Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, October 15, 2018
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The Resurrection: Essential and Credible

Mark 16:1-8 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 The gospel makes an incredible claim:  Jesus died and rose from the dead.  

 It is a stumbling block.  It is something hard to get over.  It has been from the beginning.  The first century Jews stumbled over a Messiah who died.  He wasn’t “supposed” to do that.  The Greeks stumbled over a physical resurrection from the dead.  It’s a stumbling block to our modern, enlightened, scientifically-minded society.  

 Some have tried to work around it.  Some have focused on Jesus’ teachings about love and compassion and justice, and just kind of glossed over the whole dying and rising again thing.  

 The problem is that so much of Jesus’ teachings are tied up in the resurrection.  If we try to read the Gospels and gloss over the resurrection, we’re glossing over a lot.  

 Death is a universal fear.  It is the universal experience of human beings, and we all fear it.  How can we be set free from the fear of death without a savior who has demonstrated his power over death?  

If Jesus promised to die and come back from the dead, and he didn’t do it, then how can we trust the rest of his promises?  How can we certain he will give us eternal life, abundant life?  How can we be sure that he’ll be with us, no matter what?  How can we think that he will come back if he promised to rise from the dead and didn’t do it?  

Besides, if we just want to follow the teachings of a long-dead religious figure, we have plenty of other choices.  We could follow the teachings of Moses or Gandhi or Buddha.  They all had some good things to say.  If Jesus is dead and gone, then what makes his teachings so much better than others?  

We really need the resurrection to bring the whole gospel together.  But just what is resurrection?  

Let’s start by saying what it isn’t.  Resurrection is not resuscitation.  We know about resuscitation.  We have the medical technology to bring people back from the dead who have been gone for 5, 10 minutes, sometimes even more.  And we know it from Scripture.  Jesus resuscitated Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain, and Jairus’ daughter.  And Elijah resuscitated the son of the widow of Zarephath.  But resuscitation

is not resurrection.  It’s the continuation of the same, old life, and those who are resuscitated will die again.  

The resurrection is also not just a “spiritual experience.”  If Jesus just rose “spiritually” from the dead, no one would have been surprised.  Many people believed in the spirits of the dead living on.  

And the resurrection is not reincarnation.  Reincarnation is about the spirit living on in a different body.  That belief is common in eastern religions, especially Hinduism.  We see it today in the belief in “past lives.”  It was probably known in the first century world, since they had contact with India.  But typically in reincarnation, there is no firm connection to the previous life, no remembrance of who you were.

Resurrection is different from all of these.  Resurrection is physical, bodily.  But it’s not the continuation of the past life, rather the beginning of a new life.  And the individuality is consistent.  We are the same person in the resurrection as we were before, but with all of the weaknesses removed.  

Belief in the resurrection is a challenge to other worldviews.  Our text from 1 Corinthians reminds us that it was a challenge to the Greek mindset.  The Greeks believed that the flesh was corrupt, even evil.  They believed that we are only alive because there is a spark of the divine, a little piece of God, in each of us.  When we die, that spark returns to God.  So they rejected belief in a physical resurrection, since flesh was bad.  And they didn’t conceive of individuality in the afterlife.  

So Paul reminds those who were struggling with the resurrection, that if there is no resurrection, then Christ also was not raised from the dead.  And yet he was.  He died for sins, according to the Scriptures, and he rose on the third day.  Paul could say this with confidence because Jesus was seen after the resurrection.  He was seen by Peter, by the twelve disciples, by more than 500 witnesses at one time (that was probably in Galilee, an event not recorded in the Gospels), then he was seen by James (that would be his brother James), then by all the apostles (that was probably the 120 who gathered in the upper room).  Finally, he was seen by Paul himself.  

Other explanations have been given to explain away the resurrection.  

One theory is called the “substitute victim” theory, which says that someone else was crucified in Jesus’ place.  As if the religious authorities didn’t know who Jesus was,

and were fooled by an impostor.  I guess you could take it a step further and say it was Jesus’ identical twin.  

Or there is the so called “swoon theory,” which says that Jesus just lost consciousness on the cross, woke up in the tomb, and went on his way.  But Jesus was beaten, flogged, crucified, and stabbed in the heart by a Roman spear.  That’s not the kind of thing you just walk away from.

Or there is the “stolen body” theory, which says that the disciples took his body.  From a guarded tomb.  Or there’s the wrong tomb theory, which says that they went to the wrong tomb and found it empty.  But the women saw where he was buried.  And if they went to the wrong tomb, why would the religious authorities not have simply produced his body later to put an end to the story?  

Or there is the mass hallucination theory, which says that the disciples just imagined the resurrection.  The problem with that theory is that there would have to be a lot of people in on this hallucination.  And some of them, like James, the brother of Jesus, and Paul himself, were people who did not believe in Jesus until after they witnessed the resurrection.  They’d be unlikely to hallucinate something they rejected.  

Nothing fits what we know or makes sense of the story as much as the resurrection.  And so we shouldn’t be afraid to believe the gospel of the resurrection.  Nor should we afraid to share the good news of the resurrection.

Mark’s Gospel ends on an ironic note:  All through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells people to be quiet about certain things.  The Gospel ends with the women being told not to be quiet, to share the good news.  And ironically, they’re quiet.  Because they’re afraid.  What are we afraid of that we do not share the good news that Jesus is alive?  

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