We tend to think of distant historical events as less vivid, and therefore less real than events we have witnessed or experienced firsthand. On the contrary, they are as real as our morning cup of steaming coffee.
But the resurrection has the disadvantage not only of being an ancient event (and therefore less vivid to our minds), but also unique in the history of the world, and therefore testing its believability.
So how do we know if the resurrection actually happened?
Some dismiss it out of hand, simply because they believe it couldn't have happened. Things like that don't happen. They start with the preconception that supernatural events aren't possible, and since the resurrection of Jesus must be supernatural, it therefore didn't occur. It's just a story.
But what if it did? How would we know? There is way.
If I were to ask to you prove that you attended a worship service at Redeemer's on Easter Sunday, how could you do it?
Evidence of your attendance might be a dated receipt from the coffee bar or from our Resource Center. Or you might interview those who saw you there or sat with you and worshiped. You might show the notes you took during the sermon, lending credence to your claim that you had been present. You might even cite a dramatic change in thinking and behavior that others noticed, dating to that weekend when you heard about Jesus being raised from the dead. Taken together, it would constitute a formidable case that any jury would accept as convincing: you were there.
This is precisely the kind of evidence that the New Testament cites for the resurrection of Jesus. People witnessed his death. Two individuals laid him in their own tomb, and rocked the flat stone down the gutter, slamming shut the opening of the tomb. But within three days, guards testified that the tomb was open and the body gone. Many men, women, young and old, saw him, some interacting with him, talking with him, eating with him, walking along a road with him. He was seen by individuals, as well as in groups as large as 500 at one time. Meeting him who had been raised, lives where forever changed.
Luke, a first century physician and New Testament author, explained that Jesus showed himself to be alive after death by "many convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3). The word used in the Greek language (in which Acts was written) refers to legal evidence that would stand up in court, eyewitness testimony and proofs that impartial judges would accept. In other words, Luke believed that Jesus came back from death––not a near death experience, but from the grave. And for very good reasons.
IT REALLY HAPPENED!
Upon cardiac arrest, followed by no circulation of oxygenated blood, a person has about twenty seconds before loss of consciousness; with ten minutes, the brain is irreparably damaged; with 30 minutes, the brain dies. Life as we know it is over. There's no coming back from that. Yet, Jesus did.
What happened on Easter Sunday changed everything, because it really happened. Jesus was raised from the dead.
The passing of time perhaps has made the event less vivid in many of our minds, but not less real. The only thing that has changed is time. And time never erodes the reality of an event that happened. It happened, and it behooves us to ponder it, what it means, and how it has and should affect us on the other side of it.
Jesus is really risen from the dead!
How does that affect you?
You are older than the stars. You are called “The Ancient of Days,” and before time began You existed forever. Long after this world is done, You still will be God.
You are alive as no other; in fact all life has its source in You. With every birth, we see the marks of your creative genius. With every death, we are reminded that our hours are in your hands. You give breath to every living thing, and when you take it away, our days end.
You are as close to us as a friend by our side, or as our thoughts in our minds, or our breath in our lungs. You know everything about us––every experience we’ve had, every success we’ve enjoyed, every failure we’ve suffered––all with sharp clarity and present vividness. With perfect wisdom and unhindered power, you show yourself to be sovereign over all.
You know us better than we know ourselves, love us better than we love ourselves, and order all things according to the pleasure of Your will. Every pleasant thing in our lives, every answer to prayer, every provision of need, every friend we enjoy and every trouble we escape is a sign of your steady goodness.
Every standard of right, every perception of goodness is tied to you; you are good and from you we receive all that is good. When you could punish us for our wrongdoings, you grant us mercy. When we have not earned your favor, you freely give us grace upon grace. In uncompromising holiness and righteousness, you have paid the ultimate price for forgiveness.
On this Good Friday, we remember it was you who came; you who was rejected; you who suffered; you who was crucified; you who paid the price for us. Our guilt is gone because of you. As One risen from the dead, you are the Lord of Life.
We confess that we tend to take for granted all You have done for us. You have been so good for so long that we expect your gracious gifts to continue. We confess that at times we have lost sight of Your purposes for us, and have instead become enamored with our expected standard of living. We have lived for pleasures and diversions, but have forgotten that people around us are without forgiveness and hope; their eternal future is eclipsed by our present convenience. Forgive us.
We want to be more responsive to the promptings of Your Spirit, and less enslaved to the plans and to-do lists of the day. We want Your Word to fill our minds, to bubble up in our quiet moments, reminding us who You are, who we are, and the directions You intend for us to go. We want to see you work in us so yesterday’s failures and frustrations have less control over us tomorrow. We want you to work through us to do those things that are lasting. And we want you to work apart from us, to see your power and glory evidenced in ways that strike awe in our hearts and remind us You alone are God.
Thank you God, for all you are, and all you have done. Thank you for your promises and your unfailing love. Thank you that because of Christ, you will never treat us as our sins deserve. Thank you that you will never leave or abandon us.
Thank you that on this Good Friday looking toward Easter, we remember that the death of Jesus was enough to make us right with you, and we look forward to the resurrection of our bodies and the renewing of this world.
With hearts of gratitude, we pray confidently in Jesus’ name.
"I can't understand why God would allow...."
Many of us have expressed this, finishing the sentence with personal disappointments, reversals and tragedies: a young person you know succumbing to cancer, your own marriage lying dead in the water, your son or daughter rejecting everything you as parents stood for.
Nearly all us have thought it upon being exposed to troubling events of the day: a second Fort Hood shooting, North Korean brutality on its own citizens, bombings by terrorists, a Malaysian flight vanishing into thin air.
“Why?!” we wonder.
The question isn’t meant to press meaning into the tragedy or make sense of the losses, but rather to question the existence of a so-called sovereign God who seems very, very silent. The question should be asked, and there is an answer that historically has been held by Christians through the ages. Though it may not satisfy everyone’s curiosity or questioning about any one specific event, it does provide enough perspective to not get stuck. In fact, I find the answer as breathtaking as many of the tragedies that suck the wind out of my lungs.
Let me take you just for a moment up to 10,000 feet to look around.
I'm not going to talk about that terrible incident so many years ago; it was destructive, it was wrong, it was formative, it shouldn’t have happened. In a better world––not even a perfect world––it wouldn’t have happened. But it did. But don’t fixate on that event. Let’s ascend to 10,000 feet. What do you see?
We live in a very mixed world. It is both beautiful and breathtaking as well as ugly and destructive. A person can make a strong case that in the human heart, there is goodness, and given opportunity people do some wonderful things. Creation speaks of the grandeur and glory of it's Creator. Each day can touch us and move us and fill us with wonder and gratitude. Still, every time we turn around, there is a black and red streak of evil marring the picture. Stamp it out, and it goes dormant, but eventually surfaces again like boils on fresh skin.
We are living in interim age after Jesus the Messiah has come, and before He returns to set all things right. In the New Testament, we live in "this present age", and we often look forward to "the age to come." In other words, God knows what he's doing, recognizes evil exists now, and is working against it now and will eradicate it once and for all soon at the end of this age.
Knowing this general truth doesn't mean I understand why Nazis can liquidate 6 million Jews in ovens and open graves, or why a million babies get aborted annually in the United States, or 42 million worldwide, or why governments can lie to us or Christians can be martyred or Muslims can distort truth across whole societies, or marriages can fail or gay marriages are promoted...and God seemingly does nothing.
But the the implications of this general truth biblically are not unclear.
•First, each one of us must submit to God.
God wants each one of us to come to Christ, to be forgiven, to enter into a relationship with Him, to walk the path of life following His leading, and spread the word. We do not need more legislation, more laws. We need changed hearts. Thomas Reed rightly observed, "One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation." Our lives change from the inside out when the Spirit of God takes up residence in the human heart. In The End, everyone in God's Kingdom loves Him and wants to be there; something supernatural and transformative must first happen in each person. That is what is happening right now, in this age, person by person, in the proclamation and acceptance of the Gospel.
•Next, we must take sides.
We should speak out against evil in this world, and work against it whenever and wherever we can. Bonhoeffer said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil." In this age, we are to take sides. In my favorite Psalm, 139, in which David speaks so eloquently and beautifully of God's intimate knowledge of each one of us, he destroys the mood by declaring his desire for God to "slay the wicked" (vs. 19) and expressing his "hate" of all who stand against God (vs. 21-22). David knew that neutrality isn't necessarily godly in a world infected with wickedness. Take sides. Act justly. Speak up. Intervene.
•Finally, we must wait.
Patiently, in hope, we look to the future when what has happened inside us as believers will also happen all around us in Creation. The Day will dawn. All things will be set right. The world will change. Justice and judgment will come. The Messiah, Christ, Jesus will reign, and this age of the world, dark and exhausted, will end.
The single events of anyone's life will fit as pieces of the incredibly complex cosmic puzzle that God is putting together. Am I clear how it all fits together? Not even at 10,000 feet can I see it yet. But I will.
"And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
So will you.
What do you see now?