Saturday, April 23, 2011

Christ Is Risen

One of the worst of frequently sung Christian hymns rises to this rousing, if questionable, conclusion: "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."

The zeal with which these words of old time religion are sung may serve to mask the fact that this idea is thoroughly unbiblical. The New Testament writers did not seek to prove the actuality or the implications of the resurrection of Christ by resorting to private matters of the heart. Rather, they pointed to evidence that was open for all of the world to see and invetigate. Less than two months after the Crucifixion, the Apostle Peter stood out in the open in the city where it had happened and said to his listeners: you killed him, God raised Him. You know it happened: repent and believe.

The most extensive biblical passage on Easter evidence occurs in I Corinthians 15, where Paul lays it all on the line. If Christ is not risen, he says, then there is no future hope for us either. If Christ is not risen, we are still doomed in our sins. If Christ is not risen, we have deceived you. If Christ is not risen, then His followers are miserable people. If Christ is not risen, Paul essentially says, skip the religion thing and live and let live.

But, he argues, Christ really is risen, and the opposite of all of the above consequences are true as a result. Given the high stakes, Paul could have resorted to the feelings of his heart, but he didn't. Christ really died, Paul says: He was buried. Then He really rose from the dead: Peter saw Him. Then, the other Apostles saw Him. Then over 500 people saw Him at the same time. Some of them are still alive, Paul says. Go depose them and find out what they know

You ask me how I know He lives? Well, there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem

Today, we are not exactly sure where the tomb was -- there are at least a couple of competing theories -- but first century Jewish and Roman officials knew its precise location, and according to nearly contemporary historical accounts, they struggled to respond to the fact that the tomb was empty. The Jewish Sanhedrin Court and Roman officials conspired to lie and say that the body had been stolen, a theory that was improbable for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the body never turned up. The notion that a group of scattered and cowardly disciples could overcome Roman guards, steal the body, and then find sufficient courage to start preaching openly in the city where He had been publicly humiliated strains credulity.

Within a year of the Crucifixion, the member of the Sanhedrin who had risen to become the chief prosecutor of believers, Saul of Tarsus, himself saw the light, literally, and converted, becoming a zealous follower in the process

It is commonly said that religion is a private matter, but the events of Good Friday and Easter show that Christianity is not. That His death had something to do with people's sins, certainly, is a matter of doctrinal belief, though that belief is either confirmed or denied by what happened in the open on the first Easter Sunday. The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth occurred out in the open, in public, in real space and time. It is there for all of the world to see.

These are facts to which we are all then accountable. Men killed Him. God raised Him. Repent and believe. Receive the good news that forgiveness and eternal life are accomplished and provided through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

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