I just completed reading Timothy Keller's New York Time's best seller – The Reason for God. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan having started the church in 1989. His ministry has been fruitful in a sea of secular thought and relativism. It has been fruitful because the Holy Spirit has blessed the word as Keller remains faithful to God's word. The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ still confounds the wisdom of this world!
Keller's book was written in 2008 after several atheists had penned books voicing their opinions as to the non-existence of God. These include Sam Harris' “Letters to a Christian Nation”, Christopher Hitchens', “God is not Great”, and Richard Dawkins', “The God Delusion”. To a man each of these unbelievers attack the primary element of our faith in Jesus Christ – his resurrection. It is the resurrection of our Savior, indeed the Savior of the world, that has always challenged the seemingly rational minded person and fostered the demand for water tight evidence as to a tangible, resurrected Christ.
Man's struggle with the resurrection and eternal life is as old as history. Job, thought by most theologians to be the oldest book in the Bible, declared “If a man dies, shall he live again?”, Job 14:8. I have used this passage many time at funerals to remind the families of the deceased that all people struggle with the unknown and fear death. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Is there meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” So the struggle with what awaits us after this life, if anything, is not new nor is it seriously challenged by the vehemence of today's atheists as they rail against the Resurrection.
Modern thought evaluated the supernatural and jettisoned it on the heap of ignorance and the uneducated. Post moderns have reevaluated and rewritten the Christian faith to make it more palatable and accepted by the educated and erudite. Mere thinking over the years since the Enlightenment has eliminated the miracles of the Scriptures and relegated Jesus the Christ to being, at best, the equal of other great thinkers. And slowly the church has acquiesced to the demoting of Christ to the mantra of equality. We fear anyone and everyone that claims to have a superior way, or method, or person.
But Jesus cannot be equal to the others due to the claim of the resurrection. The fact that He was crucified and died, buried, and supernaturally rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday morning means that he is not equal. Either He is superior, or wacko, as my wife would say. Many are the reasons for factual evidence as to the veracity of this event. Some of the facts are:
- Most of the Apostles were alive when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 as well as more than 500 persons that witnessed the risen Christ Jesus.
- Historical accounts in the 1st century differed from fictional accounts. In fact, recent anthropological studies show that ancient cultures clearly distinguished between fiction and history.
- The Gospels record that women were the first to witness the empty tomb and resurrected Lord. There is no advantage to the church to recount that the first witnesses were women. To the first century mind, women were not allowed as credible witnesses in the courts of the day. N. T. Wright argues that there must have been tremendous pressure on the Gospel writers to remove the women from the accounts. So much for the denigration of women in Christianity.
- Greco-Roman thinking detested the thought of a resurrection that would reunite souls and body. Liberation occurred in their philosophy when soul and body were separated from each other. This led eventually to Gnostic thought that rejected the supernatural Incarnation. The Gospels were written much earlier than the Gnostic gospels and countered the heresy of Gnosticism with the facts of the resurrection.
There are many other arguments for the factual evidence of the resurrection. But perhaps the single greatest argument is the explosion of the early church. The resurrection caused a massive shift in thinking in the Roman world. Jesus arose on Caesar's day, to counter the claim of the Caesars as the Son of God. It is thinking of a curious nature that believes that uneducated, non-political, common fishermen, tax collectors, and the like, could influence nations over three hundred years to cause the monumental shift in history. The truth of the resurrection explosion is unprecedented in history and started immediately after Jesus arose because He did rise from the dead!
Nothing in history can be proven in a test tube. We are then held captive to the persuasions of other fallible human beings to record history without prejudice. Starting from the biased premise that miracles cannot occur many reject the hard work of answering very tough historical questions and following the answers where they lead. Once anyone rejects certain qualifiers for truth, the truth cannot be revealed. As again N.T. Wright responds, “The early Christians did not invent the empty tomb and the meetings or sightings of the risen Jesus. Nobody was expecting this kind of thing; no kind of conversion experience would have invented it, no matter how guilty (or how forgiven) they felt, no matter how many hours they poured over the scriptures. To suggest otherwise is to stop doing history and enter into a fantasy world of our own.”
Let us not forget that people in the 1st century were as incredulous as 21st century people about the resurrection. The only way then and now that anyone embraces the resurrection of Jesus Christ is by letting the evidence challenge and change their worldview, their view of what IS possible.
As Paul preached to Herod Agrippa, king of Palestine, basically why do you find it hard to believe that God could raise the dead. The same claim rings true today – because Jesus did resurrect we are to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and work to make this world a better place.
Sola Deo Gloria,