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April 9, 2009

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Resurrection Bullets – a few thoughts for Easter 09

by quaesitor

To coincide with EA’s Slipstream co-ordinated blogathon for Easter, here are a few random bullets on Jesus’ Resurrection. And because i feel in the mood for some alliteration, here is some alliteration…

The attractions of accepting it

One could mention a zillion things – but here a few of the big ones:

  • JESUS: Jesus is who he claimed to be – it’s one thing to claim to be sent from God (anyone can do that, as history has proved); it’s quite another to predict the circumstances of one’s death AND then resurrection (cf. Mark 8:34-38, 9:31, 10:32-34). By the same token, it endorses his fulfilment of OT expectation (cf. 1 Cor 15:4)
  • DEATH: Death is not the end – he has beaten death at its own game. Therefore he goes through death in order, for example, to prepare a place in the Father’s house for his people. (John 14:1-6)
  • FALL: The serpent will be crushed (cf. Gen 3:15, Rom 16:20, Rev 20:10) so that the effects of the fall are completely reversed. That is why Rev 21-22 speaks of a heavenly garden city in Jerusalem where there will be eternal access to the Tree of Life (Rev 22:1-5)
  • RELIGION: Because of the resurrection, we discover that physical temples and religious shrines are no longer necessary. Jesus IS the Temple – i.e. the meeting place with God. The resurrection endorses his credentials as the greatest mediating point between God and humanity. (cf. John 2:19 & Acts 17:24-25)
  • JUSTICE: The world is not hopeless because evil doesn’t get away with murder. There will be a reckoning, and that is profoundly GOOD news. See Paul’s sermon in Acts 17, where he argues that the resurrection demonstrates ultimate authority and right to be the judge. (cf. Acts 17:31)
  • TRAILS BLAZED: Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection, a metaphor from the world of farming and harvests. The firstfruits indicates the quality of the rest of the year’s crop – and would be dedicated to God. Jesus is the first, the trailblazer, the pioneer – and all who follow and trust in him, will revel in the fact of being part of the great resurrection harvest. (1 Cor 15:20, 23)
  • GRIEF: The resurrection doesn’t remove human grief – it is only the super-spiritual who pretend that it does. Paul for one would have been deeply affected had his dear friend, the Philippian Epaphroditus, have died (cf. Phil 2:27). But what the resurrection does do is profoundly to CHANGE grief for those who have died in the Lord – hence his encouragements to the Thessalonian Christians (cf. 1 Thes 4:13).

This is a poem which Garry Williams quoted this week at New Word Alive 2 in his seminar on the English Puritan emigrant to America, Anne Bradstreet. (Tim Chester blogged the seminar). She wrote a number of remarkable poems. This one was written after her 3 year old granddaughter had died:

With troubled heart and trembling hand I write,
The Heavens have chang’d to sorrow my delight.
How oft with disappointment have I met,
When I on fading things my hopes have set?…
Farewel dear child, thou ne’re shall come to me,
But yet a while, and I shall go to thee;
Mean time my throbbing heart’s chear’d up with this
Thou with thy Saviour art in endless bliss.

The barriers to believing it

  • Scientific Materialism: the supernatural simply doesn’t exist. Remember Dawkins damning, patronising remarks at the close of his debate with John Lennox (after Lennox had hurriedly concluded with his confidence in God on the basis of Jesus’ resurrection):

Yes, well that concluding bit rather gives the game away, doesn’t it? All that stuff about science and physics, and the complications of physics and things, what it really comes down to is the resurrection of Jesus. There is a fundamental incompatibility between the sophisticated scientist which we hear part of the time from John Lennox – and it’s impressive and we are interested in the argument about multiverses and things, and then having produced some sort of a case for a deistic god perhaps, some god that the great physicist who adjusted the laws and constants of the universe – that’s all very grand and wonderful, and then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe.

  • Deism: there is a divine creator, but he’s moved on. He has little or nothing to do with his universe now, and certainly wouldn’t have any interest in intervening within it.
  • Presumption: dead people don’t rise therefore Jesus didn’t rise.
  • Platonism (of sorts): the material world is evil and the spiritual is, well, spiritual. So Jesus couldn’t have risen with a heavenly body because why would God want to have a body anyway? Though of course, that would probably have ruled out the Incarnation as well…

The consequences of the con

But just suppose that the resurrection DIDN’T happen. Suppose it’s all one big con. Where would we be without the resurrection of Jesus? Well, the interesting thing is that the Apostle Paul was himself acutely aware of the fall-out if the resurrection was not true. He was quite upfront about it – for the entire Christian gospel is at stake here. He spells out a number of consequences in 1 Corinthians 15: 12-18 (for fun, here adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message), namely:

  • Our message (of the resurrection) is essentially just a matter of smoke and mirrors
  • We (the messengers of that resurrection) are ourselves just groping in the dark, lost and hopeless.
  • We Christians are a pretty sorry lot because all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years but not for eternity. We might enjoy the delusion of being forgiven but we really are not.

But Paul didn’t think it was a con – and nor do I. At the very least, there is evidence the points in this direction.

The data beyond debate

Yes, I realise that was a pretty contrived heading – it’s pretty late as I write this. And indeed, loads of different folks spell out the evidence for the resurrection. It did happen in history. Here are the main bullet points. For detail, check out Frank Morrison’s Who Moved The Stone? And N T Wright’s Who Was Jesus?

  • The Cross: perhaps he didn’t die or just swooned? But then, crucifixion was pretty barbaric and Roman soldiers would be unlikely to make mistakes in doing their duty. What motive could they possibly have for letting him be substituted or endure only half-measures?
  • The Empty Tomb: otherwise, it would been a synch for the Roman/Jewish authorities to have produced the body. It was the very thing they most feared (hence what was probably the only guarded tomb in Jerusalem!) (cf. Matt 28:11-15). It couldn’t have been the wrong tomb (body would have been produced; right tomb would have been quickly identified) Why else was no tomb ever venerated by anybody?
  • The Appearances:  incl 500+ at one time (1Cor 15:6) – therefore, can’t be hallucinatory? If it had been, it would still require some sort of ‘supernatural’ explanation.
  • The Early Church: for the church to have come into existence out of the embers of the crushed and fearful faith of the first disciples (cf. John 20:19-23),  something must have happened! How else did they endure persecution? Why else change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?
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