“Follow the Science!” (Luke 24:36-49)
The Third Sunday of Easter (April 18, 2021)
I want to speak with you today about something that seems to be on everyone’s mind and lips these days. That is science. In fact, amidst all the fear generated by the Covide-19 Pandemic and the obsession with climate change, which many are calling an “existential threat” to our whole planet, the refraining cry you hear in how to deal with them is “Follow the science!” Science is being held up as the answer to every question… the path to every solution… the cure to every ailment…and dare I say it, the very savior of our existence.
But is this true? Is science the savior of our planet, the healer of our bodies, the solution to every problem?
Most of us would be quick to say, “Uh, no!” But before we people of faith, we believers in the true Savior Jesus Christ, vehemently attack and criticize this contemporary god of our culture, we might want to first take a deep breath and then do some careful science of our own. After all, careful study of this phenomenon reveals that this unrelenting quest to follow the science is more akin to a religious and dogmatic belief system than it is to any kind of systematic and rational quest for empirical truth.
What is the definition of science anyway? Here’s the Google definition: “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Or how about this one from the Science Council: “Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence… Experiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypotheses.”
By its very nature, therefore, science is never, as so many want us to believe today, “settled.” Science is all about observing, experimenting and testing. It’s the constant and persistent search for clear, undeniable, empirical, evidence in order to make a judgment as to what is the truth.
Now, this understanding of what science truly is has led many over the years to insist that science and religion, or faith, cannot have anything to do with each other. Indeed, faith is what we call metaphysical; that is, something that transcends physical matter or the laws of nature. In other words, anything metaphysical by its very nature is beyond our physical abilities or senses to often even observe let alone to experiment on, to test. You and I cannot see, touch or examine faith. We might observe what physical actions or emotions are affected by someone’s faith, but faith itself is beyond our detection.
That does not mean, however, that science and faith have nothing to do with each other. Science is often greatly influenced and even dependent in one degree or another on faith. Take for example the so called “settled science” of evolutionary theory. Even by the theory’s own admission it is dependent upon the acceptance of certain priori; that is, certain assumptions that must be considered true without being based on previous experience or observation. For Evolutionary Theory two of those assumptions are that, first, there is no God, and second that all things came into existence by chance. In other words proponents of Evolution must have faith that their assumptions are true. After all, when the universe was created or came into existence, there were no humans to observe it, no film crews from National Geographic to film it, no rational minds to analyze it. So the evolutionist simply insists by faith that there must have been a “big bang” that started everything. Ironically, therefore, it takes more faith to believe the complex and well-ordered universe simply occurred by chance than to believe that it has a divine, intelligent, Creator.
So, yes, by all means let’s follow the science. But science that is to be truly believed and accepted as truth cannot be simply speculations of people, even people of the brightest intelligence. Some of the most brilliant among us have theorized some of the most absurd hypotheses that when scientifically tested have proven to be observably false even dangerous.
Now, because of these faulty ideas that science and faith can’t coexist, many claim that a true searcher of truth, a scientist, could not possibly buy into religion. Rich isn’t it, that these very scientific minded individuals, who believe in their own a priori assumptions, insist that claims and teachings about God and His kingdom made by us Christians cannot be believed because they aren’t scientific!
Having just celebrated once again, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we have definitely put front and center before the world once again this tension between faith and reason. It is very apparent in that even though there are some who deny Jesus even existed, or others that if He did live, He didn’t die on the cross but died some time later from other causes, it’s the claim that Jesus rose from the dead that receives the most vociferous opposition.
Why is this? I can think of a few reasons. First, resurrection is so contrary to our human reason. The finality of death we observe everywhere. All vegetation dies. All animal and human life dies. On top of this, even though on the one hand our ingenuity, science, desperate measures, have to a certain extent enabled us to postpone death for a few minutes or years at times, they still have not enabled us to reverse death and make the truly dead living again. So, if we cannot raise the dead today with all of our knowledge and technology, it’s hard for us to fathom that anyone living 2 millennia ago could ever do it.
Secondly, and probably the most ardent reason Jesus’ resurrection is often denied, is because if He did then it would demand that everyone take very seriously Jesus’ claims of divinity and His whole body of teaching concerning what is truth, what is life, what is salvation. And that would just be too unthinkable for those who just refuse to be accountable to anyone or anything other than themselves.
So I thought, in light of all this, let’s do something novel this morning. Let’s actually examine what we know about the claim of Jesus’ resurrection and let’s follow the science!
A good place to begin, then, is with our Gospel text this morning. Here we are presented with Luke’s account of Jesus’ Easter evening meeting with His apostles. Last week, we focused on John’s account. Whereas John seemed to direct our attention to Jesus’ wounds and the forgiveness of sins these wounds procured for us and all sinners, Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, uses the elements of the resurrected Lord’s meeting with the Eleven, to engender our shear confidence and trust in the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection itself. Being a physician, a man of science himself, Luke points us to the science!
Now, before we go any further, we need to acknowledge that this science comes to us second hand; that is, it is reported to us by Luke who acknowledges at the beginning of his Gospel that what he writes is from the eyewitnesses (1:1-3). Some insist then that what Luke says has to automatically be considered suspect; that he could be making it all up. It is incumbent, therefore, upon those who insist this to provide the evidence that Luke is falsely reporting or lying. That would be their moral obligation to the rest of us. They can’t just make the charge with no evidence. That would not be scientific! Here the Christian faith and science would both agree. The truth needs to be made known and clearly supported by the observable, clear, evidence.
As far as relying on second hand testimony is concerned, what our world considers truly scientific does it all the time. In fact, you and I do not have the actual physical evidence to support most of what we believe is to be true today. We constantly accept as true what we read or hear from those who have claimed to actually seen the evidence or conducted the experiments. For example, many of you are trusting the efficacy and benefits of the vaccines you have received recently simply based upon second hand testimony that came from some physician, politician, peer reviewed science journal or the head bureaucrat of the CDC. You were not privy to see with your own eyes the physical evidence to support the claims that they actually work. You did not do the actual scientific study, testing, and research. Yet you have accepted it as true.
Let’s, then, follow the science in Luke’s report. Such science begins with the critical, physical, evidence that He who was truly dead and buried is now truly raised from the grave and alive. Luke tells us, the apostles had just heard from the two followers of Jesus who had gone up to Emmaus that they had seen Jesus alive. They reported that they had talked along their way with Him and had even sat down to eat with Him. But, Luke stated, even as these apostles of Jesus were still quite skeptical of these two men’s eyewitness, suddenly they all saw with their own eyes Jesus stand in their midst. At first, Luke says, they weren’t even willing to believe their own eyes. They assumed they had seen a ghost!
Luke continues to report, however, that Jesus proceeded to give them tangible evidence that He was not merely a “spirit” or “ghost” but was in fact, living, breathing flesh and bones. Jesus directed them to “handle Him”; that is touch and examine Him. Jesus even went further demonstrating that his bodily functions were working just fine, thank you, by asking them to give Him something to eat. Spiritual entities, whether it be angels, or disembodied souls, or even what people imagine are ghosts, don’t have the bodies to process physical food.
Jesus, however, ate in front of them. His body was indeed no longer bound to earthly limits, as He demonstrated by the fact that He just suddenly appeared in their midst. He hadn’t needed them to unlock and open the doors. He didn’t climb in through a window that was inadvertently left open. But none-the-less, with the evidence of His eating right before their eyes, Jesus substantiated that His body was still like that of the apostles… just like that of you and me. Clearly, Jesus’ was now alive again.
Further, we are not even totally dependent upon Luke’s reporting. We heard one of the eyewitnesses last week. The apostle John clearly stated in his Gospel account that he and the others truly saw Jesus with their own eyes. He added that Jesus had them examine the wounds in His hands and side to prove that it was truly Him in the flesh. John even went on to report that a week after their first meeting with the risen Jesus, He once again stood in their midst and this time allowed the apostle Thomas to actually touch His wounds.
Point of fact, for the next 33 days, Luke reports in his second book, the Book of Acts, Jesus continued to show Himself to a whole host of people, giving clear evidence that He was risen from the dead just as He had promised. In First Corinthians, the apostle Paul gives us quite a list of these eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus. He testifies: “…he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:5-8).
Is it science to simply dismiss this body of evidentiary testimony? Real science would demand that clear, irrefutable evidence to the contrary be produced first before anyone could scientifically dismiss this Biblical witness testimony.
Now, it must also be acknowledged that Jesus does want His followers to know and follow Him by faith alone without the need for empirical evidence. The plain fact is that it is so much simpler and less cumbersome to follow Jesus that way. Jesus had said to empirically minded Thomas, “Blessed are those not seeing and yet are believing”(Jn. 20:29) However, Jesus did not think it a sin to accommodate Thomas’s demands to see the evidence. Before Thomas could say anything to Him, Jesus commanded Thomas to touch Him, put his fingers in His wounds. The idea of presenting to His apostles these evidences of His resurrection was Jesus’ in the first place.
At the same time, though, lest we think that the empirical evidence is not at all important, then consider this, would anyone be so inclined to be a dedicated follower of Jesus if all that we have are a few veiled prophesies of the Messiah’s resurrection and, say, the short ending of the Gospel of Mark, which just ends with the women leaving the empty tomb in fear after hearing the report of two angels that Jesus had risen? I rather doubt it. The witness of those who actually saw the evidence… saw Jesus dead and buried… saw the empty tomb ………saw and touched the risen body of Jesus, gives the Gospel its credibility and even brings us into fellowship with the true Jesus (I John 1:1-5).
God, after all, has never asked you or me or any of His people to believe Him on the basis of hearsay. He has never rejected true science being applied to the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection nor anything else He has done or stated. For one, He has always insisted on the testimony of at least two witnesses to establish truth. And these men, huddled in fear, were going to be Jesus’ “eyewitnesses” in the world. In another 39 days Jesus would be returning back to the Father. Thomas, Peter, James, John and the others were going to be Jesus’ sole witnesses, His called, appointed, and sent ambassadors to the world. Validation that Jesus was truly alive, the scientific evidence, would be key to their conviction and ensure their bold proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And thanks be to God, the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection and the credibility that it gave to all His teaching and promises was so overwhelming these men became willing to be persecuted and even killed for the sake of bringing to you and me the Truth that truly saves… that truly is the answer to all our questions… that truly is the solution to all that ails us and our world.
True science is not an enemy to you and me, nor even to the proclamation of the Gospel. As Luke helps us to see it only reinforces the impact of the Gospel in the hearts and minds of people and further emboldens us, like the apostles, to proclaim it with conviction, knowing that the truth, the salvation of sinners and eternal victory for all who believe in Jesus Christ is contained that scientifically validated Gospel message.
Christ Jesus is risen! God grant us to proclaim it without reservation and with all joy! Amen.