God Says Different
Athanasius of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor
2 May 2017
How can any Christian deny the resurrection of Jesus? Yet, some people who call themselves Christian actually do deny that His heavenly Father raised Christ from the dead on Easter Sunday. They are driven to this by an experiential argument, "who has ever seen anyone raised from the dead?" thinking that this question settles the issue once and for all. If Jesus died on the cross, He certainly could not have risen from the dead. "The dead don't rise from the dead. Otherwise they would not be dead."
This is a clash of human reason and divine grace. Reason will not consider anything beyond its own experience and opinion. It presumes that God cannot possibly have meant what He said whenever Scripture does not square with the imperious dictates of reason. Here the handy-dandy spiritualization comes out of the religious tool kit to reduce the bodily resurrection of Christ to a spiritual resurrection symbolic of the ultimate triumph of humanity over the plague of death. The danger of the handy-dandy spiritualization is that it sounds plausible. No one wants to appear to be opposing the spirit.
This is a common weapon of the devil. If he cannot get the Christians to give up the resurrection in express terms, then he simply reinterprets it to see if they will go for the reinterpretation. The spiritualistic reinterpretation is the most common, perhaps because we fall for it so easily. It happens in the interpretation of the presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. When we struggle to rationalize how Christ's body could be under that bread, we haul out the spiritualized explanation. And so although the devil has not been able to get Christians to get rid of the holy sacrament or the resurrection of Jesus, he has reinterpreted them to a much lesser significance. It is a kind of theological plea bargain with God. "No, I don't believe in the real presence but I will plead down to some kind of lesser spiritual presence instead. The resurrection of the flesh? Well, no, no rational person would confess faith in such a hair-brained thing. How about a little bit of spiritual resurrection instead?" This kind of spiritual plea bargain with God ultimately dumbs down the whole Christian faith to a hyper-spiritual and un-real symbolical religiosity that differs little from ancient (or modern) Gnosticism, which attempt to hijack Christianity for its own empty spirituality. I don't have to take Christianity and its specific articles of faith seriously if they are all symbolical of something else. Such Gnostic, airy-fairy spirituality is worthy only of Hans Christian Anderson or Aesop.
The Bible's radical claim is that we have a God who does far more than reason or the five senses could ever comprehend or imagine. We should be boggled by the graciousness of God that He was willing to take human nature of Mary, that He was crucified, died, buried, and rose again from the dead, as we confess in our holy Creed. This is also true of our own persons, though we die yet shall we live (Jn 11:25). I see experience, feel, and know nothing but my decrepitude and decline. God sees, knows, and says something so different from what we see or experience. How great it is that we have a God who says differently from our experience.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"He who wants to believe must ignore what his five senses comprehend and demonstrate. God, too, does not regard these, nor is He governed by them. On the contrary, His concern is to make His words come true: 'Death, I will be your death' (Hos 13:14), 'I will devour you and will revive him whom you devoured, or I will no longer be God.' And just as God pays no attention to the conditions confronting our senses, such as those of one lying ten fathoms in or under the ground, or of another burned to ashes and scattered in all four directions or consumed by beasts, birds, and worms-in His eyes all is nothing but life; for He will create a new and eternal life from this temporal death and corruption-so we, too, must view this. We must judge contrary to our feelings and in accordance with what God says, as convinced as though this had already come to pass. We must zealously guard against doubting this at all.
"For ponder this yourself and see what a sin it is to entertain any doubt regarding this article [of the resurrection of Christ], since Paul states that this is the same as denying God and Christ, as renouncing your faith, Baptism, and the Gospel, giving these the lie and saying: 'I believe that there is no God, no Christ, and that all that is said about faith is an abominable lie.' You would graft happiness and a strong faith into your heart if you vividly pictured this to yourself and reflected: 'Oh, it would be terrible and awful and the gravest blasphemy to disbelieve this article; for as St. Paul says, then I would simultaneously have denied that Christ arose from the dead and that God is truthful. May God protect me from saying that and from admitting such horrible blasphemy into my heart. Therefore, I shall harbor no doubt regarding this article but regard it as more certain than my own life and boldly depart this life trusting in it and convinced that after I am dead and decayed, I shall come forth again, more beautiful and brighter than the sun.'
"Thus this text serves both to strengthen the believers and to frighten the others, that they may know what a great blasphemy those who deny this article are committing. It is as though Paul were saying [1Co 15:12-15]: 'Dear Corinthians, this is not a matter for jest or ridicule; for if you deny this article, you are not denying anything trivial, nor for that matter a single article, but you are actually giving God the lie to His face, saying: 'God is not God, Christ is nothing, etc.' But if you have any regard for God and Christ-as you surely must have if you want to be Christians and have us preach to you-you cannot deny this article. For the inference will constrain you to say: 'In truth, if Christ has His apostles proclaim this and, in addition, has proved this by deeds, there can be no doubt regarding it.' Therefore, venture forth and depart this life boldly in faith in this article, convinced that after we are long in our graves and are decomposed, and the beautiful trumpet will sound and say, as Christ did to Lazarus: 'Peter, Paul, come forth!' -that we will then come forth in a moment like a spark, more resplendent than the entire heaven, with our whole body and all our members again completely intact, even though we may now be burned to ashes, consumed in the water, torn to bits by wolves, or eaten by ravens."

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 12-15
1 Corinthians

"God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.  When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.  Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?  Why am I in danger every hour?  I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!  What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."  Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals."  Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (ESV)
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, continue to bestow Your Spirit upon us, Your children, that we might always believe the humble Word of Your truth. Rescue us from the blandishments of the devil that would lead us into misbelief. Free us from the desire to conform to this world. Help us to continue to put to death the old Adam within. As we live the life given in baptism, help us to confess Your resurrected life that we might inherit it from You. Amen.
For our faithful Lutheran friends in Madagascar, especially President David Rakotonirina, that they would be upheld in their confession and faith
For Carolyn Curry, who is undergoing therapy for cancer, that she would receive the gift of healing
For Cathy Pierson, who is gravely ill, that the Lord of the church would encourage her in the midst of trials
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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