Resurrection Faith (Part 1)

At the heart of Christianity is a cross; and one of the most significant things about the cross is that it is bare. Christians down through the ages have been sure that Jesus' disgracing death on the cross of Calvary was not the end of the story. Rather, it was the beginning.

Jesus rose from the tomb and triumphed over death. This was the belief that turned a group of devastated, heartbroken, disillusioned followers of a crucified Rabbi into the courageous witnesses and martyrs of the early church. This was the one belief that separated the followers of Christ from the Jews and turned them into the community of the resurrection. You could beat them, imprison them, stone them or kill them, but you could not make them deny their conviction that on the third day He rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the cornerstone of Christianity.

But the question is, can 21st century man actually believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. This obviously simple question is one of the most perplexing problems confronting the modern Christian. Is the resurrection of Jesus a postulate of faith or is it a historical fact? This is a question that cannot be easily dismissed. An uncritical view accepts everything the Bible relates as history. However, a moment's reflection shows that there is a valid and necessary distinction between faith and history.

Faith has to do with the invisible world of God. History has to do with the visible, empirical world of man and things. God therefore, is not a historical figure. The Christian believes in the God revealed in Scripture, and we believe we talk to Him in prayer and that God talks to us through His Word and His Spirit. But, we have never seen God with physical eyes as we see each other; we have never felt God's hand as we feel the handshake of a friend; we never heard God's voice with our physical ears as we hear the voice of a neighbor. John affirms this by declaring "No one has ever seen God." (John 1:18).

In fact, Scripture nowhere tries to prove the existence of God. It doesn't seem concerned with this need as His existence is everywhere assumed. It is not subject to scientific scrutiny or historical investigation. Yet it is precisely at this point that the Bible seems to present us with a difficulty because even though the invisible world of God is distinct from the visible world of man, the central theme of the entire Bible is that God has intervened and acted in the world of man in historical events.

The Bible claims God called Abram out of Haran to Canaan. Now, history may be able to prove that Abram did indeed go from Haran to Canaan ? but how can history establish that it was God who led Abram to make this migration? The Bible says God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt through Moses. Keep in mind that this was no ordinary event in history like the events precipitating the abolishment of slavery or events which befall other peoples and nations. It was not an achievement of the Israelites. It was not attributed to the genius and skillful leadership of Moses. It was an act of God; an act through which God made Himself known and through which Israel was to know and serve God.

"Therefore, say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. Exodus 6:6-7.

History can establish that the Israelites did indeed escape from Egypt and travel to Canaan under the leadership of Moses ? but how can history establish that it was God who lead them in this deliverance?

The same problem is inherent in the life and death of Jesus Christ. According to our Gospels, Jesus was the Son of God incarnate. The Gospels relate that He performed mighty works which testified to the nature of His person. But His works were subject to different interpretations. Jesus' opponents admitted that He possessed supernatural power, but they said it was demonic power. His friends, and no doubt family members as well, admitted that He did marvelous deeds, but they thought He was out of His mind. Jesus was the Son of God only to those who responded to Him in faith.

Today, historians can read the Gospels and make judgments about what men thought about Jesus and even what Jesus thought about Himself; but how can the historian, as a historian, say that Jesus was the Son of God?

As to the death of Jesus, the historian scholar stands on firm ground. History can prove His death. Of course, this is only half the story. Christ died ? that is solid history. But, Christ died for our sins ? is that history?

Paul said, God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. This is the one sure evidence of God's love: not God's general providence; not the events of my own life; but that one event in history ? the death of Christ for sinners.

(continued in Pt 2)

Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available soon.

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