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Perceiving the Resurrection

March 09 2015
March 09 2015


Recently, every media outlet in America was debating the colors of a dress. Some people saw it as black and blue striped. Others saw it gold and white. How did you see it?

By now, many of you know that “the dress” is actually black and blue striped. Some of you are able to explain the reasons for the difference in perspective. Factors like lighting, how different people perceive light and color and more result in most people seeing the dress either, correctly as blue and black or incorrectly as gold and white.

If you’re like me, this experience of difference is disorienting. How can two people with equally good vision look at the same photo and see different colors?

This little episode that took over popular media forms was mostly diversionary. Still, it was a helpful reminder that our interpretation of the world is not the same thing as the world itself. The truth stands outside of us and is often contrary to our perceptions. Now, when it comes to dress colors, who cares all that much?

When it comes to the resurrection and the broader claims of the Gospel it secures, however, things are very different. In this case, there’s a lot more at stake. Rightly perceiving the truth and Gospel implications of the resurrection are matters of ultimate importance.

Paul summarizes in his letter to the church at Corinth both the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and the glorious gift He secured—the forgiveness of our sins.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

The background to Paul’s comments is rooted in some who had been teaching that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. In response, Paul reasoned, if there is no resurrection there can also be no forgiveness.

But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:13-17)

In other words, Christianity is not merely a matter of pious perceptions. What do you think? Or, what do you believe? These are secondary matters. What actually happened historically is of primary importance. Did Jesus rise from the grave? Did he fulfill the long-expected claims of the Scriptures?

Together with the apostles and the ongoing witness of Christians for thousands of years, we confess the historicity of the resurrection—Jesus did indeed physically and miraculously rise up from the dead. Theologically, then, his resurrection signals God’s victory over all of his and our enemies—sin, the Devil and death itself. In the resurrection, Christ has inaugurated a river-of-life-conquering-death that cannot be stopped and will eventually renew every facet of our lives.

While emphasizing the historicity of the resurrection does not diminish the priority of personal faith, it does define its focus. Under the influence of the Enlightenment, 20thcentury Christian liberalism suggested that the historicity of the resurrection was unimportant. The assertion of liberal theologians was that it only mattered if we believed Jesus “lived” in our hearts. It was the pious sentiment of our faith that counted, not the veracity of Christianity’s claims.

Interestingly, there was a time when this kind of thinking was seen as the most enlightened approach to the Christian faith. It was seen as a way to preserve the ethical and spiritual heritage of the Christian faith and wrestle it away from its supernatural and historical anchors that could no longer be believed. Yet, even in the first century, Paul saw through the foolishness of bifurcating our perceptions from the external world. Personal faith in an un-resurrected Christ is silly and without value. On the other hand, if he has been raised, then believing in Jesus is of the highest priority.

Indeed, Christianity invites us to respond to its historical claims and recognize that it is the dawning of a new world. In Jesus Christ, God has begun his renewal of the whole world. Through faith, we get-in on the ground floor of what God is doing to reform and renew a world compromised by sin and death! Tom Wright put it well,

The resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or the theologian, not as a very odd event within the world as it is, but the utterly characteristic, prototypical and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world, but the symbol and starting-point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: that with Jesus of Nazareth there is not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.

Regardless, as with the dress illustration, our perception is not what ultimately matters. Perceptions don’t form the basis for the validity of the Christian’s faith. Rather, our perceptions are derivative; they are to be informed and shaped by the historicity of Christianty’s claims.

Now, it is beyond the scope of this article to explain, even by way of summary, the reasons for belief in the historicity of the resurrection. Even so, the broader point stands. Christianity does not stand or fall based upon our perceptions. There are some things that must correct and even dictate what our perceptions ought to be. Sometimes we see a dress that looks gold and white, but is actually black and blue. In the same way and with infinitely more significance, though we look at a world that is filled with injustice, immorality and death, on account of the resurrection we know that a new day has dawned. Through faith in Jesus a new song has come into our hearts.

As we prepare for this year’s upcoming celebration of the resurrection, on Easter Sunday, April 5th, I want to encourage us to make sure that our perceptions are getting more and more aligned with the saving significance secured by the very real resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Read the Spring Newsletter Here!


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