The most difficult part of the Big Story of the Bible to talk about is the Resurrection of Jesus. The big question is ‘did it really happen?’ All those of us who live in the modern Western world are in a culture that says it did not. The primary reason for this is that our culture says something is only true if it can be replicated. If an experiment carried out in the USA is true it must be possible to repeat it in Australia for it to be legitimate. And, of course, the return to life of the dead Son of God is the ultimate event that cannot be replicated. The assassination of Julius Caesar cannot be replicated either, but many national leaders have been assassinated in recent times so that is a near enough repetition for that ancient event to be accepted as having truly happened. But the resurrection of a man from death is another matter altogether. How do we get out of this problem?
Part of the answer is that this is not science but history. History never exactly repeats itself, either in the event or its description. We must not, and cannot, treat historical events in a scientific way. Also we have to challenge the underlying assumption that the possibility of replication is always necessary. We see a beautiful sunset and admire it but it can never be replicated. A person’s love for their spouse can be neither explained – why this person and not that person – but is none the less real and cannot be replicated. Many, if not most, of the good things in life that we enjoy are beyond replication. The attempt to say that the resurrection, the best attested of all ancient events, did not really happen is a philosopher’s trick to try to stop people believing. The Biblical attestation is complete and total. When Paul says: “Jesus appeared to 500 people at the same time”’ he was obviously implying “if you don’t believe me go and find one of them and ask them”! Those who say the resurrection was, and is, impossible have to explain what happened in or near Jerusalem to cause such an explosion of growth of a movement which did not exist in AD 1, but was thriving so well 100 years later that there are many non-Biblical references to it. Also why would those who had been close to Jesus have been prepared to die for an idea and his teaching if they knew them to be lies?
The resurrection of the Son of God is a fact. What did it mean? What did it achieve? Where and how does it fit into the over-all story? Two words used by computing people are useful here: verification and validation. You probably don’t know them. Let me explain.
Verification is the process that checks a computer program does what it should do, that is, that it fits the specification. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of Man (of Daniel’s prophecy), and the Son of God. So far he had only his good works, his healings, his exorcisms, his miracles and his words to back up that claim. His return from death 3 days later, as they counted, 2 days as we count, verified all his claims. He was the Messiah, he did fulfil prophecy, he was the representative figure of the nation that Daniel talked about; he was in some mysterious yet definite way the embodiment of the Lord God walking on this earth.
Validation is the process that shows that a computer system works, it is useful, it does what it was intended that it should do. Paul says in the last verse of Romans 4 that “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. The first part is easy to understand – Jesus died to redeem us from the guilt, penalty and power of sin. But “raised for our justification” is not so easy. If we translate it “raised to make us righteous”, which is legitimate for justification and righteous come from the same Greek word family, different though they are in English, things become easier. If Jesus had not been raised there would have been no continuing life force available for his people. The last verse of the next chapter says that Jesus died that “grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The resurrection of Jesus has brought eternal life, the life of the Ages, to his people, life that depends on the Spirit that is the possession of all those who belong to Christ. As Romans 8: 9 says “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” . Because Jesus rose from the dead this story does not end here: there is still another Act to go: the story of the Church, including the story of you and me.
The final part of the story of Jesus on this earth is his Ascension. Only Luke tells us of it, twice, most fully in Acts 1: 9, 10 “After he said this, he was taken up before their – the apostles - very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” In so doing Luke was pointing out that Jesus had gone to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on high thus having all power and all authority. Matthew says the same thing more directly in his last chapter as John does in his second last chapter when he reports Thomas calling Jesus “my Lord and my God”. (The end of Mark’s Gospel is probably lost.)
We live in the power of the resurrection interpreted to us by the Holy Spirit. We are servants/slaves of the Lord of Creation. Paul says in his letter to the Colossian church: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”. The resurrection is the promise to us that death is not the end. There is something more to come. The Jews always expected a resurrection at the end of time. The surprise to them was that one man was raised ahead of time as the first fruits; the first fruits promised an agricultural community that the rest of the harvest would shortly come.
We may not be agricultural people living in the country but the same is true for us, town and city dwellers though we may be. Christ has risen; one day – so shall we. Yippee!