Robert L. Getty, Ph.D. - March 27, 2016
Is It Nonsense?
Robert L. Getty, Ph.D.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
After the women discovered Jesus tomb was empty and even received a message from two angels they reported back to the apostles. In the words of The Message translation it was reported this way:
They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up. But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.
Here is how the Common English Bible describes the reaction of the report of the women to the apostles. It reads, “Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
The women reported and the apostles declared it nonsense. Peter checked it out and was confused. Of course it must be nonsense. People don’t raise from the dead after they have been brutally killed. The men thought the women’s report that Jesus had risen was nonsense. That sounds like a very reasonable reaction to the story. They thought as we would that the story was indeed nonsense.
That’s common sense, isn’t it? Jesus was dead. Brutally put to death. Rigor mortis had won. The corpse was placed in a tomb; left through Friday night and the following Sabbath day. Now on Sunday morning, those women come running with a confused story about angels telling them that the corpse had been raised to new life.
The apostles knew far better than to believe fairy tales. It was far more sensible to face the terrible fact: the enemies of Jesus had nailed him to the cross. Jesus was crucified dead and buried. Dead, dead, dead! This was no time for wishful thinking by any who could not cope with the disaster. Face facts. Jesus was dead and with him were buried all their brave hopes for a bright new world.
After the apostles thought the women’s announcement was nonsense, Peter decided to look into it. “Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.” Peter was confused. Even before this, Peter had a difficult time understanding Jesus’ mission. Previously Peter declared to Jesus,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But then Jesus explained how he must be killed. Jesus told them, “that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
It was clear Peter could not see how Jesus could fulfill his mission and be killed.
Peter thought he had it all figured out. The apostles had a good teacher who taught them many things, but the purpose for it all was unclear. Peter decided it was time to move on. We read later, “Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.” The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat.”
So here are the apostles defeated and convinced that it was a good adventure. How many times do we experience exhilarating times and then they end? We decide that it was great while it lasted, but now let’s get back to normal. As we look back on their confusion we can empathize with them, things did not seem to work out as they hoped. At the same time what about all the miracles they witnessed? Jesus raised people from the dead! He raised Jairus’ daughter from her bed, and raised the widow of Nain’s son from a funeral pier and to top it off he raised Lazarus from a tomb wrapped in grave clothes. But let’s face it, all these great miracles only proved that Jesus was able to bring freedom to Israel from their Roman oppressors. And if he was killed and didn’t accomplish the mission that they had expected then what was the benefit? You made a great splash Jesus, but what did you accomplish?
Even later after Jesus appeared to them and walked with them for about 40 days, it was still unclear how it would all work out. Just before Jesus left them Luke reported:
After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
However the response of the apostles to this challenge of Jesus, seems to fall flat.
As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Jesus gave the apostles a mission but they still didn’t get it, it had not yet been made clear. But after Pentecost their lives were changed and they had a different vision of the mission, just as Jesus said they would. Even reluctant Peter had a paradigm shift in his understanding, regarding how wide-reaching God’s favor truly is. Peter confirmed the gospel with great conviction to the Gentiles, to Cornelius and his household when he declared, “We are witnesses that Jesus Christ is raised and ascended, Lord of all!”
After a number of years and the beginning of the Christian church, there were still those who said the thought of anyone being raised from the dead is nonsense. The Corinthians, like us, had a hard time getting their minds around the event of the resurrection. They, like many in the modern world, thought it nonsense of a “resurrection” that involved the entire person, body and spirit alike, being raised from death to everlasting life. Human language is stretched beyond its limits when dealing with things like resurrection. The notion of the body itself participating in the glory of eternal life was beyond comprehension. Wouldn’t it be better to be rid of it!
In response to this attitude, Paul became very adamant declaring how important for us to believe. He wrote to the Corinthians again from The Message:
And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.
Paul’s argument addresses that central truth, claim and event of the resurrection of Christ. If there is no resurrection there is the whole chain of consequences which follow. First, the gospel has no substance. Secondly, faith is ineffective. Thirdly, the witnesses are liars. Fourth, sin retains its destructive and damaging control. Finally believers who have died are irretrievably lost.
Paul vehemently goes on to make his point. Listen to Paul, and listen well! “If it is only for this present life that Christ has given us hope, then we are among all people to be pitied the most! But the truth is this: Christ was raised to life, the first fruits of the harvest of the dead.” That vibrant, impertinent Christianity of the first century was founded on, and inspired by something that really happened: Christ is risen!
This whole, improbable—yet-true, resurrection thing, is utterly consistent with the extravagant and slightly ridiculous God of the parables and deeds of Jesus. Again and again we are confronted with a loving Son of God who “goes over the top’ in his generosity. God does not know when to stop, when enough is enough—when things are past redemption, the good news of Jesus proves the contrary!
It seems like nonsense? Of course it does. It is so foreign to our naive, stingy way of seeing and doing things. Sisters and brothers in the faith, I have no words to define the resurrected life of Christ, nor can I explain what our resurrection reality will finally be like. But, it has already begun with the resurrection of Jesus!
If you want an explanation, I have to say, sorry, I have none.
But if you want an affirmation, I say an resounding YES! The resurrection is totally consistent with the whole Jesus happening, in line with the unreasonable, elegant nature of the Gospel.
Death is the last power to be conquered—after all, it has been part of the order of things from the beginning. But in Christ’s death and resurrection, that too has at last been conquered. The celebration of Easter is the victory parade for this ultimate triumph. God’s will for life, eternal and abundant, has carried the day!
Easter is truly about that glorious implausibility of the holy love of God who will never, never let us go. Something new has broken through into time. Eternal love and eternal life is amongst us in resilient power and with unlimited possibilities!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed.