“If Someone Should Rise from the Dead”

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.

“Is It Legal?”

The following was published in the 14th Avenue Church of Christ bulletin on 11 February 2018.

At the beginning of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Darth Sidious instructs Trade Federation Viceroy Nute Gunray to land his invasion force on the planet Naboo. Gunray asks, “My Lord… is it… legal?” Sidious cynically responds, “I will make it legal.” This exchange, like most of The Phantom Menace, is over-the-top. The Trade Federation is obviously acting in bad faith against Naboo, and Gunray’s question is pragmatic rather than ethical or moral. He is not concerned with doing right but rather with getting away with it.

Our moral failings are usually not so obvious as Nute Gunray’s, but that doesn’t make us immune to his mode of thinking. Rather than thinking of our behavior in terms of “Should I?” we think of it in terms of “Can I?” The Bible teaches us through many examples that this type of thinking is morally disastrous.

In Daniel 6, King Darius’s advisors plot to use Daniel’s faith against him. They convince Darius to require everyone in the Empire to pray through the king. The advisors know that Daniel will disobey, so all they have to do is wait. Sure enough, Daniel refuses to break faith by praying through the king, so the advisors bring their accusation against him. The law forces the king to condemn Daniel to the lions’ den, but God delivers Daniel.

The king’s advisors do not fare so well. It was common in the law codes of the Ancient Near East to punish false witnesses by giving them the sentence of the person they had accused. Such happens to the king’s advisors at the end of Daniel 6. The king casts them into the lions’ den, where they die.

But wait–were the advisors false witnesses? Their accusation against Daniel was true; he was breaking the law. And the law was very clear: any man who did not pray through the king was to be put to death. Here we see Gunrayism on display: the advisors told the truth, but they were not honest; they kept the law, but they were not just.

In Luke 20, the scribes, the chief priests, and the Sadducees are in a bind. They want Jesus dealt with, in the same way that the Mafia deals with people. Unlike the Mafia, the Sadducees and their sycophants are too “scrupulous” to do the dirty work themselves. Rather, they are too cowardly. Luke tells us that “they feared the people” (Luke 20.19). They would also have feared the Romans, who enforced a monopoly on capital punishment. “So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the [Roman] governor,” i.e., to be put to death (Luke 20.20).

The Sadducees take a crack at catching Jesus in His words with a question about levirate marriage and the Resurrection (Luke 20.27-33). The Sadducees, of course, don’t believe in the Resurrection. They claim to follow only the Torah. They ask about the Resurrection because they think that their question may get Jesus hanged (see Dr. David McClister’s lecture, “‘Now there were seven brothers…’: What Was So Dangerous About This Question?” for an explanation). Jesus turns the tables on them in His response: “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (Luke 20.37-38). Whereas the Sadducees thought to catch Jesus in his words, Jesus has now caught the Sadducees in their words: if they say that they follow only the Torah, then they must confess the Resurrection.

Ultimately, though, Jesus gives the chief priests what they want. After searching fruitlessly for false witnesses to accuse Jesus of a punishable crime, the frustrated high priest gets up and says to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus Himself utters the words that will get Him hanged: “You have said so” (Mat 26.63-64). The priests then deliver Jesus over to Pilate, and He is hanged, and their hands are clean. Everything is nice and “legal.” But these false witnesses bear the penalty on their own heads, for “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mat 10.33).

Gunrayism is a specific kind of legalism. All legalism seeks to reduce the broad moral character of God’s Law to a narrow set of rules to follow. Legalism makes the Faith into a checklist. If I do this thing and that thing (or five things), and if I don’t do this, that, and the other thing, then that makes me faithful to God. I have done what is legal. So did King Darius’s advisors. So did the scribes, the chief priests, and the Sadducees. But in the end, they all faced the Lion. And so shall we.