Risen Indeed
Easter Thursday
20 April 2017
On Good Friday, I made the mistake of listening to the jabber on one of Houston's talk radio stations. The host, who makes no secret of the fact that he is an evangelical Christian, was entertaining comments and questions about the meaning of Easter on the show that day. One sharp fellow called in to point out that though the Bible says that Jesus rose after three days this was not really true, as anyone who could count could determine for themselves. The host stumbled around this issue for a while, settling on the spiritual meaning of the resurrection for Christians, and implying that the Bible's testimony about the time Jesus spent in the tomb is not important. The problems with this are manifold.
 
First, if the Bible's testimony about the time which Jesus spent in the tomb is so transparently wrong, what else about the Bible's testimony is equally in error? In a court of law, a witness that is found to be incorrect in any point has the validity of their entire testimony called into question. So we cannot so easily pass off this point of the New Testament's testimony or call into question the validity of its witness to the resurrection of Jesus itself. The talk show caller was making this point about "three days" to cast doubt on the veracity of the New Testament witness to the resurrection.
 
Second, there is a great difference between cardinal and ordinal numbers. The New Testament describes Jesus as being raised on the "third day" ten different times. This comports completely with the events of the Great Three Days. Christ's body is placed in the tomb of Joseph on Friday before sundown. Good Friday is the first day He is in the tomb. Saturday, beginning on sundown of our Friday, is the second day. He is in the tomb and rises from it at sunrise on Sunday, the third day (see Gn 1 for more on the reckoning of days according to the Jewish tradition).
 
Third, the above should alert us to the fact that cultural and linguistic details must be mastered before we start to criticize the facticity of ancient documents like those contained in the Bible. However, even in this case it is not really a deeply mysterious speech pattern to speak of the resurrection of Christ "after three days" in the tomb. The New Testament uses the figure of speech that Christ is in the tomb "three days" no less than seven times. It is a common usage of human speech and does not intend to describe his entombment as lasting precisely three 24 hour days. It is a common way of speaking, to talk about a "three day" vacation over a long weekend, when in fact the family departs after work on Friday and returns by mid-afternoon on Monday. This is significantly short of 72 hours, but no one would question that this was a three-day weekend. "Three days" commonly can refer to a span of time over a three-day period.
 
In the final analysis, maybe we should presume that the eye witnesses of the risen Lord might be able to get the chronology straight. What, after all, are the chances that we would have sufficient resources at a 2000-year remove to correct their witness? That is hardly rational. No human court would permit such a rebuttal to stand.
 
Christ has risen indeed. That is the factual pivot of the Christian religion. Without the bodily resurrection of Christ, Christianity is a silly religion of myths tarted up as history. But He is risen on the third day as St. Paul so decisively announced in 1 Corinthians 15. Already in the first century, there were wiseacres who called into question the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth on Easter Sunday. Paul responded to their foolishness. 

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
 
" This chapter (1Co 15) deals throughout with our article of faith concerning the resurrection of the dead. This theme was occasioned by the fact that a number of factious spirits had arisen among the Corinthians who were ruining their faith and teaching that the resurrection of the dead is nothing. And there were others, as St. Paul states elsewhere, who tried to be clever and subtle and alleged that the resurrection had taken place a long time ago. As they interpreted it, we rose from sin through baptism and entered into a new spiritual life, etc. Matters finally came to such a pass that people believed (as in the case of the Sadducees in the days of Christ) that man's years did not extend beyond this life, that man's life was comparable to that of a cow or of other animals, and that man was created for no other purpose than to live blamelessly here on earth. And thus this doctrine gave birth to many impertinent fellows who believed absolutely nothing regarding the resurrection or a future life, who only ridiculed this doctrine and mocked the Christians in every way. They acted like real heathen. St. Paul quotes their own words, as they said: 'What kind of bodies will we have if we all rise again? Where will we all find room? If we all live at the same time, how can we find sufficient food and drink? How can we all have wives and beget children and perform other natural functions of this body and this life? etc.'
 
"And thus others too began to affect wisdom. They made bold to figure out with their own reason and cleverness how it would be possible if all who had ever been born were to rise again at the same time and to gather again in a life such as we now lead, etc. With such empty babble they weakened the Christians' faith in this article and perverted this article into tomfoolery. And unfortunately today we have again arrived at the point where many, both peasants and townspeople, and particularly Junker Hans of the nobility, prattle so absurdly, shamelessly, and heathenishly about this when they presume to be so smart and stick their nose into the Scriptures. For now they have become so learned through us that they are all our teachers and each one claims to know everything.
 
"Paul had to appear on the scene against such base smartalecks, who also aspired to be acclaimed as excellent teachers, and he had to prevent this poison from spreading. He had to compose a whole long chapter in strong and solid proof of this article of faith and in refutation of their injurious prattle. Thereby he also served us in the future, so that we might be safeguarded the more strongly and be equipped to preserve this article (for it is so vigorously, mightily, and clearly substantiated here) especially since the apostles themselves prophesied that in these latter days many mockers would arise in Christianity, who would ridicule our belief and the article pertaining to the Last Day, the resurrection, and the future life, and who would surely deride us as the biggest fools still to hope for this and to suffer every peril and privation because of it, such as we already see come to pass.
 
"It is truly a sin and a shame, indeed a miserable plague, that the time should come in Christendom, not only in these days of the world's last dregs but even already in the time of the apostles, yes, even among those whom they had shortly before visited and taught, even where they had shortly before planted and founded Christianity, that such a calamity should befall so soon, that some of them dared to arise, such as the apostles' disciples, and publicly proclaim that there was no resurrection and no future life, and that those who professed to be Christians should deny and ridicule this article, although they were baptized on it and had become Christians by reason of this, the article on which also all their hope and consolation should be based. Therefore, they had forfeited everything with this and had believed, acted, and suffered in vain. For where this article is surrendered, all the others are gone too; and the chief article and the entire Christ are lost or preached entirely in vain."

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 1
John 21:1-14

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
 
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish,  of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
(ESV)
Prayer
God our Father, at Easter you give us the joy of recalling the rising of Christ to new life. May the joy of our annual celebration bring us to the joy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
For Dan Harrison, who is gravely ill, that the holy angels would watch over him
 
For Jill Stoneburner, that the Lord Jesus would watch over her and guard and guide the hands of those who minister to her
 
For Brenda Blackwell, who has cancer, that the Lord Jesus would grant strength and healing
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias   Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017