April 9, 2024

Resurrection and the Calendar of Life

We have just celebrated Easter in our Western calendar. Calendars are important across the world because they punctuate time, its meaning and significance. For this reason, we celebrate things like birthdays and have special days of remembrance. Easter is one of those times of celebration and remembrance. But what exactly does it all signify?

Most people are still aware that about 2000 years ago in the area of the Middle East called Israel, a man named Jesus was born. Several independent ancient witnesses tell us he lived a short life in which for a few years he taught about knowing God and the true meaning of life.  According to those witnesses he healed many sick, disabled, blind and deaf and even raised the dead. For claiming to be equal with God he was executed by crucifixion on a Friday, was buried and according to the ancient witness of the Gospel writers was raised to life on the first day of the week (Sunday). On what we call Ascension Day he was taken up into heaven where, as Son of God, both God and man, he rules and reigns. We call these and other days of celebration, the Christian calendar.  Even famous atheist Richard Dawkins wants to identify with this cultural structure and now calls himself a cultural Christian!

From a small number of followers of Jesus, the news of this man who claimed to be one with God spread everywhere transforming the entire pagan Roman Empire. The followers of Christ were called Christians and the Good News about him came from the East to the land of Britain through the Romans in the 4th century A.D – a time our ancestors we were still drinking the blood of the dead and sacrificing children to pagan deities.  It spread rapidly from 597 A.D through the mission to England of Augustine of Canterbury who came from Europe with about 40 Christian missionaries to teach and share the Good News of Christ.

So transformative was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for people that it shattered our calendar into two halves, B.C (Before Christ) and A.D (Anno Domini), meaning the year of our Lord, changing for much of the world the meaning of history itself. That is why today you can go through Britain, Canada and the United States find in every town, hamlet and village tall church spires which symbolise the historic centre of meaning for a community. It is also why our head of state in Britain and Canada (king Charles) at his Coronation last year swore an oath to uphold the gospel of Jesus Christ and openly submitted to his Lordship.

It is not just the UK where people have just celebrated the resurrection. Over 100 million people in communist China where Christianity is supressed celebrated the resurrection. In fact, almost 2.4 billion people today call themselves Christian and believe Jesus rose from the dead – they are spread across Europe, the America’s, Asia Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. These social facts in themselves don’t prove the resurrection, but they certainly get our attention. How can a poor carpenter who taught for only three years, never travelled more than 200 miles from his own home, was rejected by his own people, never wrote a book nor appeared on TV, died as a criminal and had no natural children, have changed the world and have so many believe he is the resurrected Lord and Son of God 2000 years later?

The bible calls the resurrection a sign. Signposts grab our attention to give directions and the miracles of Jesus – most especially the testimony to the resurrection – grabs our attention!  The event of Christ’s resurrection itself is offered as the great sign and a special kind of proof that the good news about Jesus is real and relevant to us all: that he really is God in human form, died for our sin and evil ways, was raised to life to rescue us from death and a meaningless and empty way of life, and opens the way to know relationship with God forever. That is why it’s called “Good News.” I don’t prove the proof, or it wouldn’t be the proof. But the sign captures our attention and points the way.

All of us look at life and the world with a certain set of beliefs and assumptions – with a certain set of lenses. We all understand the ‘calendar of life’ in terms of a big story we believe about the world. Some believe that all human beings are is cosmic stardust and that we got here from the goo, through the zoo to you – it all eventually ends in heat death for the cosmos and oblivion. We all must answer the question of the meaning of life and address the inevitability of death. For death is the ultimate statistic – 1 out of 1 die!  The English poet Steve Turner writes:

The really worrying this about death

Is that all major religions agree on it

All beliefs take you there

All philosophy bows before it

All arguments end there

Governments can’t ban it

Or the army diffuse it

Judges can’t fail it

Lawyers can’t sue it

Scientists can’t quell it

Nor can they disprove it

Doctors can’t cure it

Surgeons can’t move it

Einstein can’t halve it

Guevara can’t free it

The thing about dead

Is we’re all gonna be it!

Yet the testimony of God through his Word and people down the centuries assures us that death has admitted of one true exception. One grave is totally unique and can transform both our life and death – that one day we can in fact follow Christ out of the grave – that he has defeated death as one defeats an enemy. This is why the English philosophy professor Cyril Joad once said, “The most important question in the world is, did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?”

Through its witness to the resurrection, our own calendar binds us to the claim of the scriptures.  And four, well attested historical events, admitted by the vast majority of New Testament scholars (even those who are not Christians) continue to confront us. Five independent witnesses in reliable ancient sources preserved for twenty centuries tell us of:

  1. The burial of Jesus
  2. The empty tomb of Jesus
  3. Reports of after-death appearances of Jesus
  4. The belief in the resurrection of the first disciples leading to the birth of the church and expansion of Christianity.

These facts are as historically certain as the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. However, when we ask what is the best explanation for these events we must decide between it being a fanciful tale/conspiracy of the disciples, a widespread delusion or the actual truth. Our answer is not determined by our grasp of history to which we have no direct access, but by our assumptions and presuppositions about what is possible or not and the status of God’s revealed Word. Our moral attitude toward God also plays a central part in what we are prepared to accept. 

When the women came to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus he was not there. An Angel said to them:

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” …“He is not here, but He has been resurrected! (Luke 24:5-6)

When St. Paul was sharing this good news with King Agrippa while on trial, he asks the all-important question:

“Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8)

If God is real as the scriptures make clear, then God can raise the dead. In addition, the resurrection of Jesus is then the final proof of the truth of his life’s work and message, to save us from our sins and restore us to relationship with God.  Critically, if Christ is indeed alive, as he truly is, then you can know him. The calendar of your life has real meaning and you and I may become one of a great family across the earth that knows Jesus Christ is alive.

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