42. God of Resurrection (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  42. God of Resurrection (2)

1 Cor 15:3-5   Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….  he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

Rev 20:4,5 They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

Jn 11:25,26    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Resurrection?   Resurrection, I suspect, is something that again rarely crosses the mind of the average person and maybe for that reason they might struggle with the very idea. In the previous study we merely noted that there were instances, prophetic and poetic of the belief that God can raise us up when we are dead, that there is more after visible physical death. Yet it is fairly obvious that the very idea of Jesus’ death and resurrection were alien to the disciples. Again and again Jesus told them these two things would happen – see Mt 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:17-19 – and yet when the events rolled out and he was crucified, they simply could not believe that he was alive again – see Mk 16:11, Lk 24:11,12,37,38, Jn 20:2,9,25. I find these very human responses very reassuring when it comes to the veracity of the Bible – who would have recorded this unbelief unless it was true?

Past Examples: The strange thing about this unbelief is that, not only had the disciples heard Jesus a number of times prophesying that this would happen, but they had seen his power at work raising the dead.  He had raised a woman’s dead son (Lk 7:11-17), he raised Jairus’s daughter (Lk 8:49-56) and of course, the big one, he raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11). The son would have been dead many hours, Jairus’s daughter was clearly dead and “her spirit returned” (v.55) and Lazarus had been dead several days. When Martha, Lazarus’s sister, challenged Jesus when he eventually turned up, he responded, “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.23,24)

She is a good Jew and well taught and so knows this teaching. It is then that he responds with one of our starter verses, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”   “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn 11:26,27) There are three significant parts to those verses. First, Jesus’ declaration, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” Death may come he says, but life will follow! Wow! What a reversal. Second, he says, “and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” This goes a step further by emphasizing that it is belief in Jesus that brings us life, and so having received that new life from him, when physical death does eventually come, as it will, that does not mean that the believer is lost; it just means that ‘that life’ received from Christ, was the precursor or first stage of the eternal life they will experience when they pass through death. The third thing is Martha’s response of belief: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Now the Messiah was to be the deliverer who came from heaven and by making this declaration she is saying, “Of course I believe you because I know who you really are.”

The Concept Applied: The apostle Paul wrote along these lines to the Romans: “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:10,11) The paraphrase Message version puts this interestingly, “It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” The emphasis of that version directs us to see that Christ’s life is what is conveyed to us when we come to him, so we come alive to God. It can’t help but also accept that that life will impact us physically as well, which implies something about the body going on after death.

In the classic passage on resurrection that Paul writes in 1 Cor 15, after having laid out the evidence for Christ having being raised, Paul goes on to lay out some theological thoughts (v.12-34) but then goes on to consider the nature of the resurrection body (v.35 on) and concludes, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.42-44) i.e. our physical body dies but in eternity we will receive a new ‘spiritual’ body. The word ‘spiritual’ is open to question but note it is a body, a means of life being carried, identifiable and able to interact with other such bodies. Sometimes commentators point to Jesus’ raised body that appeared to move about more speedily than before and even appeared to be able to pass through locked doors, though the writers make the point that this is not a ghost but a body who could be touched, spoken to and listened to.

Uncertainty: However, a variety of words are used to describe what may yet happen to us in the future. For example when Peter was preaching shortly after Pentecost he declared, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19) The timing of those words may suggest that refreshing or new life is what always follows repentance. Jesus, speaking had said, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne…” (Mt 19:28) which could mean after his ascension or after his second coming, which may be more likely in the light of Peter’s preaching again, Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21)

A Specific Resurrection:  So far we have observed Jesus’ resurrection and the apostle Paul making some comment about us having the same power, in us now, that raised Jesus from the dead, and then the different ways of describing what will yet happen. Now let’s consider some of the more specific things that are said about the End. For example, Jesus himself, speaking of the end times presumably, said, a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (Jn 5:28,29) The picture is of a resurrection at some future date. The apostle Paul, presumably referring to the same event, declared, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thess 4:16,17) The message seems quite clear – there will come a time of resurrection.

The apostle Paul, before Governor Felix declared, “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (Acts 24:15) Note a resurrection of both the good and the bad. In Revelation 20, John shows the division between the two, the first being the believers at what was referred to as ‘the first resurrection’ (Rev 20:4,5) who were raised and brought to life to reign of a set period, before all the rest (unbelievers) who are raised in what must be implied as the ‘second resurrection’ (although those words never appear) when all have to stand before God and be accountable (Rev 20:12-15) in what is referred to as the Final Judgment.

The Difficulty: I have said previously, do not think in material-time terms. Whether these things take place in a split second or in eternity where time does not exist, we will not know until it happens. The nature of the prophecy of Revelation means that many of us try to be too specific, I suggest, and it will only be when we are in it, part of it, that we will fully comprehend how it all works out. The ‘activities’ may be clear, but maybe the ‘timing’ is not so.

The Clarity: What does seem to be clear is that following physical death (some time?) there will be an experience of another ongoing life. For the believer it will be to reign with Christ and then spend eternity with God. For the unbeliever, it will be a time of being presented before God to account for their past life experience and confirm that justice would be right in condemning them to ultimate death where there will be no further chance of any future. Both of those experiences are what is being referred to when we speak of ‘the resurrection of the dead’. One is to confirm eternal life, the other to confirm NO future whatsoever. Before we approach the end of this series, we will do well therefore to seek to clarify what I will refer to a God’s ‘End Game’ and that will be the purpose of the next study.

41. God of Resurrection (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  41. God of Resurrection (1)

1 Cor 15:3-5   Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….  he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

1 Cor 15:13  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

Resurrection?   Resurrection simply means being raised to life when dead. The order is always life – death – resurrection, an order seen a number of times in the Bible, and most especially in the New Testament. Is it important? Well yes, because the defining act in respect of Christ is his resurrection but, as the apostle Paul said, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

Even more, the idea of resurrection is arguably the most powerful argument for the power of God in respect of human beings. We cannot bring ourselves back when we have fully died, but God can. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection,”  (Jn 11:25) he was declaring that he was both the life source that could enable resurrection to take place and the cause or reason that it can take place.

Resurrection Explicit in the Old Testament? Jesus challenged the unbelieving religious authorities before him, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. . . . As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God?” (Mt 22:29,31).  He was clearly implying that the Old Testament taught resurrection.

Daniel was told, at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1,2) An apparently end-time picture that features resurrection.

Isaiah prophesied, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isa 26:19) Whether he meant that literally, physically or allegorically is unclear, but the picture of resurrection is clearly there.

The Psalmists also contributed to the concept. In Psa 49 the psalmist declares that all will die, good and bad alike but adds, “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;  he will surely take me to himself.” (Psa 49:15) Resurrection there is linked with life after death, but nevertheless, still resurrection. In Psa 16 we find, “my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful  one see decay,” (Psa 16:9,10) verses that find an echo in the New Testament, applied to Jesus (Act 2:24-29). In Psa 71 we find, “you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.” (Psa 71:20) Again whether allegorical or literal is unclear but a resurrection reference, nevertheless.

Ezekiel, in his valley of dry bones vision (Ezek 37), is presented with an extreme possibility that involves resurrection, a valley of dry bones, the final remnants of dead people, and is challenged whether God can make them live, i.e. can they be resurrected?  But then God spells it out: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” (Ezek 37:12-14) Israel as a nation were as good as dead and as far as the world was concerned, they were lined up to die in graves there in Babylon – yet the work of God redeeming them and restoring them to their land would be without any doubt, an act of resurrection.

Resurrection Implicit in the Old Testament? Although in some of the above cases resurrection may be allegorical, symbolic of what would happen in life, nevertheless resurrection is quite explicit. However there are also a number of instances where resurrection – the bringing of life where only death exists – is implied or can be seen in what takes place. This is the study of ‘types’, seeing pictures (historical incidents) in the Old Testament as illustrating or foreshadowing things in the New Testament. For our purposes here, those ‘types’ or pictures are all in respect of resurrection.

Noah’s ark (Gen 6-8) is one such historical event, the nature of which speaks of a bigger reality. The world (Middle East or all of world) was doomed to destruction – death, end of mankind – but Noah and his family were carried through the flood, survived and continued what became the Hebrew family. In 1 Pet 3 the apostle Peter referring to the Ark says, “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you ….It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 3:20,21) The sense is that ‘in Christ’, even as Christ was raised from the dead, so are we and even as the Ark carried Noah safely through the judgment, so ‘in Christ’ we are saved from the Final Judgment, dead but now raised to eternal life.

Abraham (Gen 11:29,30) the childless nomad, married to a barren woman, is promised a son by God even though his wife’s body is beyond the capability of bearing a child. As far as child-bearing is concerned, she is dead, but God enabled her to conceive. Life flows in her body afresh – resurrection. Later Abraham is asked by God (Gen 22) to sacrifice the miracle son, Isaac, and as he goes to do it, God stops him and provides a substitute, a ram stuck in a nearby thicket. The writer to the Hebrew comments on this, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) A picture of resurrection.

Joseph surely has to be a similar picture. God has prophesied, in dreams Joseph received, that he would be ruler and savior of the family. Instead he is sold as a slave and imprisoned. He is as good as dead. There is no future – but then through more dreams God has him released from prison and made the second most powerful man in the region; the prophetic dreams fulfilled. He is raised from the dead, figuratively at least.

Moses, the Prince of Egypt who gets it wrong and has to flee Egypt and live as a shepherd in the desert of Sinai. He is as good as dead; he has no future and so the years just keep passing – forty of them – until God comes to him and takes him and uses him as the greatest shepherd of history (next to Jesus!). He is resurrected, figuratively at least.  Then there is Israel, the people, slaves in Egypt, as good as dead with no hope of liberation, doomed for eternity – and then God comes and delivers them. The Exodus has to be one of the great examples of resurrection, and it is finalized by the Passover where a nation’s inhabitants are all under the shadow of the angel of judgment who will destroy every first born son – in every family – except in the homes of those who will kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts so the destroying angel will see it and ‘pass over’ and leave them untouched. Death and resurrection because of a lamb of God. (Now see Jn 1:29,36 & Rev 5:6)

Barren Wives: The Old Testament almost seems littered with such women – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, all barren, all with apparently ‘dead’ wombs, who were then enabled to conceive – resurrection.

The Exile: We have already seen reference to this with Ezekiel but when Nebuchadnezzar utterly destroyed Jerusalem and took all the inhabitants into exile in Babylon, Israel were as good as dead, literally. It was the end of their time in the Promised Land, it was the end of them as a people – or so it seemed. God had destroyed them; they were dead. And then some forty years on, God stirs their current pagan overlord-king, Cyrus, who sends them back and they and Jerusalem are restored. Resurrection!

And So?  Well we have the New Testament to look at yet, but here we have both explicit words and implicit pictures again and again in the Old Testament, that testify to this amazing concept –  of the God who takes ‘dead’ people and ‘dead’ situations and raises up new life. The end of it is that He offers to take our ‘dead’ lives and raise them to new life, but for that we’ll have to wait until the next study that takes us into the New Testament.

46. Conclusion

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 46. Conclusion

Jn 12:32  “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

How to put all these studies together? It is impossible in a relatively small space to cover every one of the studies of the past six weeks. All we can do is observe our starting point, our finishing point and the key parts in between.

Jesus our model for growth: Our starting point was our ultimate goal which was to consider the New Testament call to us to grow. Our framework for that was John 12:32 above and I suggested from the outset that there were expressions or outworkings of that verse: first, Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, second, Jesus lifted up from death by his resurrection and, third, Jesus exalted on high through the ascension, so he is now seated at his Father’s right hand, where his presently ruling.

Jesus’ model applied to us: That was the framework, and I suggested that this same framework can be observed in the Christian life – first, our call to die to the old life and to sin, then second, our call to live the resurrected, Spirit-empowered life, and finally, to realize and see that that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where we are to rule with him, as the Spirit-led body of Christ on the earth, that is bringing in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Perhaps a few key items for each of those.

Death: Without death to the old life and to our old way of doing things and our old ambitions, we cannot come and receive Christ as both Saviour and Lord. Christ cannot bring his salvation to us and cannot lead us in a new life if we insist on holding onto the things of our old carnal life.

Resurrection: Without death there can never be resurrection.   Resurrection is the shorthand picture of what takes place when we come to Christ. When we are ‘born again’ it is a work of the Holy Spirit who God places within and so the Spirit becomes an inner source of revelation (teaching) and power (for life transformation and service).  All the virtues and all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit find their origin and expression in Him.

Ascension: This is the area that many of us struggle with most. It is first of all seeing ourselves seated with Christ in heaven, linked by his Holy Spirit, second, it is understanding that now he is there ruling over the affairs of the world, even in the midst of his enemies who will eventually be destroyed, enemies that are all things contrary to the way God originally created this world perfect, and third, it is seeing ourselves as now his body on the earth, directed by him from heaven, led and empowered by his Spirit on a daily basis and, finally, fourth it is understanding that his body now, as two thousand years ago, is to work to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth.

It is the enormity of this third phase that leaves many of us struggling and is, perhaps, the most difficult area for growth. Perhaps there are various reasons for that. First, it is a spiritual experience that is expressed into the physical world. We are all right with the spiritual bit (e.g. simple prayer) but when that is extended to hearing God and responding to His directions that mean us stepping out in the physical world to bring physical changes, our faith wavers.

Second, we have settled in the past in the good, but only partial, teaching that the spiritual parts of being a Christian are just about being a witness, sharing the Gospel with friends, family etc. etc. Now that is good and right, but it stops short of Jesus call that said, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and his explanation of those works is seen in Matt 11:5 and Lk 4:18,19. The other ‘spiritual’ aspect that we have watered down is in respect of prayer which is so often simply reduced to telling God what He ought to do and uttering words into the air, instead of it being a life-filled experience where there is a two-way communication. It is the so-often absent ‘hearing element’ of prayer that releases faith for action.

And So: So there we are, death, resurrection and ascended to a place of ruling, that is our syllabus or our learning program, a program that is not merely about learning words but putting them into action (Mt 28:20). To conclude, note our second starter verse from above: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev 1:5) There again we have the three phases of the life and ministry of the Son of God.

First, he was a faithful witness, sharing in all the Father was doing (Jn 5:17,19), perfectly fulfilling the plan of the Godhead, formulated before the beginning of time and resulting in his death on a cross for the sins of mankind. Second, he is the firstborn from the dead, having been raised to life after death. Third, he is now the ruler of all the earth, seated at his Father’s right hand, working slowly and purposefully in the midst of his enemies on the earth to bring the rule of God which will be culminated in his Second Coming. Oh yes, there is very much yet a future element to all this, as there is for us. That says to us that we are working towards a guaranteed future when, if we learn these things, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” while at the same time being welcomed home as the sons and daughters, the children of God, that we are.  Hallelujah and Amen!

19. Recap 2

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 19. Recap 2

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

Death before Power Resurrection: Before we move on into the third Part, we will remind ourselves of the things we have covered in Part 2.  It has been all about the power that God has released in our lives by the presence of His indwelling Holy Spirit which, when we consider it in the light of our previous lives that were dead to God, we have referred to as ‘resurrection lives’. We considered that for the resurrection life to come into being, death has first to take place, death to self, death to the old life, death seen in the form of surrender to the sovereignty of God, a new reliance on Jesus for the rest of life.

Righteousness the New Goal: From there we went on to consider that the goal of the new empowered life is righteousness, conforming to the will of God, and we reminded ourselves that that comes in two forms. First, it is our righteousness that is seen through God’s eyes as a result of the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Second, it is practical day to day righteousness that is being lived out as we conform to the teaching of the Bible and aided by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Fruit of that righteousness is peace and security.

Prayer, a New Way of Looking: We followed on by thinking about this new empowered life also been seen as a life of prayer, of becoming aware of the presence of God in a new way and responding to that presence, realising it is all about what He wants, Him knowing all of our needs already, and so entering into a new life of learning to listen to Him. In the corporate dimension, prayer within the church grouping, there is released a new dimension of revelation and direction.

God’s Provision: Because prayer is so often seen as asking for our own needs, we went on to consider the Lord’s provision for us, His grace, which comes in the form of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We saw that His resources as witnessed in two different ways: first, sometimes He delivers us out of the situation and, second, He sometimes delivers us in the situation by allowing it to continue but providing for us in the midst of it.

God’s Word – Transforming Revelation: One of God’s ‘provisions’ we considered was His word that we see both in the form of the Bible AND of the communication of His indwelling Holy Spirit, directed by Jesus, ruling at the right hand of his Father. This ‘revelation’, we said, should always bring life transformation. We examined this in the light of the examples in the Scripture of individuals being told to ‘eat’ God’s words and eating, we went on to consider, brings change to the body.

The World of Possibilities: Stepping aside from what we call the spiritual disciplines, we considered the bigger subject of how this power of God in us opens up a world of possibilities. Observing various Biblical characters, we realised that so often when God comes to bring revelation and direction, our personal sense of inadequacy has to be overcome before we can move into the fullness of His will for us.

Sacrifice & Transformation: To conclude this Part we looked at two aspects of Paul’s teaching, both of which are vital to this resurrection life.  In the first we saw Paul’s call to lay down or sacrifice our lives for God’s use. Underpinning everything about the resurrection life is this primary call to be available to God. Power flows in His children when we are seeking His presence and His will, and to do that means a laying down of our own wishes, our own ambitions and our own way of doing things. It is only within this context that the power of God is experienced.

But then, second, came the question of mind transformation, changing our way of thinking to conform to His – His overall will and goals, and His way of doing things. We realize that our life is a combination of His leading and our responding and when we respond to His leading we find a power resource available that we had not known before.

Summarizing? How can we summarize these things? Well, strangely you might think, there is very little about specific doing. These things are big ways of working, if I may put it like that, and that is on purpose. Our intent has been to focus on the reality of the resurrection life, the life empowered by the Spirit. It will only be as we move into the third Part that we will see specific things that we can DO as expressions of the kingdom of God. This Part, we might say, has been about principles.

So, yes, first, there is the principle that death must precede resurrection. For the resurrection power life to happen there has to be death to the old life and surrender to God.  Then, second, there is the realization that this is power is to enable righteousness. Third, it is a new of “God first” looking at life, especially experienced in prayer, which opens the door to the realization that, fourth, it is a life of power resources made available to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, available for every situation and circumstance. Fifth, we see it is also a life of transformation as the power of the Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to ‘hear’ His word, the revelation of His will for our lives. Sixth, we see that this opens a whole new world of possibilities, only limited by our self-unbelief, but never His power.  Seventh, there has to be the balance of seeing it as a life of sacrifice whereby we give our entire lives over to Him for His use and disposal. Eighth, there is also the recognition that to fully enter into these things our minds need renewing to enable the transformation to take place.

Now that is interesting because I hadn’t planned it like that (I hadn’t planned it!!!) but eight in scripture is the number of resurrection. So here are a number of principles that we will take into the final Parts to see how these things are expressions of how Jesus works in and through us to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Before we do that, let’s just remind ourselves that this is all about us growing up in Christ. As we understand and take on board all these things, so we grow. As we move into the third Part we will seek to get a third perspective on the Christian life which will enable us to grow in Him.

17. Resurrection Sacrifice

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 17. Resurrection Sacrifice   

Rom 12:1    I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 

Our Goals Restated: I think more than any other series I have ever embarked on, in this one I (we) need to restate our purpose again and again if we are to get to the heart of the scriptures, and as we consider how we can grow in Christ. Our present goal is to examine the Christian life, considering it as a resurrected life, a life empowered by the Holy Spirit and raised to life after we have previously, pre-Christ, been spiritually dead. We are thus considering various facets of the Christian life observed as expressions of the Spirit reflecting the resurrected life of Jesus – mainly the factor of the Spirit empowered life that overcame death.

We have considered various aspects of this and there will almost certainly be overlaps in those considerations and now I wish to consider a facet of that life I have never considered before in respect of Jesus after he was raised from the dead – the fact that this was a strictly limited period of his overall life plan, if I may put it like that, and he is clearly still working out the will of the Father.

Jesus’ Role Limited: If Jesus had just been doing his own thing, he could easily have thought that having passed through the crucifixion experience, seen to have died and now raised from the dead, he was in an admirable position to draw followers even more than before, but he didn’t. Instead he concentrated on the core of his followers and seems to have focused his teaching on them in an out of the way place in Galilee in the north. The plan was for them to be his witnesses after they had been filled with the Spirit after their return to Jerusalem. He, himself, would ascend back to heaven and leave them to be empowered and carry on his work, as he directed it at the right hand of his Father in heaven.

Yet again, I suggest, we see Jesus sacrificing his will to the plan of the Godhead and it is that aspect we turn to now. Now of course (the overlaps I mentioned), we have considered submitting to the sovereign will of God when we came to Christ and although it might be thought this is more appropriately something considered in the first Part about ‘dying to self’, we bring it right into centre place when it comes to the resurrection life. We could get carried away with the idea of being raised to a new life, a life of freedom, talking about possibilities as we just did in the previous study, but here we need to bring the balancing teaching with the reminder that those possibilities are ‘in Christ’ or ‘in God’; they are possibilities inspired and empowered and directed by him,

Balance: So, with all this talk about a resurrected, empowered life, it is appropriate as we seek to bring balance, that we pick up on a little of Paul’s teaching to the Romans: “I urge you, brothers and sisters …. to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” or as the Message version expands it, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” Whatever else this verse means, it can perhaps be summarised as, ‘Give God everything about you, for Him to do with it as He wills, to change it or dispose of it even.’

Struggle: Now in the interests of strict honesty, I have to confess that I have struggled with this concept. As I prayed beforehand, it seemed right and yet as I wrote, I felt hypocritical as I felt I didn’t do it, and I felt ignorant in that I am sure I don’t know what it really means, and so I put aside this study and felt uncomfortable. And then a verse came to mind and it all made sense: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10;38,39) The same thing is said almost word for word a little later: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:24,25)

Death Guaranteed: Look at the elements of those verses: you want “to be my disciple”? This isn’t for everyone; this is for those who will be Christians, who will agree to follow Jesus (like we saw in the case of Levi). Such people “must deny themselves”, i.e. must die to self as we saw in the first Part. Such people must take up that sign of death, the Cross, and follow the walk of Jesus. If again we take that imaginary conversation between Jesus and Levi, it might now go as follows:

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“Where will it end?”

“Do you really want to know?  (Silence) My death on a cross, and you too will die, not physically but in every other way. (Silence) At that point you will run away but I will come after you and we will talk again and again I will ask you to follow me. At that time, you will see in my resurrection, a new possibility, but it will always be under the shadow of death, for they will come hunting you and many of you will literally give up your physical lives as you remain loyal to me. Come follow me.”

That is what it meant for the earliest disciples. For some Christians around the world today it will mean exactly the same. For us? We won’t know until our lives come to a literal end on this planet. In the meantime, although we live with his power within us, what I have termed ‘resurrection lives’, we are called to live that life as if we may have no tomorrow. Part of giving our bodies, as Paul put it, means making ourselves available to Jesus for whatever he wants to do with us,

The Reality of ‘Being Sent’: It’s that same old ‘sovereignty thing’ we considered before, and for some of us it seems really scary but that is only because we imagine God sending us to places (it used to be ‘darkest Africa’ or smuggling Bibles into Russia) that scare the life out of us – but if the life has already gone and we are now running on his life, his power, we don’t have a life to defend, just a new one to live on turbo-charge.  The thing is that God knows what is best for each of us and so, yes, there will be some who get a call to Outer Mongolia (I’ve met some of them, they are incredible) but most of us will simply get a call to our neighbours or our unsaved family where we may find rejection but, on the other hand, we may find a prepared ground and we’re just going in to harvest.

Thinking Aright: Part of this ‘finding our life’ when we give it up, is finding a new way of thinking, but we’ll keep that until tomorrow. When we get our thinking right, it is easier to do the things the New Testament says about us. An example? Well the fact that God totally loves us. He is not going to get you to do something or go somewhere that is completely beyond you – well yes it may be, but a) He will always be with you in it and b) He will always enable you to handle it. That’s the joy of this resurrection, empowered life, and so talk of giving up your life is no longer so scary because i) you’ve already done it once when you came to Christ and ii) the power will always be there. Again and again we ‘die’ and say, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you. I will do what you say,” and then to our surprise, it suddenly seems easy!  Amazing! Well, of course, it’s His power you are experiencing.

11. Resurrection = Power

(We pick up the threads again of the series we started before Lent, particularly appropriate after Easter))

PART TWO: Lifted up – for Resurrection

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 11. Resurrection = Power

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

The Resurrection Parallel: As we move into the second Part of this saeries, we remind ourselves that we are basing these studies on Jesus’ words about “when I am lifted up” which can have three applications. The first was about being lifted to die and the second one, which is a quite natural follow-on when we consider Jesus’ life, is about resurrection. The parallel with Jesus death and resurrection and the same happening, in spiritual terms at least in our lives, is strong in the New Testament.

We have seen it previously in Romans 6; now see it in Ephesians 3:  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph 3:18-20) i.e. the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that now indwells you. There is a hint of what is coming in the final Part that we will consider – ascension and ruling in heaven and that is put as a parallel by Paul when he speaks about our inheritance. At this point in time, this is expressed as hope for the future which we are encouraged to believe in, as we take hold of it today in the power of God that we experience. Do you see how all these things are inter-related?

Death essential: Of course without death there cannot be resurrection. We see that from earliest preaching: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24) and the apostle Paul, as we saw previously, follows on from that: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  (Rom 6:4) It sounds an obvious thing but when you apply it to the spiritual parallel of our lives, it becomes vital. If we do not put to death all those things we considered in the first Part, they will act as a hindrance to us being able to enter into the experiences paralleled by resurrection which we will consider as we go through this Part.

Indeed, when we start thinking about resurrection parallels in our lives, the thought that death MUST go before, puts a new emphasis behind all we said in that first Part. Our starting point had been the picture of the seed falling into the ground and ‘dying’ and without that happening, it cannot possibly ‘germinate’, get nourishment from the soil, be watered and grow. The burying and ‘dying’ is vital.

God’s Sovereignty must mean Our Surrender: But then we considered the matter of sovereignty, and this is where a unique dynamic comes in. Unlike a do-it-yourself activity or working from a self-help book, living out the Christian faith is not only about following the instructions of the teaching in the New Testament but also taking the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit; it is a personal relationship thing and that can’t happen unless we are willing to put aside our own hopes, desires and dreams and submit to the Lord’s plans for our lives – which are always better!!!! But for His will to prevail, ours has to die.

Available to all People: When it comes to people, it is so easy to let personal likes or dislikes prevail, but Jesus is open to all and wants us to be available to all, but we cannot do that and be his instrument unless we are willing to die to those likes or dislikes in respect of people, our own prejudices. If it applies generally to people, it certainly applies where we have a need to be forgiven or to forgive. Failure to die to self means the Lord cannot raise up new life in the form of reconciliation and healing.

Don’t Lose the Resources: Then there was the subject of allowing people or systems or methods to replace our reliance on the Lord Himself. While we rely upon or look to anyone or anything other than the Lord as our resource, we will not be able to receive the flow of His Spirit, His power, into our lives. We have to die to those other ‘resources’ if we are to become recipients of the Lord’s resources. Jeremiah had to bring the word to God’s people, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jer 2:13) which was all about substitutes.

Reliance in all areas = blessing in all areas: Anxiety and worry, and the whole subject of trusting the Lord is, at the heart of it, all about knowing the Lord in daily experience, not merely in reading about Him in His word. Death to self means turning to Him, relying upon Him, turning to Him with all problems and difficulties, whether intellectual, material, spiritual or emotional, and not making our own intellect or cleverness, or our own will-power, the resource we will rely upon.  Anxiety closes us down. Reliance releases resources.

This is a very real issue. Another way of putting it is to ask are we godly or godless, selfless or selfish, when it comes to running our lives? Death to the godless and selfish approach to life is essential if we are to let the Lord move in with resurrection power to deliver us in the trials we face in life and shine as His children.

Pleasure, a supplementary gift: Finally we considered the difficult path of enjoyment and pleasure that can exclude the Lord from our lives. In such a case it is death to excess, death to making pleasure the source of meaning and fulfillment for our lives. Where the seeking after pleasure through goods or experiences has subtly grown to fill our lives to the exclusion of the Lord, then balance is never going to come and all we can hope for is a jaded ‘existence’ if we fail to put to death such a reliance. In today’s age that is a particularly hard thing in modern life.

Life Options: So there it is: failure to face and deal with these very real issues means we will be consigned to a mundane life of ordinariness, jadedness and frustration, a life where the glory and wonder of the Lord cannot break through in resurrection power. Clearly the opposites of these things that we have considered, and which need putting to death, will be goals of the resurrection life and so, having dealt with them thus far, we will endeavor not to repeat them in the following studies. Instead we will consider what the resurrection life means and how it can be experienced, even in what we might consider the ordinary aspects of the Christian life, so they can become less ordinary and become a source of excitement, faith and hope, rather than drab, taken-for-granted features of formal religion. Remember, this second Part is all about power to live the new Christian life.

11. Two Stages?

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 11. Two Stages?

Acts 5:30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.

There is a danger, as we view the last days of Jesus on the earth, that we compartmentalise each part of Jesus’ ‘experience’ on earth – born, growth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and, indeed, this is often helpful but it can detract from a key fact – every phase is linked and every phase is part of the overall plan that we have previously considered, the plan formulated by the Godhead before Creation.

Yet when we come to accounts of preaching in Acts, death and resurrection go hand in hand. The above quote is Peter before the Sanhedrin, and earlier on the day of Pentecost he spoke of Jesus’ death (Acts 2:23) and then immediately about the resurrection (v.24). Later after healing the cripple as he speaks to the crowd, he closely links the two: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 3:15) Still later, when speaking to the household of Cornelius, he again linked them closely: “They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” (Acts 10:39,40)

In a different series recently, it crossed my mind that there could not be (and in our case cannot be) resurrection without a death. Now I don’t want in any way to diminish the work of Christ on the Cross, but I do want to pick up on what comes through in these verses, that the cross was stage one of a three stage exultation of Jesus: cross – resurrection – ascension. The latter two are dependent on the first.

Those closing words in verse 40 immediately above are important, “and caused him to be seen”. If you read the apostle Paul’s testimony about the number of people who saw the risen Christ (in 1 Cor 15:5-8) the word ‘appeared’ is used four times. It was important that Christ was seen after he rose from the dead. This may sound obvious but think about it. As God he could have quietly risen from the dead and ascended back to heaven without anyone seeing him, but the fact is he was seen, again and again by well over five hundred people and they bore testimony (and we’ll come to this in the next study) and thus Christ was vindicated, he showed that he was who he had said he was, the glorious Son of God.

Thus these two interlinked parts are vital and need to be held together: Jesus died for our sins, for our justification, but he rose from the dead – as he said he would (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 26:32) – to be seen to confirm, justify and vindicate all he said he would do and thus confirm all the teaching that would follow of ‘the work of the Cross’. The resurrection confirms the purpose of the life AND the death.

35. Confident Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 35. Confident Expectations

1 Cor 15:14,17-19   if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith …… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

A People of Hope? As I have working through this series on ‘expectations’ I have come to realise (or just see more clearly) that hope, or confident expectation, is everywhere, especially in the New Testament and so, we are called to be a people of hope, a people of confident expectation. Thus, when I suspect that a large majority of Christian do not live with this expectation, I conclude that it must be because they do not read their Bible or take in what is there.

Back to Basics: Very often with such studies we start out with some complexity but then find ourselves going backwards it seems and becoming more and more simple, and so, as we must be drawing nearer to the end of this series, let’s see if we can be absolutely basic.

The Resurrection: If we have this hope, this confidence, we have emphasised again and again that it is to do with the future, but why can we have this confidence? On what is it built? Well, very obviously, it is built upon Jesus, upon what we read of him in the Gospels, but even more it is built upon his resurrection. If Jesus had just come with good teaching and did a variety of miracles and healed a lot of people, we could say he was just a good man, but he stands out in history as having died by crucifixion and then within three days as having risen from the dead. There is also the small matter of his ascension! The fact that this happened to Jesus, not only marks him out in history, but it also indicates God’s approval of him, as well as setting down a foundation of believe in a power that is there available for our lives also, a power we have already observed that will take us through death and into an eternal life with God.

Our Salvation Package: So, when the ‘salvation package’ is laid out before us, we find it includes us being justified (because Jesus has taken our guilt and shame), us being adopted (because Jesus has taken away any barrier between us and the Father) and us being receivers of his own Holy Spirit (because Jesus has redeemed our lives from the enemy and his way of living). All of these things, I have just shown, we have because of what Jesus has done. Thus, our confidence for these things is in Jesus, and our confidence in Jesus is because of what we see of him in the Gospels, and especially his death and resurrection. Because we are sure of these thing, we can be confident about tomorrow and especially the ‘tomorrow’ that includes our death and what comes after it.

The Ingredients of Tomorrow: Thus, seeking to be as simple and obvious as possible, if we can backtrack over these things, as I look into the day ahead of me and the many days, weeks, months or years I may have left to me, I can look forward to such times that will be free from guilt or shame because I have been justified. Even more, I can look forward to such times being those when I am aware of being a son of God, a child of God, part of God’s family, part of His household (Eph 2:19), and thus a receiver of all of the love and goodness that flows in that relationship with the Father. And underpinning all this, is the glorious and wonderful presence of His Holy Spirit who indwells me and equips me and empowers me to do the work of Jesus.

All of these things, I have with complete confidence and it is a confidence that they will be there, just the same, every day of my life that remains. There will not be a day when I have to feel guilt and shame, there will not be a day when I do not know the love and provision of the Father, and there will not be a day when I will be devoid of the Holy Spirit and His power and enabling. THAT is the confidence, THAT is the hope we have for this day, and tomorrow and every day after that.

Holding Firm: In case this sounds too good or too easy, let me balance it with the following that comes earlier in that same chapter as our starting verses: By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:2) Now there is a faith element to all this. Why is it that so many are not living in this threefold expectation I have just laid out? It is because of lack of faith to believe God’s word, the Gospel that Paul said he had preached.

Please, if you need to, if you recognise that you do not live with this daily threefold recognition (and we could add more things to those three), then go back and reread the paragraphs above until you take them in and absorb them and are able to say, “Yes, that is the basis upon which I live each day!”

The Unacceptable Alternative: And to go back to the beginning, we can say these things with a certainty, with this sure and confident expectation – this hope – because of Jesus and because Jesus died AND rose again. I do like the way Paul puts it, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … your faith is futile …… we are to be pitied more than all men.” We either believe it and live it, or we pack our bags and go and join the miserable atheists, materialists and humanist. Trying to settle somewhere in between (“well you ask too much of me”) means we incur the strong words of Jesus: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! …. you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold” (Rev 3:15,16) We don’t want to be that; we don’t need to be that. All we need do is go back over and over those three sets of truths above – justified, adopted, empowered – and get them well and truly settled in our lives, and then live them!

These things we should be able to be completely confident about, and when we are we can live every day with this confident expectation, and the wonderful thing is that when we do, it opens a door for God to move in and through us and who knows what the outcome will be? All I can say is that a) it will be change and b) it will be good! As you finish, dare to pray: “Lord, thank you in anticipation for this day and this week ahead, that I can live it in the knowledge of your love, live it as your child and live it with your power. Thank you, Lord. Amen!”

31. Copying Jesus

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 31. Copying Jesus

Acts 2:25-27    I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  

Following Jesus: Jesus is always to be the one we follow, the one we copy, and this is as much true about expectations as it is about anything else.  I have always been slightly worried about the “What would Jesus do?” campaign of a number of years ago because it has the potential for legalism and of ignoring the Holy Spirit’s inner leading, but nevertheless Jesus is indeed to be the one we follow and seek to imitate.

Resurrection Hope: It was the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, under the anointing of the Spirit, who took the words of David from Psa 16:8-11 and declared them prophecy that spoke out the heart of Jesus in respect of the resurrection. Now when it comes to expectations these words are worthy of our consideration, so let’s check the quote first of all.

Verse 9 of Psa 16 says, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,” but Peter changed it to “my body also will live in hope,” Perhaps David when he first wrote it did not dare to take that final step about a resurrected body and yet he clearly hinted at something akin to that as he continued, “because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay,” and if that wasn’t enough he concluded, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psa 16:11) There is definitely a thought there about living in God’s eternal presence after we die. Peter, and we must remember, under the anointing of the Spirit, extends this in respect of Jesus to suggest that he knew the reality, he (Jesus) had known he would be resurrected.

Jesus Sureness: Now this, of course, is quite true because we have read, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) which was reiterated by Jesus in Mt 17:22,23 and Mt 20:17-19 as well as more oblique references in Mt 17:9 and Mt 12:39,40 and Mt 26:31,32 which also became obvious public knowledge (see Mt 27:62-64).

Two Applications: Now that was Jesus and we just said that we are to walk in his footsteps and when it comes to his resurrection there are two ways this applies to us: first in respect of the life we now live and, second, the fact of our bodily resurrection. These are both the hope (expectation) that we have today. Let’s consider them both.

First of all, our lives today. The apostle Paul taught, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Rom 6:4,5) Christ’s resurrection is to be symbolic of our lives today.  But this isn’t merely symbolic, it is about the power within our lives today which will take us on after physical death, which takes us on to the second application, life after death.

A little later he wrote, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:9-11)

Now this take a little explaining. When he says, “your body is dead because of sin,”  he means, as the Message version puts it, “you yourself experience all the limitations of sin” and the Living Bible helpfully adds, “your body will die because of sin” i.e. the fact is that, humanly speaking, each one of us will physically die one day because of the ‘sin thing’ since the Garden of Eden, but, nevertheless, because the Holy Spirit indwells us and enlivens our spirit, there is yet a further existence for us after our physical death whereby we will receive new resurrection bodies.

Before we came to the Lord, the Bible speaks about us having been ‘dead to Christ’ or ‘dead to God’ but when we receive the Holy Spirit and are born again, our spirit is brought alive, resurrected if you like, and alive to God. As the apostle Paul said in that earlier argument, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) So it is a very real and very practical application for our lives today – Him in us, gives us a new resurrected life, and who knows where He will lead us tomorrow.

But it is also life after death: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:20-22) So there it is, but it is not simple and obvious. When, is a question asked. Paul continued, “each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (v.23)  i.e. when Christ returns. How, is the next question. Paul replies, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.42-44)

What is ‘a spiritual body’?  Clearly a body that is imperishable and does not rot as a physical body does. Did Christ’s own body after he was raised from the dead give us a clue, a body that did not seem to be limited by time and space, that appeared to be able to pass through physical matter?  Again Paul wrote, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (v.49) A ‘body’ is clearly part of the package for our eternity and perhaps we will just have to wait until after death to experience the reality of it. In the meantime, we have this expectation: there is a life beyond death, a life that involves a body. In the meantime, there is a ‘life’ that exists now which includes spirit, His Spirit linked to my spirit and that may be the clue to our eternal future as well. Amen.

50. Resurrection Fact

Focus on Christ Meditations: 50.  Resurrection Fact

Jn 20:11,14   Mary stood outside the tomb crying……At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there.

When it comes to the facts of the resurrection recorded in the Gospels, as I have written in other studies, it is not an easy matter to form a coherent picture and for this I suggest two reasons: first it was a time of great anguish and confusion in the minds of the disciples and, second, some of the things that occurred are in respect of a body that is no longer the same as it was before death, and that is sometimes confusing.

Without doubt the basic facts of the resurrection were clearly understood by the early church for the apostle Paul was able to write so clearly: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) The word ‘appeared’ is seen here four times, emphasizing the testimony of witnesses who saw Jesus and were able to show that the appearances were real and not mere fancy.

The Basic Record: Elsewhere we have focused on specific individual verses and considered what they say but here, perhaps it will be easiest if we, first of all at least, simply provide a list of the appearances as they appear in the records:

  • To Mary Magdalene: Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:10-18
  • The other women at the tomb: Mt 28:8-10
  • Peter in Jerusalem: Lk 24:34  (1 Cor 15:5)
  • The two travellers on the road to Emmaus: Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-35
  • Ten disciples behind closed doors: Mk 16:14; Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-25
  • All eleven disciples (including Thomas): Jn 20:26-31 (1 Cor 15:5)
  • Seven disciples (at least) while fishing on the Sea of Galilee: Jn 21:1-14
  • Eleven disciples (at least) on a mountain in Galilee: Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18
  • A crowd of 500: 1 Cor 15:6
  • Jesus’ brother James: 1 Cor 15:7
  • Those who watched Jesus ascend into heaven: Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8
  • To Stephen: Acts 7:55,56
  • To Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus: Acts 9:3-6, 22:1-11
  • To John in a vision: Revelation, numerous times

The Record of Acts & the Epistles: Our temptation, when seeking to itemise the records of the resurrection is to limit ourselves to those above, but the reality is that those above who were involved and saw Jesus, did not keep quiet about it and so when we read through Acts, because there are so many references in the earlier chapters at least, we almost take them for granted, but the following are the times reference was made to Jesus rising from the dead in Acts alone:   2: 24,  2: 32, 3: 15, 4: 10,  5: 30, 10: 40, 13: 30, 13: 34. In the epistles, again we probably take them for granted but to make the point even more clearly, verses referring to Jesus being ‘raised’ are  Rom 4: 24, 25,  6:4,9,  7: 4, 8: 11,34,  10:9,   1Cor  6: 14,  15:4, 12,15,   2Cor 4: 14, 5:15,  Gal 1:1, Eph 1:20,  Col  2:12, 1Thess 1: 10,  2Tim  2:8, 1Pet 1: 21. It is so embedded in the New Testament writings that we probably almost pass them by without noticing this significance: the fact of Jesus’ resurrection gave credibility to the Gospel message and without it, that message would lose its power.

Apologetic Support: The atheistic skeptic comes up with a number of ways of trying to show that it did not happen as the records say, but we cannot just shrug aside the records for they are, in fact, so comprehensive and by so many witnesses. So let’s pick up the two most common of these things.

i) Wishful thinking: The skeptic says, “Well, of course, it was all wishful thinking, it’s what the disciples wanted to happen so they imagined it and made up folk tales to support their wishful thinking.” The only trouble is that that goes totally against the record. It is quite clear that a) the disciples struggled to understand and believe Jesus when he told them beforehand that it was going to happen, b) when his arrest and death did occur the disciples were in complete disarray, were frightened, fearful for their own lives and had hidden away and were in a state of shock and utterly believed he was dead and c) when he did appear to them their initial reaction was not joyful acceptance but disbelief.

ii) Propaganda: The skeptic then says, “Well, it was probably just propaganda to prop up their years of false belief in Jesus. He didn’t really rise, they just said he did, or perhaps they had a look-alike they used for a couple of weeks to con the other believers.” The problem here is twofold. First, is the total change around, and it is total, of the disciples from being a fear-filled bunch of cowards who abandoned their master and fled for cover in abject terror, to outward going, fearless preachers. Only the knowledge that is was true could affect them like that. Following on from that, second, is the fact that of the remaining eleven apostles (Judas having already committed suicide) ten of them died for their faith as martyrs. It was only John who died of old age. Nothing but the resurrection of Jesus could have caused such a transformation and total commitment of these men.

A Final Witness: One of the most telling of unlikely apologetics-witnesses comes in the form of a solicitor, Frank Morison, who wrote a book, “Who Moved the Stone” from the starting point, in his own words, in respect of the life of Christ that, “His history rested upon some very insecure foundations.” When he eventually came to write about the last seven days of Jesus’ life, his testimony was, “Slowly but very definitely the conviction grew that the drama of those unforgettable weeks of human history was stranger and deeper than it seemed. It was the strangeness of many notable things in the story which first arrested and held my interest. It was only later that the irresistible logic of their meaning came into view.” He then carried out deep and detailed study and the book closes with the words, “there certainly is a deep and profoundly historical basis for that much disputed sentence in the Apostles’ Creed –‘The third day he rose again from the dead’.”

I have written elsewhere in more detail about this part of the account of the Christ, but in this series of amazing information that challenges both mind and heart, the accounts of the resurrection likewise convicts both mind and heart for the person who is open and willing to investigate. He’s alive, he rose from the dead! Hallelujah!