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He is risen

Resurrection is not reasonable to our experience, but it is God’s truth.

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early on Sunday morning. She found it open and empty. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2), she said to Peter and John. Dead people have to be “taken” and “put.” Because dead people stay dead.

Peter and John ran to the tomb. They too found it open and empty. Now they believed Mary, but John tells us in his gospel that “they still did not understand” (John 20:9). They believed, but they didn’t know what to believe. They were caught between what had happened and what is possible. Because dead people stay dead.

The guards stationed at the tomb eventually woke up and reported to the priests what had happened. The priests and elders paid the soldiers to tell a different story—to say that Jesus’ disciples had turned to grave robbing and that the guards were just terrible at their job of guarding a dead man—which would have been a convincing story. Arguably more convincing than the truth. Because dead people stay dead.

Two disciples, one called Cleopas, didn’t even bother going to the tomb. They left Jerusalem, heading for Emmaus. They met someone along the way who must have looked familiar, “but they were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Kept by what, exactly? By Jesus himself? By a miracle? Or by their certainty that dead people stay dead?

Thomas wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them that first Sunday evening. When they told him they saw Jesus, he dismissed it easily. He was a twin, perhaps familiar with cases of mistaken identity. He was a disciple, sympathetic to those who were wounded by grief like himself. He was a human being, certain that dead people stay dead.

Reasonable explanations

You see, the reactions we see in Scripture to the news that there was no longer a body in the tomb where Jesus had been placed were not reactions to the resurrection of Jesus. They were reactions to the idea that resurrection isn’t possible. When they heard the news that Jesus’ body was no longer where it was supposed to be, they did not assume it was because he had risen from the dead. Instead, their brains told them stories that made more sense: “It must have been moved.” “It must have been stolen.” “Someone has made some sort of mistake.” “Someone is lying.” The dead do not rise.

The reactions we see today are exactly the same. Christians tell non-Christians about the miracle of the resurrection, and then we watch their brains tell them a story that makes more sense. Our own brains desperately try to tell us some other version of the story that is more reasonable. The assertions of unbelief by non-Christians are the same as the questions of the doubt that lurks in the minds of Christians. “How do we know it wasn’t moved?” “Couldn’t it have been stolen?” “Wouldn’t a mistake be easier to understand?” “Isn’t it not only possible but also likely that someone has been lying?” After all, the dead stay dead.

Rational human beings tell themselves rational stories based on the way the world seems to work. And because we’re reasonable, reasonable explanations are what come to mind first, and they keep coming to mind even after we know better. Even after the unbelievable truth is revealed to us, we still find it unbelievable because it’s so unreasonable. Doubts lurk because the truth is irrational. Unbelief wraps tight around human minds that can only claim any certainty if it is based on experience. And the experience of every person who has ever even heard tales of a dead body is that they stay dead. Nothing else makes any sense.

And the truth, we think, is that someone is lying to us. But the someone with doubts is us. The truth is that mistakes are easier to understand because mistakes are easier to make. Easier than getting it right. The doubtful questions and the unbelieving assertions that a body isn’t where it is supposed to be look for reasonable and rational explanations for how it got moved. That all comes from inside us. From our minds. From our sinful natures hostile to whatever God reveals. Sinful hearts find the truth to be unbelievable because it comes from God and, therefore, we hate it. Irrationally, the only thing that makes sense to sin is sin.

God’s truth

And yet, according to God’s truth, sin makes no sense at all.

So, Mary reacted reasonably; she assumed that dead people stay dead. She turned away from the empty tomb and ran to tell Peter and John that Jesus’ body had been taken. But when she returned to the tomb she saw his body, standing in the garden, calling her by name, and God’s truth shattered all her reason and logic and won. And she believed.

Peter and John reacted reasonably. They also assumed that dead people stay dead. They could not deny that the body was gone, and so they could be nothing but confused. Faith began to spring to life in their hearts, but they still did not understand. Later Jesus appeared in that locked room and spoke of peace. They saw his hands and side, and joy overcame whatever doubts or confusion they had.

At the tomb, the guards woke up and reacted reasonably to the realization that the body they were guarding was missing. They reported the news to their superiors who gave them a story that was more convincing than the truth because sin is reasonable to sinners. Someday we’ll find out if the guards ever found out the real, unbelievable truth, or if it ever found them.

The two disciples reacted reasonably to the news that some women were telling a crazy story about Jesus’ dead body going missing. They decided to get out of town and head for Emmaus. After an entire afternoon of speaking with him, they finally recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them and vanished. They raced back to town because suddenly they believed.

Thomas reacted reasonably to what was to him a clear case of mistaken identity until Jesus demonstrated that his reasonable assumption was wrong. Then Thomas believed.

You see, that’s the only reaction to the resurrection there is. Because it happened. It’s true. It’s God’s truth. And the only reaction to God’s truth is faith. Everything else is in some way a denial of the facts. It’s accepting a story that is more reasonable because we know that dead people stay dead. But it’s a lie. It’s sin.

So, how do we make sure people—including us—react to the resurrection as God’s truth and not the lie our minds make so reasonable? We don’t! God does! How did God make sure of that for Mary, Peter, John, the Emmaus disciples, and Thomas? How did God make sure of that for you and for me? By the work of the Holy Spirit. By the power of the gospel. By presenting the truth and letting the truth set us free.

Author: Ethan Cherney
Volume 108, Number 4
Issue: April 2021

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