Siddhartha Gautama (566-486 B.C.) was cremated at death, leaving behind (it is believed) a few teeth which have become religious relics, housed in fabulous temples in the Sri Lankan city of Kandy and the Chinese capital of Beijing. In 2011 the Lingguang Temple in Beijing lent a tooth to the nation of Myanmar (which it had also done in 1955, 1994 and 1996), escorted by “venerable monks” for forty-eight days of “public obeisance.” Before it traveled to Myanmar, the head of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs attended a religious service for the tooth.
Why such a big ado over so small a thing? Gautama is otherwise known as the Buddha (meaning the “enlightened one”), who founded a religion that now encompasses 350 million worldwide.
A few years ago Beijing lent their tooth to Thailand. On its way to the Royal Air Force Airport in Bangkok, thousands of Thai Buddhists lined the route for a final glimpse of the sacred enamel relic. Pomp was in no short supply, as the tooth was ceremoniously driven in a decorated truck, the tooth itself resting in a miniature pagoda surrounded by bulletproof glass.
In fairness to Buddha, he had no say in his tooth’s becoming an object of veneration for his followers, since it happened after he died and the tooth was lifted from his ashy remains. But that is just the point: there are earthly remains of Buddha. He was nothing more than a mortal man with a host of uninspired ideas. He died and, apparently, some of him is still with us today. His influence is definitely still here, evidenced by millions ensconced in a morass of beliefs about karma, reincarnation, and a denial of the God of the Bible.
If that is Buddhism’s pedigree, Islam is the same song, second verse. Mohammad was born in Mecca c. A.D. 570, over 500 years after the establishment of the church of Christ in Jerusalem (Buddha’s rescued teeth would have been over 1,000 years old when Mohammad arrived). He borrowed from the Bible, mixed it with his own uninspired musings until it bore no resemblance to Scripture, and foisted it on the world in a book called the Koran. Thanks to his efforts, about a billion people today pray to Allah and call Mohammad his prophet. The alleged prophet died in A.D. 632 and was buried in Medina, where his tomb is now the second most revered place of worship for Muslims. Mohammad died. He was buried. He stayed buried. Thus two of the world’s major religions trace back to Buddha and Mohammad — two mere men whose mortality caught up with them, and whose remains are with us to this day.
Contrast that with the empty tomb of Jesus the Christ, the founder of Christianity. True, for a few hours he was buried in a Jerusalem tomb. But there is no coffin containing his bones, around which the faithful can gather to worship. There is no tooth of Jesus coming to a museum near you. Why? Because Jesus came up from the grave, just as he predicted, leaving a tomb whose unique claim to fame was its emptiness.
The Bible says, “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Buddhism did not have the power to resurrect Gautama. Nor did Islam have the power to give Mohammad immortality. But the God of Christianity had ample power to call his Son from death to life and give him a kingdom unlike anything seen before or since. Only the misguided enmesh themselves in religions devoid of power — religions that worship 2,500 year old teeth or exalt ancient burial sites. Jesus is the only founder of a religion who verified his doctrine with genuine miracles and who left an empty tomb in his wake. And he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6).