Easter, Miracles and the Modern World

Title: Easter, Miracles and the Modern World

Text: Genesis 1:1, Mark 16:6-7, John 11:25

Time: March 17th, 2012

 

The big problem today people have with the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ is it’s a supernatural miracle. And people today are more and more questions whether miracles are possible. “Did the dead Jesus Christ really rise from the grave?” “Do you mean to say that Jesus died and three days later rose to life again?” “Are you saying that somebody, Jesus, was killed, buried in a tomb, and three days later came back to life?” More and more people are doubting or disbelieving the Christian Easter event – that Jesus rose from the dead. What’s even more shocking is to find out that more and more church leaders and pastors are doubting the resurrection, even though they “go along” with the story on Easter Sunday, even delivering sermons about the symbolic power of the resurrection. They preach the resurrection as metaphor or symbol for inspirational purposes, such as, “What rose on that Easter morning so long ago? It was the faith that rose in the hearts of the disciples! Let us not preoccupy ourselves with the physical body of Jesus as the real resurrection.” Even more and more Christians are starting to view the resurrection of Christ as more symbolic than actual; you’ll hear that perspective often today. But why is it that we have such a hard time with the miracle of resurrection today, whereas in times past, people seemingly had no problem believing in such a thing? The answer is, today we’ve convinced ourselves that the only thing that exists — or the principle reality — is nature itself. We’ve been taught in science classes that natural laws govern everything that exists, everything that is real. Scientists make the assumption for practical purposes that everything has a natural explanation. Now while this assumption is good for scientific investigation because it motivates us to keep searching for answers and rational explanations, the assumption itself is pure philosophy. Can anyone actually prove that everything is governed by natural laws? Can it be demonstrated that nothing is outside of the laws of nature? No. It’s an assumption that we moderns assume for practical purposes, but it’s in no way proven. It’s this natural assumption that makes it difficult for many people to believe in the miracles of Christianity, particularly the Easter miracle of resurrection. We don’t realize it, but this natural assumption is reinforced in modern society in many ways every day. Like I said before, schoolchildren are taught it from their earliest days in school. It’s basically assumed in colleges and universities. Almost all science books and presentations assume it. The leading educational spokesmen and the chief scientific representatives all assume it. Even the government operates on the natural assumption that the scientific laws govern everything. So we are taught and conditioned from the beginning the natural assumption, that everything is governed by invisible, immutable laws, scientific laws. But when we read the Bible or come to church we are taught something entirely different – not everything is governed by the laws of nature, and that supernatural miracles are possible. Here is the conflict. I’d like to speak to this conflict and say a few things about it as we think about the resurrection of Jesus this Easter season.

 

First, God created nature and all the laws of nature, therefore, he isn’t subject to them and supernatural miracles are possible. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” According to the late scientist Carl Sagan, “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” How does this scientist know that the universe is all there is, was, and ever will be? He doesn’t; it’s just an assumption. Here again is the natural assumption I talked about earlier. For practical purposes, we assume that everything has a natural explanation, so we don’t give up too early in searching for answers; but scientists like Sagan take a practical working assumption and turn it into a full-blown philosophy of life. There’s no possible way that Sagan or any other scientist or anyone else can know for sure that everything is subject to the laws of nature. Christianity teaches that not everything is subject to natural law because, for example, God isn’t subject to the laws of nature. Why not? Because he created nature and all the laws himself! If he created everything then he certainly is not subject to everything that he created. If he created nature, then that shows he’s above nature. If he’s above nature, he’s not subject to nature. He operates above and beyond the laws of nature he created. That means he can change them or suspend them – or do whatever he wants to do with them at any given moment. If there’s a God, if the Bible’s description of God creating in Genesis 1 is true, then everything isn’t subject to the laws of nature; at least one thing isn’t, and that one thing is God himself. But the Bible goes on to describe other things that aren’t completely subject to the laws of nature – men and women. God created men and women in his image, in his likeness, like him. That means, human beings aren’t simply determined by the laws of nature like everything else; they are special because they, like God, can rise above the forces of nature and make rational decisions and exercise free will. Yes, their bodies are subject to the laws of nature, but their thinking and moral will isn’t determined by natural laws. Behaviorist psychologists like the late B.F Skinner tried to argue that even man is determined, because the forces operating in the human brain are physical and thus operate according to the laws of nature also. Therefore, our thoughts, feelings, emotions and will are also determined by the laws of nature, just like our body. If he’s correct, then not only is rational though an illusion, but so also is free will. Most people aren’t willing to buy this theory; I don’t blame them. If we are all determined to believe and act as we do, then what does that do to all meaning and purpose in life? It throws it all out. No. God is above nature and he’s given us the ability to rise above natural laws in decision-making and free will. God also has the ability, being above nature, to suspend its laws or change things whenever and however he pleases. Supernatural miracles are possible. To use an investigative assumption, like the naturalistic assumption, to rule out the possibility of miracles is foolish; it’s incorrect. Because there’s a God, miracles are always possible.

 

Second, the resurrection is the best explanation for what happened to Jesus. Mark 16:6-7, “’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said, ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Once we concede that miracles, in principle, are possible, then we must look at the facts surrounding the Gospel accounts concerning the resurrection to determine if they are true. We can’t just rule it out automatically because of the natural assumption that operates in much of secular society today. In other words, we can’t just simplistically say, “Well, of course the resurrection of Christ didn’t happen, because after all we know that it’s impossible according to the laws of nature.” You can’t even say that the resurrection of Christ probably didn’t happen based on natural law, because that would be the same as saying, for example, that the Boston Red Sox will probably never win the World Series based on their past performance. No. You can’t make such sweeping judgments because miracles are always possible! The only way to determine what happened to Jesus Christ after his crucifixion is to read the accounts, the historical descriptions, and then make up your mind whether you believe them or not; whether they make the most sense or not. Someone might object, “Well, if you allow for the possibility of supernatural miracles, if you rule out the natural assumption, then you open the door for all kinds of beliefs, like fairies and elves and so forth.” So? One shouldn’t judge whether fairies or elves are real or not, based on assumptions, natural or otherwise; instead, one should determine if these things are real based on facts and evidence. Why rule out anything ahead of time? I don’t believe in the tooth fairy because I don’t see enough evidence, not because I just assume it isn’t real. I don’t disbelieve in UFOs because I assume they aren’t real; I disbelieve in them because I haven’t seen enough evidence to convince me of their reality. So we can’t rule things in or out based on assumption ahead of time; we need to wait and see what makes the best sense of the facts at hand. In respect to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if you take all the accounts of it happening, believing in it makes more sense than disbelieving it. All the natural explanations of what happened to Jesus after the crucifixion are weak. Hugh Schonfield’s Passover Plot scenario is laughable – the idea that Jesus took a drug, passed out, the Roman’s thought him dead, he was placed in the tomb with the intent of being revived later. All these alternative theories break down. The best explanation appears to be just what the Bible teaches – Jesus rose from the dead. A miracle occurred.

 

Third, God is calling everyone to make up his or her own mind as to what happened to Jesus. John 11:25, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even tough he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” It’s everyone’s responsibility to look at the accounts of what happened to Jesus after the crucifixion and decide what they believe. Because we aren’t subject to the laws of nature in our thinking, in some natural cause and effect manner, like determinists think, we are free to look at the gospel accounts and draw our own conclusion. Also, because we aren’t subject to the laws of nature in our thoughts, we are also free to make up our own minds and act on our beliefs, apart from any deterministic natural causes. In other words, the laws of nature don’t govern our thoughts and free will. Again, there are philosophers and scientists that argue we are really determined by nature, by the natural forces acting upon us, so that we aren’t really free but predetermined by forces outside of ourselves. But, like most people, I reject that because if it were true, all rational thought and all free decision making would end. We would basically be robots or computers with such sophisticated programs that we even fool ourselves into thinking we are free in mind and will, when we really aren’t. But I don’t believe that; most people don’t believe that. And everyone doesn’t behave like that either; we must assume that we are free to think and act, or else what’s the point of thinking or acting at all? So God is calling us all to look at the gospel accounts, consider them, think about them, and decide what to do about them. Because miracles are always possible, we can’t escape deciding. It could have happened. We just have to decide whether we think it did happen. The Bible says it happened, that is, the resurrection. Can we believe the Bible? If you look at the entire account of the trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection as described in the Bible, it all fits together. In fact, if you try to change any one thing in the account, it messes the whole thing up. Nothing makes any sense. If you take away the resurrection, then you have to explain how the disciples and other were convinced they had seen Jesus alive after his death, or why they were willing to die confessing his resurrection from the dead. If you start going piece by piece through the gospel accounts you’ll find that the whole thing fits together perfectly in a coherent whole. Remove any one piece of the account and it doesn’t make any sense. That’s probably the strongest evidence for it being true. Only a naturalistic bias against miracles would prevent this conclusion.

 

I challenge, if you doubt the account as presented in the Bible, to try to reconstruct it in some other way. You’ll find that when you change something in the account, the whole thing doesn’t work. For example, a skeptic once tried to argue that Jesus wasn’t really dead on the cross when the Romans took him down – similar to Schonfield’s theory – but in the cool, dark tomb he revived and made his way out to appear to the disciples. Well, this theory raises more problems than it solves. For one, how would he move the stone at the entrance of the tomb? If Jesus revived in the damp, cool tomb he was still weak and injured from all the physical torture he’d gone through hours before. How could he move a large stone at the entrance of the tomb in such a weakened condition? And if he did manage to move the stone, how did he get by the Roman guards standing watch outside the tomb? Did he act like Rambo and overpower them and escape? But even if he did, in his badly injured and weak condition, would his appearance to the disciples encourage them or discourage them? A half-dead messiah hardly inspires faith. But then they’d be back to where they were before, only know they’d have a near-dead Jesus to deal with, to try to nurse back to health – and then what? Go on preaching? Or get arrested again and get crucified all over by the authorities again in order to get the job done right? You see, when any part of the account is changed, the whole account makes no sense. It doesn’t present a coherent explanation. The best explanation, it turns out, is the one the Bible describes. Surprise! I ask you, if you doubt the resurrection, simply read over the biblical accounts. Look for anything and everything that doesn’t ring true. You won’t find anything. The disciples act just like we imagine they would – confused and discouraged after the death of their teacher. The authorities that put Jesus to death act just as we’d expect them to act. Everything fits together in a believable way. The only odd thing is that Jesus comes back to life, but once we’ve considered the context and everything recorded before and after, even the resurrection makes sense. So don’t let the natural assumption we operate with in the modern scientific world close your mind to miracles, especially the resurrection. Because God exists, miracles are possible. And because miracles are possible, the resurrection is possible. And because the resurrection is possible, when we read the gospel accounts of it in the Bible with an open mind, we come to realize that it must have really happened. And because it must have happened, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities for life – for your life and mine. Let’s pray.

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