Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Apostles or apostates

I had a chat with a man a couple of weeks ago on the subject of the resurrection of Christ. It was one of those conversations that left me frustrated at people's lack of willingness to go where the evidence points, but so encouraged by seeing how weak their arguments are against the evidence.

He acknowledged that there was a man called Jesus who was crucified, not that he is making any great concession, it is about as historically certain as anything in the past. I asked him to explain the disciples' proclaiming Him to be risen from the dead. His first attempted explanation was that they made the story up to perpetuate the teaching of their Master.

But this is an utterly inadequate effort at an explanation - first of all, there was no need to invent a resurrection story to keep the teachings of their Leader alive - they could have just said He was a wise teacher with good ideas and the Romans killed Him, but here's what He taught.

Secondly, the disciples weren't primarily interested in passing on His teachings, they were interested in proclaiming who He was and what He had done - their message was that He was the only Saviour, and He had offered the necessary and sufficient sacrifice for sin. They weren't seeking to get people to subscribe to a way of life, but were telling people that this person was their only hope for acceptance with God.

Thirdly, and most critically, these disciples were proclaiming Jesus Christ to be the divine Son of God, worthy of worship, the fulfilment of the Jewish ceremonial law, the end of all the sacrifices, and that faith in Him alone is enough for the removal of our guilt before God. Now think of what that all entails for a first century Jew - worshipping as God a man who had been crucified, proclaiming a false Messiah, abandoning a God-given system of rituals and ceremonies which all were essential for their covenant relationship with God, putting their trust alone for salvation in that man who had been nailed to the cross. If the disciples made this up then they were willingly and deliberately severing themselves from the chosen people and from God. They made up a story that got them into a whole mess of trouble with the Jewish and Roman authorities but they also made up a story that would have got them into a whole heap of trouble with God. In short, if they made this up then they were not apostles sent by the risen Christ, but they were apostates.

I asked the man with whom I was speaking if he thought that was really a credible explanation - did these men invent a story that would incur the wrath of men and the wrath of God. Were they really seeking to lead people into idolatry by telling them Jesus Christ was divine and worthy of worship? Were these men that cruel and cunning and stupid (they gained nothing from it, and lost everything)?

At this point he changed tack and said they really believed it. I asked him how they could have been mistaken. They were not saying that one dark night they saw in the distance someone who was the same height and build as Jesus of Nazareth and they think He's alive. They were saying that over a period of 40 days they were in His company, eating with Him, handling Him, listening to Him, following Him. Luke's word is that He showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs (Acts 1 v 3). How can you be mistaken about that kind of thing?

He then jumped back to his first point again and said they made it up. Oh! I said, So they are liars and apostates after all? He was like a man at sea and both his boats were sinking, and he was jumping from one to the other. He then told me he didn't have all the facts but he had 37 years of experience and common sense and he's not stupid - people don't rise from the dead.

Well, of course, if people were rising from the dead all over the place it wouldn't be much of a vindication of Christ would it? But there it is, this is the best not just from my friend I as talking to, but from atheistic scholars - "I don't know what happened, but I know He didn't rise from the dead!"

But it's the only explanation that fits the facts. The relevance is two-fold - if He rose from the dead then you must be saved - it shows that the God revealed by Jesus Christ is real, that there is judgment to come for sinners, that there is hell to pay for sin. But it also shows that you may be saved - Christ died for our sins, and the resurrection proves He paid for them in full, providing salvation for all, and granting it to all that turn to Him in repentance.