Wineskins Archive

December 20, 2013

Bright Forecast for Sunday (Mar 1993)

Filed under: — @ 10:44 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
March, 1993

10It had been a horrible week. No sign of the sun. Only dark clouds, storms, and incessant downpours. Then someone heard the forecast for Sunday: clear, bright skies!

A weather report following Hurricane Andrew? No, the promise of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.

If Easter Sunday commemorates a real event of history in which Jesus triumphed over death, then all his claims are substantiated, the cross provides eternal life to those who embrace it, and people today can know and be saved by him. The gospel, after all, is not the preaching of a martyred Christ but the joyous proclamation of the resurrected Son of God. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

If Jesus did not emerge from Joseph of Arimathea’s borrowed tomb on Sunday morning in April of A.D. 30, there is not “good news” to preach. Satan triumphed. Sin is sovereign. Death is the final snuffing out of meaningless human lives. That isn’t my dismal analysis, but Paul’s. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Occasionally I hear someone say: “Why even if Christianity isn’t really true – if there was no virgin birth and no bodily resurrection, if there is no hell to fear or heaven to desire – I’d still want to be a Christian. If there were nothing more than the benefits to be gained in the here and now, I’d want to follow Jesus!” Paul didn’t feel that way. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ,” he said, “we are to pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Everything critical to the Christian faith stands or falls with the doctrine of the bodily resurrection. Can we really believe it happened? Dare we speak of such a thing to people who dismiss the whole idea of miracles as ignorant superstition?

The thing that defies reason is not that such an event could have happened but that Christianity ever could have gotten off the ground – much less survived across the centuries – if it did not happen.

When Paul wrote of the resurrection, there was a confident ring to his words: “Christ died for our sins … he was buried … he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures … he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve … to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living … to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”

There is an interesting change of tenses in the Greek verbs in these lines. The aorist tense is commonly used in Greek simply to tick off a series of events, usually in the past; the perfect tense, however, is used for events of the past that have consequences in present time. So the apostle dashes off a series of aorists: “Christ died … he was buried … he appeared …” Of the resurrection, though, he chooses the perfect tense; thus the meaning is “he was raised up – and continues a risen state!”

Do you get the significance of that affirmation? And do you feel its double impact in that it was made by the man we first meet as Saul of Tarsus in the Scripture?

Saul was an ardent opponent of the Christian faith. He was personally involved in persecuting believers. He participated in the stoning of a Christian evangelist named Stephen (Acts 9:54-8:1a). He led a persecution of the church in Jerusalem by personally going from house to house and dragging both men and women into prison (Acts 8:3). Yet within about four years of the founding of the church, Paul had turned from bitter enemy to passionate advocate.

On his own account of his change of heart, Saul was converted on the basis of a dramatic and unanticipated confrontation with the resurrected Christ. On his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians there, the unthinkable happened. The raised-up-and-continuing -in-a-risen-state Jesus of Nazareth appeared to Saul on the Damascus Road, spoke to him, and took away his doubts about the truthfulness of the resurrection story (Acts 9:1-22; cf 22:6-21; 26:4-23). From that day forward, he never looked back from his commitment to Jesus as Savior and Lord.

He gave up his career in Judaism to become a Christian missionary. He was hunted and persecuted by some of the very people who had once been his colleagues in hounding the earliest disciples. He went to jail. He suffered horrible floggings. He was once stoned and left for dead. Eventually he was martyred at Rome under the infamous Nero.

The only power great enough to turn a man like Saul from his original course is an astounding, life-changing TRUTH. From his experience on the Damascus Road, he found out that the Twelve, Stephen, and others like them were neither lunatics nor deceived apostates from Judaism. He learned they were right to proclaim Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish anticipation and savior of the whole world.

The meaning of the empty tomb he had heard about came clear for him that day. His own personal darkness lifted, and the light of the Son broke through. The Easter forecast had been validated to another skeptic.

Jesus’ bitterest enemies were never able to build a case against the resurrection. If “reasonable doubt” could have been established, they would have made their case and stopped nascent Christianity in its tracks. They circulated a silly story to the effect that Jesus’ disciples stole his body while the soldiers assigned to guard the tomb slept (Matthew 28:11-15). A group of men moved a multi-ton stone, snatched a corpse, and got away without rousing a single one of the guards? What court accepts the testimony of someone as to what happened while he was asleep anyway? On its face, this tale has no believability.

Within a few weeks of telling the stole-while-the-guards-slept story – and probably hearing snickers from the people listening! – Jewish opponents apparently stopped using it. They simply threatened the apostles and ordered them to stop preaching the resurrection (Acts 4:17-18; 5:28). That’s a far cry from disproving what they were preaching, isn’t it!

The historical event of the resurrection may be rejected, but it cannot be refuted. He rose and continues in his risen state to save all who will turn to him. No matter how serious their sins or bleak their prospects, the Easter Sunday forecast for all sinners is about light breaking through, new purpose for living, and eternal life.

Because he lives, the clouds, storms, and downpours have given way to The Son.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

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