Jesus is alive!

Easter is coming up, and I have been invited by Slipstream, which is the Evangelical Alliance’s leadership resource, to post about the resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to me. This is supposed to be part of a synchro blog, whatever that means. I admit that I have not listened to the Gary Habermas and Tim Keller podcast to which the synchro blog is linked, although I have read the tasters. So these are just my own thoughts. Anyway, here goes…

1. Validation

My first point about the resurrection is that it validates Jesus’ ministry. It is this that proves decisively that he was not just a good teacher, or a crazy one, but the one sent by God, indeed more than just a man.

Yes, the miracles Jesus performed also validated his ministry, but it is hard to prove that these are genuine especially after two thousand years. However, there is one miracle which cannot be doubted: that a man officially executed and formally declared dead by the Roman authorities, and buried by Jewish leaders, rose again and was seen alive by hundreds of witnesses. Even in modern times sceptical lawyers who have examined the evidence have been forced to conclude that there is no other explanation for the records, that Jesus must have truly risen from the dead. And if this can be accepted, then there should be no problem with all the other miracles.

From this evidence we are also forced to believe that Jesus really was sent by God, not just as a teacher of truth but also, according to the content of his teaching, as the one who would save us from our sins and bring us to eternal life.

2. Victory

Jesus’ resurrection was far more than a validation of his ministry. It was also the culmination of his work of bringing salvation to humankind.

God sent his Son into the world to defeat the powers of evil which had taken over so much of it, which had brought men and women down to the depths of sin and despair. God’s purpose, which is still being worked out, is to bring the world fully into his own Kingdom, where evil and sin would no longer have a place. He sent Jesus to fight and win the decisive battle to achieve this purpose.

Throughout Jesus’ time on earth he was attacked by evil, in demonic and human form. Eventually the devil thought that he won the victory, by having Jesus put to death on a cross. But he had no idea what was really happening on that cross, that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sins was, in a way which is beyond human as well as demonic full comprehension, a key tactic in the final defeat of evil. Three days later the powers of evil were taken completely by surprise when Jesus rose from the dead, and it became clear that they had been completely defeated. The resurrection of Jesus is both the final act and the public demonstration of his complete victory over death, sin and all forms of evil.

3. Vision

It was hard to find a third “V” to summarise this third aspect of what the resurrection of Jesus means to me, not just as a past act but also as a living reality today. But certainly one aspect of it is that he gives me vision for what to do with my life.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he didn’t die again, as Lazarus presumably did. His resurrection was not just the resuscitation of a corpse. His resurrection body was taken up into heaven and so is no longer visible to us today. But he is still alive, as we celebrate every Easter. And this means that I can and do have an ongoing daily relationship with him.

In that relationship I mustn’t forget that Jesus is not just an ordinary man, not even as he was when he walked in Galilee. He is still filled with the power of his resurrection life. And, amazingly, those of us who are “in Christ”, who are Christians with that same relationship with Jesus, are also, through the Holy Spirit, filled with this resurrection life and power. In the words of a recent worship song from Hillsong (the link is to an MP3 of just one chorus):

The same power that conquered the grave
Lives in me, lives in me.
Your love that rescued the earth
Lives in me, lives in me.

Because Jesus is alive and working, demonstrating his love, in and through me, I can do even greater works than he did when he was on earth. And the same is true for you, if you truly believe in Jesus. We can do more spectacular miracles than he did, healing and even raising the dead – as long as this is not just as a public spectacle but to show God’s love and bring him glory. But probably more importantly we can continue and bring to completion the work of Jesus in reconciling the world to God.

Yes, Jesus in rising from the dead won the great victory which made this reconciliation possible. But we still see a world far from God as people allow themselves to be dominated by evil. The kingdom of God is here, but it is not yet here in its fullness. Jesus as one man on earth could only reach and bring his personal touch to a few people. But now he has a community spread throughout every nation, and he calls every one of this community, that includes you and me, to bring that touch of love in one way or another to needy people, those far from God, all around the world. This is the purpose which God has for us, his people, and the vision which he sets before us.

Of course, in our own strength we can do little to solve the great problems of the world. But as we are filled with Jesus’ resurrection power there is no limit to what we can achieve, to bring about God’s great purpose of bringing the world fully into his Kingdom.

I didn’t really mean to write a sermon, and I won’t be preaching this as one, at least this Easter. But if anyone reading this still needs an Easter sermon and wants to use this material, you are welcome – but I would prefer if you let me know.

23 thoughts on “Jesus is alive!

  1. Pingback: Easter: what did Satan intend?

  2. TC and Ferg, thanks for the encouragement. I certainly don’t claim that my words are inspired on the level of Scripture! But I hope that God is speaking through them, and I’m happy that some people are finding them helpful.

  3. Peter

    As with your recent thoughts on tongues, another clear and helpful examination of a vital subject. And a change from 3 “Ps”! I’ve not recently followed through your other links, so this comes from ignorance of all you have done and now do, but it seems you have a gifting here.

  4. “the resurrection … proves decisively that he was not just a good teacher, or a crazy one, but the one sent by God, indeed more than just a man.”

    “there is one miracle which cannot be doubted: that a man officially executed and formally declared dead by the Roman authorities, and buried by Jewish leaders, rose again and was seen alive by hundreds of witnesses.”

    What gobbledegook.

    It always amuses me when the most ridiculous and, frankly, unprovable claims are paraded by believers as “proof” and “beyond doubt.” It seems to be an exercise merely in self-assurance, given its complete disconnect from reality.

    Whatever your personal faith in these things, I assure you: these things can be and are doubted. As a 100% sure disproof of your manifestly incorrect statement that the resurrection of Jesus “cannot be doubted,” I offer my own doubt: I sincerely and deeply doubt it. There! Your statement is incorrect.

    (In fact, I more than doubt it – I conclude, from the evidence, that it its likelihood is extremely tiny.)

    … Hmmmm… the ‘anti-spam’ word I have to enter, in order to submit this post, is “geshur”. It’s a miracle!

  5. N.T., of course I know that some people doubt the resurrection. But as far as I am concerned that is either because they have not looked at the evidence or because they have looked at it with a philosophical presupposition that it is impossible. Is this your position? Or perhaps you started with the presupposition that there is less than one chance in a trillion that the resurrection is true (and your entire philosophy is wrong) and have been forced to admit to an “extremely tiny” probability of one in a million?

    But I don’t understand your issue with the statement of mine which you first quoted. If we grant that the resurrection did happen, then that surely implies that the one resurrected was not just an ordinary man. For, as we both know, ordinary people, even the best religious teachers, once dead stay dead.

  6. Ha! Hi there, Peter.

    I think, in effect, you’ve just gone from the statement that ‘nobody can doubt the resurrection’ to something to the tune of ‘no reasonable person can doubt the resurrection’. But it’s all much the same, isn’t it? According to you, anybody who doubts the resurrection gets written off from the start as either ‘biased’ or ‘unreasonable’. Well, that’s a sure way of getting rid of the opposition from the get go! But it might not have anything to do with reality.

    But, to answer your question: No, it is neither the case that (a) I have not looked at the evidence, nor that (b) I have looked at it with a philosophical presupposition that it is impossible or near-impossible. I have indeed looked at the evidence. And, I have no presupposition either for or against people resurrecting.

    Rather, the fictionality of Jesus’ resurrection is my conclusion from examining the evidence. After considering the evidence, I concluded that the resurrection appearances are examples of the visionary experiences which were common amongst early Christians. For this reason in particular, and not because of any presupposition for or against the resurrection, I have concluded that the story about Jesus resurrecting is false.

    The whole “presupposition” thing is a bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? Sure, we all have biases and our own particular way of seeing things, but to reduce conclusions down to ‘presuppositions’ simply ignores the fact that judgments are also made on the basis of facts. The non-reality of the resurrection is a conclusion that is reached on the basis of facts, and is restricted by the facts, whatever is my approach to them. And I’d tend to be charitable and say that’s your approach, too, rather than being a result of mere presupposition. It’s just that I’d say your approach to the facts is logically flawed compared to my own superior analysis. The whole ‘you’re just saying that because of presuppositions’, as well as being untrue, is an evasion of the role of facts in also deciding these things. If you go down the presupposition road, it just ends up a rather silly and pointless game of “tu quoque”.

    Also, I don’t see any necessary connection between a hypothetical ‘resurrection’ and the person being resurrected being “more than a man”. Such a ‘proof’ also involves a whole series of hidden (Christian doctrinal) assumptions that you haven’t examined or stated. Contrary to what you said, if Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, that of itself would not have proved anything about his being “more than just a man”.

  7. N.T. I don’t say that anyone who denies the resurrection is biased or unreasonable. I say that they have philosophical presuppositions, the standard materialistic ones of the western intelligentsia, according to which the resurrection is impossible. I understand this because I was brought up and to an extent live surrounded by such presuppositions. I know many people who reject Christian teaching because their presuppositions do not allow them to accept as true miracles and especially the resurrection.

    If you do not have those presuppositions but still disbelieve in the resurrection, perhaps that is because you have only examined part of the evidence. What do you do with the evidence that the Romans and the Jewish leaders found the tomb empty, and were unable to produce a body to put a quick end to talk about resurrection?

  8. I say that they have philosophical presuppositions, the standard materialistic ones

    Your presupposition is incorrect (I don’t have materialistic presuppositions).

    If you do not have those presuppositions but still disbelieve in the resurrection, perhaps that is because you have only examined part of the evidence.

    Or… it might be because I have examined all of the evidence, and decided that the facts demonstrate that the better conclusion is that the resurrection did not occur. In fact, that is the reason I conclude the resurrection did not occur.

    What do you do with the evidence that the Romans and the Jewish leaders found the tomb empty, and were unable to produce a body to put a quick end to talk about resurrection?

    In the first place, I would probably address your presupposition that the Romans and Jewish leaders cared more than two hoots about a small sect claiming that their leader had ascended to heaven. And once your presupposition had been found seriously wanting I would point out that maybe the evidence you have isn’t as ‘overwhelming’ as you first assumed. My reply would be something along those lines.

  9. OK, you have an argument. The accounts in the gospels and Acts seem to suggest that at least the Jewish authorities did care quite a lot about stopping talk of resurrection – see Matthew 27:62-66, 28:11-15 and Acts 4:18, 5:33. Of course I realise that you might want to raise critical questions about texts such as these. But there does seem to be good evidence that the Jewish authorities tried to oppose the church from the start, and had some kind of cooperation from the Romans in doing this. So I am still forced to wonder, if there was no resurrection why didn’t someone produce the body?

  10. As you are aware, there are indeed significant problems with simply accepting Matthew’s story – about the rumor that Jesus’ disciple had stolen his body commenced on ‘the third day’. It may well have been a charge that Matthew had heard when he was writing his Gospel some decades later, I acknowledge. But as it now stands, it is better explained as a counter-polemic against non-Christian Jews, and something that developed over time, perhaps only close to Matthew’s time. So, it’s better to conclude that this is a tradition that has been invented to support later Christian arguments. Furthermore, this invention occurs in a section of the Gospel in which Matthew also includes the invented tradition of zombie-saints who had arisen from the dead in Jerusalem – a remarkable event that other sources are conspicuously silent on, and has the historic evidential value of something written in The Da Vinci Code.

    The traditions in Acts are even later. The speeches in John and Peter’s disputes with non-Christian Jews reflect historiographic speech-making, in which those later ideals are read back into the mouths of these Christian heroes. As far as the quality of ‘evidence’ goes, a late first-century source is a very poor indicator of the types of disputes actually entered into in ca. AD 30.

    So what happened when the Christian sect grew and such disputes were in fact carried out? Well, if the Jews had really spread a popular rumor that the Christians had stolen the body away, then they already had a counter-argument against Christians which they relied upon. They may well have been quite satisfied with that argument. So, your argument that Jews would have been highly interested in producing the body some decades later, say when Matthew wrote his Gospel, has this inherent weakness when read with what Matthew writes. They might not have been so interested if they already explained the alleged resurrection in way that satisfied them, and which was not supported by the body still resting inside an identifiable tomb.

    But what sinks your argument completely is that there was no body to be produced when non-Christian Jews started to attempt to throw Christian Jews out of the synagogue, and started to engage in serious polemics with a small but growing sect. Jesus’ body was long gone and unidentifable, completely decomposed.

    And that assumes that it could be located in the first place. But there is not even any Christian tradition about pilgrimages to the site of the location of Jesus’ grave until later centuries – themselves spurious traditions. If anybody knew the site of Jesus’ grave in the first century, and transmitted such knowledge, we might expect that some Christian communities had such knowledge. But they didn’t, as far as the available evidence shows. What is more, Jesus’ grave is even more unrecoverable if we read the tradition about his burial in a rich person’s tomb as merely a pious biographical note of no historic worth – a conclusion supported by the evidence that the remains of crucified criminals were usually consigned to a mass grave. That is, if Jesus’ body was never buried in a tomb, but was thrown into a pit with other bodies, according to normal and most probable operating procedures, your objection is a non-starter.

    So, it is because of these reasons (and not because of any ‘presuppositions’) that I conclude your argument ‘why didn’t the Jews/authorities produce the body’ has no merit and no evidential value.

  11. N.T., sorry to be slow replying.

    I accept that good arguments can be made for the general unreliability of gospel traditions, or some of them. There are also good counter-arguments. This comment thread is not the place to rehearse this well known debate. Suffice it to say that one of the major premises on which people like the Jesus Seminar base their work is a presupposition, taken from their materialistic worldview, that accounts of miracles, including the resurrection, are not factual and therefore later additions to the text. It is therefore transparently circular reasoning to appeal to their work to disprove the resurrection.

    Surely the most obvious reason why there was no early tradition about the site of Jesus’ grave, not even one pointing to a particular common graveyard, is that it was well known from the start that his body was not in a grave at all.

  12. Your comment that I am relying on good arguments for the general unreliability of gospel traditions is a great improvement on the dichotomy you earlier offered me (that I either “have not looked at the evidence” or I “have looked at it with a philosophical presupposition that it is impossible”).

    Without wanting to get into the substantive arguments here, I agree with your shift in position. I think that we can both agree that some people offer weak arguments offered by organization such as the Jesus Seminar. But, as you now acknowledge, this does not detract from the good arguments may also be made. And I would also add that these good arguments have careful regard to the evidence without merely relying on presuppositions, and the more probable conclusions.

    Thanks, Peter.

  13. Well, N.T., I am glad that we are now less far apart. But I do not accept that there are good arguments for the general unreliability of the gospel traditions, only weak arguments like those of the Jesus Seminar which are based on presuppositions that miracles cannot happen.

  14. Oh dear, oh dear – you’ve gone back to your original statement (that those arguing for the fictionality of the resurrection rely on presuppositions), even after I pointed out an exception to this: me!

    There’s a word for the approach whereby somebody ends up with the same conclusion, no matter what the contrary evidence… oh yes: an argument from ‘presupposition’!

  15. N.T., I don’t say that you personally rely on presuppositions. But I do say you give credence to arguments for the unreliability of the gospel accounts which depend on the work of people with presuppositions. Well, of course we all have presuppositions and often rely on them, except of course for one honourable exception being yourself. I suppose a made-up online persona might just be able to be free from what is common to all humanity, even our sinless Lord Jesus.

    But since there is no one else whose arguments you can trust, I presume you do all your work from primary sources and first principles. I look forward to your presupposition-free (and bibliography-free) magnum opus proving the unreliability of the gospels and the falsity of the resurrection accounts. Until I read and am convinced I will continue to believe in the gospels and the resurrection.

  16. I replied to this all-too-familiar (and fallacious) pop-apologetic tactic concerning ‘presuppostions’ here on the main post you opened up.

  17. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » N.T. Wrong is also alive!

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