Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Resurrection Sunday! We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in style at First Baptist Oakboro. I wish you could have been there with us. Using the words of the apostle Paul to the believers in ancient Corinth as our guide, we spent some time reflecting on just why the resurrection is such a big deal. Also, this is running earlier today than it usually does and is in place of the usual Morning Musing. This will be the only post this week. It’s Spring Break in our house and we are enjoying some time away. See you next Monday!
The Resurrection Changes Everything
So, I love Monty Python. That may tell some of you more about me than you wanted to know. Meanwhile, others of you are thinking, “Who’s Monty Python?” Monty Python was a British sketch comedy troupe popular in the 1970s. The most famous member is comedian John Cleese, who has since had a pretty good film career in a whole variety of movies. In addition to several different TV series, they also released a handful of movies. The most well-known of these was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Personally, I’ve watched that one enough times that it’s not very much fun to watch it with me because I say most of the lines right along with the actors all while laughing hysterically. You can borrow my copy if I’ve gotten you curious. In any event, one of their most famous sketches is called “The Spanish Inquisition.” Let me play a little clip of this for you.
That’s funny, right?!? Now, let’s go ahead and ask the question that may very well be sitting at the forefront of your minds right now: What on earth does that have to do with Easter? That’s a good question. I suspect you weren’t expecting to come to church on Easter Sunday and be treated to a Monty Python clip. If you’re a fan…you’re welcome. If not…well…thanks for humoring me. Believe it or not, I am actually going somewhere with this.
The whole idea for this sketch is a play on the infamous Spanish Inquisition of Medieval history. The standard history here tells us that this was the enforcement arm of the Spanish crown which was firmly in the grip of the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, whose primary duty was to seek out heretics wherever they could be found and force them to recant their heresies and return to the folds of orthodoxy by whatever means proved necessary. Eventually they became too big for their britches and launched their own little reign of terror. They would lurk with their spies where they were least expected and then pounce on the heretics with ruthless force. They were just another way the Catholic church was the chief villain of that era. Or at least, that’s how the standard historical reporting goes.
As far as storytelling goes, it’s a pretty gripping tale. It makes for a good movie. As far as historical accuracy goes, other than the fact that there really was such a thing as the Spanish Inquisition, it’s almost entirely wrong. The truth is that while it did occasionally overstep some moral boundaries that should have been a lot firmer than they were, where it exercised authority it tended to be a force for stability and justice. The Inquisition officers tended to be the guys who came into rural villages with little allegiance to the church or the crown and prevented them from letting ugly superstitions about things like witches run amok to the harm of innocent men and women. In other words, people did in fact expect the Spanish Inquisition and even often welcomed it with open arms. That doesn’t make for good storytelling, though.
Do you know what people really didn’t expect to happen? The resurrection. Nobody expected the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Not a soul. In fact, Matthew, one of Jesus’ twelve closest followers and the one who was probably the most well-educated being a tax collector before following Jesus, and who because of that took the best notes, tells us that the only people who thought there was even the remotest chance of not finding Jesus in His tomb on Sunday morning (or any other morning for that matter) were the Pharisees. They went to Pilate after Jesus was in the tomb and asked him to station a Roman guard unit at the tomb to make sure the disciples didn’t try and steal His body in order to claim He was alive again since Jesus Himself had made such a claim during His ministry. And think about that for just a minute: The Pharisees took Jesus’ claims about coming back from the dead after three days to heart more than the disciples themselves did! They didn’t believe it, of course, they just didn’t want to deal with the headache of anyone else believing it.
Let all of this sit on you for just a minute. The resurrection forms the foundation for everything else we do as followers of Jesus. Christianity doesn’t make sense apart from the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It wouldn’t exist without that. But, as far as Jesus’ first followers were concerned, when He died, that was the end of the ride. Please exit carefully to the right and proceed down the path back to the park. Do you know how we know that? Because there was no crowd waiting around the tomb on Sunday morning just before sunrise chanting, “Five…four…three…two…one…Happy Resurrection Sunday!” Instead, they were all hiding out for fear that the Jewish religious authorities would have them rounded up and crucified just as their Lord had been. That was the standard operating principle of the day, by the way. When Rome was putting down a movement like the Jews were accusing Jesus of having, they didn’t just crucify the leader and wait for the followers to disperse. They rounded up and crucified all the followers as well. The road out of Jerusalem would be lined with crosses filled with the bodies—and sometimes bones where they had been picked clean—of the enemies of the state. This was all to send a very clear message: You didn’t want to be an enemy of the state.
On Saturday, all of Jesus’ closest followers couldn’t imagine a world in which Jesus was alive again. On Sunday, they couldn’t imagine a world in which He wasn’t. The resurrection became so central to their message that a few years later, Paul would write this: “Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection. If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.”
That’s some sobering stuff, isn’t it? In case you’re curious, that’s 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 in The Message translation. Paul says some things here that ought to get your attention. He essentially makes the resurrection the nail on which the whole of Christianity hangs. There’s an old hymn that proclaims, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.” That sounds good, but it’s not technically true. The church’s one foundation is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul here makes clear that the resurrection is the single nail on which the whole thing hangs. Jesus Christ by Himself, without the resurrection, isn’t enough. Without the resurrection Jesus was nothing more than an itinerant first-century Jewish rabbi about whom we would likely have never heard. The simple truth is that the resurrection has completely transformed our world and in ways we really can’t even begin to get our minds around.
There’s actually more to that point than meets the eye. If we are fish, the resurrection is our water. It is almost impossible to imagine the world without its impact. As a matter of fact, I’d like to take a few minutes with you this morning and explore that idea a little further. What would the world be like without the resurrection of Jesus from dead? How would it work? How would people think and interact with one another?
Well, as it turns out, we don’t have to wonder too hard at that. We can actually take a look at the world before the resurrection to give us some clues. And if that seems like an odd way to get a sense of what a resurrection-less world would be like since we have so many modern conveniences folks then couldn’t even have begun to imagine, try this one on for size: None of those conveniences would exist apart from the resurrection. Don’t believe me? Consider this: The misnamed Scientific Revolution was built on ideas that in the whole of human history only the Christian worldview has produced. But, if there had been no resurrection, there would be no Christian worldview. No Christian worldview, no Scientific Revolution. So perhaps looking back to understand what life no would have been like with out it isn’t quite so far fetched as it seems as first glance.
Okay then, what was life like before the resurrection? In a word: Awful. It was awful. It was short, hard, and full of suffering. There was really no medicine of any kind and doctors tended to be quacks who were as likely to do something to make some physical ailment worse than any better. This total lack of medicine resulted in a pretty frightening and hopeless existence for most people. Imagine if your child was sick and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it. Imagine if you were hurting and there was no means for bringing any relief to your bones. Today if we get an infection, we go get some antibiotics and are well in a few days. Then, even the simplest infection was a likely death sentence. As a matter of fact, that kind of thing really isn’t even very ancient history. Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president’s son, Calvin Jr. died while his dad was in office in the 1920s when a blister he got from playing tennis without socks on the White House courts got infected. It killed him in a week. In the ancient world only a third of the wealthy made it to adulthood. Those numbers are likely much lower for the poor.
In a world this depressing, where do people turn for help and hope? Well, the short answer is anywhere they can. Mostly, where they can is to religion of some form. Most of the ancient religions, however, were steeped in illogical superstitions and not much in the way of help. The gods of ancient Greek and Rome were little more than glorified men and women whose moral compass wasn’t ever very straight. They were a mostly fearsome lot who had to constantly be kept placated with sacrifices and offerings lest they get angry and start smiting people. But, you had to keep up this pretense because the gods were the ones who had the power to bring relief to the various problems people faced. In this kind of a world, people would do all kinds of nutty things to make themselves better. They’d spend exorbitant sums of money to buy scrolls with magic words on them. Archaeologists have found some of these and they’re mostly just filled with nonsense. But in a world that doesn’t make sense, a little nonsense is better than nothing. At least they were doing something. And if the scrolls didn’t work, there was always the built-in excuse that they didn’t say the words right or that the gods were simply having a bad day. This was all magical thinking. In a world without the resurrection, magical thinking was all people had.
Well, it wasn’t actually all they had. They had social and economic divisions to keep their mind off their otherwise miserable estate. You see, the ancient world was rife with inequality. It was everywhere you looked. And it was bad. It was a world marked by a level and extent of inequality we really can’t imagine. Complaints about inequality today don’t even register on the scale they faced them. Common teaching of the day was that some people were born to be slaves. Why? Because they were. It didn’t have anything to do with the color of their skin. It was simply the lot the gods had given to them. And the life of a slave simply did not count. Even at the height of slave-owning days in our nation, there was a sense among many that this was not how things were supposed to be. There was a vocal resistance to the institution. Not then. A slave could be beaten, killed, or abused in other more personal ways and there was no moral price to be paid for this.
Today we recoil at the fact that a Downs syndrome diagnosis for a baby still in the womb is a death sentence 80% of the time and more in some places. In a world without the resurrection, children born with any kind of obvious handicap were thrown out to die of exposure or be eaten by wild animals. This was not merely a common practice; it was in some places considered to be a civic duty. This wasn’t limited just to babies who weren’t quite “normal” either. Infant girls were often thrown out as a matter of course. We have a letter from a husband, Hilarion, away on a business trip back to his wife, Alis. He speaks to her with great care and tenderness. It is obvious they have a close and loving relationship. Also, Alis is pregnant. In moving terms Hilarion says to her, “I ask and entreat you, take care of the child, and as soon as we receive our wages I will send them up to you. . .If—may you have good luck!—you should give birth; if it is a boy, keep it; if it is a girl, throw it out.”
It was into this world that Jesus came claiming to hold some kind of power over death and disease. It was into this world that Jesus said things like, “Let the children come to Me.” It was into this world that Paul, later reflecting on Jesus’ teachings, said that there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. Listen: Those kinds of things described a world that didn’t exist. It never had. No one had even conceived of such a world before. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a woman or a slave in the first century. Put yourself in the shoes of a poor man. The world Jesus described sounded good almost beyond hoping. It drew people in like iron filings to a magnet. Around the world in places where the dominant worldview has excluded any notion of the resurrection—China, India, tribal regions of Africa and South America—are the very places where the church is growing the fastest because of the attractive power of this world Jesus described. It was and is, though, a world that rested entirely on the foundation of the resurrection. The resurrection was the only way this world made any sense.
It’s no wonder Paul would later write what he did to the believers in ancient Corinth. Listen to these words again: “Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead…” and let us be clear that this was the only reason anyone in the first century became a believer. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, they weren’t following Him. Period. The world He promised didn’t exist. There was no cultural reason to follow an unresurrected Jesus like there has been in our recent past and still even in some circles today. Again then: “If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection?” It would be like saying this: If you moved into that house because you trusted the architect’s promise that it has a really strong foundation, why are you letting people say that it doesn’t actually have a foundation at all? It doesn’t make sense. Without the resurrection, living the life of Christ doesn’t make sense.
What Paul says next is really just pushing the logic here to its natural conclusions. Stay with me: “If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ.” Right? That’s just a matter of course. Here’s the kicker, though: “And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors…” It’s all a fantasy. It’s all a lie. From Paul: “Everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors.” It actually gets worse. “Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.” Not only are we lying about our lives if the resurrection didn’t happen, but we’re lying about God. If there’s no such thing as resurrection, then God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead because there’s no such thing as resurrection. “If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead.”
C. S. Lewis famously said that when it comes to Jesus, in light of the things He said, we must conclude that He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then we are robbed of that third option. He’s either a liar or a lunatic, or both. “And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever.” If there’s no resurrection, then the salvation you claim is a sham. You’re still mired in the brokenness that defined your existence apart from it. And if you think that’s bad, think about the folks who died believing in the resurrection. “It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.”
Let me say it again: Our world…our lives…don’t make any sense apart from the resurrection. Everything we know and believe to be true—freedom, equality, human dignity—all fly out the window without it. When we even pull back the covering of the resurrection a bit they immediately start to unravel. Consider the weight of the last 250 years or so of human history. In the 19th century skepticism of religion in general and of Christianity in particular became fashionable in the West. Philosophers began constructing philosophies built on ideas that were explicitly non-Christian. As they did, freedom began to disappear. Human dignity began to erode. Equality began to fade.
Friedrich Nietzsche insisted that power and the will to wield it is the only thing that determined morality. Charles Darwin suggested that humans evolved naturally from the lower animals, namely the apes. He went on to suggest that some groups of humans developed from different groups of apes and, further, that some—namely those with darker skin tones—had not evolved as thoroughly as those with lighter skin tones. Karl Marx proclaimed that economics lay at the heart of all human problems and evils and that it was necessary for the people—meaning the government—to control all the means of production in a society in order for things to be fair and just. These three sets of ideas, born in the 19th century, began bearing fruit in the early 20th century. We picked them thinking they would be sweet, but they were deadly poisonous. Totalitarianism became the government of choice for those charismatic enough to inspire followers and strong enough to enforce their wills on the masses. Racism became institutionalized and scientifically credible. Human life became expendable where it was not obviously contributing to the broader society. And the cost has been hundreds of millions of lives. In other words, the world was suddenly not so different from how it looked before the resurrection. Where we had once stood tall and proclaimed: We can make sense of the world all by ourselves; we found ourselves shaking our heads and crying that the world just didn’t make sense anymore.
Today there is a quiet hopelessness and despair creeping across our culture, claiming life after life as it advances. We are turning this way and that in an attempt to find answers, but nothing is making any sense. We argue about things that are more and more inane and with more and more vitriol because that distracts us from the quiet agony that otherwise grips our lives in a stranglehold. All of this just points us unavoidably to a hard and fast conclusion: Apart from the resurrection our world and our lives do not make sense. Indeed: “If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.”
But. There’s that word again. This is v. 20 now and completely changes the game: “But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.” The truth is that in spite of our denials and attempts to make sense of the world without it, the resurrection really did happen. We know this with absolute confidence because we have the testimony of Peter in Mark and John who saw the empty tomb and then saw the risen Christ. We have the testimony of Matthew who saw it too, and of Mary Magdalene in Luke who was the very first person to see Him alive again—a detail that would only have been reported if it were true because culturally speaking it would have otherwise destroyed even the faintest chance of the report having any credibility. We have the testimony of Paul who got a personal appearance a few months later. We have the evidence of thousands and thousands of Jews suddenly abandoning the Sabbath in favor of worshiping on Sunday. We have the evidence of the disciples—not a one of whom believed it was going to happen—suddenly boldly proclaiming Jesus was alive again at the direct risk of their own lives. All but one—John who died in exile—were martyred for their insistence on this idea, something that simply doesn’t make sense unless it actually happened. Should we go on? “The truth is that Christ has been raised up.”
Christ has been raised up and the world can make sense again. Your life can make sense again. That nagging sense you have that things aren’t like they are supposed to be is right. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves it. Death shouldn’t hang over us like a cloud. We have always come up with stories about what comes after death because we are hardwired to understand that death was never supposed to be the end of things. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead declares it’s not. We understand intuitively that life is better lived with hope and joy than without. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proclaims that we can. We recoil at injustice and abuse because those kinds of things shouldn’t happen to people. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead says we’re right.
There’s only one conclusion here and it is completely unmistakable: The resurrection makes the world make sense. The resurrection makes the world make sense. Nobody saw it coming when it happened, but in its aftermath it was as clear as it could be that it was always where everything was pointing. The world never really made sense without it, but we pressed on because there was nothing else to do. Now it has come, and it is the only thing that makes any sense of the world. The resurrection makes the world make sense.
Only this now remains: Will you receive this truth and let it make your life make sense? The resurrection makes the world make sense, yes, but it will also make just your world make sense. The resurrected Christ will provide for your life a foundation on which to build, and it is a foundation that will not be shaken. It will give you hope where things only looked bleak. It will give you joy where circumstances were grim. It will give you peace where chaos once reigned. It—He—will make your life make sense. Jesus is alive, friends. He is alive and now death has no power over Him. Death has no power over Him and if you will receive Him, it will have no power over you either. The resurrection will make your life make sense. We serve a risen Savior. Let us receive Him and enjoy the life that is truly life.