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Differing accounts of the Resurrection are only human
March 31, 2013
Background Scripture: Luke 24:1-35
Devotional Reading: Luke 24:22-36

When President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, there were thousands of people along the way and millions more on television who witnessed not only the terrible moment itself, but those directly preceding and following it.

Nevertheless, eyewitness accounts vary considerably and few question the sincerity of those eyewitnesses whose accuracy was greatly influenced by the emotional impact of it.

So, if the “empty tomb” experiences of Easter were the same in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I would be less impressed by them. There are differences in the accounts concerning the women who came to the tomb. Mark says it is given by “a young man … dressed in a white robe” (Mk. 16:5).

Matthew attributes the announcement to “an angel of the Lord (Mt. 28:2-5) and Luke changes this to “two men … in dazzling apparel” (Lk. 24:4). John records “two angels in white” ask Mary Magdalene: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (Jn. 20:11,12). In Jn. 20, it is the risen Christ who makes the announcement to Mary Magdalene. But none of the gospel accounts affect the singularity of the Easter message: At the empty tomb there are encountered one or more heralds who inform the disciples they are looking for the tomb of Jesus, but it is empty because Christ is alive, risen from it.

As William Barclay says, “The basic fact of the empty tomb never varies.” It is obviously consistent; they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place – as many of us still do.

Then and now

Luke tells us when Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joanna run to tell the disciples the good news, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Lk. 24;10,11). The disciples’ initial reaction is not unlike the reaction of some people today: An unbelievable, idle tale!

Luke also gives a captivating account of two disciples on the Emmaus road and their experience of the Risen Lord. That at first they did not recognize the stranger as the Lord, is also revealing. The appearance of the risen Christ was both the same and different from the Jesus with whom they walked the roads of Galilee.
This experience was different enough that, when the disciples went to the Galilee mountain where the Christ had directed them, some “worshipped him, but some doubted” (Mt. 28:17). Over the years I have heard sincere people who have told me they “cannot buy the miracles and resurrection stuff” because it lies outside the realm of scientific possibility.

I have been trying to read Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith. This is not a book on religion and science; the cosmos the writers explore is difficult for me to comprehend, especially a possible “multiverse containing an infinite number of universes.”

Still, I personally find that “God” and “miracles” are more credible in these new views of the cosmos, than in the old, three-level universe that has prevailed in much of the history of humankind.
So, I prefer using the term “paranormal” for experiences that are not “impossible” but merely beyond our normal experience and knowing of the “possible.”

Not that I think science will ever prove or disprove God and the spiritual realities, but science keeps moving on – and so does our awareness of the spiritual side of life.

 ‘It is I’

Another factor that lends confidence to these accounts is there is apparent disagreement among the disciples as to in what form the resurrected Christ appeared. Mary Magdalene did not recognize the resurrected Lord at first. Neither did the two disciples on the Emmaus road.

Matthew 28:9,10 tells us the women “took hold of his feet.” In Luke 24:36-42 we are told as the two Emmaus road travelers were reporting their experience of the Risen Lord, “Jesus stood among them,” and he said: “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see…”

In John 20 the resurrected Christ appears and disappears from inside a locked room. Different disciples and different occasions account for different experiences.

It is obvious from the gospel accounts that some people did not recognize the resurrected Lord. It is interesting to me that so far as the gospels show, after the agonizing hours on Calvary, no one really expected to see Jesus again. That means we have an advantage they did not have: Because of the gospel, we can expect to see him again.

And expecting to see him again makes us more likely to do just that. How? Where? In what way? We do not know. But expecting the resurrected Lord seems to make recognizing the resurrected Lord more likely. As John Drinkwater puts it:

Shakespeare is dust, and will not come
To question from his Avon tomb,
And Socrates and Shelley keep
An attic and Italian sleep.
They see not. But, O Christians, who
Throng Holborn and Fifth Avenue,
May you not meet in spite of death,
A traveler from Nazareth?

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.