Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Happily Ever After...

And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.  - Rev. 22:5

I recently finished a book by Timothy Keller, entitled King's Cross.  Essentially a Bible Study on the book of Mark, King's Cross follows the ministry of Jesus, and opens the eyes of the reader to the diety of the Savior next to the humanity of the disciples and others who followed Him, ultimately relating each passage to our own need for Jesus' power and grace.  It is a book that I would recommend to anyone seeking to know Christ in a more personal way. 

Obviously, a study of the gospels will ultimately lead to the cross and the resurrection, which opens up a pertinent line of thought the week before Easter Sunday.  At the end of the book, Keller points out the fact that "happy ending" stories are becoming a thing of the past.  The more critically acclaimed books and movies in the 21st century are the ones in which there are plenty of questions remaining at the end, or where there is no final resolution of conflict (Hunger Games?).  He argues that the modern, secular world has determined that life is ultimately without order or hope, and that happy endings are just wishful thinking.

Naturally, this will be the thought process of evolutionists and others who believe we are only on this planet by chance.  If there is no designed purpose in my existence, then what good could possibly come from my life?  For that matter, does "good" even exist?  Therefore, these people lump the gospel accounts into the same category as Cinderella and Snow White.  They believe that we blindly wait for our imaginary prince to come, in denial of the tragic "truth" that there is nothing beyond the daily grind of this accidental life.  In response, they seek daily pleasure to get whatever they believe they can get while here on earth.  From that perspective, the resurrection is a fairy tale indeed. 

The problem with this line of thought is that secular society has not done its logic homework.    As believers, it is crucial that we can defend our faith with and without scripture.  After all, if the resurrection of Jesus is not true, then all is lost, hope is gone, and there is no eternal value in anything I do.  Fortunately, scripture and history give us compelling evidence that the resurrection is indeed a fact.  Could it be that we really do live "happily ever after"?

First of all, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning.  There is no denying this one, and the empty tomb is a crucial fact beyond the obvious.  Pilate, the Roman Procurator, had overseen the whole trial and execution of Jesus, and had commissioned soldiers to guard his body.  The last thing that he (or the Jewish leaders) would allow would be for speculation to arise that he had actually executed the Jewish Messiah, who would fulfill his promise to rise again in three days.  Pilate wanted to be sure that no one tampered with the body in that tomb.  The stone which blocked the entrance would have weighed thousands of pounds.  In addition, Matthew tells us that it was sealed to prevent any movement.  Any effort to remove that stone could not have been done in secret.  It would have required many men and probably quite a bit of noise.  The fact that it was empty on the third day, despite these obstacles was baffling to the Jews and Romans (with the exception of the soldiers who actually saw the angel move the stone, of course!).

Secondly, scripture tells us that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people after his resurrection.  As a matter of fact, many of them are named in the gospel accounts.  "And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices that they might come and anoint Him (Mark 16:1)."  Mark names three specific women who were witnesses to the empty tomb on Sunday morning.  to quote Keller:
In ancient societies, as you know, women were marginalized, and the testimony of women was never given much credence.  Do you see what that means?  If Mark and the Christians were making up these stories to get their movement off the ground, they would never have written women into the story as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus' empty tomb.  The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw.  The stone had been rolled away, the tomb is empty, and and angel declares that Jesus is risen. (p. 217)
By naming people who witnessed the resurrection, Mark is basically giving his first century readers an opportunity to go find these people and ask them what they saw.  In addition, the fact that there are four gospel accounts by four different men, telling the same story further verifies the truth of the matter.  In any society (including ours), at any point in history, if four witnesses come forward with the exact same story, we can be confident that they are telling the truth.  Any court of law would see it that way.

Finally, and maybe most compelling, is the fate of Jesus' followers as they began the spread of the good news, following Jesus' ascension into heaven.  According to Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and church historical accounts, every one of Jesus' 12 disciples was eventually executed in horrific fashion, with the exeption of John, who survived boiling in oil because God needed him to later write down the prophecies of the Revelation.  Five were crucified, two were speared, two were stoned, one beheaded, and one was stoned then beheaded.  In addition, other believers like Paul and Mark were likewise ruthlessly killed.

Any of these men could have avoided their ultimate fate by simply denying the resurrection of Jesus.  If the resurrection was a hoax, they certainly would have known about it.  If they were covering up a lie, don't you think that at least one of them would have come clean to avoid torture?  Of course they would have.  Yet, every one was willing to endure pain and suffering beyond belief in defiance of the command to deny their Lord.  Would you be willing to be stoned, speared, beheaded, or crucified for a lie?  Neither would they.  No one would go that far for a cause they didn't believe in.  The only explanation is that they had actually seen the resurrected Christ, and that they knew the price was worth the reward that would come with death.

The fact of the empty tomb is absolutely essential to Christianity.  Without it, we have nothing.  Jesus' power to raise Himself from the dead, following His blood sacrifice on our behalf, verifies that He was exactly who He claimed to be.  Any doubt that His death really was the payment for our sin debt was erased early that Sunday moring as a few Hebrew women peered into the small rock cave only to find that Jesus' dead body was not there.  As the angel said, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but He has risen."

He is risen indeed!  His victory over sin and death gives us new life and power on this earth.  He has taken us from lost to found, from hopeless to triumphant, from foolish to wise, from weak to powerful, from death to life.  His death and resurrection have caused us to become a "new creation".  The past is completely gone.  As Paul reminds us:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The empty tomb has made princes out of paupers, and by grace, through faith, our proverbial glass slipper fits.  The story of the world really does have a happy ending...forever.  That is cause for celebration.  So, let's take a week off of school in honor of our Lord! 

Happy Resurrection Day!