April 7, 2013
Background Scripture: Luke 24:36-53
Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Although there are marked differences – as well as convergences – in the resurrection accounts in the four gospels, there are two common themes running through them.
First, the tomb is empty because Jesus has risen from it and is experienced by his disciples in different ways, but with the same message: God in Christ is victorious over the cross and death itself. Sinful humanity has done its worst, but God has done His best and we share in that victory: “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead …” (24:46).
But there’s more: not only is the risen Christ to be experienced, but there is also given a calling for each of us to fulfill: “That repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (24:47,48).
Unfortunately, many of us rejoice in the Easter promise and ignore the Easter command. Shouting “Christ is Risen! Happy Easter!” is the beginning, not the end of the Easter experience. This command is found in both Matthew (Mt. 28:16-20) and Luke (Lk. 24:44-49), as well as in the versions of Mark that do not end with Mk. 16:8, but add verses 9-20.
In Matthew and Luke are promises to his disciples that go with the great commission. In Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The promise is twofold: first, he has the authority from the Father to make this command and second, he will be with them in their mission and ours.
Failure or fulfillment
The final words of Jesus in Luke 24:44-49 see the death and resurrection as the fulfillment of “the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.” The passion and resurrection are not a failure of God’s plan, but its fulfillment.
He helps them to understand God’s promise: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things. And behold, I send the promise of my father upon you …” and they will be “clothed with power from on high.”
Finally, he promises us his purpose will prevail. The cross was not the end. The commission given us by the resurrected Lord is the beginning of the end.
It is only fair to ask: But how do we know these promises will be kept? Where is the proof of them? The answer is, there is no proof. Even many of the scientific principles are based not upon proof, but evidence.
W.T. Stace writes: “A philosopher will write that it is impossible to prove by any logical argument that the sun will rise tomorrow. Everyone, including the philosopher, knows that it will rise. That is not the question … The question is whether it can be ‘proved’ that the Sun will rise. Hume in the 18th century thought he had proved that this cannot be proved! The answer is that nobody can prove it.”
So essentially, we operate on the basis of a trust that is based upon the best evidence we can find.
Evidence or proof?
So how can we believe in the Easter message and accept the Easter command?
While it is true we cannot prove the Easter faith, as Tennyson wrote: “Thou canst not prove that thou art immortal – no. Nor yet that thou art mortal.” We have to choose between the evidence for one or the other.
The earliest disciples were persuaded by evidence they did not really understand, that Christ was once again alive and available to them. So where do we fit in?
Actually, we today are more in the company of Paul than Peter. Paul had never known Jesus before the first Easter.
On the road to Damascus this enemy of Christ experienced the risen Lord, and the life of the ancient world was transformed by that encounter.
If that evidence seems too ancient, consider the testimony of 20th century French philosopher, Christian mystic and social activist Simone Weil, who was led to the direct experience of God and singular devotion to Christ.
She tells: “Christ himself came down and took possession of me … I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile of a beloved face.”
If we have little or no personal experience of Christ, might it not be that while he is available, we are too involved with everything else to give our attention to him? Is it not that Christ is elusive, but we are?
This morning I was struck by the words of Eugene H. Peterson: “We become fluent in prayer by keeping company with Jesus.” Do I keep company with Jesus? Do you? Following Jesus is based upon our trust in his promises.
Henry Sloan Coffin has said: “Easter is the festival of the trustworthiness of God for those who confide in him.” We sing that old hymn “Standing on the Promises,” but perhaps we need to go beyond even that.
Following Jesus is so much more a matter of living on those promises and keeping our promises to him.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.