Friday, April 13, 2012

Saturday in Easter Week: A sad misunderstanding

Opening Sentence
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57

Collect of the Day
We thank you, heavenly Father, that you have delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and brought us into the kingdom of your Son; and we pray that, as by his death he has recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to eternal joys; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 145

Lessons: Exodus 13:17-14:4, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, Mark 12:18-27

Skeptics who deny the resurrection of Jesus will often employ a classic "straw man" argument. It goes something like this: the resurrection could not have involved the "bodily resuscitation" of Jesus, since such a feat is "scientifically" impossible. This argument, however, is based on a flawed premise.

The message of Easter is not "Christ has been resuscitated," but "Christ is risen!" It is the skeptics, not those who proclaim this fundamental truth of the Christian faith, who reduce the resurrection to mere "bodily resuscitation." The resurrection was and is so much more than the re-animation of a corpse. It is the transformation of Jesus' whole person--spirit, soul, and body--into a higher state of existence.

The message of Easter is not merely that one Man has been raised from the dead but that, in that one Man is embodied the transformation of all of history--past, present, and future--toward the redemptive purpose and will of God. Indeed, Jesus Christ--crucified and risen--embodies the hope of all creation.

The biggest problem skeptics have with the resurrection is not that it involves the body of Jesus coming back to life, but that it involves a far greater reality than their feeble minds are able to comprehend. So, in an effort to downplay its true significance, they reduce it to a "bodily resuscitation" and then proceed to engage it on the level of scientific naturalism.

The Sadducees, of course, lived in what is often called the "pre-scientific" era. Their objection to belief in the resurrection of the dead, however, involved much the same kind of naturalistic (mis)understanding. Their primary problem with the resurrection was that, according to their interpretation, it was not taught in the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, which were the only Scriptures they recognized as authoritative. They did not accept the writings of the prophets as equal to the writings of Moses; and since they were bound by a wooden, literalistic interpretation of Moses, they found there no evidence for belief in the resurrection.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, accepted both Moses and the prophetic writings and looked toward the day when God would act to restore his creation and, yes, raise the dead to new life. On the question of the resurrection, Jesus sided with the Pharisees. As all of the Gospel writers make clear, however, he had serious differences with them over just how God would usher in his kingdom.

While their rejection of the resurrection left them with few, if any, followers among the common people, it earned the Sadducees the favor of the Romans, who were fearful of popular uprisings by zealous disciples of the Pharisees. This was precisely what the Sadducees feared about Jesus. Certainly, resurrection was at the heart of his message. Such a message was, in the minds of the Sadducees, politically dangerous. It might inspire revolution. So, the message and the messenger had to be discredited.

The encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees, as recorded by Mark, is almost comical. In fact, Mark may have intended it to be that way. Here come the Sadducees, the elite priestly aristocracy, presenting Jesus with an utterly ridiculous scenario which, in their minds, illustrates how utterly ridiculous belief in the resurrection is. But Jesus quickly corrects their flawed interpretation of the law. The resurrection, he tells them, is not merely a resuscitation of a bunch of dead bodies which will then resume life as they have always known it. The resurrection is/will be a complete remaking of life, a complete reworking of creation. The institutions which sustain and perpetuate life in this world will no longer be necessary. The question involving the woman with seven husbands will be entirely irrelevant.

Misunderstanding the nature of the resurrection is not the only problem with the Sadducees' interpretation of the Scriptures. Bound as they are to a naturalistic worldview that they completely miss the references to the resurrection in the very books they consider authoritative. Moses himself was looking toward the resurrection of the dead. God spoke to him in the burning bush, identifying himself as "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Only a dead faith, like that of the Sadducees, would teach that these great Patriarchs were dead and gone forever. "He is not God of the dead," Jesus declares, "but of the living."

What, after all, does the very provision of the law cited by the Sadducees point toward, if not the resurrection? Children perpetuate life, and the resurrection is all about life, life, and more life.

(JAG)

Rejoice, the Lord is King