Seven years ago a film was released about Jesus called The Miracle Maker. After seeing Jesus’ baptism, miracles, and parables, we’re taken to Gethsemane, Calvary and then the tomb. Once the tomb is shut, we see Mary Magdalene sitting on the floor, weeping inconsolably. As the camera pans away from her tear‑stained face, behind her is a man with his hand on her shoulder. Only his white robes and his sandals are visible, his face is yet to be revealed.
I’m sure you know who that man is. But when my wife watched that film in the cinema, there was at least one little girl who apparently did not know what was about to happen. As she watched the camera pull away from Mary, the man behind was revealed. The little girl could contain her excitement no longer: ‘Mum’, she shouted out for all the cinema to hear, ‘It’s him! He’s alive!’ That little girl discovered for the first time something that most of us have long forgotten. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is astonishing, and it changes everything.
The necessity of the resurrection
Imagine a good book where just a few pages from the start a terrible enemy is introduced with devastating consequences. As you continue to read, the enemy is always there in the background; indeed he permeates the entire book. The drama lies not in the inevitable defeat of the enemy, but in the fact that you’ve not the slightest clue how victory is to be achieved. That’s exactly what happens in the Bible. In the early chapters a terrible enemy is introduced. One writer describes it as:
…the greatest of humankind’s enemies, a relentless Grim Reaper that shows not respect for age or wealth. It robs parents of a precious child, leaving them to mourn their loss for the rest of their lives. It deprives wives and children of their breadwinner and protector, leaving them vulnerable in a hostile world. It takes away the ageing spouse, leaving a grey-haired senior citizen without a lifelong companion and closest friend. Sometimes it arrives suddenly and unannounced; at other times it approaches slowly, as if stalking to taunt its helpless victim. Sometimes it hauls away its victims en masse; on other occasions it targets individuals. It uses a variety of methods and weapons, but only rarely does it capture its prey without inflicting pain and terror. Power, beauty and wealth can usually overcome any obstacle, but against this enemy, they meet their match.1
The enemy of course, is death.
In Genesis 1 (before the first sin), almost every paragraph ends with these words: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ What difference does Adam’s sin make? Genesis 5:5 tells us: ‘And then he died’. Verse 8: ‘And then he died’. Verse 11: ‘And then he died’. Verse 14, verse 17, verse 20, verse 27, verse 31, ‘And then he died’, ‘And then he died’.
That should kick us in the stomach! Surely it is not possible for the Bible story to end satisfactorily unless this great enemy is to be defeated? If God cannot defeat death, then He is not God at all. This is how one theologian puts it:
It was this intruder, death itself, that had to be defeated. To allow death to have its way —to sign up, as it were, to some kind of compromise agreement whereby death took human bodies, but the creator was allowed to keep human souls—was no solution.2
The scandal of the resurrection
For the Jews, the resurrection of Jesus was a scandal of immense proportions. They could not believe that their Messiah could die. The Greeks and Romans had the opposite problem. They could not believe that a Son of God would want to be resurrected—many of them thought that men’s hope lay in escaping their bodies through death and becoming a spiritual being like the gods. The Christian message of God becoming a man and having an everlasting resurrection body made no sense at all.
The idea of a resurrection was so shocking that it was impossible to ignore those who believed it. You either condemned them as madmen or heretics, or you joined them wholeheartedly. But if today you say you believe in the resurrection, few will call you a madman or a heretic.
Yet it is a scandal today to say that the resurrection actually matters. It is a scandal to claim that men and women should change the way they live because 2,000 years ago someone was raised from the dead. And it is certainly a scandal to say that the only hope of resurrection for men is found in the resurrection of Christ.
- Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Leicester: Inter-varsity Press, 1998), ed. by Leyland Ryken et. al., pg 198.
- The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), N T Wright, pp 727–8.
I’ll be posting more thoughts on the resurrection in the next few days
Articles in this series:
- It changes everything… <-- This article
- It changes everything… (part 2)