Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Great Resurrection Debate

“I am a Christian. I have served the Church for over 50 years. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his resurrection power.” Amen!, we would say. But, wait a minute. The person who said these words emphatically does not believe in the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus, nor does he think that the early disciples did either. They were so overwhelmed by the power of God that they made up a “resurrection myth” to talk about their departed Leader.

On March 20, 2005, the Church Communications Network (CCN) broadcasted a live debate between retired Bishop John Shelby Spong, who made the statements above, and Dr. William Lane Craig from Talbot Seminary on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why is this teaching so very important and vital to Christianity? Why are Bishop Spong’s words deceptively empty and misleading? Who cares, so long as we have an “experience” with God?

An “Experience” Is Not Enough
To some, the resurrection story was an invention of the early disciples. They needed a “living” Savior to excite people, so they made the story up. To others, the resurrection is a simple, child-like delusion. We end up believing what we want to believe, no matter whether it is factual or not. To yet others, the resurrection is a visionary experience of the power of God, the “ground of all Being.”

Many today claim to have experienced God in some way. From the New Age neighbor down the street, to the Muslim extremist killing “satanic” Americans for Allah, all claim to have “experienced” God. But their experience isn’t enough to solve their sin problems and get them into heaven to live in the presence of the real God.

Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:14ff: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead . . . If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile; you are still in your sins . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

Bodily Resurrection Is the Heart of the Gospel
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that the “gospel,” the Good News of deliverance and freedom and eternal life, is wrapped up in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. A New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, has shown that all Jewish instances of the term for “resurrection” specify a literal, physical resurrection, not a vague idea of afterlife.

In the debate, Dr. Craig made the observation that as most honest scholars have accepted the historical Jesus, so they have to admit to the physical, bodily resurrection of Him as well. There are too many resurrection witnesses listed in the New Testament records to believe otherwise. The early disciples made the resurrection of Jesus the centerpiece of their preaching, teaching, healing, acting and life-witness (cf. Acts 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; Gal. 1:1f; 1 Peter 1:18-21).

What’s At Stake?
So, what’s at stake in believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? First, God’s declaration of freedom from the eternal curse of sin and bestowal of true righteousness. Romans 4:25 says that Christ “was raised for our justification,” for our right-standing before God. Second, we need not fear death as our last enemy since Christ conquered death through his bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

Third, Christ’s resurrection gives us the power to live in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Fourth, we have a living, ascended Christ who now prays for us daily and constantly before the Father in heaven (Rom. 8:34). Fifth, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are guaranteed of our own future, bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 6:14).

Our life of freedom from sin now, and our hope for eternal life with Christ are founded upon the physical, literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on that first Easter Sunday.

Are you living in that freedom, that Easter power, that hope and that new life? Trust in the resurrected Jesus this Easter and for a lifetime!