The Possibility of the Resurrection

April 23, 2011

by Carlton Wynne

Each Easter week, the media reminds us that it, too, operates by a church calendar of sorts, returning like a carousel at this time of year to spin out a spate of speculative stories about the life of the human Jesus, the manuscripts of the Bible, or the claim of the resurrection.  Journalists and archaeologists announce the results of their allegedly unbiased, critical-historical investigations in an attempt to “solve the mystery” or “uncover the truth” about a long-standing Christian doctrine or biblical claim.

That these recurring media specials, whether subtly or overtly, invariably bash the Christian faith should not surprise us.  After all, the executives and journalists at the History Channel or TIME Magazine, at least as I am aware, do not believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.  They do not believe that a transcendent and triune God lives eternally above the sphere of history and condescends to rule over its every detail.  They do not believe this God has bowed the heavens and come down, spoken plainly to His created image bearers, become incarnate, been crucified and raised, or that He effectually calls and regenerates sinners unto faith and everlasting life.

My point, however, is that Christians do believe this.  We wear, as Calvin put it, the spectacles of Scripture to see the world and all it contains–from the catacombs of Israel to the myths of Babylon–under the light of God’s self-revelation and redeeming work.

Maybe this is why it strikes me as odd that Christians sometimes functionally respond to these news stories or a neighbor’s inquiry with something less than robust confidence in the declaration that Christ has, indeed, been raised from the dead (together with all that this event means within its theological and historical context).  We speak of the resurrection as the “best explanation” or “the most probable reason” for the empty tomb, or the appearance accounts, or the martyrdom of the apostles, or the rise of the early church.  We marshal the best extra-biblical evidence we can find to prove the reliability of the New Testament and then, sharing an “anything is possible” attitude with our questioners, try to convince them that the Christian explanation for the resurrection is the most reliable.  But if “anything is possible”, then even our greatest arguments along these lines leave the bit of chance that, against all odds, the 00.0001% explanation might be true, that we are still in our sins (1 Cor 15:17).

This weekend, we must remember that “anything” is not possible.  It is not possible that God could lie (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18) or be pleased with sin (Rom 8:8) or deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13).  It was not possible for Jesus’ bones to be broken (John 19:33, 36).  It may boggle the mind, but even what is possible lies under the sovereign rule of God.  Possibility, in the Christian sense (!), bows to God’s own character and eternal decree.  This has huge implications, I think, for how we speak about the resurrection.  Peter understood this when he said of Jesus, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:24)!

This weekend, let us remember that we worship the God of possibility.  Let us remember, as Calvin put it, that “God by the bridle of his providence turns every event whatever way he wills” (Institutes, 1.16.9) such that it must take place, in the past or in the future, in His way and in no other.  Remember, too, that the resurrection of Christ is not the “most likely” or “best” explanation for the empty tomb.  According to Scripture, it is the only explanation.  And since He has been raised, His Spirit will also give life to our mortal bodies (Rom 8:11) that we might commune eternally with the One whose purpose will stand.  And we can bet on that.

Originally published on Reformation 21.

Read More On Easter, Resurrection, worship

Carlton Wynne

Dr. Wynne (PhD, Westminster) is assistant professor of systematic theology and apologetics at WTS.

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