Mt 28; Mk 16; Lk 24; Jn 20; Rom 6:4-6; 1 Cor 15
He Is Risen. This week’s lesson focuses on the Resurrection, the central pillar in the Christian faith. As Paul put it in his famous resurrection chapter, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor.15:19, NRSV).
Discussion questions and themes
- Hard proof, or trust in the witnesses? There are plenty of skeptics in the world who claim that the resurrection of Jesus was a fabrication by his followers. How does our trust in Jesus’ resurrection give us hope for the future? Perhaps Christians have been too eager to search out “proof” to silence the critics rather than simply rely on the trustworthy witnesses. In the New Testament, three key passages testify to the nature of the evidence.
- 1 Cor. 15:3-11. Paul ticks off the key witnesses to the resurrection: Cephas, the twelve, the five hundred, James, all the apostles, and “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (15:8).
- 1 John 1:1-4. John’s first epistle begins with a testimony to the power of the witnesses: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1:1).
- Rom. 8:24-25. Paul affirms that hope is not something that can be proven. Though he is not speaking specifically of resurrection, he is talking about redemption: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
- The empty tomb and the touch. All the Gospel accounts describe the Resurrection in terms of God’s great act for His people. And after Jesus’ appearance in the upper room, all the disciples were convinced except Thomas. When Thomas did appear, Jesus offered him the touch test: ”Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side” (Jn 20:27).Question: Why do moderns find it so difficult to accept the testimony of the witnesses?
- The centrality of the resurrection: modern testimony. C. S. Lewis was someone who came to belief after a long and tortuous search. For him, the resurrection of Jesus was central to his faith and the resurrection hope was one that he also cherished. Here are key quotations. the first one has already been quoted in Lesson 5:
The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had–and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a “great man,” but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The “Gospels” come later, and were written, not to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made. – The Screwtape Letters (1961), ch. 23, para. 3.
The next two quotes are from Lewis’s Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (1963) and focus more on the mysterious nature of our future existence, but still root it solidly in what we now know and experience:
What the soul cries out for is the resurrection of the senses. – Letters to Malcolm, ch. 22, par. 13.
Then the new earth and sky, the same yet not the same as these, will rise in us as we have risen in Christ. And once again, after who knows what aeons of the silence and the dark, the birds will sing and the waters flow, and light and shadows move across the hills, and the faces of our friends laugh upon us with amazed recognition.
Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be. For ‘we know that we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’ [1 Jn. 3:2]. – Letters to Malcolm, ch. 22, para. 21-22.
Lewis to the modern skeptics: The earthier, more concrete form of Lewis’ faith is confirmed in this comment from the same chapter in Letters to Malcolm. Commenting to Malcolm, his conversation partner in the book, Lewis says:
By the way, did you ever meet, or hear of, anyone who was converted from scepticism to a “liberal” or “demythologised” Christianity? I think that when unbelievers come in at all they come in a good deal further. – Letters, ch. 22, par. 5
The non-believer’s view of death and the afterlife: The Christian should be aware of how death is viewed by those who have no resurrection hope. Here are some quotes from 20 th century authors, indicating how they see death:
Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms (Harper, 1993), xiii: “The mind in harmony with the way things are sees that this is a good world, that life is good and death is good.”
Deepak Chopra, via Time, June 24, 1996, p. 68: “Ultimately Chopra claims, we could undo the effects of aging, happily and healthily attaining a life of 130. Death should hold little fear, since we understand that in our essential identify – as parts of that universal field – we are immortal.”
Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety (1987), pp. 292-93, speaking through Charity, a young mother dying of cancer, then through Larry, a long-time family friend:
[Charity]: “It’s as natural as being born,” she said “and even if we stop being the individuals we once were, there’s an immortality of organic molecules that’s absolutely certain. Don’t you find that a wonderful comfort? I do. To think that we’ll become part of the grass and trees and animals, that we’ll stay right here where we loved it while we were alive. People will drink us with their morning milk and pour us as maple syrup over their breakfast pancakes. So I say we should be happy and grateful and make the most of it. I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve loved every minute.”
[Larry]: “A monarch butterfly caught in the draft was lifted twenty feet over our heads. I saw Sid look away from Charity’s unsteadily insistent glance to follow the Monarch’s movement. Perhaps he was fantasizing, as I was, that there went part of what had once been the mortal substance of Aunt Emily or George Barnwell or Uncle Dwight, absorbed by the root of a beech tree in the village cemetery, incorporated into a beechnut, eaten by a squirrel, dropped as a pellet in a meadow, converted into a milkweed stalk, nibbled and taken in by this butterfly, destined to be carried south on a long, unlikely, interrupted migration, to be picked off by a flycatcher, brought back north in the spring as other flesh, laid in an egg, eaten by a robbing jay and laid as another kind of egg, blown out of a tree in a windstorm, soaked up by the earth, extruded as grass, eaten by a freshening heifer, some of it foreordained to be drunk as Charity said, by its own descendants with their breakfasts, some of it deposited in cowpads, to melt into the earth yet again, and thrust upward again, immortal, in another milkweed stalk preparing itself to feed more Monarch butterflies.”
Summary question: How can believers make the resurrection hope attractive to those who have rejected the possibility of divine intervention in our world? How does one come to trust in the witnesses who described what they had seen with their eyes and touched with their hands?