Summary: An Easter Sunday talk which touches on the evidence for the resurrection before explaining its significance.
Seriously, someone rising from the dead?
I was doing some research recently on the longest anyone has ever been dead before being brought back to life. Some of the stories seemed a little far-fetched. But The Daily Telegraph in the UK ran a headline on 19 April 2019, “Lazarus Syndrome: man comes back to life 30 minutes after dying”. Lazarus Syndrome is the spontaneous return of circulation once attempts at resuscitation have failed. It’s only been seen 38 times.
If you think that’s cool, the same paper on 26 May 2008 reported that a woman came back to life after being dead for 17 hours. While they were making funeral arrangements, the family got a call saying the mother had come back to life.
A shocked Dr Eggleston told the paper the chances of surviving three such long periods without a heart rate were less than 10 percent. “It's a miracle. The odds were certainly against her.”
If they ever bury me, I think I’d like a fully charged mobile phone in my pocket! Can you imagine the conversation? “Ring. Ring. Hi Darling. I’m not really dead! Do you mind bringing the dog down to dig me up”?
The Gospels say that Jesus was dead for three days before he was brought back to life. His body didn’t self-start like the others, instead God raised him from the dead. Given the violent nature of his death, there was no doubt that Jesus was dead.
John says that to confirm his death, a soldier pieced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19.34).
Then three days in a tomb. Jesus was very dead.
The BBC recently did a survey and seems like the majority of people who call themselves Christians in the United Kingdom are not convinced that Jesus physically died and rose from the dead. Although of those who regularly attend church, 82% believed in the physical resurrection.
This survey does raise some interesting questions. How much of the Easter story does one have to believe to be a Christian? Or do we as Christians overstate the importance of the resurrection of Jesus? Are the reasons for Jesus’ resurrection exaggerated for the sake of his followers?
In answering these questions, I’d like to make three points. (1) The case for an historical resurrection; (2) the spiritual challenge of the resurrection; (3) the Bible explains why God raised Jesus from the dead.
The case for an historical resurrection. People simply don’t believe that Jesus was dead and came back to life. Not even some clergy. In his book, “Escaping from Fundamentalism”, Bishop John Selby Spong argues that the resurrection is no more than a parable of future hope. He says there is no such thing as a physical resurrection. He argues that the resurrection is picture language which is meant to invoke within us a Christ-power which is otherwise unattainable.
So what are we to make of the resurrection? Is Richard Dawkins right? Is the resurrection a nice story for simpletons who believe that God created the world? The radio announcer Alan Jones said one year—and I think with every good intention:
The Easter message is a simple one. It’s just reminding us that goodness can and will triumph. And that’s the hope we carry with us this weekend. Without being too religious, we need to rediscover our faith. We need to rediscover the humanity and decency which lie at the core of Christianity. And that’s the challenge I guess for all of us.
Neil Foster is an Associate Professor of Law at Newcastle University—not too far from us. He wrote a legal paper examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. On page 3 of his paper he makes this point (slide):
We need to be clear about this: the fact that the resurrection of Jesus actually, literally happened in the Middle East about 2000 years ago, is vital if Christianity is to be taken seriously. Christianity may or may not have a set of moral principles that make living in society more pleasant - but if the Bible is taken seriously, the moral principles are not at the centre of the Christian faith. Christianity stands or falls on a set of events said to have occurred at a specific time, in a specific place.
This is no more than an expansion of what Paul says in 1 Cor 15.14, 19, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men”.
Foster proceeds to test the evidence on the basis of NSW law. He says in seeking truth, courts traditionally recognise a number of valid sources of evidence and Foster tests the evidence in the light of these categories. As you can imagine the arguments twists and turn and we haven’t time to examine the detail.