Welcome to Kirkweb's Easter Comment. Thank you for visiting this page and please feel free to email me with any comments. May God bless You this Easter 2007 - Iain.
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. (Mark Ch16 v1 to 8.).
Theme: He has been raised: Why not believe it?
According to Mark the women went to the tomb early on the Sunday morning and found it empty except for a heavenly messenger and they were frightened. Though he told them to take a message to the disciples they fled from the tomb in terror and amazement and, at least, for some time, they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. Who wouldn't be afraid, struck with a sense of deep sense of awe, wondering in both hope and dread what it could mean.
The empty tomb is perhaps the hardest thing of all to accept in this strangely contradictory world today. It is not so difficult for people to believe in some kind of spiritual resurrection, but the disappearance of the body, unless it was stolen in spite of the guard of soldiers, is not easy to fit into our view of the physical world. I don't know how you find it, because I know some people who are sincerely seeking God - find belief in the resurrection difficult. For others it is a question of what kind of resurrection we are talking about.
There is plenty of evidence that people who knew Jesus well believed that they met with him after he had died: Peter's preaching recorded in Acts, and Paul's letters, especially where he refers to how he had handed on what he himself had received concerning the witnesses to the resurrection.
These witnesses included his closest friends and others who did not know him so well: they included Mary Magdalene, Peter, the disciples as a group and many others.
Paul says as many as 500 and we find quite detailed accounts in the gospels. Many of these records are independent of one another, and some are derived from several independent sources. The various gospels and letters, though some influenced others before they reached their final written form, are records of the beliefs of the church in different, quite widely separated centres for several generations before they were all brought together in what we know as the New Testament. There is even some reference in from Roman and Jewish History sources to the fact the followers of Jesus believed he has risen from the dead.
Given the extent of this evidence of what they believed and very fact of their survival as a loyal confident group of followers after his death, and their great power to influence others, it is not at all unreasonable to believe that they did at least have a sincere belief in his resurrection.
You might ask whether they were mistaken, you might perhaps want to claim that what they saw wasn't what they thought it was, and I will come back to that, but it is very difficult given an open mind on the evidence to deny that people who should have known what they were talking did sincerely believe what they passed on to others of their own experience. To reject their testimony, you would need to have good reason to think they were either mistaken or deliberately deceptive.
As to deceit, is the fruit of their labour what you would expect of blatantly dishonest people? Their integrity has the ring of truth about it, in their sacrificial service of others.
Why is disbelief so attractive?
I think the answer is that God has made us with a capacity for faith, as spiritual beings capable of entering into a relationship with himself. It is in our nature as human beings to have faith, to trust in God, and ultimately to love God, to adore and serve him in fellowship with other spiritual beings. We get into trouble when we deny our true nature as creatures with the potential to become children of God. To put it another way, people are inescapably religious, whether we like it or not.
So the age of "scientific skepticism" has become a new age of superstition. So why not be open to the possibility of resurrection?
Would it not be more sensible to make use of our capacity for belief by accepting what God has provided for us, rather than trying to cook up some set of beliefs for ourselves. That is what all this search for alternatives is. A preference for our own way, rather than God's way.
Instead of starting with disbelief and a preference for what we human beings can do for ourselves, why not come to the evidence with an open mind, ready to discover what may be offered to you. If you are ready to accept it you will find that he offers you a way of fulfilling your potential to become a child of God.
If you can believe that Jesus came through death, that no evil even death could defeat his love of humanity, so that through his sacrifice he is able to draw all people to himself, then you can believe that you too can be raised to a new life after death and know God in fellowship with Christ and those who are joined with him in faith. The way is open for you to follow, if you can believe that he went through it first.
On the other hand if you do not believe that it was possible for him to go through ahead of you, what hope do you have? Would it not be very foolish to rule out the possibility in advance just because miracles seem a little old fashioned? If you are inclined to doubt, why not come to the evidence ready to learn the truth whatever it may be? Why close your mind in advance when the truth might be better than you could have imagined.
Yes, you might say, I can understand people knowing God in the person of Christ through a spiritual experience of his presence in acts of devotion, and even symbolically in serving others, especially if it is done in his name, but is not resurrection more than that?
What about the empty tomb? As far as the witness of the apostles in the scriptures is concerned, you will see that the appearance of the risen body of Jesus was different enough from his previous earthly appearance for him not to be easily recognized, at least on some occasions, even by those who knew him best. For example, Mary (John 20:15) thought he was the gardener until he called her by name. The two who walked with him in the road to Emmaus talked with him at length and recognised him only when at table he broke the bread, and then he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:13-31). He even appeared in a closed room when the doors were locked (John 20:26).
We do not know what the body of his resurrection was like. According to Paul we should expect a risen body, our own included, to be different from our earthly bodies, just is the life of a new plant is in a difference from the life in the seed that was sown for it to grow. Paul draws a close parallel between the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our resurrection to a new life (see 1 Cor 15:12-19) so we should not expect him to have believed that the body of Christ's resurrection was the same as his earthy body.
The disciples were sure they had not seen a ghost for he invited them to touch him and he eat food in their presence. (Luke 24:37-43). They remembered that he challenged Thomas when he doubted to touch him (John 20:27), and John's first letter begins with the testimony of their sensory experience, probably in reference to both his earthly life and Resurrection: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- -- 1 John 1:1
The evidence is that they had no doubt that they met him again in some kind of earthly presence, not only a disembodied spirit, and there was an empty tomb, but we do not know the form in which he appeared to him. There is a mystery that must remain, at least for now. It was probably the same for them, but the reality of their experience was a powerful inspiration, sufficient to send them out to the ends of the earth, so that we too might be ready to look for him and to greet him in awe and wonder, ready to worship and serve him, as the one who made it possible for us to know God and enjoy him for ever. Why not think about this seriously and have the best Easter ever. Iain.
© Iain Morrison 2007
Glory be to You, Almighty God, our strength and our Redeemer. Loving God, the vacant Cross and the empty Tomb vindicate Your claim that the Love which suffers is the Love that saves. Lord help us to see this in Your beloved Son Jesus in whom You are well pleased.
Lord, so fill Your people with Joy and Your church with Celebration, that the world may know that your Holy Son Jesus is not a dead hero we commemorate, but the Living Lord we worship.