There are some folk who don't believe in Jesus because they don't want to, and they easily find reasons not to. There are others who would really like to believe, if only they had assurance that the gospel is believable. There are many Christians, too, who would like assurance that the gospel is credible. The resurrection stands out as the unique event that not only provides evidence that the gospel is true, but also gives believers a glimpse of the hope that lies before us.
In his sermon to the Athenian intellectuals, Paul says that God "has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31 ESV). Where English translations say either "assurance" or "proof", the actual Greek word means "faith". Paul is saying that in the resurrection, God has given us a basis for faith: objective, historical evidence for believing the gospel.
Peter and John saw evidence that was truly astonishing when they ran to the tomb to check out Mary Magdalene's discovery that the tomb was empty.
John 20:5-9 – [John] bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (NRSV)
Jesus' body had been wrapped in strips of linen filled with about 35 kilograms or 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. What Peter and John saw in the tomb was the burial wrappings still rolled up, but collapsed under the weight of the spices, because there was no body inside, as if the body had evaporated through them.
This "evaporating body" phenomenon is consistent with other resurrection reports. On two occasions, Jesus materialized among the disciples despite locked doors. In Emmaus, while Jesus was blessing the bread, He vanished out of sight, only to reappear later, eating fish and honeycomb, insisting that He was not a ghost, and inviting the disciples to touch Him. They were so convinced that some of them experienced martyrdom, rather than recant their story that Jesus was alive.
The eye-witnesses experienced a visible, audible, touchable Jesus, who appeared and disappeared at will. This is the "heavenly body" or "spiritual body" that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 15. Well we may marvel that God has created a universe where matter is capable of such a transformation.
But we must marvel even more at what that means for us, for the event by which God would persuade the sceptic also affords a glimpse of the hope that lies before us. Paul assures us, "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:49 ESV)
But it gets even better than that, for John assures us that although we don't really understand what the afterlife will be like, "when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2b ESV). Hope can't get any better than that!
Prayer: Assist us in Your mercy, O Lord, God of our salvation, that we may meditate with joy on those mighty acts by which You have given us life and immortality, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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