|Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb of Jesus in “The Bible” episode Courage.
A meditation for Easter
The resurrection of Jesus is arguably the most important miracle in the entire Bible. The creation gives us a place to live, the exodus demonstrates God’s gift of freedom, the Passion leading to the atonement forgives our sins, but without the resurrection, we still would not have eternal life to enjoy all the good things God has provided. As theologian Norman Geisler puts it:
“Without the resurrection there is no salvation (Rom 10.9), and the whole of Christianity crumbles if it is not true (1 Cor. 15:12-19).
So of all the Biblical scenes where I wish movie makers would take some artistic license to display magnificently – but they they never do – it’s the depiction of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Watching the Biblical epics like Cecil B. DeMille’s classic “The Ten Commandments” (who can forget that parting of the red sea) and the more recent productions of the “The Bible” (they opened with a most impressive depiction of the global flood) and “AD – The Bible Continues” (the depictions of the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit definitely took some artistic license, but delivered an appropriately visually appealing and inspiring depiction of those events) – I suppose tends to raise expectations.
So as the recent live musical/modern dramatic production of “The Passion” hosted by Tyler Perry in New Orleans drew to a close, and I watched their depiction of the resurrection of Christ: having him stand across the street from the live crowd at Woldenberg Park atop the Westin Hotel in a spot light as he sang “Unconditionally,” I found myself having that thought again – I wish they’d highlight the resurrection more dramatically. Okay, I get this is a live musical, but parts were pre-recorded. Why couldn’t one of the pre-recorded sections depict the resurrection magnificently the way the epics depict events like the Exodus and the Flood? The resurrection is after all, the heart of the gospel.
In this case, a big part of the reason is that this version, “The Passion,” is mostly a musical. But in general the reason for the understated depiction of the resurrection no doubt lies with the gospel accounts themselves. Like most miracles, the resurrection is presented in scripture unadorned, without embellishment, as a simple matter-of-fact account of what happened. This consistent lack of embellishment-to-impress in fact helps distinguish true gospel accounts from Apocryphal or psuedepigraphal (“false signature”) accounts. The gospels in fact don’t narrate any details about the resurrection. What they narrate are the details of his death – making first the point Jesus was truly dead as proved by the spear in his side (John 19.34). That point is followed by the empty tomb and the appearances of this very same Jesus after his death and entombment – alive and with the power to pass through locked doors (John 20.19; 26). You are then allowed to draw your own conclusions.
What could have happened such that a clearly crucified and dead man appears alive again on the third day to his disciples and later to a crowd of more than 500 people? (John 20.26-29; 1 Cor 15.6) Even skeptics who seriously consider the account of Jesus’ crucifixion reject the idea that he didn’t really die:
“It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at least yielded to his sufferings, could have given to his disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry.” (emphasis mine)
The obvious conclusion: He was raised to life again. This then is the conclusion both the gospel writers and God wants every person to come to. Jesus was dead, now he’s alive. The rational explanation is that he must have been raised from the dead. Adorning the facts of Jesus death and return to life with unneeded details of the resurrection would tend to make this truth less believable, not more – like an apocryphal writer adding unneeded details to try to make the account seem more plausible. And in fact additional facts will not persuade those who are unwilling to believe, to become believers. This is clearly evident from the fact that even after seeing the resurrected Christ, some still had doubts. (Matt 28.17)
On the other hand when you consider that scripture tells us we live by faith not by sight, (2 Cor 5.7) it is not surprising that God wants us to see the most important miracle he’s done – the resurrection – through the eyes of faith, not through the imaginings of a Hollywood producer – or even the sanctified imagination of a gospel writer. This is truly one matter where God says, believe and you will see; turning upside down our desire to see first so that we can believe. In this respect, Tyler Perry’s narration during “The Passion” is spot on:
“A scientific approach to these types of matters says that we should see first and then only believe and that’s fair enough for some people. But we do know that Jesus offered his vision of another world – a world in which everyone is treated justly, a world without suffering, a world without death, a world without end. This is why for many of us including myself, the story of the passion inspires yet another approach. To first believe – and only then can you truly see.”
Believe – and then you will see. For those who take this approach, Jesus reserves a special blessing. Speaking to Thomas who did not believe until he saw Jesus says:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29)
That is the approach God wants us to take with the resurrection. Believe first, then you will see. That is why no details are given about how the resurrection occurred, and thus that is why the resurrection will also certainly remain the Bible’s undepicted miracle.
For those who insist on having evidence first, God has graciously left us a clue and a token of the truly awesome power he exerted during the resurrection of Jesus: the imprint left upon the Shroud of Turin. As noted here the Shroud is unlike any other image, bearing three dimensional information on a cloth that existed before 3D imaging was even conceived, much less technology developed to create it. Even modern science cannot figure out how the image was created. For those who refuse to do it God’s way and believe first, God has even provided an accommodation for you: evidence that you may see first and then believe.
The miracle of the resurrection is intentionally an undepicted miracle. For those who refuse to see it through the eyes of faith based on the word of scripture, or take it on the evidence of the shroud, I can offer but this word of warning: be careful you are not hardened in your unbelief, least you wind up like those who would believe neither the scripture, nor even the one who returned from the dead and calls you, (Luke 16.30-31) and you wind up outside the kingdom where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13.41-42)
1. Norman Geisler “The Battle For The Resurrection” Matthews, NC: Bastion Books, 2013, loc 374
2. David Friedrich Strauss, A New Life of Jesus, authorized trans., 2d ed., 2 vols. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1879), 1:412.
referenced from William Lane Craig, The Son Rises, Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute, 1981, p. 39
3. Duane Caldwell, Finding Jesus – The Shroud of Turin – a Review 3/4/2015 https://rationalfaith.com/2015/03/finding-jesus-the-shroud-a-review/