Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

Welcome to Easter week! The season where we Americans buy and eat a ton of candy, decorate and find Easter eggs (isn't it weird that a bunny makes all kinds of eggs?!?), take pictures with a person in a often times creepy human sized Easter bunny costume, and where over a billion people celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. 

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All of that seems kinda strange, right? And I'm not only talking about our American Easter traditions. It is strange that a man was dead for a few days and then became alive again. And by strange, I mean unusual. That is kind of an understatement. I've never heard of another person being killed by professional executioners and then put in a tomb for days and then coming back to life. Have you? I've never seen a resurrection. So when I hear people who're skeptical, I can be quite empathic. 

Pastor and author Tim Keller lives in New York City. Because he lives in one of the most skeptical cities in the U.S., he hears from a fair share of people who have a hard time with the claims of Jesus coming back to life. He writes in his book, The Reason for God:

"Sometimes people approach me and say, 'I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.' I usually respond: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” 

And it is not just Keller who argues the lynchpin of the Christian faith is the resurrection, even one of the main authors of the Bible says the same thing. 

And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. - Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

Strong words from one of the authors of the Bible right?!? IF Jesus has not been raised, then it all falls apart and Christians should be pitted like no other. 

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So let's look at a few historical events that support and give evidence that Jesus actually DID rise from the grave. Despite how ridiculous it might seem, the empty tomb is the best explanation for 1) The disciples' changed lives and 2) The change in worship for thousands of first century Jews.

First, let's look at the disciples (the twelve, mostly blue-collar, normal Joe's who followed Jesus for three years during his ministry before he was crucified). Before Jesus' resurrection we see them act like this: 

“Then all the disciples left him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56). Peter denies Jesus three times, once even to a slave girl. “Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed.” (Matthew 26:74). After Jesus’ death, they were cowering in a locked room, terrified that the Jewish religious rulers would come after them next. 

But something happened that changed this bunch of terrified cowards who feared for their lives into nearly unrecognizable people. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders’ (the same people that they were hiding from)...Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” - Acts 4:8, 13. 

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Tradition also teaches that all the disciples  were martyred, minus Judas the betrayer. (The authorities tried to kill the disciple John by boiling him alive but he survived and so instead they exiled him to an island for the rest of his life.) They were killed in horrific ways because they wouldn't stop telling the world that Jesus was alive! The resurrection had changed them from terrified cowards into fearless martyrs! People tend to not die for something they know is a lie, especially when they get nothing good out of it (only poverty, persecution, imprisonment, and death).

Not only were the disciples' lives changed but worship completely changed for thousands of first century Jews. Now this might not sound like a big deal. "Hey, I've switched churches throughout my life or changed my views on religion and doctrine," you might say. But let's look at what would have to happen for thousands and thousands of first century Jews to change how they worshiped the LORD. 

First, worship was no longer on the Sabbath. The first Christians didn't observe the Sabbath. This is a BIG deal. According to the law, if you desecrate the Sabbath, you get stoned (and I don't mean the Cheech and Chong kind of stoned). If you work on the Sabbath, you get cut off from the Jewish nation. Capital Punishment AND being excommunicated from your family and people is a BIG deal! Yet the early Christians intentionally chose to stop observing the Sabbath and to worship Jesus on a new day (Sunday). 

Second, there was no longer a physical temple, priest, or sacrifice needed to worship God. For over a thousand years the Jewish people worshiped God in a certain way. But after Jesus' death and resurrection, something big changed. Jesus himself was the fulfillment of the temple, the priesthood, and was the ultimate and final sacrifice for forgiveness of sins. 

The third way that worship changed was Gentiles (any ethnicity, race, or nationality that wasn't Jewish) were now fully included. Again, for over a thousand years Gentiles were not fully included. Even if a Gentile converted to Judaism, they were still an outsider (think things like having their own outer court in the temple and not being able to fully participate in worship as the ethnic Jews were). 

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Fourth, the church was founded around two sacraments (acts that were performed over and over again to demonstrate and remember something): baptism and the Lord's Supper/Communion. Both of these sacraments are symbolic of Jesus's death and resurrection. So the acts that the church gathered around on a consistent basis were based on their belief that Jesus DID rise from the grave. 

Fifth and finally, they worshiped a man. Almost no one argues that there wasn't a real human named Jesus who lived in the first century. Whether or not he was God is obviously debated but very few think that he wasn't a real man. Now whether or not you know much about Judaism, one main rule is you can only worship God. Not idols. Not statues. Not multiple gods. And especially NOT humans. But what happens just days after Jesus' death? Thousands of Jews start worshiping a MAN. Why would they risk their eternal punishment in Hell by breaking the number one rule in Judaism? Because they believed that Jesus wasn't just a man (although he was fully man) but that he was also fully God himself. They believed he was who he said he was, the Son of God who added humanity to his divinity so that he could die the death that we deserved and in our place. 

So the disciples risked execution, excommunication from their family, being traitors to their religion and nation, and eternity in hell. And like we said before, they all got nothing earthly out of it besides pain, suffering, and execution. Something must have happened. People don't just risk all of that and go through all of that unless something truly impossible happened. 

On Sunday morning, the Son of God rose from the grave. He defeated death, proving he was God incarnate, worthy of worship and allegiance. He changed the lives of a few thousand people in the Ancient Near East, who in turn literally changed the world. What can account for all of this? The answer is the resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ. 

The original hearers knew that if the resurrection "was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.” -Tim Keller. 

Jesus invites us to believe this Easter: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?”  - John 11:25-26 

SPENCER PETERSON/COMMUNITY LIFE PASTOR

 

Jesus in Numbers

Depressing and hopeful

The book of Numbers would be an incredibly depressing book if not for the thrilling notes of grace and mercy woven within and throughout it. Numbers follows the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, a forty year trek that would test their dependence and trust in the God who had broken their chains of slavery in Egypt and miraculously delivered them through water to freedom. Spoiler alert: They fail this test. Repeatedly.

Despite their inclination towards wandering (both literally and metaphorically), God shows up again and again, telling his own story of his love, his justice, his mercy, and — if you look hard enough — glimpses of his future one-and-done act of chain breaking deliverance that would happen through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The intercessor

Jesus is all over the Old Testament, and the book of Numbers is no exception. From Exodus through Deuteronomy, we see Moses (the man God chose to lead the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to the promised land of milk and honey in Canaan) standing as an intercessor between God and the sinful Israelites. In Numbers, we see the group set out from Sinai (ch. 10), where they received the law, and literally one chapter later they begin to complain about the journey. God’s anger is kindled, and Moses steps in, prays for them, and turns God’s wrath away. We see this again and again, to the point where Moses was overwhelmed with his calling and cries out to God that the burden of carrying the cries of the Israelites is too much for him (11:14). We see him pray for the very people that are actively working against God’s great work in verses like 12:13, 14:5, and 16:22. 

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In Moses’s continual acts of intercession, we see a beautiful picture of Jesus’s greater act of intercession for all people, not just the Israelites. In chapter 20, however, we see where the life and intercession of Moses gives way, moving God’s story forward to the need for a greater intercessor. The people are grumbling, again, because they are running out of water. God tells Moses to take his staff and tell the rock that was near them to yield water for his people. In his anger and impatience, Moses yells at the Israelites, striking the rock with his staff twice. The very man who carried the law down the mountain crumbled under the weight of it. Because of this act, God tells him that he would not be the one to lead the Israelites into the promised land. It would be Caleb and Joshua, his assistant that trusted God in a time of uncertainty (13:30), that would bring the people into Canaan. The Apostle Paul tells us that the rock that Moses struck was Jesus himself (1 Corinthians 10:4), and it would be Jesus who would do the great and final act of intercession for us. Whereas Moses carried the law down the mountain, Jesus would carry it back up in the form of the cross where he would die a terrible death, irrevocably and unequivocally ending the curse that had burdened his people since humanity’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Whereas Moses was overwhelmed with the burden of this one group of people, Jesus takes the burden of all people onto his shoulders alone on the cross. He bore the full brunt of our sinful lives, absorbing the wrath that Moses plead for God to turn away. Whereas Moses, and the law he represented, was not able to lead the Israelites into the promised land, Jesus leads us triumphantly into our promised land, our eternity with him.


To kill or be killed? Both! 

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We see a glimpse of the brutality of this act in Numbers as well, in the odd and ruthless story of Phineas and the spear in 25:1-9. The people had rebelled against God again, offering sacrifices to the Moab god Baal and marrying their women. God’s anger was kindled, and a plague began to ravage the Israelites. God had told Moses to, in no uncertain terms, end this by killing the men “who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” One man stood in front of Moses, weeping, with a Midianite woman standing behind him, no doubt begging to avoid this. Phineas, who was a son of Aaron and therefore a priest of the Tabernacle, saw this and “took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel in the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly.” The plague stopped after this all took place.

In Jesus, we have a high priest that deals the final blow to sin to stop our plague of death with a thrust of a spear. Yet Jesus is also the one that takes that final death blow, a spear to the side while hanging on the cross. Though he is the only innocent one, it is his untimely and gruesome death that turns God’s wrath away once for all.


The gospel beforehand

Numbers is ripe with glimpses of the gospel, if only you look for it. I encourage you to read (or re-read) this beautiful book with it in mind, seeing yourself, as I do, in the annoyingly wayward Israelites, but also seeing the beautiful movements and whispers of grace, trustworthiness, and love that God breathes out again and again, first through his servant Moses, but ultimately through his Son Jesus Christ.

LAURA RINAS / GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

The Introverted Christian

As far back as I can remember, I have always loved people. Or at least, the “idea” of people. This may seem horrific to some of my more extroverted friends, but I could happily go sit in the middle of the Mall of America for hours, by myself, contentedly watching strangers pass by me with their families. There is a certain beauty in how people interact with each other, and I consider it a great honor to see it unfold. I just don’t want to be a part of it.

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My inclination towards introversion, coupled with depression and social anxiety, makes pushing into community, in any capacity, a very real struggle for me. In a culture that is driven by this weird dichotomy of seeming connected to everyone but also being driven forward by a fierce independence makes what is already an incredibly hard struggle even murkier. Where do we, as Christians, draw the line between what feels right and good about our social interactions and what might feel uncomfortable? How do we balance, as introverts, our real and very necessary need for solitude with the need for community?

To make this less confusing, let’s look at our Truth first. Where does the Bible say we should land on this scale? The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, gives us a beautiful image of who we are in the context of a body of believers. Let’s read through 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 21-27.

[12] For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. [13] For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit…

[21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” [22] On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, [23] and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, [24] which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, [25] that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. [26] If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

[27] Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Regardless of how we feel, Paul is saying that we are part of a body. And, as it goes in our own bodies, we not only play a vital role in the growth of the church, but we are also very much dependent on the other parts of the body for our own growth. The beauty of Christ’s body, the church, is that, though we may all be very different (by race, spiritual giftings, political standings, spiritual maturity, etc), we are one body, drinking from the same cup.

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For a long time, I did not think of church as a priority. I fell into the temptation of spreading my introverted inclinations over and on top of my need for Christian fellowship. I had Jesus, and that was enough. Despite my isolated efforts, however, my faith waned and I slowly grew less dependent on Christ as my Savior. I had no one to check my spiritual blind spots, and, not surprisingly, my reflex tended to dismiss and excuse my own sins. As I grew more independent in life, I grew more independent in my faith. As Paul puts it here, I was an eye, thinking that what it could see was all there was. I was an eye who forgot that the things that she saw would be so much richer if I had the sense of touch the fingers provided, or the sense of smell the nose provided, or the gift of hearing the ears provided. Instead, I accepted this incomplete picture as the whole, and suffered greatly for it.

When my family moved to Minneapolis and eventually found our church almost three years ago, I went through a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. I was suddenly surrounded by people who wanted, and some who just expected, to be a part of our lives. It was jarring and uncomfortable, and yet we kept coming back. We felt more at home, sitting there in the back pew, casting our eyes down at the floor during that horrific “WHY DON’T YOU SAY HI TO YOUR NEIGHBOR” time, than we had anywhere else. Something about the very real presence of the heartbeat of community drew us in, despite our knee-jerk reflex to pull our hands away. I understand now that the heartbeat that drew us in was the undeniable life-giving push and pull of the gospel that is repeated every Sunday. The heartbeat of Christ’s death and resurrection is the steady rhythm that calls to our very bones and reminds them whose and what they are. As Paul says in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ.” Through God’s great mercy, we are enveloped in the safety of Christ’s body. And it’s his heartbeat, his work, that pushes life into every limb.

With this great truth, however, comes another. As Paul says in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” As Christ’s body was sacrificed for the good of all, we must be ready and willing to offer our lives as a living sacrifice for God’s great glory. I do not deny that pushing into community feels sacrificial at times. I often come home from our gatherings and collapse on the couch, weary from head to toe from social aspect of it. I still seek times and places of solitude to recharge. And yet, I have never experienced the growth, in both faith and maturity, that has come from God working through the church body. I have come to know God more deeply than I could have ever hoped to on my own. The picture would have never been more than that, a picture, a single capture, instead of a living, breathing, redeeming broken-but-whole body that IS Jesus in the Church. I experience God’s truth, God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s mercy through the arms and words of the people that are in this body with me. It is, surely, a wonderful, tiring, blessed thing to behold.

So I encourage you, if you are unsure about the role of community, or perhaps very sure about its role (which is not in your life, thank-you-very-much), to push into what God says about you in his Word. Acknowledge that He who created you knows who you are, and what you need, and has provided that for you. And I can say from experience, the church is a great place to start.

LAURA RINAS / GUEST CONTRIBUTOR