It has become a tradition that I post something on Easter. Last year, it was still during the pandemic and my church was still having its Good Friday and Easter Sundays online. I posted some artwork and addressed one challenge to the Resurrection – that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. I reminded people that the Sanhedrin and the Roman authorities cooked up the theft story instead redirecting people to the “right” tomb. That never made any sense for multiple reasons. The year before, I addressed another challenge – that Jesus only swooned and did not really die. Any medical doctor who looked at Jesus’s injuries and wounds would tell you that they were cumulatively fatal. The final spear thrust to the heart was instantaneous and should put to rest forever this swooning theory. This theory has been long refuted which leaves really only one conclusion: Jesus died.
There are two more theories that have been banded about that I have not addressed. 1) It was only a “spiritual” resurrection and thus there was no physical body. 2) It was a mass hallucination. The first one is easily refuted based on the plain reading of the texts: Jesus ate with his disciples AFTER the resurrection on at least 3 occasions. There were forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension. What do you think Jesus was doing? Hiding? That’s one strong possibility, but we know that He appeared to at least 500 people at one occasion. Do you think word would not have reached Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin? People talk. Gossip fly. Interestingly, the authorities never tried to re-arrest Jesus.
When the Apostle Paul was on the road to Damascus, he was hit by a blinding light.
In this light, Jesus identified Himself: “I’m Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Later, Paul would add: “Saul, why are you kicking against the goad?” A goad was sharpened stick used by drivers to prod the animals. For Saul/Paul, his goad was the physical evidence and perhaps seeing Jesus alive after the Resurrection. Maybe Saul might have caught a glimpse of the risen Jesus at the market. This might be conjecture, but not impossible. To argue for only a spiritual Resurrection is to ignore a lot of evidence.
Argument 2 – that it was a mass hallucination – also ignores medical and neurological facts. No two hallucinations are alike. Whenever I hear this theory, I can see variations based on individual and collective memory. First, a person’s memory is not as locked in as many people think. In fact, studies have shown that by changing just one word in the question or prompt, people can give a different memory. Cops do this all the time in interrogations; they are pretty sure a person is guilty and pressure him to confess even if the person is 100% innocent.
As for collective memory, that might be even easier to prove. For years, I would watch the 1976 movie on the Battle of Midway. This movie had an all star 1960s and 1970s cast – Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Pat Morita (Mr. Miyaga of the Karate Kid movies) and a few others. The visual effects shaped the collective memory of Americans 50, 60, 70 years after the battle in 1942. Then the book Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully was published. Parshall and Tully had access to Japanese documents and painted a more accurate picture. They debunked the popular myths, especially those shaped partially by a great movie that took artistic license.
When it comes to addressing the mass hallucination/ collective memory theory, it too falls apart. We can see where it might come from – how the brain can remember and project things incorrectly. But for everyone to fall for the same trick at the same time and maintain that for the next 2000 years, that is ludicrous. That takes more faith.
So what does Easter mean in 2022? Why should I care about a traditional defense on the doctrine of Resurrection? How does that apply to me now? The world is a dangerous place. The COVID-19 crisis is not quite over because of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The US economy might be recovering but there might be a recession at the end of this year.
The doctrine of the Resurrection is absolutely central to Christianity but there is a greater truth: the Resurrection validates Jesus’s testimony and character. Jesus said He would go to the cross, die, and be resurrected when he returned from the Mount of Transfiguration. He never stopped saying that and then He actually did it. If Jesus was telling the truth about this, Jesus will keep his future promises too – the promise of a new heaven and an earth. He came once. He promised to come back again. Let’s hold onto that promise.
I hope you enjoyed this 10 Minute Sermon.