Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 16, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead On Easter?

New York Times Op-Ed:  Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3Easter marks the high point of the Christian liturgical calendar, when billions of Christians around the world celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, the central hope of the Christian faith. Perhaps no one on earth has studied that event and the subsequent responses to it more than N.T. Wright. He serves as senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and is emeritus professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews. He has written over 80 books focused on Jesus and his first followers. He is also a Christian and a former bishop of Durham in the Church of England. One of his books, “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” is an exhaustive dive into the scholarship and debates around the Resurrection. I asked Wright to speak with me about his research and this baffling, world-altering claim of resurrection. ...

Paul reminded people in his letters that at the time of his writing there were people still living who had seen Jesus after his Resurrection.

Exactly. At the beginning of the 15th chapter of Paul’s First Letter to Corinth, he mentions the people to whom the risen Jesus appeared. To Peter and to the rest of the apostles, and various others. And then he says that Jesus appeared to 500 people all at once. And most of them are still alive. The implication strongly being: “You go and ask them. You find out what they saw.” In other words, they can’t all be just making it up or all be deluded.

We have evidence of other revolutionary or messianic movements whose founder or leader was killed by the authorities. In such cases, either the movement died out or they got another leader. The central and undisputed leader of the early Jerusalem Christians was James, known widely as the brother of Jesus. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian who was in Jerusalem at the time when James was killed in the early 60s, refers to James as “the brother of the so-called Messiah,” i.e., Jesus. But nobody ever suggested that James was the Messiah. Had Jesus stayed dead, this makes no sense. An executed Messiah is a failed Messiah. ...

Let’s say that what the Gospels claim is true: Jesus is risen. It seems that the world keeps going and there’s still oppression, suffering and grief. There’s still death. So what difference does it make that Jesus is raised from the dead?

It’s exactly the same objection that people made right at the beginning, including during the public career of Jesus. He went about saying, “This is what it looks like when God becomes king.” And people would say, well, there’s still an awful lot of bad stuff going on. Caesar is still ruling the world. And Jesus constantly told stories to say, no, this is what God’s kingdom looks like: It’s like a seed that grows secretly. It’s like somebody planting lots of seed and some go bad. But look, there’s a huge harvest coming up over here.

People regularly say, if there really was a God, if he really wanted to sort the place out, then he would come and, bang, it would be done. He would send in the tanks — metaphorically speaking, or perhaps not — and sort out the evil and wickedness in the world. But the Sermon on the Mount says that when God comes to sort out the world the Jesus way, he doesn’t send in tanks. He sends in the poor and the brokenhearted and the hungry-for-justice people and the meek and the people who are ready to suffer for getting the world sorted out. The way the Sermon on the Mount works is exactly the same way that the gospel of the Resurrection works. Jesus, risen from the dead, is the planting of that great seed. And now the plant has spread in all directions.

Obviously bad things happen. Bad things happen in and through the church. We all know that. I know that as well as anyone. But all sorts of great and good things do happen. Healing happens, hope happens, and ultimately it all goes back to this single seed of the raising of Jesus from the dead.

How did the Resurrection change the disciples’ lives? And is that instructive for how it would change Christians’ lives today?

It’s hugely instructive because even Jesus’ most loyal disciples clearly had not expected him to be raised from the dead. They were flattened by his death. But then his Resurrection, plus what happened afterward, which was Jesus doing this very strange thing of somehow bequeathing them his own personal presence, which they came to call the Spirit, or the Holy Spirit. This absolutely revolutionized them. And it’s not just that they were fearful before and completely emboldened and ready to go to the ends of the earth afterward. It’s that the agenda changed.

When Jesus was arrested, one of his closest followers had a sword and was prepared to do battle. But as soon as the Resurrection happens, we find that everything has changed and they are embodying Jesus’ agenda, which is to love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. So that when the first Christian martyr is killed, Stephen, in Acts Chapter 7, as he’s dying, he says, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

The deep spirit of Jesus’ way of going about doing God’s kingdom has changed within them because the Resurrection has shown them that the way to victory is not by fighting, is not by force of arms, but is by the Way of the Cross and the Resurrection which follows. And that is as radical today as ever it was.

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Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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