A Meditation for Easter
Just-in-time for resurrection day (aka Easter), is the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. In it, we find the apostle Paul (played by James Faulkner) in the jail of Roman prefect Mauritius Gallas (played by Olivier Martinez). As I mentioned in my review, this film presents the thinking Christian with many questions to ponder. One of those questions is about the resurrection and is posed by the prefect, which if memory serves, is actually phrased as a statement along these lines: If the resurrection were the truth, then all would believe. The movie has the apostle answering with a verse from his often quoted chapter on the resurrection (1 Cor 15.1-20):
“… if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless…” (1 Cor 15.14)
But that response answers the question, “is the resurrection true?” It does not really address the deeper issue the prefect appears to be getting at. That question is,
If the resurrection is true, why doesn’t everyone believe it?.
That is the question before us today. And we’ll start our examination of it by looking at the flawed underlying assumption. That assumption is of course, that everyone believes that which is true. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just a moment’s reflection on that statement will lead you to the conclusion that if it were true, there would be no debates on the many things that people are divided on. For instance if everyone believed “the truth”, there would be no questions over:
- Whether the earth is a round sphere or a flat disk. (For my take on the matter, see here.)
- Whether humans came about through means of evolution, or a purposeful act of creation by God. If you’re reading this blog, surely you know my understanding of truth, but in case you’re new, here’s an article representative of my view
- Or how about something that should be simple, like whether there are two genders, male and female, and (setting aside defects for the moment), that people are born one gender or the other; Or whether gender is “fluid” something people aren’t born into but can change at will. Again, in case my view isn’t detectable, view it here.
These cases are mutually exclusive: either one is true or the other is true – not both. Thus if everyone “believed that which is true”, everyone should be believing the same thing. But obviously everyone doesn’t believe the same thing. So the proposition “everyone believes that which is true” is clearly false.
But the examples above point to a complication: How do we know that which is true? This is where we get into the area of evidence and rational thinking – items this blog is dedicated to. We must be careful to distinguish, that which is actually true, and how we know that which is true. The former speaks to an unchangeable reality. The latter speaks to how we identify that unchangeable reality. This takes us into the area of apologetics – defense of the faith. In this case the question is, how do we know the resurrection is true? Much has been written on that including the evidence of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances. We won’t stop to examine those here since they’re well covered and we’re seeking the answer to a slightly different question.
There is an implied question that needs to be examined. We’ve seen that not everyone believes that which is true. With that I should clarify it’s not that some believe that which is false, while others believe only that which is true. No, we each one of us do not always believe that which is true. Which brings us to the question: Why? Why do we doubt that which is true? Jesus makes this same point after declaring himself to be the messiah by claiming to be the light of the world (John 8.12). After disputing with the people, Jesus points out:
Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? (John 8:46)
Jesus was, and is a man without sin (Heb 4.15). Which is why they could not prove him guilty of sin – because he never sinned. Which means he never lied. Which means he always told the truth. So if Jesus always told the truth, why doesn’t everyone believe him? Why don’t all believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 4.25-26), the son of God (Matt 26.63-64) who rose bodily from the dead? (Luke 24.38-39) as he claimed? We’ve already seen the answer: because humans have a tendency to disbelieve the truth. But why?
This tendency to rebel and disbelieve is tied to our tendency to put ourselves first – regardless of the consequences. That tendency is seen in every being that has free will. We saw it in the garden with Adam and Eve – who had no reason to doubt God, yet still disbelieved and disobeyed and ate the forbidden fruit. (Gen 3.6). We even learn of it rearing its ugly head among the angels of heaven when Lucifer the “Morning star”, who had been in God’s presence became proud and denied the truth of his proper place and attempted to usurp God’s throne and glory (Is 14.12-15; Eze 28.15-17).
In fact the testimony of scripture is quite clear – every time God starts things new, rebellious humans put themselves first, disobey God by denying His truth in order to clear things to do things their own way. We saw this rebellion against the truth at the creation in the garden (Gen 3.6), we saw it at the flood (Gen 6.5), and after the flood at the city and tower of Babylon – otherwise known as Babel (Gen 11.4). We saw it at the rebellion at Sodom (Gen 13.13), and despite harsh warnings not to forget God, (Deut 8.19) we saw it after God installed a new king in a new Kingdom (1 Sam 15.28). Time after time God sent prophets to call his people back to the truth (Jer 7.25), but the rebellion and disbelief of God’s people – those who of all people should believe him – continued until God finally sent them into exile (2 Ki 17.23; 1 Chr 6.15;). It is therefore not surprising that in response to our tendency to disbelieve the truth, the first message that Jesus preached was to “repent and believe.” (Mark 1.15) In other words repent from disbelieving the truth and believe what God has done for you.
Given this clear bent of sinful humans to disbelieve and rebel against God and the truth in order to do what they want, perhaps the question should be: how do people ever come to believe God? Jesus has already answered that question for us:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44 )
God does the initial work. Just as He promised a new heart in the days before Jesus (Eze 36.26), when Jesus came he promised a new birth (John 3.3) which of course includes a new heart – which believes. As to our original question, why don’t all believe the truth? Like our parents in the garden, we have a tendency to rebel. We have a tendency to believe what’s convenient for how we want things for ourselves. But also as in the garden, God is busy at work drawing us to himself. And as he draws us, he softens our hearts to look honestly at the truth so we can believe. That’s when we can give our greatest gift back to God. Because God is about the business of making a new creation. (2 Cor 5.17) Our gift to God is allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12.2) and accepting God’s truth. All of God’s truth. From creation, to resurrection, to the new heaven and earth. So that we who believe might be, “…transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3.18)
We know our bodies will be transformed to be like Jesus’ glorified resurrected body. (Phil 3.21) But the transformation doesn’t stop there. The death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s gift to you. Return the gift by the renewing of your mind by being transformed by the truth of the resurrection, and all the rest of God’s word. Have the courage to believe it all, not just what you find convenient or popular.
1. The gospel of Mark is regarded as the earliest gospel, and this is the first message from Jesus recorded in this gospel, so it is likely the “repent and believe” framing of the gospel message is among the first if not the first way that Jesus presented the gospel.
All images used by permission
Featured: Prefect Mauritius Gallas speaks with the Apostle Paul in the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ © 2018 CTMG, used by permission