Last night, my church finished its study of The Easter Experience: What If What Happened Then Changes Everything Now? The final lesson was about Jesus’ resurrection. Here are some of my thoughts.
1. The pastor on the DVD was asking why Jesus needed to rise from the dead, when he had already paid for our sins on the cross. He offered a variety of answers: Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated that Jesus was who he said he was and that what he said was true; Jesus’ resurrection assures us that we really have been forgiven by God, something we may doubt at times due to the magnitude of our sins; and Jesus’ resurrection assures us that Jesus will one day return, regardless of how much time passes until then.
The pastor referred to the passage in I Corinthians 15 that states that, had Christ not risen from the dead, we are still in our sins. I think of another verse, Romans 4:25, which affirms that Jesus was raised for our justification. That tells me that Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough for us to be forgiven, but that his resurrection was necessary for this as well. The pastor on the DVD, in my opinion, glossed over this by making the point that Jesus’ resurrection assures us of the forgiveness that we have as a result of Jesus’ crucifixion. That’s not what I Corinthians 15 says, though. It says that, had Jesus not risen, we would still be in our sins.
The question of why Jesus needed to rise from the dead, when he had already paid for our sins on the cross, is not surprising when it comes from Christians who believe in penal substitution, the doctrine that Jesus on the cross paid the penalty that we deserve for our sins. I suppose that they can think of all sorts of reasons that Jesus rose—-to triumph over death, to be in heaven interceding for us, to come again—-but, again, the fact is that I Corinthians 15 and Romans 4:25 connect Jesus’ resurrection with our forgiveness, or our justification. There is another model of the atonement that may fit these texts better: Paul’s idea that we die and rise with Christ (Romans 6). Christ died, and we die with him, but, if he did not rise again, we do not spiritually rise again with him, and thus we do not walk in that new life in which we can appreciate the forgiveness that God has given us and extend love and mercy to others. Moreover, even if Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, his resurrection is the guarantee that we will be resurrected. We can be forgiven, but what good is that forgiveness to us if we do not live beyond the grave?
2. What interested me last night was that the pastor on the DVD was, perhaps inadvertently, undermining popular arguments within Christian apologetics. Many Christian apologists like to parrot that Jesus had to be God, otherwise he was a liar or a lunatic, and we all know that he was not those things. But the pastor on the DVD was saying that a lot of people claim to be God, but that we know that Jesus was God because he rose from the dead. Had he not risen from the dead, the pastor was saying, he would have been seen as a David Koresh sort of figure: just another deluded person who believed himself to be God.
Many Christian apologists like to point to the empty tomb as evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. But, in the drama on the DVD, Peter and John did not conclude that Jesus rose from the dead after seeing that the tomb was empty. Rather, they speculated that Jesus’ enemies may have taken Jesus’ body so they could drag it through the streets or feed it to the dogs.
As far as I could see, the only evidence that the pastor on the DVD cited for Jesus’ resurrection was Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to over five hundred eyewitnesses, some of which were still alive in Paul’s time. Interestingly, my impression is that Christian apologist William Lane Craig acknowledges that the empty tomb by itself was not sufficient to prove Jesus’ resurrection: that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples were also important.
3. The DVD showed Jesus and Mary Madgalene hugging when she saw that Jesus was alive. I did not want to get nit-picky in the group, but did not Jesus in John 20:17 instruct Mary not to touch him, for he had not yet ascended to his Father?
4. An overall question that has been swimming through my mind has been: Did I find going through this particular Bible study curriculum to be worthwhile to me personally? Well, I enjoyed the drama, and the pastor on the DVD was warm and compassionate. Some of the lessons really resonated with me, whereas others did not so much. Rather, they tended to augment my doubts, but I did not bring that up in the group because I did not want to disturb its spiritual flow. To be honest, I much prefer my group going through the Daylight Bible study curricula, of which The Easter Experience is not a part, for the Daylight studies are more academic. Even if the scholars on the DVD are more conservative than I am, and even if I walk away perplexed because I do not know what exactly I believe, at least I learn something from the Daylight studies, something that may be useful to me academically.