Why Resurrection Matters (Good Friday)

Along with Paul, I believe…

That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
-I Corinthians 15

280px-holy_sepulchre_exterior.jpgThe Church of the Holy Supulchre, located just outside Jerusalem, stands on the site at which – according to tradition – Jesus was crucified and subsequently buried. Some have expressed doubt that the veracity of this claim can be proven. Jesus may well have been executed and buried at other places, they say.

Still, even if I can’t know that it was the place where Jesus of Nazarath was killed and buried, I would like to visit this site some day. Regardless of the historical veracity of the location, a visitation of this nature, I think, would force me to ponder an important question:

Did these events – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – truly happen in human history?

To feel the stone and peer into the tomb, to climb the hill itself, I believe would bring these events off of the pages of a book and out of my imagination, and shift into sharp focus the issue that lies at the heart of my faith.

I do not believe that the biblical witnesses leave us any room to fudge on this point (and, if you’re interested in exploring why it does not in a level of detail that is probably unparalleled in Chrisitan history, I invite you to read NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God). These were not vague, ghostly sightings. They were not ways of expressing a metaphorical concept that, even though he is really dead, Jesus is “still with us” in some sense. The witnesses of scripture were fully convinced that, in human history, Jesus of Nazarath was killed, was buried, and was resurrected either at this location or at some location that was very nearby.

It did happen, these writers insist. The question is – will we or won’t we “buy in” to their accounts? To accept it within your view of reality will – quite literally – change your life.

Tomorrow: what if it didn’t happen?

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4 Responses to Why Resurrection Matters (Good Friday)

  1. Steven Carr says:

    Why did people in Corinth convert to Jesus-worship and still scoff at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse?

    Why did Paul assure them that Jesus became a spirit?

    On a slightly unrelated topic, how was the body of Phillip able to disappear from sight and then reappear at Azotus (see Acts 8) when NT Wright assures us that only a spiritual body can do that? (Resurrection, page 654 ”transphysical’ (in the sense that it can appear and disappear,…)

  2. Matt says:

    Steven-

    I do not have the capacity to defend a literal resurrection that Wright and other conservative scholars might. However, I do appreciate most of the issues behind the points you are raising here, and – since you’re asking ME – I’ll try to deal with them as best I can…

    Question 1: I’ll let Wright answer this one: “…they were denying a future bodily resurrection, and the strong probability is that they were doing so on the standard pagan grounds…that everybody knew dead people didn’t and couldn’t come back to bodily life.” (p. 316) Notably, the focus of my devotional thoughts for this week (the early part of Chapter 15) serves precisely the purpose of reminding them that such a gospel is NOT the one they originally embraced. They have, in other words, back-tracked into this way of thinking.

    Question 2: Here I assume you are referring to the “spiritual body” language of Chapter 15. If I’m wrong, you can ignore the next two paragraphs. I think we need to be careful about relatively recent concepts of dualism when we are reading the NT. Paul’s other writings make it clear that he believes there is a physical, bodily resurrection and the use of the word “spiritual” here seems to imply the source or origin of this new type of body. Note, for example, how the “death” that comes through Adam is matched by the new “life” that is found in Jesus.

    Also important here is the fact that even PAGANS believed, during this time, that the dead became spirits. It wasn’t a particularly radical notion to argue that Jesus was a spirit. Clearly, Paul had a much more unique/revolutionary concept in mind.

    Question 3: I’m having trouble following the argument relating to the “teleportation” of Phillip. That God might choose to cause Phillip to be moved from one place to another, while a little unusual in the context of scripture, doesn’t disprove that Jesus was the first example of God’s new creation. Indeed, if anything, the inauguration of new creation in Jesus would make us expect to begin seeing characteristics of that creation manifested in other people/places.

    Thanks, again, for stopping by.

  3. Steven Carr says:

    Question 1: I’ll let Wright answer this one: “…they were denying a future bodily resurrection, and the strong probability is that they were doing so on the standard pagan grounds…that everybody knew dead people didn’t and couldn’t come back to bodily life.”

    Let us step back and draw a deep breath.

    People converted to Jesus-worship and still just knew that dead people didn’t come back to bodily life!

    Why on earth had they converted to Jesus-worship?

    Why does Paul call them people ‘riched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.

    Answer. Paul did not regard a denial of dead bodies coming back to life as a denial of Christianity.

    And obviously neither did the converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth,

    As you point out, people had no problems with the idea that Jesus became a spirit. Paul tells them so – ‘the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’.

    The Jesus-worshippers would have had no problem with the idea that a god like Jesus could become human and then become a spirit, just as other people had no problem with the idea that Zeus could turn into a swan and back.

    But the Jesus-worshippers scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse.

    Of course, you are quite right that God worked a miracle in the case of Philip.

    But Wright claims that appearing and disappearing is a proof that you have a resurrected , spiritual body , transformed into a different material.

    It isn’t, as Luke describes exactly the same thing happening to a non-resurrected person, in a perfectly normal body. Wright is just wrong in his ‘proof’

    According to Luke, Jesus squashes Wright’s and the disciples belief that Jesus was made of material that could pass through walls, by ‘proving’ that he was made of flesh-and-bone that they could recognise as being the solid material they were used to.

    Wright’s beliefs were trashed by Jesus Himself (at least according to the Bible)

    The Gospels portray a Jesus whose body is identical to the one that was planted in the ground. It had the same wounds, and was made of flesh and bone that was solid and could not pass through wall.

    How did it appear and disappear? A miracle, just like Luke portrays Philip as undergoing a miracle.

    Why was it not recognised? ‘They were kept from rcognising him’ and ‘then their eyes were opened’. They were kept from recognising him by divine intervention, not because of any property of the body Jesus had (or any property of the clothes Jesus was wearing, which according to Wright , must have been spiritual clothes, able to appear and disappear at will)

  4. Matt says:

    Steven-

    Thanks, again, for your thoughtful comments on this subject.

    I’m glad we’ve had a chance to briefly converse, even though we haven’t agreed 100%.

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