prophecy to come.
There would have been no Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit and addition of thousands of new Christian believers), no church, no Apostle Paul, and no New Testament. The Romans and their territories would have remained pagan and polytheistic. Looking back at how the Roman Catholic church became such a powerful shaping force in history, the world would look drastically different without it. Our laws, science, technology, music, and art would have undoubtedly progressed down a different path, perhaps more similar to our Arab and Chinese neighbors. The 2.2 billion people in the world today who call themselves Christians would be adherents of some other religion or none at all. America in particular, having been founded on Judeo-christian values, would be virtually unrecognizable to us. And even the way we tell time would be different, as it would not be the year 2017, which is counted starting from the time of Christ.
But even more gripping is how it would personally affect Christian believers today. As the Apostle Paul wrote, if Christ was not risen, then our faith is futile and we, of all people, are the most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12-19). If Christ was not risen, then we would also be pagans, worshipping false gods and unable to know the one true God. We would be separated from Him forever, offensive to His holiness, strangers and aliens, unaccepted, unloved, lost, and deserving recipients of His wrath. We would be spiritually dead, ruled by our flesh and the desires of our mind, slaves of sin and unable to change, with no chance of forgiveness or redemption. There would be no Holy Spirit indwelling and praying for us, having no hope and without God in the world. We would have no ability to do anything that would matter eternally. Our circumstances in the world would determine our identity, purpose, and worth. We would have no inheritance, no hope of Christ’s return, no looking forward to the day when He will make all things new and wipe away our tears. Day after day would only be an endless treadmill of work and trying to find meaning, only to perish without hope. Much like the writer of Ecclesiastes, we might say, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”
PRAISE BE TO GOD that this terrible thought experiment is just a figment of imagination, for history very thoroughly documents the fact that Christ was risen! First, we have the eyewitness accounts of His followers, whom He appeared to after being resurrected. They felt His wounds, talked to Him, and witnessed Him eating. Most of these people later lost their lives, persecuted for insisting on the truth of the things they had seen and heard. Rather than dying out as the Jews expected it to, Christianity exploded, adding thousands of believers in the months after Christ’s death and resurrection. Even the greatest persecutor of Christians, Saul, was transformed when he met the risen Lord, and devoted the rest of his life to making Christ’s name known. He endured beatings, arrests, shipwrecks, and sickness to take the news of the resurrection all around the world. The record of these things, the New Testament, is preserved with more manuscript evidence and accuracy than any other ancient document from the same time period. Other ancient sources, even those that were hostile to Christ, don’t deny that He rose again, but rather accuse Him of doing it by black magic.
Because of this, today is not Hopeless Saturday, but, as my Anglican sister has informed me, it’s called Holy Saturday. A day of waiting and expectation for Easter Sunday, that glorious day of celebrating Christ’s resurrection and our true source of light and hope in this world.