Monday, April 16, 2007

Talk 3: Raised from the Dead

First, we had the Da Vinci Code, which claimed that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, fathered a daughter by her, and that Mary escaped with the daughter to France where she established a royal blood-line. We were told by author Dan Brown that all this was carefully researched and based on established historical fact. There was no difficulty showing people how ludicrous these claims were, although it took rather a long time to do it. Recently, we have had the claim, on the Discovery Channel no less, that the tomb of Jesus has been found, and he had been buried with Mary Magdalene and his son together with other family members in Jerusalem. Fortunately, there was not only no difficulty showing how ludicrous these claims were, it also took rather less time. It would seem that a Mary Magdalene who escaped alive from Jerusalem with a daughter was more attractive to the public than a dead one with a son!

Why do people, often intelligent people, insist on making these claims and why are so many people interested and taken in by them? Well, there is money to be made and publicity to be had for one thing. Jesus still haunts our culture and people are still fascinated by him even if they do not want to worship him or follow him. They may have lost interest in the Church, but there remains a residual interest in Jesus.

We are also frightened by him. For if the Gospel writers are to be believed, this Jesus was no mere mortal. He was the divine Son of God sent by God to a world that had lost sight of its creator and had fallen into error and idolatry. The Gospels claim he was not just another teacher, prophet, or leader, but the way the truth and the life. The One who was sent to save us from the mess we had made of things through our stupidity and wrongdoing.

But that would mean admitting that we are not nearly so clever as we like to think we are, that as a human race we had got it terribly wrong and needed help. As any counsellor will tell you it can be very hard to get people who need help to admit it. We are proud people and like to think we need no help. We hide our need for help from even ourselves. So we try to domesticate Jesus. We can’t simply ignore him: his call is too persistent and his personality too compelling.

So we say he was a good man nothing more. Or a prophet who certainly said many true things. Or a teacher who shows us how to live and to be kind to one another. A leader of a large religion certainly, but not the divine son of God. And definitely not the One on whom our salvation depends.

The Bible, however, is less concerned with Jesus’ life and far more concerned with his death. His death, the Biblical writers tell us, is the key to understanding his meaning and significance for everyone not just those who followed him or heard him during his lifetime. His death, they say, was the cure for our blindness and foolishness that led us to reject our Creator and pursue behaviour that was damaging to us, to others, and to the creation around us. This was God’s answer to our sin and rebellion.

How did they know? Because, they said, God had raised Jesus from the dead. The central question then for us is did he? Christians proclaim at this time of the year that he did. That Jesus Christ is alive today, that the Lord is risen indeed. God showed who Jesus was by raising him from the dead and making him the Lord of life so that all who turn to him find the life they long for.

Why do people want to focus on theories that suggest that Jesus was just another ordinary man? Why we are so entranced by them in a way we would not normally be with such fanciful theories? Is it because we want to avoid the challenge of facing up to the possibility that Jesus really is alive? Are we afraid that his resurrection raises questions not only about how we see the world and live in it, but about our own relationship with God as well. Is the truth just too hard for us to face? Millions have found that by having the courage to face it, they discover that not only is Jesus alive, but that in him they can find life as well.

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