The Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, April 12, 2020 Easter Sunday
The Intention Test for the Apostles’ Proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus
On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. By the way, we celebrate the resurrection every single Sunday of the year, and every time we celebrate the Eucharist. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not an invention by the disciples. It is an event that is supported by valid historical evidence. A sincere seeker who diligently studies the events surrounding the resurrection can come to no other conclusion, but that Jesus rose from the dead.
The chief proponents of the resurrection of Christ at the very beginning were the apostles, the men Jesus himself chose to lead the spread of his message after he was gone from the earth. He lived with them for three years, teaching them and performing supernatural acts in their sight. After his resurrection, he told them they were to take the message out into the world, beginning in their own home place to the neighboring locations and eventually to the uttermost part of the earth. The stakes were stacked high against them, but Jesus promised them his presence through the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles began proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead barely 60 days after the event. They did not start right away, and this is understandable. They themselves didn’t expect it. They were taken by total surprise. When the news of it first came out, they doubted and took steps to prove it. Then Jesus began appearing to them, often behind closed doors. They touched him. They talked to him. It was not a dream. It was not a dream, he was alive, back from the dead.
Did the apostles intentionally or by being themselves deceived actively initiate a scheme to tell the world a lie about Jesus that he rose from the dead when actually it was not the case? Did the writers of the New Testament deliberately set out to lie, or were they convinced about what they were writing about and simply wanted to pass it on accurately? Luke opens his gospel by saying, “In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Luke intended to pass on accurate information, not a cleverly concocted story.
In Acts 2:14 – 40, did Peter have the deliberate intention to deceive his hearers about Jesus? Peter was not himself deceived. He had walked with Jesus for three years. He had listened to his teaching. He had had his own sparring bouts with Jesus, but he always let Jesus’ way prevail over his own. He had witnessed Jesus’ trial firsthand. He wasn’t at the crucifixion, but he must have gotten the news from the public talk that Jesus had been crucified. He and the other disciples feared for their lives. They fled in panic and hid for safety. When the resurrection was announced, Peter went to the tomb to verify. Indeed, the body of Jesus was not there. Yet the grave clothes were still in place, with the head covering separated from the coverings for the rest of the body. It registered in his mind that Jesus’ body was not taken away by some person, but that it simply evaporated from the grave clothes (John 20:6 – 7). Jesus had risen from the dead.
Peter and his colleagues in the Jesus business had obeyed Jesus and went to Galilee to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them. They didn’t know what they were waiting for. Was he a visible person? Will he come with a military force to fight and depose the Romans? While such questions raced through their minds, the events of Acts 2:1 – 4 happened. The apostles received a power in themselves that felt like dynamite. They were transformed from the timid lot that hid from the authorities for fear of being apprehended and charged for having hung out with a “criminal” to brave men ready to declare the resurrection of the chief enemy of the state, Jesus, with all the energy they could muster come, what may. Peter’s various messages to different audiences were jotted down by a young man named Mark who later organized them into a book which is the Gospel According to Mark.
The apostles had nothing to gain by teaching what they taught about Jesus, and writing what they wrote and saying what they said about him. They stood to gain nothing from insisting that Jesus rose from the dead. If anything, it is the other way round. They stood to gain favor with the authorities if they distanced themselves from Jesus and perhaps lambasted him for “claiming to be what he was not,” and regretting that they had been deceived to follow him and wasted three precious years. They would turn themselves into overnight celebrities with the Jewish leaders of the day. Instead, they boldly declared Jesus to be the Messiah, completely contradicting the verdict of the powerful Sanhedrin. They got themselves into a lot of trouble, but they gladly welcomed the trouble. Peter and his colleagues had nothing to gain in promoting Jesus and his message. So, the apostles’ proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead passes the intention test. There was no quid pro quo for them to declare that Jesus rose from the dead. The world is challenged to accept this historical event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and all its ramifications, that is, submit to his divine authority.