Summary: An Easter Sunday message on the resurrection from a worldview perspective.
[play mini-movie called 'Spiritual Cafeteria' produced by Floodgate Productions].
One time at University I spent all night finishing an assignment despite having a major exam the next day. So I hadn’t done an ounce of study. All my friends had a good night sleep and were in the library studying through the morning. I was sitting down with my head in my arms hoping the world would end. My friends woke me up and insisted I sit the exam. All the events leading up to the exam suggested I’d fail. No sleep, no study. I had no mind capable of thinking through problems in structural engineering. Almost certainly my friends thought I’d fail but they were too nice to say otherwise.
When I got the exam result it had PASS written on it. The exact opposite of what should have happened. The result was contrary to all the known facts. It should not have happened. It was unexpected and undeserved and I was filled with a remarkable sense of relief.
The events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus didn’t look too good. The ‘King of the Jews’ died the death of a criminal between two other criminals. The mourning and wailing were profound, the three hours of darkness over the whole land at the place called ‘the Skull’. Turn with me to Luke 23:35. Luke says that ‘the people stood there watching and the rulers even sneered at him’ (Lk 23:35). All the hopes and expectations for Jesus the Messiah seemed to vanish as he took his last breathe. The possibility of a resurrection seemed absolutely contrary to all the observable facts.
So when the women discovered the empty tomb they were frightened and they needed reminding that Jesus said he will rise again. The situation is overwhelming and they ran back to tell the disciples. Luke tells us about an age-old problem—the men did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense (Lk 24:11). But I might add—the women were right!
A few years later, the Apostle Paul is giving a speech about Christianity in Athens. All is going well until he comes to the topic of the resurrection. Let me read the minute extract from the meeting, ‘For God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. When they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some of them sneered’. (Acts 17:31–32).
The resurrection of Jesus hasn’t got fantastic media coverage. In the second century, Marcion rejected the resurrection of the body because he thought the flesh was evil and it was beyond redemption. Rather ironically in modern times, the loudest criticism of the resurrection comes from a churchman. In his book Escaping from Fundamentalism, 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 on this Easter Sunday? Is belief in the resurrection for those with weak minds? Is the resurrection for, perhaps as Richard Dawkins might say, for those simpletons who believe in creationism?
It’s all a bit much for Alan Jones who said one year, ‘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’.
The Bible doesn’t defend the resurrection. Rather it anticipates the resurrection of Jesus and it relies upon the testimony of eye witnesses to establish the facts. And it interprets the historical fact of the resurrection through the lens of the Scriptures and from the words of Jesus himself. The Bible does not engage in scientific speculation or meaningless philosophical probing. Although Thomas anticipates the modern person when he asks for empirical evidence, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ (John 20:25).
There can be no Christianity apart from the death of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. There can be no Christianity apart and his raising from the dead on the third day. So its vitally important to establish the credentials of such a position. Like the Apostle in Athens, we can appeal to the testimony of Scripture itself and to the inclination of our own poets and philosophers.