April 2009 Issue
Son ~ His Victorious Resurrection
by Mark Coppenger
The resurrection can bring to mind
so many associative memories: from decorating Easter eggs with
PAAS dye and wax crayons, to poignant and precious moments with
family, to particular Easter services that moved hearts and changed
lives. And of course there is the music: Christ the Lord is
Risen Today and Low in the Grave He Lay, as well as
less formal favorites as When We All Get to Heaven and
I'll Fly Away.
There are so many memories and emotions connected to Easter,
but it all rests on one simple, propositional truth. Our Baptist
Faith and Message puts it this way: "Jesus was raised
from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples
as the person who was with them before His crucifixion."
Southern Seminary's Abstract of Principles puts it this
way: "He was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended
to His Father, at whose right hand He ever liveth to make intercession
for His people."
Most importantly, the Scripture puts it this way: For I
passed on to you as most important what I also received: that
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He
was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the
Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve
(1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
The resurrection of our Lord and Savior is more than just the
object of sentimental reflection or the center of doctrinal statements.
The Bible indicates the resurrection that took place almost two
thousand years ago has ramifications that span the millennia to
impact our lives today, and indeed all of eternity. Let's consider
together a few of these truths.
The Resurrection is the
Irreducible and Irreplaceable Foundation of the Christian Faith
Sometimes we grow complacent over that which becomes familiar,
even if it is precious and essential truth. If we are not careful,
we can lose sight of the truth that the reality of the Christian
life every aspect of it hinges on the reality of
the resurrection. Paul indicated as much when he wrote: ...
and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without
foundation, and so is your faith. ... And if Christ has not been
raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore
those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If
we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should
be pitied more than anyone (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17-19).
Lest we forget, the hope for the Christian rests on the resurrection.
The faith of the Christian rests on the resurrection. The redemption
of the Christian rests on the resurrection. Without the reality
of the resurrection, we would be most pitied indeed.
The Resurrection is a Real,
The evidence for the historical reality of the resurrection
continues to mount and is overwhelming which presents a
formidable challenge to atheists and agnostics. That's why they
fight this doctrine so desperately.
In Basic Christianity, John Stott lists and answers
several of their challenges to the biblical account: that the
women went to the wrong tomb; that Jesus merely slipped into a
temporary coma; that someone
stole the body, whether common thieves, disciples, or authorities,
either Jewish or Roman.1 And the list of
alternative explanations goes on and on. In the late 1950s, Michael
Clark suggested the resurrection was simply a "telepathic
projection."2 In the 1970s, Newark's
former, and infamous, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, said
the doctrine grew out of an experience Peter had months after
the crucifixion, when he realized it was a demonstration of God's
love. Thus, he merely "saw Jesus alive in the heart of God."3 And the 1990s were full of anti-resurrection
rhetoric from the likes of Marcus Borg, who said that "the
discovery of Jesus' skeletal remains would not be a problem,"
and John Dominic Crossan, who speculated that Jesus' body became
a "corpse for wild beasts."4
This sort of downgrading was commonplace in the twentieth century,
an era when Bultmann sought to "de-mythologize" the
resurrection, and when Barth called it "a parable of our
eternity ... not an event in history."5
Alas, it continues with a vengeance in this century: In 2007,
HarperSanFrancisco released, with much fanfare, a book called
The Jesus Family Tomb, reporting that a box with Jesus'
bones had been found.
The critics will remain, but they face a maddening array of
evidence, not the least of which was the willingness of the disciples
to boldly proclaim the resurrection at the cost of their lives.
And, of course, the Bible records ten public appearances of Jesus
between the resurrection and ascension,6
as well as the "epiphanies" in Acts, where both Stephen
and Paul saw the risen Lord on high.7
If the critics are relentless, so are the apologists. In 2008,
Broadman & Holman responded with a book answering the "Jesus
bones" claim. Archaeologists, philosophers, New Testament
scholars, and statisticians responded point by point, with great
effect.8 And though the skeptics rail against
such defenders of the resurrection as William Lane Craig, Peter
Kreeft, Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and N.T. Wright,9 the Lord always vindicates His truth.
The Resurrection Keeps Science
in its Place
Those who worship the work of scientists are inclined to seal
that work off from biblical criticism while giving it free rein
to undermine the plain teaching of Scripture. After all, they
say, "The Bible is not a book of science or history,"
and so they let materialists have their way with the text, whether
construing creation as evolution or demons as psychoses.
To this end, the late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard proposed
a policy of "nonoverlapping magisteria" (NOMA), whereby
the domains of science and religion are mutually exclusive. He
"The net of science covers the empirical realm: what is
the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory).
The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and
value. These two magisteria do not overlap ... we get the age
of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how
the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven."10
Unfortunately for Gould, his fellow skeptics, and theological
liberals in their thrall, God is not so nicely domesticated as
that. At will, He "breaks" the laws of science with
miracles. Zoologists assure us that donkeys can't talk and fish
don't offer internal habitations for men. Really? Ask Balaam and
Jonah. Physicists tell us that people don't walk on water. But
Jesus did. Linguists and anthropologists insist that people can't
acquire new language comprehension instantly, but these scholars
weren't at Babel or Pentecost.
Of course, science and resultant technology are wonderful.
God established and sustains an orderly universe full of discoverable
wonders and useful regularities. Indeed, that is the very ground
of the possibility of modern science. But when scientists like
Gould try to put religion in its place, they presume to put God
in His place a foolish enterprise indeed since His place
is wherever He pleases to declare it.
As for the physiologists and forensic pathologists who insist
that dead people can't come back to life, they need to read the
final chapter of each Gospel and get ready to witness billions
of exceptions to their rule on Judgment Day.
The Resurrection is Portrayed
and Proclaimed in Believer's Baptism by Immersion
Romans 6:4 says that we are buried with Him by baptism into
death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of
life. In the act of immersing the new believer, we see vividly
the believer's identification with Jesus' death; and correspondingly
when the believer is raised up from out of the water, we see vividly
his or her identification with His resurrection. It's difficult
to square that image with alternate forms of baptism.
Referring to that graphic imagery portrayed in baptism by immersion,
the nineteenth century Cambridge professor and chaplain to the
queen B.F. Westcott wrote, "So thoroughly was the faith in
the resurrection of Christ inwrought into the minds of the first
Christians that the very entrance into their society was apprehended
under the form of a resurrection."11
The Resurrection Sets Apart
Sunday as Our Day of Worship
For centuries, the Jews set aside Saturday, the last day of
the week, the Sabbath, for worship and rest. This was in keeping
with the creation account and the fourth of the Ten Commandments.
But then John writes from Patmos, I was in the Spirit on the
Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
(Revelation 1:10). The Lord's day? What's that? Well, it tracks
with Paul's instruction to the church in Corinth: On the first
day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save
to the extent that he prospers, so that no collections will need
to be made when I come (1 Corinthian 16:2).
Why the first day? The answer is simple: As Mark 16:2 records,
Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they
went to the tomb at sunrise. And there they discovered it
empty. In those earliest days of the church, Christ's followers
marked the day of His resurrection as a special day, recognizing
it as a newly-ordained alternative to the Sabbath, and His followers
have done the same since.
The Resurrection is the
First of Many Resurrections
Because Jesus rose from the dead, those who place faith in
Him will also be raised from the dead. Paul writes in Colossians
1:18, Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. And as John explains,
We know that when He appears, we will be like Him (1 John
It is in His glorious and triumphant resurrection that we find
the hope that confident assurance that the dead
who have entrusted themselves to Him will one day experience a
glorious and triumphant resurrection. Remember once again Paul's
explanation to the Corinthians:
Now when this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility,
and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that
is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in
victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your
sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin
is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Which leads to our final point:
The Resurrection Marks Satan's
Some today view God as perhaps well intentioned but somewhat
limited in His ability to confront evil. Rabbi Harold Kushner
popularized this view in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to
Good People. He posited a finite God who was doing the best
He could, so those who suffered loss had no reason to blame Him.
He was struggling manfully against the darkness or pockets of
chaos right alongside His followers.
Obviously such a conclusion could never be drawn from the pages
of Scripture there we find an all-powerful God Who is consistently
victorious over the forces of evil.
Consider the duel on Mt. Carmel. There, Elijah squared off
against 450 prophets of Baal, daring them to best the God of "Abraham,
Isaac, and Israel" by calling down fire on their sacrifice.
They danced, shouted, and even cut themselves to get their phony
god's attention, but nothing happened. Then it was Elijah's turn.
For effect, he first had the altar soaked with water. Then, at
Elijah's plea, Yahweh's fire fell and consumed the burnt offering,
the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water
that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell
facedown and said, "Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!"
(1 Kings 18:38-39).
Now, fast forward to the Passion Week. Through the instrumentality
of lies, hatred, fear, greed, and ambition, Satan assaulted Jesus,
the Son of God. He threw everything he had at Him, even engineering
his brutal execution. But Christ defeated death!
Remember the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, He will strike your
head, and you will strike his heel. On that dark and gloomy
Friday afternoon, Satan struck a painful blow to the heel of Christ;
but on that glorious Easter morning, the Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ struck a mortal blow to the serpent's head!
And all who come to know that blessed truth can hardly resist
falling facedown before Him, exclaiming, "Jesus, He is God!
Jesus, He is God!"
Some may be inclined to bemoan these days as dark days. Indeed,
at times the darkness that surrounds us seems to swell to such
a point that we struggle to remain focused on the greater reality
the reality that our King, Jesus the Christ, voluntarily
entered that tomb late that Friday as a dead man, but exited it
alive on Sunday as the Triumphant Victor over death and the devil.
And the brilliance of that blessed reality is more than enough
to shatter all vestiges of darkness, past or present, into billions
of harmless pieces and to chase every lingering shard into oblivion.
In the days of the Soviet Union, a Communist leader once attempted
to discredit the resurrection before a large gathering. When he
finished, an Orthodox priest stood up and asked if he could reply.
He was warned that he was only allowed five minutes. "Five
seconds is all that I require!" He turned to the audience
and gave the traditional Orthodox Easter greeting: Kristos
vahskryes! ("Christ is risen!"). Back with a deafening
roar came the traditional reply: Vahistinu vahskryes! ("He
is risen indeed!").12
1 John Stott, Basic Christianity (Downers
Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 59-63.
2 Merrill C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection (New
York: Harper & Row, 1963) 186-201.
3 John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth of Reality (San
Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), 257, 259.
4 William Cook, "Eaten by Wild Dogs or Raised from the Dead:
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Faculty Address, Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary.
5 Tenney, 186-201.
6 S.J. Andrews, The Life of our Lord Upon the Earth, rev.
ed. (New York: Scribners, 1891), p. 596, quoted in Robert Culver,
Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Mentor: Ferne,
Rossshire, UK), 607.
7 George Dana Boardman, Epiphanies of the Risen Lord (New
York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879).
8 Buried Hope or Risen Savior? Edited by Charles L. Quarles
(Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008).
9 See, for example, the exchanges in The Empty Tomb (Amherst:
Prometheus, 2005) and The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic
Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue, Robert B. Stewart, editor
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006).
10 Stephen Jay Gould, "Two Separate Domains," Philosophy
of Religion: Selected Readings, Second Edition Edited by Michael
Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger
(New York: Oxford, 2001), 502.
11 B.F. Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection, p.111.
Quoted in H. A. Williams, Jesus and the Resurrection (London:
A. T. Mowbray, 1961), 9.
12 Peter Walker, The Weekend that Changed the World (London:
Marshall Pickering, 1999), 200.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston Baptist
Church in Evanston, Illinois, and is Professor of Christian Apologetics
at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
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