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In his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Dr. John Lennox, emeritus Professor of Mathematics Oxford University, writes, ‘To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power’.
Transcendent Power. Yet in today’s world where influential voices sometimes angrily dismiss such a possibility, it is easy to overlook the transcendent power that was at work on the first Easter Day when Jesus physically rose from the dead. When we consider the evidence, it becomes clear that Jesus’ resurrection didn’t occur because of some natural mechanism. It happened because the creator God chose to intervene (Romans 6:4b).
The four Gospel writers record that on the third day following his crucifixion and burial, Jesus’ tomb was empty. He was seen physically alive by his close followers and many others.
Eyewitnesses. In First Corinthians – one of the earliest New Testament Letters – chapter 15, verses 4b-6a and verse 8, Paul the Apostle writes: … Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and …he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still living… Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Paul is saying that Christianity didn’t start because a group of fanatics had invented a story about their hero, nor because a group of philosophers had come to an agreed conclusion about life, and not even because a group of mystics shared the same vision about God. It began with eyewitnesses – ordinary men and women who saw something very extra-ordinary happen. In fact, it began with the history of a man who had risen from the dead.
Grand Design. Furthermore, there was a far-reaching purpose in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Luke chapter 24 – the ‘resurrection chapter’ – the dominant theme is Jesus’ crucifixion: It had to happen.
In his conversation with the two on the road to Emmaus Jesus said: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter his glory?” (24:26). He also pointed out, ‘If you knew the Scriptures you would have known that for me the road to the crown was through the cross. That was the message of the prophets. I am the suffering servant of whom they spoke’ (for example, Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
And later, when he met with the disciples, he spelled out God’s grand design. He showed them how the Scriptures pointed to the Messiah’s necessary suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day (24:46). Jesus’ death and resurrection were an essential part of God’s grand design, a plan formed even before creation came into existence and reaffirmed with the creation of men and women (Genesis 1:26a).
God’s good news. Luke tells us that Jesus went on to tell the disciples what now needs to happen: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his (Jesus’) name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (24:47). Jesus’ death and resurrection are tightly linked to the announcement of the forgiveness of sins.
Indeed, Paul identifies this when he writes: For I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and was raised on the third day … (1 Corinthians 15:3)
The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not merely that of a dead man who came back to life, nor that of a dying and rising god. Neither is it a romantic story that tells us that death is not the end. It is the record of Messiah’s shameful death by crucifixion, suffering the pains of God-forsakenness on our behalf because we have broken God’s holy law.
Simply to say that Christ died is insufficient. Historians agree that he died. But the New Testament explains that his death was a voluntary sacrifice with a purpose – to satisfy God’s perfect justice, once and for all, on behalf of guilty humanity. Unless sin had first been dealt with, Jesus’ resurrection would not point to forgiveness and new life.
To enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection we need to turn to him in a spirit of repentance, humbly asking God to forgive us for following the devices and desires of our own hearts and so breaking his holy laws. A gospel presentation without the call to true heartfelt repentance is not the gospel.
Jesus’ resurrection bears witness to God’s grand design for men and women – a design that offers full and free forgiveness, and a life of meaning and hope, love and joy forever.
In his final Narnia story, The Last Battle, CS Lewis metaphorically opens our eyes to an ever-larger picture of God’s Grand Design: ‘And as He (Aslan) spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.
‘And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’
A prayer. Almighty Father, you have given your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old influences of corruption and evil, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason
You may like to listen to Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty.
Note: Material in today’s Word on Wednesday is adapted from my book in the Reading the Bible Today series: Luke – An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019
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