How Do we Know He’s Alive?
What Does His Resurrection Mean?
I: -- "Did
he really rise from the dead?” the sceptic asks.
"Prove it. Prove that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the Dead.
If you can prove it, then the Christian message might be true after
Let me tell you right
now: there is no proof. Jesus
consistently refused to traffic in proofs. At
the outset of our Lord’s public ministry the tempter took him up to the top of
the CN Tower. "Jump off, and
land without spraining your ankle; then the whole world will know that you are
the Son of God." "No",
Jesus had replied, "If I do that, people will only look upon me as a
sideshow freak, they may find me entertaining or even puzzling, but they will
never follow me and magnify my work in the world."
A few months later some bystanders were uncertain as to whether they
should throw in their lot with Jesus or wait and see.
"Give us a sign", they told him, "an unmistakable sign
that you are the one we should follow."
"No sign", said Jesus; “Signs are for armchair debaters who
lack commitment; signs foster arguments among armchair dabblers; I want foxhole
followers. If you join me you will
know who I am and rejoice in it; if you don't join me, a sign won't get you to
change your mind. A sign will only
set you to squabbling among yourselves as to what the sign means."
You see, for those who have met the risen Lord signs are superfluous; for
those who have yet to meet him, no sign is ever sign enough.
From time to time
people ask me if the resurrection of Jesus can be proved.
It can't. What's more, Jesus
himself has never wanted it proved. He
has always wanted followers, not detectives.
II: -- Then
what can be proved? What is
confirmed historically? History
confirms two facts.
of Nazareth landed himself in immense trouble with religious leaders.
He was labelled a false prophet. Since
"everyone" knew that the days of the prophets were past, anyone who
sounded like a prophet had to be false. Therefore
he was a false prophet.
He was a
blasphemer too. He appeared to speak
and act with the authority of God. When
he was pressed to deny that he did so, he refused to deny anything.
Anyone who claims to speak and act with the authority of God is a
He was a seducer of
the common people. The
ne'er-do-wells, the amoral, the irreligious -- he drew them all to himself
instead of sending them back to the pseudo-wisdom of the self-important and
Not surprisingly, he
was disposed of at the city garbage dump where the Roman executioner kept a
This is fact one.
Thirty year-old upstart lands himself in trouble with religious officials
who then ask civil authorities to execute him.
two. His former followers, who had
misunderstood him over and over and who had finally forsaken him and written off
their time with him as embarrassing naiveness; his former followers began
announcing zealously that he was alive. They
were convinced he was alive, they said, simply because they had met him.
Therefore they would no more think of trying to prove he was alive than
you would try to prove me alive when you meet me at the door of the church after
the service. No longer regarding him
as deluded and themselves as naive, they worshipped him as Lord – he hadn’t
been blasphemous after all when claimed to be the Son of God – and they
insisted that with him a new age had dawned, the dawn of the “Age-to Come.”
History confirms that
he died. History confirms that his
former followers declared him to be alive, and declared him to be exalted as
Lord of the entire creation.
"But wasn't the
tomb empty?” someone asks. If you
were an ordinary citizen of
To be sure, early-day
Christians insisted that the tomb was empty.
Nevertheless, no early-day Christian believed upon Jesus risen because
of an empty tomb. Early-day
Christians believed upon Jesus risen because the living Lord Jesus himself had
seized them and convinced them that he was alive and was in fact the very one
they had seen crucified. This is the
only reason anyone believed in the resurrection of Jesus then; it's the only
reason anyone believes in the resurrection now.
The apostle Paul
didn't make a trip to the
III: -- Let us be clear about something
crucial. Romantics may tell us that
Mozart "lives on" in his music and Shakespeare "lives on" in
his plays and Martin Luther King Jr. "lives on" in the cause of
justice for Afro-American people. But
romantic talk is entirely inappropriate for Jesus.
Jesus does not "live on" in his disciples.
Jesus lives himself. Period.
And because he lives himself, he directs and sustains and empowers his
own cause throughout the world.
No early-day Christian
remembered Jesus. Do you understand
the force of this? No early-day
Christian recalled Jesus. We
remember or recall only those who have departed.
We recognize those who are
alive in our midst. Christians have
always recognized Jesus. We meet him
and adore him, hear him and cherish him, embrace him and obey him. We
do. So did our ancestors before us.
What did it mean for them?
ancestors in faith revelled in their conviction that death had been conquered;
not cancelled, but conquered. The
difference is crucial. On my first
pastoral appointment I sat with a woman who was most distressed at her 65 year
old sister's terminal illness. "If
only Emma could be cured", she kept saying, "if only a miracle would
occur". Gently, as gently as I
could, I pointed out that if Emma's terminal illness were reversed now, she
would still have to die later. In
other words, if she didn't die at 65 she would still have to die at 69 or 72 or
81. If for some reason she came back
to health at 65, then death had been cancelled at least for the moment; i.e.,
But to say that death
has been conquered is to say that death has been stripped of its power.
On the day when the Lord was raised from the dead and death was stripped
of its power, his people -- you and I -- became gloriously free.
The writer of Hebrew insists that Jesus Christ has "destroyed the
power of death and has delivered – freed – all who through fear of death
were subject to lifelong bondage." (Hebrews 2:15)
Sigmund Freud maintained that no human being could honestly face the
prospect of dying, and therefore all human beings were unconsciously controlled
by fear of death. But Christians
aren’t determined and governed by their fear of death; Christians are
determined and governed by the risen one who has freed us from that bondage in
which the fear of death imprisons people and manipulates them.
Because the Christian
is freed from the power of death and therein from the bondage arising from the
fear of death, the Christian is free to give her life away.
The Christian is free to risk himself on behalf of the one who risked
everything for the people he loved. And
since the world-at-large unconsciously tries to protect itself against death by
piling up things and fortunes and reputations and rewards, the Christian is
gloriously freed from preoccupation with things and fortunes and reputations and
rewards. Because death is now
stripped of all power to dislodge us from our security in Christ, we are freed
from having to pursue the false securities, abysmal insecurities, of money and
fame and mastery. We are free to
give ourselves away.
resurrection meant something more to our ancestors in faith.
It meant that God guarantees the effectiveness, the triumph, of all
cross-bearing. When Jesus died on
Black Friday, his followers had concluded that his cross meant one thing: his
suffering was utterly disastrous and completely useless.
But when God raised him from the dead, they knew something else: God had
vindicated Christ's suffering and now advertised it as victorious.
The resurrection of Jesus – and only his resurrection – turned Black
Friday into Good Friday, “God’s Friday.” Resurrection means that our
Lord's cross-bearing has triumphed: atonement has been made for the sins of the
world. If his cross-bearing has
triumphed, ours always will too; ours will always be effective.
guarantees the effectiveness, the triumph of whatever cross we take up for him
and for his work and for his people. Resurrection
doesn't mean that cross-bearing can now be stepped around; it doesn't mean that
what we used to call "cross-bearing" is now no more than a minor
nuisance. Resurrection means
something entirely different: the crosses we take up anywhere in life,
everywhere in life, will always yield fruit of some kind.
The crosses we shoulder are gathered up in that one cross which includes
them all. And they will all be
rendered fruitful by the power of that resurrection which made our Lord's
For this reason my
mother spent years patiently assisting young girls who had been sent to an
institution when their parents no longer wanted them or couldn’t look after
them. The girls, aged 8 to 16, were
ill-behaved, devious, frequently mean-spirited, and of course psychologically
stressed. On one occasion they
harmed my mother physically. I
suspect that more than a few grew up to be psychopaths.
Yet my mother always knew that what she endured from those girls for the
few years of their lives she was in touch with them would bear some fruit which
she could leave with God.
For this reason my
late father went to the Fort Saskatchewan Penitentiary every single Sunday
afternoon for as long as he lived in
The sacrifices we make
right now for the sake of the kingdom; likely only we are aware of them, and it
would be both poor taste and unbiblical blabbing to speak too much about them.
And of course there are days when we resent the pressure of the wood and
wish we could ditch this cross plus so many others.
Of course there are such days; after all, Jesus wasn't grinning on
our ancestors in faith knew that because Christ had been raised from the dead
and now lived and ruled in their midst, he would always use them, honour their
discipleship, empower their testimony, regardless of how badly they had failed
him in the past or might fail him in the future.
The Bible is an agonizingly honest book.
It portrays God's people with all their defects.
There’s no cosmetic cover-up to make God's people look good.
Peter denies. David murders.
Moses rages. James and John
think they are going to get positions of privilege in the kingdom.
With shocking insensitivity born of selfishness the disciples squabble
among themselves over who is going to look best precisely when Jesus is at his
It's no wonder that on
several occasions Jesus sighs with exasperation and addresses the disciples,
"O you midgets of midget faith!" Yet
because Jesus Christ is alive and honours the mission his people take up in his
name, it is we, people of midget faith, fumbling faith, stumbling,
bumbling, falling down faith; we are the ones he will ever use.
everything we find amazing in life what’s most amazing, unquestionably, is the
humility, patience and helpfulness of our Lord who continues to deem us
indispensable and honour our work as only he can.
We are people of little faith;
yet little-faith-people are the only people he has.
Then we his followers are the very people whose service he will magnify
in a manner as wonderful as it is unforeseeable.
I don't need any proof of all this.
I am as confident
about it as were my foreparents in faith, and for precisely the same reason.
He who was raised from the dead overtook them not once but many times.
As often as he did he reconfirmed himself as living, as lordly, as
He has done as much to me. As much, I trust, as he has done to you.