Today, I want us to consider a couple of texts and what they share. The first text is the conclusion to the parable, The Rich Man and Lazarus, in Luke 16: “And he [the rich man] said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16.27-31).
The second is from John 11, right after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’” (John 11.45-48).
The texts share something important, more than just a man named Lazarus. Both show us faithless reactions to resurrection. In fact, it is almost as if Jesus’ parable in Luke foretells the reaction of the Pharisees in John 11. Abraham tells the rich man that the resurrected Lazarus will not sway men who ignore the Law and the Prophets, and, lo and behold, the resurrected Lazarus does not sway the Pharisees.
I want us to balance this point against the way we sometimes treat the Resurrection of Christ. Paul writes of the Resurrection, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Cor 15.3-8). Paul presents the Resurrection not only as a central confession of the Faith but also as an historical event with hundreds of witnesses.
This statement, that “he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time,” piques our modern interests, because we seek empirical proof above all else in matters of belief. Empiricism, the legacy of David Hume and John Locke, demands that something must be observable and repeatable to be believed. Modern men place their trust in scientific facts which can be seen and felt, over and against religion based on faith. (The dichotomy between science and faith is false, but that is outside the scope of this essay.)
We see so many turning away from the Faith because of empiricism, so we are tempted to conduct our apologetics by the rules of empiricism. We like Paul’s telling us that there were hundreds of witnesses to the Resurrection, because it gives us empirically acceptable proof that Jesus rose from the dead and is thus the Son of God. With this kind of proof, we should be able to convert all the atheists to Christianity easily, right?
The gospels warned us that men would reject the Resurrection, because it has been happening since before the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not, first and foremost, an apologetic trump card. Before everything else, it is a key part of the Good News about Jesus. Paul opens his argument about the Resurrection this way: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15.1-2).
The Resurrection is a critical part of the Gospel. It is not about proving that we’re right and everyone else is wrong. It is about providing hope and direction to God’s people. It is about showing us the extraordinary love of God. Jesus raised Lazarus to show God’s glory, but also out of His love. He loved Lazarus. He loved Martha and Mary. His love overcame death.
The Resurrection is the promise of the Faith. Mary and Martha were faithful, confessing to the Lord that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Their faith got them their brother back (Heb 11.35a). Our God keeps His promises, and He has promised us eternal life with Him in glory. That promise comes through the Resurrection of Christ, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15.20). May our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus bear fruit a hundredfold.