At the core of the Christian gospel lies some abject nonsense. But the real question is: what kind of nonsense is it?
The Christian message is not a matter of opinion (although it certainly has a bearing upon your opinions), nor is it a world view or a philosophy of life (although it certainly brings radical changes to your way of seeing the world and living life). Instead, it is the declaration of certain events that took place in human history; events that reveal God’s purposes for his world, and to which certain promises from God are attached.
At Easter we remember these events, their revelation and their promises. More could be said, of course, but to put it simply:
- Good Friday: Jesus died, this was ‘for us’, and so God promises to forgive our sins.
- Easter Sunday: Jesus rose from the dead, this was ‘for us’, and so God promises to give us victory over the grave and eternal life.
But at the core of this message there is a great nonsense. This was recognized from the beginning. On the third day after Jesus died, some women went to the tomb to complete the burial process by anointing his body with aromatic spices. They found the rock-cut tomb open. That was enough for Mary Magdalene to run back into the city to tell the apostle Peter (John 20). The other women pressed ahead and looked into the tomb to find Jesus’ body gone (Luke 24:3). They then saw two men, in the process realizing they were angels, who told them that Jesus had risen as predicted. These women then went back into the city and reported what they had seen.
But their reception was less than warm. Luke tells us that the apostles “did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11, NIV 1984).
At this point the question should shift. What kind of nonsense did it appear to be? If those who heard the women’s report were rationalists (if that is not anachronistic), then it would be a logical or a necessary ‘nonsense’ that goes like this:
Dead men don’t rise, therefore this report is nonsense.
Such things can’t happen.
On the other hand, if they were empiricists (again, with due allowance for any anachronism), then it would be a factual or experiential ‘nonsense’ that goes like this:
Never before in human history has a man risen from the dead, so, against this vast wealth of human experience of death and burial, this report appears to be nonsense.
Such things don’t happen.
At least one of the crowd of apostles who heard the women’s testimony that day must have had some empirical leanings. As Peter sat there amongst the disbelieving group, he must have thought: “Such things don’t happen. But, hey—what if it did?”
He jumped up and ran to the tomb to check the facts out for himself (Luke 24:12). That was the beginning of a massive change of life for him. That was the beginning of a massive change of life for the world.