June 27, 2017

The Appearances of the Risen Christ, 1

By Chaplain Mike

As I said in a recent post, Easter is a season in the Christian year, not simply one day. Easter is the Great Fifty Days!

As one way of marking this season of celebration, we will run a series of devotional thoughts on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. These will be posted each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from today until the Friday before Pentecost, May 21.

Today we begin with Paul’s “creed” from 1Corinthians 15:1-11.

Text

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Thoughts
As part of his ministry of trying to bring the unruly Corinthian church to order, the Apostle Paul takes them back to basics here and reminds them of the fundamental facts of their faith. This epistle is one of the earliest apostolic writings, and these words may reflect one of the church’s first creeds.

  • Jesus died for our sins, and he was buried.
  • Jesus was raised on the third day, and he appeared to various witnesses (including Paul).
  • All this happened “according to the Scriptures”.

As musicians practice their scales, as baseball players take batting practice, so believers in Jesus never really leave the fundamentals of faith, but must rehearse them over and over again. There is no getting beyond the Gospel. There is no “deeper truth” to discover than this: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Our faith, our life, and our destiny is based on the facts of Jesus’ finished work, enacted in real space-time history.

Part of this Good News is that Jesus’ resurrection was confirmed through his appearances to many witnesses. Paul mentions that Cephas (Peter) saw him. And the disciples, on more than one occasion. In one appearance, there were more than 500 people present. Paul also reports that Jesus’ brother James was granted an audience with the risen Christ. This is most interesting, for the Bible says James did not believe in Jesus during his ministry (Jn 7:5), yet he later became one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church (Acts 15, Galatians 2). Was this resurrection appearance a turning point for him?

Finally, Paul records his own encounter with Jesus, when the one set on persecuting the church was stopped in his tracks and turned around forever on the Damascus Road. Paul includes this testimony to underscore his apostolic authority to the Corinthian church.

What is he trying to get across to these believers? Paul wants them to know without a doubt: This is the message that saves us. Hold on to it! This is primary! This always comes first! This is the basis for everything in our lives.

The Good News is that God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17). He came so that God may fulfill his promises and begin to take up his rule in the world, and a new creation begin. Jesus is the firstfruits of that new creation, leading the way for his people, and the accounts of his appearances give us solid hope that we too will be raised one day and made new to walk in resurrected bodies in a world put to rights by God.

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father! (Matt 13:43)

Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn in this fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Prayer for the Week from The Divine Hours)

Comments

  1. I guess I’ll ask the question that skeptics ask: who exactly WERE those 500 people Paul refers to? That verse is often used as a proof of the resurrection. However, without names or evidence, it’s just a claim, not a proof.

    By the way, I’m a Christian now. But I have been an atheist, and still know people who are. So I’m sympathetic to their questions and concerns, and let’s face it, this is a good one. 🙂

    • Quixotequest says:

      The skeptical claim is one valid perspective of a post-Enlightenment world for how we establish scientific, empirical proofs for “what really happened.” But it is not the only valid perspective within a post-Enlightenment culture. What is certain is that Paul, the early Christian church and Corinth didn’t operate from the post-Enlightenment perspectives we do.

      What this text illuminates to me is historical evidence for what the Christian movement looked like. That Christianity radically differed from the Greco-Roman worldview, and was a significant revolution on the Hebrew worldview, too, and it spread, bloomed and transmutted through cultures unlike any major movement within human spiritual history, including up till today, is irrefutable. It’s not dependent on a text like this to be “proof” per se. What the New Testament texts are useful for, in my view, is testifying to the content of what message caused that change, and it is the good news of Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and a new covenantal era of God living in humankind.

      That I can’t completely divorce my “eyes” from being shaped by post-Enlightenment culture and fully re-experience the narrative within the New Testament’s cultural context is certain. That I also find hope in the same message that transformed Paul and all those believers is a semi-irrational leap of faith based on a major part of _my_ culture. But that doesn’t mean the skeptical, materialist perspective sets the final rules.

      Modern skepticism is a valid perspective to interract with in a self-aware way. Paul, for example, preached to a skeptical world as well, albeit playing by a little different rules than we do. What history shows is that the hope of Christ radically affected that ancient skeptical world. Based on Biblical narrative it is God’s work to change individual hearts in our modern skeptical world as well.

    • T think that’s a really good point, Christine. It’s one I’ve debated in my mind, as I’m sure many others have. Where I end up on it is whether I trust the testimony of the disciples. I see 4 possibilities: 1 – The disciples’ testimony is not accurately transmitted. 2 – The disciples are lying. 3 – They are crazy. 4 – They are telling the truth.

      1 – Inaccurate gospel – While circumstantial, the evidence overwhelmingly points to the Bible being an accurate record of the disciples’ testimony. By orders of magnitude, we have more manuscripts of the Bible than any other literary work from antiquity. Further, before the end of the first century, we have records of Christian communities spread from India to Spain. These churches would have been founded by the apostles and Paul during the lifetime of eyewitnesses, before the completion of the gospels. Had the gospel accounts not matched the message these churches were founded upon, they would have rejected the gospels as fiction.

      2 – Lying disciples – Given the moral codes presented in their writings and teachings, it’s hard to believe the disciples were lying about the foundational element. The fact that all of the disciples, save John, were martyred for their faith, and none ever recounted is strong evidence that the disciples at least believed what they were saying was true. Further, claims that they made about Jesus, such as the empty tomb, would have been easy to contradict, were they not true.

      3 – Crazy disciples – If we accept that the Bible represents an accurate transmission of the disciples honest testimony (1 & 2), it’s kind of tough to make “crazy” explain it all. You’ve got multiple sightings by different sized groups of people on different days. There’s still the empty tomb to explain. You’ve got the Jesus story’s conformity with ancient prophecy to explain. Plus, you’ve got the early church fathers like Polycarp, Clement, Ignatius, etc. who were clearly sane, intelligent people, and were students of the disciples. It makes no sense that they would buy into the ramblings of lunatics.

      Which leaves 4 – The disciples are telling the truth.

      Of course, volumes have been written about this over the past 2000 years, and skeptics will argue every bit of it. Of the arguments I’ve seen, though, the resurrection of Jesus makes the most sense of the evidence, in my mind.

      • Well, at least we have “progressed” to Legend, Liar, Lunatic or Lord. Not quite ready to label it The False Quad-lemma, though. ;^)

        “we have more manuscripts of the Bible than any other literary work from antiquity”

        So what. Numbers only attest to the popularity of a work, not it’s veracity. The number of copies of Hamlet has no bearing on its historicity.

        “These churches would have been founded by the apostles and Paul during the lifetime of eyewitnesses:”

        We don’t know who founded most of these communities or what access the participant’s in India would have had to eyewitnesses to check out the facts.

        “Crazy disciples”

        Modern, dare I say “Post-Enlightenment”, science shows us that Crazy is not required. Human psychological responses can not be divided neatly into crazy and sane, especially under emotional and stressful situations.

        The Quad-lemma could be a far better argument than the Tri-Lemma but the supporting claims need to be reigned in quite a bit so as to not outrun the facts as we can know them. That said, it will never be the slam-dunk some want it to be. No argument of the last 2000 years has lived up to that level of expectation and none probably will in the future.

        • Well, it doesn’t have to degenerate into calling the apostles liars, or Paul either. It could be as simple as that Paul, who we KNOW was not anywhere in the vicinity during Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances, was told by others whom he trusted about the 500 people, and repeated it in his letter to the Corinthians. Since we have no idea who told Paul about this, or when / where / to whom this appearance took place, it’s legitimate for a skeptic to question this point.

          However, if you already believe in the Resurrection and in Paul’s Damascus-road vision of Christ, accepting the possibility that He also appeared to 500 other people wouldn’t seem to be that much of a stretch. 🙂

          • As a trial lawyer, I was always amazed at how powerful eyewitness accounts were, and how inaccurate they were. I once had a case in which two police officers testified. They had both been riding in the same car, at the same time, when the incident occurred that gave rise to the case. Yet, when they testified, they each gave an account that was exactly opposite of each other about the details – each one said they were driving, one said they turned left, the other said they turned right, one said the defendant ran from left to right, the other said it was right to left, etc. The jury still convicted the defendant because the details didn’t matter. All the testimony agreed on the essential points – the defedant was present and the act occurred. Rather than viewing the differences in the accounts about Jesus as error or problematic, I see most of them as evidence that what we have are genuine, eyewitness accounts of something truly incredible. The discrepancies of detail bear that point out. If there is a problem, it isn’t with the accounts given in Scripture, the problem is with our view of Scripture.

        • Scott makes some valid points, but I’m not sure they address what I was trying to say. I was trying to be concise, but in so doing, I may not have been quite clear.

          First, Scott is right that the number of manuscripts doesn’t prove the truthfulness of their content, but it IS strong evidence of how accurately that content has been transmitted. The degree of consistancy of the thousands of manuscripts found in locations throughout the Roman empire convinces me that they were accurately transcribed from the original sources. Put another way, I believe that I can reliably say, based on the content of the gospels, that the disciples taught the resurrection of Christ.

          My reference to the early churches is made only in futherance of that point. The early existence of those Christian communities means that they were founded on a message that originated within just a few years of Jesus death. The fact that the gospel writings were accepted by these communities when they became available years later, confirms that the message contained within the gospels matched the one those churches had been founded on decades earlier.

          Again, I’m not arguing that this evidence supports the truthfulness of the gospels, only that the evidence convinces me that they are accurate portrayals of early Christian belief.

          As to the “crazy disciples” perspective, that may have been an oversimplification on my part. What I mean by “crazy” is that the disciples believed they saw something that in fact they did not see. Of the alternate theories, this one seems to me to be the most plausible. Much has been written on this subject, and I can add nothing to it. (I think Michael even spoke about it in one of his “Coffee Cup Apologetics” Podcasts.) Suffice it to say that I see no evidence supporting this theory. It is merely speculation (perhaps reasonable, but speculation no less) based on a presupposition that what the disciples claim to have seen is impossible, therefore their minds must have been malfunctioning.

          Hopefully this clarifies some of the points I tried to make before, if they were unclear. I’m sorry if I misunderstood the criticisms of my points.

  2. The appearance of the Risen Christ must have blown to bits their mental construct about death. To see that kind of power is to be almost uncontrollably compelled to let go of the kinds of fears we mortals harbor. Celebrating 50 days of Easter each year might just help us to see our “origins” more clearly, like those 500 did, and walk away from the chains of fear.

    Nate

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Both funny and appropriate that you post this after two Creation-vs-Evolution screaming matches.

    Isn’t this what It’s supposed to be all about?

    Not Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles, Not Pin-the-tail-on-The-Antichrist, Not Culture War Without End, Amen. Not near-future persecution dystopias, not tongues, not jot-and-tittle theology, not Hell Houses, not End Time Choreography, not Wretched Urgency.

  4. Chaplain Mike wrote, “There is no ‘deeper truth’ to discover than this: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Amen to that. I went to a funeral for my aunt today and the priest’s homily (sermon) was of course about this faith that we have. And he didn’t hesitate to remind the congregation that it is a BODILY resurrection we are told to expect, not just bodiless souls hanging around in some kind of after-death existence.

    And yes, Headless Unicorn Guy, I agree this IS “what It’s supposed to be all about.”

    • Quixotequest says:

      Thank goodness. After that compelling union of Hokey Pokey and Holy Ghost revival in that video posted here a couple weeks ago I was nigh persuaded “that’s what it’s all about.” ;-P

      Silliness aside, thanks for the comments to you and H.U.G.

  5. The value of Paul’s mention of the ‘500 witnesses’ is that being a public appeal (written in a document that would be widely read and shared) it could easily be proven false by those who cared to check into the matter. So far the historical record is silent in regard to a rebuttal of Paul’s claims. Those who don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection, are stuck having to fall back on the old ‘We all know that the dead don’t come back to life.’ argument. None of Paul’s opponents ever claimed that Jesus did not rise.

    • Quixotequest says:

      It’s a bit like an anti-evolution person complaining about the lack of a completely transitory “missing link” fossil for a given organism, say homo sapiens. What we find are fossils that have early features and fossils with related but later features. It only takes a single specimen to introduce changes to a population. So a loose allegory for finding that single specimen “proof” could be likened to going into a car dump the size of the United States and finding there are 600 million discarded VW Beetles. Then finding three million VW Beetle hybrids that have the same wheelbase of a Beetle but a changed engine and altered body. Then complaining that the first model issued with that evolutionary change hasn’t been found for certain yet so there is no reasonable “proof” that the two models are evolutionarily related.

      Okay it’s not a perfect allegory but the point cuts both ways. Materialists who moan about the Christian cataclysmic and catalystic event of Jesus’ resurrection by saying “the dead don’t rise” still must account that there was a point of spiritual revolution where things radically yet evolutionarily changed the spiritual paradigm of the Jewish culture, and there was something profound enough about it to culturally and geographically transmute and grow in a way no other spiritual movement ever has. Counting the change all up to the early willful imaginations or deceitful plotting of a handful of people does not seem to bear out with the historical and spiritual “fossil record”. True it is not “proof” the Resurrection happened, but the evidence is substantially compelling. Enough, perhaps, to warrant a reasonable, if uncertainly proven, leap of faith. 🙂