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Yeshua in Context » Formation of the Gospels, Gospels as History, Resurrection of Yeshua » Perplexing Resurrection

Perplexing Resurrection

Luke 24:1-53.

When the women showed up at the tomb on Sunday morning, the word Luke uses to describe their emotion is perplexity. When the angels, who seemed to be men, spoke to them, the theme of their communication was remembrance. When two disciples encountered Yeshua along the road, their experience was a mystery. When Yeshua spoke to the Eleven and other disciples gathered, his theme was continuation.

Perplexity. Remembrance. Mystery. Continuation.

Perplexity. None of the disciples, men or women, expected what they found. In the first place, they did not believe he would die. Now that he was dead, they did not believe he was the one they were hoping him to be. And they certainly did not know he would rise.

Luke 24:4 notes that they were perplexed when they found the stone rolled away and the body gone. Vs. 5 describes them as terrified, with faces bowed to the ground. When they went to report on things to the Eleven, we read in vs. 11 that all this seemed “as nonsense” to them.

In fact, we could say that the whole story of the empty tomb and the appearances of Yeshua is perplexing. N.T. Wright (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 600-611) notes that there are four very strange features in the resurrection accounts:
(1) The resurrection accounts lack references to the Hebrew Bible even though the crucifixion accounts had been full of them.
(2) The resurrection accounts do not mention personal hope, the idea that Yeshua’s resurrection holds promise for our own resurrection.
(3) The resurrection accounts include women as the primary witnesses of the empty tomb though women were thought of poorly as witnesses.
(4) The resurrection accounts describe Yeshua’s body in surprising ways: no radiant light, he has wounds, he walks through things, he eats.

Wright concludes that the gospel writers felt obliged to tell the story in ways the communities of their time were used to hearing them. Eyewitnesses related what they had seen to eager groups wanting access to the story of what had happened in and through Yeshua. Many people had heard the stories told in a similar manner. The early forms of resurrection stories were not like sermons on the afterlife. They were lifelike, unidealized accounts of how a few men and women encountered the strangest event in history.

Perplexed is how we would we would have felt. Perplexed is a good way to describe the surprise of a missing body of a beloved teacher by people who were already devastated and disappointed that he did not turn out to be the One they hoped for.

It may be difficult to go back now and imagine how stupefied and disconcerted we would be. Knowing the end of the story it is hard to put ourselves back closer to the beginning.

But we should. It should occur to us repeatedly that the risen body of our great Teacher, Yeshua, is an astounding reality.

Furthermore, it should occur to us that this did not happen in a painting or an illustration in a children’s Bible. Neither were there glorious sets and movie orchestras playing the score in the background. There was no formal public relations firm handling the early Yeshua movement’s documents.

What we read in the gospels, and in particular, Luke, is raw. It happened to a few people deemed insignificant in their world. And Luke, like the other gospel writers, did not feel it permissible to tell the story in a different way. Quite likely these kind of eyewitness-focused accounts were what people were used to hearing.

That’s not to say that good faith-based writing and theology on the resurrection was impossible. Paul had already, long before Luke wrote, given to the Yeshua movement a theological account. He had already said that without the resurrection event, our faith is vain. He’d said that without the resurrection, the cross could not erase sins and death would not ever be reversed. Without the resurrection, said Paul, the dead are gone forever, the guilty remain unforgiven, those dead in Adam remain under the sentence of death, and there is no future resurrection for any of us to look forward to. Paul said all that in 1 Corinthians 15 before Luke ever set pen to papyrus.

But there is more than one purpose in the perplexity theme in Luke’s telling of the story. The first purpose is to faithfully record the kinds of things eyewitnesses had said. And that is important to us now, because we need to know these accounts are not invented. They don’t read like propaganda for a movement. They read like the inexplicable experiences of people trying desperately to figure out what God is up to. And the second purpose is to remind us that the things that happened in and through Yeshua are larger than life. They change us if we deal with what we observe. They may leave us perplexed, but they do so because they are too wonderful to accept easily and without serious thought about our own situation, our own future, and our own response.

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Filed under: Formation of the Gospels, Gospels as History, Resurrection of Yeshua

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