3rd Sunday of Easter – 4/18/2021
I want to speak with you today about something on everyone's mind and lips. That is science. In fact, amidst all the fear generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the obsession with climate change, which many call an "existential threat" to our whole planet, the refraining cry you hear in dealing 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 savior of our existence.
But is this true? Is science the savior of our planet, the healer of our bodies, and the solution to every problem?
Most of us would quickly say, "Uh, no!" But before we, people of faith, believers in the faithful Savior Jesus Christ, vehemently attack and criticize this contemporary God of our culture, we might want to take a deep breath and then do some careful science of our own. After all, a thorough study of this phenomenon reveals that this unrelenting quest to follow science is more akin to a religious and dogmatic belief system than any systematic and rational quest for empirical truth.
What is the definition of science anyway? The Google definition is "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 worlds, following a systematic methodology based on evidence... Experiment and 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 to make a judgment as to what the truth is.
This understanding of what science truly is has led many to insist that science and religion, or faith, cannot have anything to do with each other. Indeed, faith is what we call metaphysical—something that transcends physical matter or the laws of nature. In other words, anything supernatural is by its very nature beyond our physical abilities or senses to often even observe, let alone experiment on. You and I cannot see, touch, or examine faith. We might observe what physical actions or emotions affect someone's faith, but faith itself is beyond our detection.
However, that does not mean that science and faith have nothing to do with each other. Science is often greatly influenced by and even dependent on faith to one degree or another. Take, for example, the so-called "settled science" of evolutionary theory. Even by the theory's admission, it depends upon the acceptance of certain priori, that is, certain assumptions that must be considered trustworthy without being based on previous experience or observation. For evolutionary theory, two assumptions are that there is no God and, second, all things came into existence by chance. In other words, proponents of evolution must have faith that their assumptions are valid. 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, and no rational minds to analyze it. So the evolutionist insists by faith that there must have been a "big bang" that started everything. Ironically, it takes more faith to believe that the complex and well-ordered universe occurred by chance than to believe it has a divine, intelligent creator.
So, yes, by all means, let's follow the science. But the science to be truly believed and accepted as truth cannot be simply the speculation of people, even those of the highest 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.
Because of these faulty ideas that science and faith can't coexist, many claim that a true truth-seeking scientist could not 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 the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we have put this tension between faith and reason once again front and center before the world. It is very apparent that even though some deny Jesus even existed or others say that if He did live, he didn't die on the cross but died sometime 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 is something we observe everywhere. All vegetation dies. All animal and human life ends. On top of this, even though, on the one hand, our ingenuity, science, and desperate measures have to a certain extent enabled us to postpone death for a few minutes or years at times, they still have not helped us to reverse death and make the truly dead live 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 two millennia ago could ever do it.
Secondly, and probably the most ardent reason Jesus' resurrection is often denied, is because if He did, it would demand that everyone take very seriously Jesus' claims of divinity and His whole body of teaching concerning what truth is, what life is, and what salvation is. And that would be too unthinkable for those who refuse to be accountable to anyone or anything other than themselves.
So I thought, in light of all this, I thought, let's do something novel this morning. Let's examine what we know about the claim of Jesus' resurrection and follow the science!
Then, an excellent place to begin 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 sheer confidence and trust in the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection itself. As a physician and a man of science, Luke points us to science!
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 recognizes 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 be considered suspect automatically, that he could be making it all up. Therefore, it is incumbent upon those who insist on this to provide 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 must be made known and supported by observable, clear evidence.
Regarding relying on second-hand testimony, what our world considers truly scientific does it all the time. You and I need the physical evidence to support most of our beliefs today. We constantly accept as accurate what we read or hear from those who have claimed to have 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 based upon second-hand testimony from some physician, politician, peer-reviewed science journal, or the head bureaucrat of the CDC. You were not privy to seeing with your own eyes the physical evidence to support the claims that they 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 that 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 eyewitnesses, they suddenly saw Jesus stand in their midst with their own eyes. At first, Luke says they weren't even willing to believe their own eyes. They assumed they had seen a ghost!
However, Luke continues to report that Jesus gave them tangible evidence that He was not merely a "spirit" or "ghost" but was living, breathing flesh and bones. Jesus directed them to "handle him," touch and examine him. Jesus even went further, demonstrating that his bodily functions were working fine, thank you, by asking them to give him something to eat. Spiritual entities, whether they be angels, 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 no longer bound to earthly limits, as He demonstrated by the fact that He 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. Nonetheless, 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. Jesus' was now alive again.
Further, we are independent of 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 saw Jesus with their own eyes. He added that Jesus had them examine the wounds in His hands and side to prove it was Him in the flesh. John even reported that a week after their first meeting with the risen Jesus, He once again stood in their midst and allowed the apostle Thomas to 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 had 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 also appeared to me." (1 Cor. 15:5-8).
Is it science to 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.
It must also be acknowledged that Jesus wants His followers to know and follow Him by faith alone, without 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 who do not see and yet believe" (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 and put his fingers in His wounds. The idea of presenting this evidence of His resurrection to His apostles was Jesus' in the first place.
At the same time, though, lest we think that the empirical evidence is not at all necessary, then consider this: would anyone be so inclined to be a dedicated follower of Jesus if all that we have are a few veiled prophecies of the Messiah's resurrection and, say, the abrupt ending of the Gospel of Mark, which 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 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).
After all, God has never asked you, me, or any of His people to believe Him based on hearsay. He has never rejected true science being applied to the integrity of Jesus' resurrection or anything He has done or stated. For one, he has always insisted on the testimony of at least two witnesses to establish the truth. And these men, huddled in fear, would be Jesus' "eyewitnesses" in the world. In another 39 days, Jesus would be returning to the Father. Thomas, Peter, James, John, and the others would be Jesus' sole witnesses. He had called, appointed, and sent ambassadors to the world. Validation that Jesus was alive—the scientific evidence—would be crucial 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 that 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 or me, nor even to the proclamation of the Gospel. As Luke helps us to see, it only reinforces the Gospel's impact on people's hearts and minds. Further, it encourages 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 are contained in that scientifically validated gospel message.
Christ Jesus has risen! God grant us the courage to proclaim it without reservation and with all joy! Amen.