Fact and Mystery

Two quick points about Jesus rising from the dead.

1. People who love Jesus want Him to have risen from the dead. Everything He said and did fascinates us and captivates us so much, we can’t believe it all ended on the cross.

billie-jean-jacksonBut we cannot allow ourselves to believe in any beautiful legends, just because we want them to be true.

So we have to ask: Is it true?

If one of the students of Roanoke Catholic School said to me, “Father, yesterday afternoon I walked downtown for a haircut, and I saw Michael Jackson,” I would not hesitate. I would reply, “No, you didn’t.”

Or if one told me, “Father, Father, my Boy Scout troop was hiking the Appalachian Trail up McAfee’s Knob, and we came to one of those camp shelters, and there was a man in there playing the harmonica, and it was Abraham Lincoln,” I would say, “No, it was not.”

People do not generally rise from the dead. When you dead, you dead.

Is it true, nevertheless, that Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead?

The reasonable answer is: Yes. The New Testament contains thoroughly convincing evidence. Eye-witness accounts that sound like believable eye-witness accounts almost always sound–that is, scattered, deriving from multiple points-of-view, but in agreement regarding the central issue. Also, no one ever found the body. Plenty of people certainly tried. The chances of it having been stolen away and hidden are practically zero, since the tomb was guarded during the only interval of time when it could have been stolen. Also, there’s the fact that the Apostles, over the course of a couple decades, gladly went to their deaths because they were sure that Jesus had risen from the dead.

No–of all the facts of history, including the fact that people do not generally rise from the dead, the resurrection of Jesus is one of the more well-established ones. Doubting it is much less reasonable than believing it.

Point #2
: Even though it is a fact, however, we would be fools if we claimed to understand it.

Yes, Jesus rose, and saw His friends, and talked with them, and ate food. After forty days, He ascended in the flesh into heaven.

But: Do we know what it is like to be a man who has risen from the dead? We most assuredly do not. We persevere in hope that we will find out, when everything is said and done. But in the meantime, our belief that this particular man’s resurrection offers us the hope that makes our lives worth living: that is more than history can prove.

So the Resurrection is no beautiful legend. But it is a mystery of faith. Everything about it that makes it important for us lies way beyond our ability to comprehend.

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