Reasons to be Cheerful
Did it actually happen? Is it true? Did Jesus rise from being dead? Did the disciples see Him and meet Him, talk with Him and eat with him? Did he send them out as evangelists? Is He alive today? Does He know you? Does He care about you?
The militant atheists in Britain today say ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!” Eight times ‘No’. Why are they so sure? Because they say that everything must conform to the laws of physics and chemistry as we know them today and nothing in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection does. For them, the only things that are true are those which are scientifically provable, and Jesus’ resurrection is not. There are no half measures with them. They do not say, for example, that the resurrection stories are symbolically true and express human longing for eternal survival. They do not say that the stories are poetically true expressing deeper things about human consciousness and awareness than just the mechanics of biology. For Richard Dawkins and company, the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are unredeemable lies and deceptions brought about by simple minded people suffering from primary delusion and false expectation.
Over the last 200 years, many theological scholars have been unable to accept the stories of Jesus’ resurrection as representing what actually happened. To accommodate modernity they have suggested that Jesus’ inspirational presence came alive in the minds of the disciples once He had died. This is something we see in relation to certain famous people for example. There are cults of Elvis Presley, of Michael Jackson, of Marilyn Monroe and of J F Kennedy. The inheritors of Elvis are making more money now then he ever did when he was alive. It is true that for some people they become more important after death than they ever were before they died. This is true of great artists and composers of classical music. So theologians suggested that this facet of human emotional reaction was working in the disciples. Militant atheists won’t have any of this though, as I have said. And this interpretation has two problems i) it does not square with the actual accounts in the Gospels and ii) those who suggest it are very much removed from the events they are reinterpreting, making their thoughts unreliable and suspect.
What these academic thinkers try to do is to preserve some notion of God that is credible in the modern world. The trouble is that these half-baked arguments have to be kept at arm’s length because the closer you look into them - the more obvious fact is that they do not stand up to scrutiny. There are lots and lots of non academics whose belief in God is vague and unsupported. We have millions in this country and thousands in Blackburn and Seafield. You see people here having their children baptised. You see people being married here in God’s name and we have funeral services for people who have never professed personal knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ. Wooly, mushy, liberal Christianity has always existed. It’s in the New Testament too. But the Faith is not secure with such people and it is not handed down by them throughout the generations.
Christians in this country are facing unprecedented opposition to their Faith. Even liberals are shocked by the hostility and opportunism of militant atheism. The churches are not seen to be making robust defences. Their leaders are not going out on a limb to defend Jesus Christ. These days, the Church of Scotland prefers to talk about Jesus of Nazareth. That is a very subtle put-down. Just think what this means:
i) Jesus was a man more than He ever was God
ii) He is a great spiritual and humanitarian world leader but he is not God incarnate
iii) He did not atone for the sins of the world through his vicarious and undeserving death
iii) He does not have full authority in heaven and on earth for all time - He is not Jesus Christ.
iv) Christianity is not the final revelation of God but a way of life following Jesus’ teaching
v) The Church is not the vehicle of eternal salvation for all humanity for all time.
Anglican liberalism is similar and even in the Church of Rome there are many people who emphasise the social aspect of the church’s existence rather than its divine and transcendent nature. For them the Pope is not and can never be infallible.
National politics and policies are diminishing the status of the Christian churches. Christianity is considered as a religion more than it is a living Faith. Religions are made equal in status by this Government, thus making no qualitative difference between them. Thus making Jesus equal to Moses, Muhammad, The Buddha and anyone else. Thus robbing Christianity of its core and central message, power and effectiveness.
Militant atheists and the National Secular Society want to expunge Christianity from public life, from traditions and ceremonies, from government, from schools and from public constitutions and buildings.
But I ask you these simple questions:
i) Is it not wonderful to be here today?
ii) Is this not something utterly beautiful, meaningful and profoundly inspiring?
iii) How can it be so - if it not true?
If it is true, then how can we answer those who say they here today and throughout the world, two billion+ Christians are nuts and delusional, infantile escapists, evolutionary dross and dangerous hindrances to social progress.
i) Wonders of the Solar System - the current BBC series presented by Brian Cox shows how extraordinary it is that life exists at all and how finely tuned and finely balanced and expertly placed our planet earth is to support life in general and human life in particular. Last Sunday evening he was talking about how Jupiter’s great size and its forces of gravity helps to keep our planet where it needs to be. He concluded by saying that our life on earth is a miracle. He used that word. The deduction from facts by this particle physicist looking at the physical solar system as a scientist was that there is an agent of creation - that the solar system did not bring itself into being by its own capacities. He is an atheist but he cannot explain what he sees and admires without using language that takes us beyond our human capacities.
ii) It must surely be apparent to so many even if they will not admit it - that a nation and a society without Christianity is much worse off than one with Christianity. Without Christianity, we become serfs of the state, small cogs in a huge machine, unimportant in ourselves and without meaning or purpose beyond our daily existence. Without Christianity we become imprisoned and enchained in law and custom which has no ultimate ground in principle. The large atheistic empires of the 20th and now the 21st century were unimaginably dreadful societies in which industrial scale murders of citizens took place over decades. Now we see the disintegration of social and family life as we have known it. We live in a climate of suspicion. Parents cannot take photographs of their own children in a park or soft play area. Teachers cannot help children who have injured themselves in the playground and even fire fighters have to let a woman die down a 50 foot hole in case they hurt themselves. The agenda is set by militant atheists and the homosexual lobby. The politicians have placed these above Jesus and the Christian Church. Things that are not equal are made equal, truth has become false and falsehood has become truth. Right is now wrong and wrong is right. There is a nastiness and bestiality about life today, there is violence against women and by women and against children on an unprecedented scale. There is cruelty to animals. There is industrial scale abortion and in a generation there is likely to be industrial scale termination of life, euthanasia, assisted suicide or whatever people want to call it. These are all indications of a spiritually dead society without moral vision and without the basic valuation of life that Christianity brings in its presentation.
iii) Jesus is risen from the dead - the evidence is overwhelming that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive.
i) Jesus appeared many times to different groups of former followers - this is important in verifying any historical event.
ii) Jesus’ disciples were transformed into apostolic evangelists - ask yourself this question 'Why is it so hard for me to speak about Jesus?”' If you suddenly became a Holy Spirit evangelist people who know you would see a tremendous change and difference and would assume that what had happened to you was real.
iii) Individually and collectively the first Christians were filled with joy and happiness and with divine power and knew that this was the same life and energy they had seen in Jesus Himself.
iv) Saul was a hateful and vengeful person who became the greatest Christian of all. How did that happen? He met the risen Jesus. It is simply fatuous and dishonest to dismiss his testimony and ministry thereafter.
v) Over the centuries many have found that Jesus is alive for them and to them. They have followed a similar pattern of life serving Jesus in the Church and beyond the Church. There are far too many of them in too many centuries for anyone to suggest that their experience and calling was not genuine.
vi) There are quantifiable goods done in the Name of Jesus, all the charities, all the humanity, all the service, all the great ideas to improve the human condition. These can be measured and if Richard Dawkins himself lived for a thousand years his charity would never do but a minimalist fraction of what has been done in Jesus’ name.
vii) There are living Christians today who testify that Jesus is alive to them and for them and they say with conviction 'Jesus is Lord'.
viii) I offer my own testimony to you that I am not in the ministry because I chose to be or wanted to be but because the risen Jesus Christ called me to be His witness. I testify that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead and is alive and continuing His saving work in the world.
Rejoice then and be very, very glad. It is true. It is all true. Your faith is well founded and secure and anything you do for Jesus is worth it in this life and in eternal life.