Article IV – Of the Resurrection of Christ

I wonder if you remember the Bishop of Durham in the mid-80s – David Jenkins.  Probably the thing he remains famous for is publicly expressing his doubt in the physical resurrection of Jesus.  He made a comment about “a conjuring trick with bones,” which is debated but seemed to be a way of expressing his doubt in the physical element of the resurrection.  He was consecrated in York Minster and shortly afterwards the Minster was struck by lightening and it was said to be God's judgement.

At the time he was thought to be an outlier someone who expressed the more extreme liberal views in the church and the academy, but interestingly (and sadly) a survey of clergy in 2002 revealed that a third disbelieve or doubt the physical resurrection. And it's not just the clergy.  A survey in 2011 of those who ticked the Christian box in census showed that only a third believed in the physical resurrection.

The picture that paints is of a fairly dismal level of belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, in many ways, it is the foundational belief of the Christian faith, without which our faith is useless, pointless and pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 19).

Believe in the Bodily Resurrection

Our article says:

CHRIST did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature

In other words we believe in a Jesus' physical resurrection (real flesh and bones) from the dead.

First, what does the Bible teach?

All the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us accounts of the resurrection.  That Jesus did indeed die and did indeed rise back to life.  This was the message of the apostles in the Book of Acts. Take a glance through the sermons in Acts and you find they consistently refer to the resurrection. And of course we have glorious chapters like 1 Corinthians 15 which testify to the resurrection.

It's important to see in that testimony that Jesus did rise with a physical body.  You remember perhaps when he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he has a body that they can touch, for example Matthew 28:9. In fact, when his disciples wonderi if he's a ghost, i.e. if he is really physical, Jesus emphasizes his physical resurrection with touch and eating fish (Luke 24:39, 42-43). The thing is, if it's not a real, physical body then you can't touch it and presumably if you eat fish without a physical body it just falls out of you!

Now, of course, Jesus' body is more than our physical bodies.  Paul described it as a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44) and we know from the resurrection accounts that Jesus could do amazing things appearing in locked rooms for example. But it was not less than physical and people who try to argue that the resurrection is something just spiritual, or something that just happens in our hearts or some such thing are totally ignoring what the Bible claims.  It was physical.

But can we really believe that?  You can see why it's hard.  People don't physically rise from the dead  every day.  I've never taken a funeral and had the family phone me up three days later to tell me that uncle George has come back to life and if they did I would probably have to see about counselling for them.

For me to believe that I need some pretty strong evidence and actually I think that evidence is there.  I can only briefly mention it this morning, but hopefully it'll give you some lines to think about it.

First, it's important to emphasize that Jesus died.  Occasionally people have suggested that somehow Jesus didn't die and was resuscitated in the tomb. This is odd for lots of reasons.  Let me suggest a few:

(1) The Romans knew how to kill people.  And it's worth noting if the soldiers had got it wrong they would be responsible.  In fact, Mark's gospel tells us that Pilate checked with centurion, to make sure (Mark 15:44).

(2) The severity of the flogging, the carrying of the cross, being nailed to a cross and being crucified would be unlikely to leave one in much of a state to recover in a tomb sealed by a large stone – certainly a recovery that would enable him to remove the heavy grave clothes and move the large stone in front of the tomb.

(3) In John's gospel where it talks of the spear going into Jesus' side and water and blood coming out (John 19:34)?  Doctors today know that as a medical condition caused by the flogging and it suggests the spear went through a lung and into the heart.  This was to confirm Jesus was dead and certainly he couldn't have survived it.

So Jesus was dead – it wasn't some sort of resuscitation.

Second, the tomb was empty.  This is another way of saying no-one could produce the body, which leaves you with the question of what happened to it?  I think all suggestions apart from resurrection fail here:

(1) Some suggest there was tomb confusion.  That's unlikely.  We're explicitly told in the gospels that the women who first discovered the empty tomb saw where Jesus was buried. More than that it is extremely unlikely that they would jump to the resurrection conclusion until they had fully investigated.  Even more unlikely is it that the Jewish or Roman authorities wouldn't have produced the body from the right tomb to quash the rumour.

(2) Some suggest the body was moved or removed by wild animals.  This is unlikely. No human had any reason to remove it.  The Romans and Jews would not have wanted rumours of resurrection and if they had removed it they would have returned it fast.  The followers of Jesus could not have removed it – there was a Roman guard at the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66).  Even if they had, it would have been unlikely that they would have held to the story and devoted their lives to it (and died for it). For similar reasons wild animals couldn't have removed the body - the stone and the guard.

It's hard to explain the empty tomb without some supernatural power.

Third, lots of people saw the resurrected Jesus including groups of people who saw him at the same time.  Paul summarises this for us in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. Now, as I said, if people were claiming to see someone who'd died you'd normally call the counsellor, but if 500 people claim to see them at the same time...and remember Paul wrote that when you could go and check still – there were still people alive.

Finally, it's hard to explain the growth of the church without the resurrection.  As I said, the message of the apostles in Acts is very much based on the resurrection of Jesus.  The people who claimed this message were willing to die for it.  And they were convincing – which is why the explosive growth happened.  How?  How could that possibly work when they had such an implausible message about someone rising from the dead. If they were lying – why would they do that even to death.  If they were deluded, how did that happen and how could they all be deluded.

The evidence for the resurrection is compelling.  But why is it so important.  Why are we to be pitied if it didn't happen.  Well Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15. Let me give you just one thing: the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for our resurrection.  Let look at 1 Corinthians 15:17-23 again. Do you see?  Without the resurrection there is no hope for us after death.  But with it...Christ has blazed the trail that we can follow.  The resurrection gives us a certain hope of life after death.

Do you have that confidence?  Do you believe in the bodily resurrection?

Believe in the Bodily Ascension

Next we are to believe in the bodily ascension.

The article goes on to say that:

wherewith he ascended into Heaven,

That is, Jesus truly and physically went back to his Father in heaven.  That is what we read at the end of Luke and the start of Acts (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9).

Believe in the Session

Furthermore we are to believe in the session, which means we believe Jesus is sitting at the Father's side in heaven reigning as king.

The article says:

wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth,

This is found all over the NT for example in Colossians 3:1.

And the Bible gives us all sorts of important applications.  Let me give you 3:

(1) You have an advocate in heaven.  Next to God the Father  there is someone speaking for you.

(2) You have a powerful ruler in heaven.  You remember before Jesus returns to his Father he tells us that he has all authority and power and he has that not from a limited earthly position, but from heaven (Matthew 28:18).

(3) We don't need to get superstitious.  What do I mean?  Throughout the history of the church and still in the Roman Catholic and sadly some Anglican churches people get hung up about the bread and wine in communion as if they are the actual body and blood of Jesus.  Listen to what the Prayer Book has to say about that:

It is here declared, that thereby no Adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; ( for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

We must not be superstitious about the bread and wine in communion – they are just bread and wine and it is idolatry to go beyond that.

Believe in the Judgement

There is one last part of this article - that we must believe in judgement.  Jesus is coming back again to judge. So the article says:

he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

Again this is a truth found all over the Bible, but for example in Acts 17:31 where Paul is preaching in Athens. It's interesting, of course, that like the article the resurrection is linked to the judgement here.  There is a sequence.  For the ascension to happen the resurrection must have happened.  For the session to happen, the resurrection and the ascension must have happened.  And for the judgement to happen the resurrection, ascension and session must have happened.

Jesus is coming back and is coming to judge everyone.

The coming judgement has two obvious applications.

(1) Are you ready?  If trusting in Jesus is the way to know the resurrection life, have you trusted him and are you living a holy life with his return in mind.

(2) Are you telling people?  If trusting in Jesus is the way to know the resurrection life and so be able to face the judgement, are you telling people who need to know.

It's is nothing short of a tragedy that there are people who claim to be Christians who don't believe in the resurrection.  Their beliefs are futile and they are to be pitied, because they have no hope.

It is nothing short of a travesty, that there are church leaders who don't believe in the resurrection.  They are teaching people a message that is futile, pitiable and hopeless.  Instead of leading people to eternal resurrection life, they are leading them to judgement and condemnation.  A judgement and condemnation they will experience themselves if they don't repent.

The resurrection is gloriously true and we should rejoice in the certain hope we have in it and share that message.


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