Resurrection

The Resurrection: Saul to Paul

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While the debate concerning the identity of Jesus Christ as God himself as historical fact or fiction will forever continue, the figure of Paul is much less easily argued against. Paul comes down to us from the 1st century as a real man who wrote real documents, who preached faith in Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Paul is a historical figure: very few people will object to that statement. However, while some attempt to legitimize the life of Paul and reject the life of Jesus, a closer look at the life of Paul will lead to the truth that Paul cannot exist as history presents him without the existence of Jesus as history presents him as well. The life of Paul without the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not worthy of anyone’s study. Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul is simply another Jewish Pharisee destined to be remembered only by his family, friends and colleagues. As we have it, with the resurrection, the name of Paul is possibly the second most important name in human history, second only to Jesus himself. The reason Paul is worthy of anyone’s study is because of his radical transformation on the road to Damascus.

Acts 9:1-22

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

Over the course of three days, Paul transformed from Saul of Tarsus, a fiery Jewish Pharisee, devoted to the destruction of the Christian heresy, to Paul the Apostle, preaching the good news of Christ and changing the course of human history through his many missionary journeys, church planting and frequent correspondence with the early Christian Churches, comprising more than two thirds of the entire New Testament. We must ask the question, why?

Why would Paul suddenly change and become a member of the sect he was committed to destroy? Why would he forfeit his wealth and status to become poor and persecuted? Why would he endure hardships such as shipwrecks, stoning, floggings, imprisonment, and sickness for this heresy of Jesus Christ? Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the actions of Paul are those of a man gone insane. His transformation without the resurrection is unlikely and unreasonable. With the resurrection, the mission and promise of Jesus to Paul that he preach salvation in Christ to all nations, Jew and Gentile, suddenly thrusts the reality of Paul’s conversion into the reality of the Gospel, with the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day.

The Resurrection: Disciples to Leaders

empty-tombThe Bible is worthy of glorification. The disciples of Jesus Christ are not. Often we view the disciples as born healers, born preachers and born leaders. The truth is, they were none of these things. What we know of these men is that they were simple, common, unimportant socially; skilled, but individuals of the ordinary. For all intents, they were the middle of the curve, wonderfully average.

Upon witnessing the risen Lord following his resurrection, these disciples are quickly transformed into preachers that convert thousands at a time, healers that publicly display healing powers of the lame and crippled, and leaders of the persecuted, notorious yet thriving early Christian Church. How? How did they suddenly possess the clarity and public speaking power to instruct and preach that which only days prior they could not even comprehend? A message they ran from in fear of persecution and arrest? How did they suddenly possess the power to overcome sickness and forgive sins as God does, in the name of Jesus Christ? The answer is in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are all aware that different people have different skills with clear limitations as to what we can do with them. We know that in order to attain a new skill and use it confidently we must be patient, practice, wait and then practice more. We do not see the disciples take time to hone these skills. They appeared quickly in the characters of these disciples and, when used, their effects were unparalleled in human history. Almost overnight, these men and women became new creations and new people. Without the resurrection, these transformations are unbelievable. The kind of change exhibited in the lives of the disciples is not explainable by logic or reason. The promises of Jesus that the disciples would go on to do greater things in his name, accomplish all they desire for the glory of God in his name, become new creations born again in his name suddenly become possible and suddenly become true with the resurrection.

The Resurrection: Tradition to Transformation

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The lost tomb is one glaring example establishing that the disciples contradicted cultural norms as Israelites and began to blaze new trails in the name of Jesus, but the tomb is only one example of such radical reform. As the Jewish people were frequently raided, overrun, taken hostage, attacked and oppressed throughout history, it became extremely important for leaders to teach the legacy, ancestry and history of the Jewish people to future generations, not merely as a means of cultural emphasis, but to remind the future generations that the people of Israel held a unique place in the Creator God’s plans for humanity. Thus, while the tangible value of Israel wavered throughout history, the commands of God to Moses established in the Torah and the salvation displayed and promised by God to the people of Israel never faded. This longevity was due to the painstaking commitment made by the Jewish people to establish the Law, remind people of the Law and keep the Law. In this climate of extreme rule keeping and obedience, one witnesses in the Gospel narratives the disciples redefining the Law as established by Jesus, and following a new Law or covenant grounded in the deity of Jesus Christ. The disciples regularly break the long-established Law of the Sabbath by their activity on that holy day.

Matthew 12:1-2

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

The new law established in and by Jesus changed the disciples’ paradigm. As a result, because Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, the disciples no longer worshipped the Lord on the common Holy day of Saturday (Sabbath) but moved their worship to Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The disciples revise the long-established tradition of the Passover meal as they not only ate the meal away from their immediate family but also seemed to forget the most important element of the meal, the lamb. Only the direct intervention of God could alter that God-established tradition.

Mark 14:12-25

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

In following the example of Jesus, the disciples repeatedly break laws concerning the clean and unclean, interacting not only with the physically unclean, such as lepers and the paralyzed, but also with the spiritually unclean, such as the prostitute and tax collector. Without the resurrection, the argument that these humble and unimportant men suddenly decided to simply revise and disobey the laws their forefathers followed for thousands of years becomes ridiculous. One must also consider that if Jesus did in fact die and remain buried in the tomb, the disciples themselves would want nothing to do with such a blasphemer, liar and heretic and would have continued awaiting the true Messiah. However, given the resurrection of Jesus, we find reason to believe that their newfound courage and unusual behavior were motivated by one truth and one reason alone. Jesus resurrected from the dead and fulfilled all of the Messianic prophecies that rooted the Law of Moses. They witnessed the sacrifice of God himself as Jesus Christ. They witnessed the resurrection of God himself as Jesus Christ. Thus, the law and the prophets were fulfilled in Christ, and in Christ the disciples were given a new covenant that overruled the previous law and requirements of their forefathers.

Hebrews 9:11-15

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

 

The Resurrection: Tombs to Trails

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It seems that year after year as the Easter and Christmas holidays draw near, one predictably sees a program or two concerning the newly found proof or evidence of the “real” Jesus. While these newly found discoveries never hold up, a popular topic of research is the search for the physical body of Jesus Christ. While historians and scholars are more willing now than in the past to affirm the historical existence of Jesus Christ, without belief in the resurrection, one is left searching for the body of the man who was crucified on the cross and subsequently died. The mystery that will remain a mystery to those unwilling to accept the story of the resurrection is that the location of the tomb of Jesus Christ has been lost to history, and no one can conclusively establish where the tomb actually is.

This mystery is made even more profound when one considers the cultural traditions of the Jewish people regarding the burial of prominent public figures. Such sites are extremely important. The celebration and glorification of those figures after their death, and the memorial to them in the hearts and minds of future generations is an invaluable treasure to a culture that so often throughout history has had very little to hold onto. From to the Gospel narratives, we also know that the body of Jesus was not simply thrown into an unmarked grave to be forgotten by future generations. The body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of an upper-class Jewish citizen, Joseph of Arimathea. His followers knew exactly where the tomb was, and they visited the tomb after his burial.

Mark 15:42-47:

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.    

John 20:1-2:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 

Consider what a profound effect Jesus had on the Jewish people in general, for believers and non-believers alike. It is impossible to believe that if the life of Jesus did indeed end with his death on the cross, his followers not only defied their cultural practice of honoring the dead but more unbelievably, forgot the location of the tomb altogether.

While the tomb of Jesus has been lost to history, what has not been lost is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do have plenty of proof that almost immediately following the death of Jesus, the disciples moved their eyes from the tomb of Jesus to the trails yet to be blazed in his Name as they set off to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The disciples viewed the tomb as trivial in the presence of the reality of the risen Lord, as well as the job that lay ahead driving them to spread the Gospel to those yet to have heard.

In the presence of the dead body of a prominent figure buried in a prominent location, the history of the Jewish people would lead us to believe that the tomb would not only be remembered and marked but that it would be celebrated and preserved. However, in the presence of the resurrected Christ, the tomb becomes nothing more than a stepping stone in order to reach the greater intended heights established by Jesus Christ that the disciples set off to reach. We all know the phrase “history repeats itself,” and we might expect this in the Jewish treatment of the tomb of Christ. However, in this instance, history did not repeat itself. In this instance, the disciples contradicted history and set off in a direction that would ultimately rewrite history.

 

The Resurrection: Respect to Worship

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As discussed previously, belief in the resurrection must not rely on the fact that it is mentioned in the Bible and therefore must be believed. We must look at how the resurrection is described, how that moment changed the attitude of the disciples and the course of human history forever with the emergence of the Christian Church. Along with the analysis of the before-and-after behavior from the disciples, in regards to their hope in Jesus being the long awaited Messiah, we must analyze their behavior in regards to the reality that Jesus was in fact the Messiah they had been waiting for. More specifically, one must observe how their attitudes shifted towards Jesus, alive as the human Messiah, and Jesus, alive as the risen Lord.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, the disciples were faithful in their loyalty to Jesus as their leader and teacher (that is, until his arrest and crucifixion, where only one disciple that we know of was present at Golgotha to witness his actual death). They spoke deep belief in Jesus as the true Messiah and son of God. However, according to their sheepish actions in the face of trial and persecution, these words of  faith prove shallow, spoken out of excitement and naivety.  Against Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion their words are little more than well-meaning lies, their faith in him quickly reduced to respect for him as a great teacher, or possibly a prophet, as believed by the disciples on the road to Emmaus. However, their faith in him as the Lord himself, as the creator God, as Yahweh, is a difficult argument to make.

The disciples’ belief in and understanding of Jesus Christ’s true identity did not settle at the stage of respect. The disciples quickly began to worship Jesus as the risen Lord himself, come down from Heaven as the Son of God. They also began to observe the resurrection as the culmination of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Following the resurrection, the disciples had no doubt that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be. With that truth, their faith exploded and the course of human history was forever changed. Even Peter, who denied Jesus repeatedly before the resurrection, overcame his fear and was convinced of what the resurrection meant:

Acts 2:14-36

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
   and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants[b] and female servants
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
   blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
   before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
   “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
   Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

In the face of the resurrected Christ Jesus, the attitude of the disciples changed dramatically from respect and honor to unparalleled and unprecedented worship of a human teacher who suffered, died, was buried and then resurrected, as God himself.

The Resurrection: Grief to Joy

The resurrection defines Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Christianity then becomes the biggest scam, lie and embarrassment in all of human history. Without the resurrection, there is no remedy to sin: Christianity becomes the weapon of sin. The resurrection can be believed not only through the accounts of the Gospel narratives but by looking at the transformations and changes that affected those involved.

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One of the most striking realities of the Christian faith is the fact that the foundation of said faith is such a tragic and devastating story. The founder of the faith was crucified as a criminal and died. The symbol that became synonymous with the faith is the very instrument that brought its leader to his last breath. At the heart of the Christian story is blood, pain, suffering and sadness. Without the resurrection, the story of Jesus Christ is not only tragic, but to place faith in the story without the resurrection makes no sense whatsoever. Without the resurrection the story of Christianity is just sad. There is no place for joy, no place for hope, and no place for faith. In fact, given the promises of Jesus and the claims he made concerning his own life, without the resurrection the story of Christianity is embarrassing.

One of the most courageous acts of the early apostles and early Church was their honesty in recounting and retelling the life, death and resurrection of their leader, Jesus Christ. The accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all brutally honest when describing the early leaders of the church. These disciples are not portrayed as men of unshakable faith. They are honestly described as thickheaded cowards. The most shameful example of their weaknesses comes after the death of Jesus on the cross. Instead of clinging to the promises of Jesus that he was meant both to die and to rise again on the third day, they allowed the simultaneous death of their hopes in Jesus as the Messiah and Christ they had hoped he was. In an instant, they scattered before fear, their hopes shattered by intense grief. As Jesus breathed his last, the disciples who were to go on to be the early leaders and evangelists of the Christian Church were not only doubting everything they had heard from Jesus while he was alive, but were distancing themselves from Jesus entirely in the hopes that they might be spared punishment, torture and perhaps the cross as well. Considering the context, a person seriously questioning the reliability of the resurrection account must then ask several questions, among them “What happened? Why did they change? Why did they continue on with such unfailing passion for Jesus as God? How did their grief turn to joy?”

As we ponder these questions, the list of possible explanations comes down to one unavoidable conclusion. The reason their grief turned to joy was because their leader lived, died and ultimately conquered death and sin as he promised through his resurrection.

John 16:16-33

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Without the resurrection there is no reasonable explanation of why these men would change their attitude, why they would include their cowardice in the Gospel narratives and why the Church after the death of Jesus not only survived, but began to grow at a furious pace in the face of mounting persecution.

The Virgin Birth: Crucifixion and Resurrection

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

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Support for belief in the Virgin Birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:

  1. The Ascension
  2. The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
  3. The Gospel
  4. The Virgin Birth

This week, let’s consider how the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus support our faith in the Virgin Birth.

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection provide similar ideas and thus will be discussed together. Just as the previous post referenced the discussion of the Virgin Birth as being less important than the discussion of Christianity in general, the same point applies to the Resurrection and Crucifixion. While Jesus never personally wrote anything down, and while we do not have physical proof of his body or a tomb, his name has come down to us as arguably the most important in human history. Debates about Jesus are typically over whether or not he was divine, or thought of himself as divine, or if his followers applied those attributes to his name only after his death. However, historians and scholars alike agree that there was, in fact, a man named Jesus Christ, who lived in Israel at the time that the Gospels place him there and that this man was crucified.

Just as the discussion of the virgin birth leads one to belief in the Ascension, the same applies to the discussion of the Ascension leading one to belief in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order for there to be Ascension, there must be a place from which to ascend. As history brings Jesus to us a real man who was crucified under Roman governor Pontius Pilate, this man named Jesus must have died under this punishment, and that death should have ended his followers’ allegiance. With crucifixion a death reserved to torture and execute the worst of criminals, the followers of Jesus must have been, and were, as stated in the Gospel of Luke, in utter grief and confusion at the time of his death on the cross.

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
Luke 24:13-24

The fact that grief of these disciples became devotion, worship, and belief gives us a story of a man that was completely man enough to die but likewise God in his power to rise and ascend in victory. At this point, as we trace the story of Jesus backwards from the Ascension, we are left with the man of Jesus: clearly in this world, but not from this world.

The Impossible Religion: Power

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This reflection series,  “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:

 

Impossible Power (Mark 16)

In Mark 16, what Jesus had been promising all along had finally come true.  The stone was rolled away and what he foretold would happen actually happened.  He was risen.  He was the Christ.  He was who he said he was.

If, that is, you believe the Gospel account.

What happened on that third day is amazing, yet for many, impossible to believe.  The idea that Jesus could resurrect himself and then appear for forty days teaching, speaking, eating and living in human form seems like a myth or fairytale: fun to talk about but foolish to have faith in.

The world we live in simply does not work that way. When we die, we die.  But if you read the Gospel of Mark for fifteen chapters before reaching that final sixteenth chapter, you will have already encountered a Jesus who claims to be removed from this life and beyond our understanding of it.  Throughout each of the four gospels Jesus consistently tells us that he is “The Life.”

Initial reactions to the resurrection often take two forms, one from the side of belief and the other from non-belief. Both are incorrect in their foundations.

For many Christians, the reading of the Passion narrative, ending in the empty tomb, is a tradition to honor and a story to recite.  Reading about the Resurrection is similar to watching the end of “Sleeping Beauty.”  How nice, we think, how romantic. Wouldn’t it be nice if life were really like that?

To my knowledge, no one has ever finished watching “Sleeping Beauty” saying, “Isn’t it great that that happened!  How amazing! I wish I could have been there to see it!”  If someone were to react that way, we would respond to them in judgmental, sympathetic and annoyed disbelief.  We all know that “Sleeping Beauty” is a fairytale and we end the discussion there.  We aren’t wrong for doing so, because we know that the story doesn’t claim to be true and to change our lives forever.  It’s a story.  That’s it.

There are many self-professing Christians who read Mark 16 in the same way they watch “Sleeping Beauty.”  They read the story and feel nice and warm inside, but it never transcends the pages to impact their real lives.  The purpose of “Sleeping Beauty” is to entertain, to tell a made-up story.  The Gospels are different: they proclaim truth and promise change.  The apostle Paul confronts this attitude in 1 Corinthians 15, telling is that if the tomb wasn’t actually empty, if the Resurrection did not occur in fact, then everything we do as Christians is not only without purpose but is harmful, foolish and pitiful.  Living life under the belief that “Sleeping Beauty” is a true story would be something to be ashamed of, not proud.  No one, at least to my knowledge, has faced death joyfully professing confidence in the story of “Sleeping Beauty.”  Yet thousands, including eleven of the twelve original disciples of Jesus Christ, have died full of joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the story of the empty tomb.

Somehow, belief in the cross is easier than belief in the empty tomb.  However, to stop at the cross makes the life of Jesus the story of a failed and dishonest teacher that does not deserve our attention or worship.   There are many other teachers and wise men throughout history who did not make the outrageous claims of deity that Jesus did, and if he were not actually who he said he was we could follow the teachings of any one of them.  However, to believe in the empty tomb means to acknowledge the life of Jesus Christ as he proclaimed it.  He called himself “the way, the truth, the life,” even “the resurrection and the life,” and to believe in Jesus Christ means to believe in life beyond the tomb.

For non-believers, the main difficulty in believing in the empty tomb originates with distrust in the Gospels.  This distrust which I myself displayed for many years comes from ignorance in the facts behind the four Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Non-believers see the Gospels as simply legends that were written many years after Jesus died, and the stories, including the Resurrection, came out of the desire to create a version of Jesus that was more what the writers wanted him to be and less what he actually claimed to be.

If one takes this view of the Gospels, we have to ask several questions.  First, when were the Gospels written?  Given the span of time separating the death of Jesus and the first account of the Gospels, was there sufficient time for “myth” or “legend” to arise?  What would be the motivation for the writers to write such an account the way they did?  Lastly, what if any incentive would there be in doing that for them personally?

First up is the issue of time.  According to the most current historical and archaeological research, the general consensus is that they were written much closer to the life of Jesus than what most people believe.   Since we are focusing on the Gospel of Mark it is sensible to discuss the most widely accepted view in its original date of composition.

Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written close to 20-25 years after the death of Jesus.  For those of us outside the historical evidence arena, this might still seem like a long time passed beyond the actual events being recorded.  However, when we look at the written accounts of prominent historical figures, like Alexander the Great, we find that the earliest account of his life was written close to 300 years after Alexander’s death.  Yet, we believe that Alexander the Great lived and did the things we are taught he did.  1 Corinthians 15 has Paul receiving the story of Jesus– living, teaching, being crucified and rising from the dead on the third day– within five years of the crucifixion.  Five years!  In the historical context, that is barely a moment. To recount stories with accuracy given such a short period of elapsed time between the actual events and the recording of them is more than plausible.

Secondly, we must consider motivation and incentive.  How would writing the Gospels affect the lives of the authors as individuals?  Some imagine 21st century televangelists with white-toothed smiles and expensive suits, lining his pockets.  From this perspective, the motivation to write these stories would be to materially benefit their own lives. But this is to completely neglect the realities of their world.  For these men, to identify as a Christian was a death sentence.

To be Christian during the time when the Gospels were written meant to be threatened from all sides.  Due to the horrifying persecution from men like Nero or Diocletian, Christians were motivated to construct the catacombs in Rome and the tunnel dwellings of Cappadocia, where they could feel at least a small sense of security in their worship and Christian lives. It is in this environment that the Gospel writers wrote their “stories.”

Not only were they heavily judged and persecuted outside of Israel, they were also fought from within as their Jewish brethren attempted for years to squelch the worship of Jesus Christ.  Eventually one of the most notable preachers of the Gospel, Paul started as a prominent persecutor of the church.   We now know through the historical records that all but one disciple of Jesus were executed for their belief and continued support of the Christian church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

By writing the Gospels, these people were literally risking their lives, and many lost their lives.

No matter who you are, your life will be defined by what you believe about the empty tomb.  Those who believe will understand that not even death is to be feared.  Those who do not see this world as all there really is.   The power of the Resurrection of Jesus is there for everyone to see and find, but the question to each person is, do you want to find it?