It is sometimes said that the most difficult thing for the Christian church today is to get people to believe. I think the opposite is true. Most people will believe almost anything, providing that what is said is communicated with a voice of authority. GK Chesterton once observed, ‘When a man (or woman) stops believing in God they don’t then believe in nothing, they believe anything’.
Today we come to the 7th Coffee Conversation based on Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 24 three scenes portray Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead.
In Luke 24:36-37 we read: …Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them (the disciples), “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified, thinking it was a ghost.
And even when he showed them his hands and his feet – no doubt with the imprints of the nails on them – in their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering (24:41). These hard-headed men were confused and perplexed, even doubting what it all meant. ‘Is this really Jesus or just a spirit, a ghost?’ they were asking.
Aware of their questions and doubts, Jesus, brilliant teacher and counsellor that he is, addressed one issue at a time. “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones…,” he said. He then asked for food (24:41). They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence (24:42-43).
One of this century’s influential voices has been that of the late Stephen Hawking. According to Dr. John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Hawking says of miracles such as the resurrection: “We either believe them or we believe in the scientific understanding of the laws of nature, but not both” (John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking(Lion, Oxford: 2011, p.82).
Dr. Lennox observes that many scientists would say that, “miracles arose in primitive, pre-scientific cultures, where people were ignorant of the laws of nature and so readily accepted miracle stories”. However, he responds: “In order to recognize some event as a miracle, there must be some perceived regularity to which that event is an apparent exception!” (pp.84f)
We don’t need the benefit of modern science to define an extraordinary event.
Lennox also notes that a second objection to miracles is, “now we know the laws of nature, miracles are impossible” (p.86). However, as he observes, “From a theistic perspective, the laws of nature predict what is bound to happen if God does not intervene… To argue that the laws of nature make it impossible for us to believe in the existence of God and the likelihood of his intervention in the universe is plainly false” (p.87).
It’s important for us to consider these matters. Followers of Jesus Christ accept the laws of nature that science observes. They are observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. That said, such ‘laws’ do not prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’. So, with respect to the resurrection of Jesus, the New Testament does not speak of it as a result of a natural mechanism. Rather, it happened because God intervened, using his supernatural power (Romans 6:4b).
To return to Luke 24. In each of the three scenes, the Scriptures and Jesus’ own words provide an explanation of what has happened. In the third scene these elements are brought together: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you”, Jesus said. Everything he had taught and done had been foreshadowed in the Scriptures – even his death and resurrection.
Jesus’ resurrection has no significance without his death. It cannot point to forgiveness unless sin has been dealt with. The resurrection is a glorious message because it makes sense of Jesus’ death. At first the disciples felt his death was the end of all their hopes. But then they discovered it is the foundation of all their hopes.
Malcolm Muggeridge, former editor of Punch, speaker, and author once wrote: ‘Confronted with the reality (death is the one certainty in life), we may rage or despair, induce forgetfulness, solace ourselves with fantasies that science will in due course discover how we came to be here and to what end, and how we may project our existence, individually or collectively, into some Brave New World spanning the universe in which Man reigns supreme. God’s alternative proposition is the Resurrection – a man dying who rises from the dead… I close with, ‘Done’…: Christ is risen!’
Ask questions. Over these 7 weeks I have suggested points in Luke’s narrative to discuss with your friend(s). Luke has introduced us to someone who is like no other. You may want to return to the words of the angel to the shepherds: “…Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:10f).
It’s worth observing that if this is true we need to give Jesus the highest level of attention. Ask what your friend believes. If they agree with Luke’s account but find it difficult to take a step of faith in Jesus, suggest that they ask God for help – help to make the step of turning to Jesus, help to ask for forgiveness, help to know the deep joy of knowing the love of Jesus in their life.