I like the weekend programs on public radio—the story-telling, the interviews, the game shows. I especially like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” It’s a humorous news quiz show, and each week they have a segment called “Bluff the Listener.” In this game, they share three stories, and the listener contestant has to pick out the one that’s the true. The trick is that none of the stories sound like they’re true. Listen to these stories, and see which one you would pick as the true one.
Story #1: A common complaint about the Tesla company is that they only make cars for the uber-rich, not the Uber driver. But now Elon Musk has created a car that will cost $5,000, brand-new. The body of the car is made of pounded soda cans. It is remarkably light, and the advertising potential for beverage companies may lower the overall cost even more. The cars have no temperature controls. The seats don’t move. There are no computer components, phone charger, radio or sound system. (Musk laughingly suggests that this Tesla will actually be the real Hummer because if drivers want music, they’ll have to hum.)
The car seats only one, because most of the space is taken up by the large containers of vinegar and baking soda that power it. But, although it’s not a family car, it could be a lifesaver depending on the kind of family you spend your time with. The company says it doesn’t expect to sell a lot of the $5,000 cars, but that’s not the point. The point is to shut up all the people complaining about how much their other cars cost.
Story #2: Have you ever sent a text, only to realize after you sent it that the auto-correct feature substituted a word you definitely didn’t intend to use? Well, this year’s big prom trend was inspired by exactly that. Teens across the country were texting their dates to check what kind of corsage they wanted, only to find that their phones auto-corrected the word corsage to croissant.
The quirky mistake quickly went viral on social media, and Dallas, Texas, bakery has figured out how to capitalize on it. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen is now selling croissant corsages, so instead of wearing delicate flowers, prom goers can wear corsages made from actual croissants, a lovely way to make memories and grease stains that will last forever. The bakery is planning more prom-related items, including bagel buttonholes, cupcake cufflinks, and a cumber(sticky)bund.
Story #3: You may want to exercise caution in a certain Middle-eastern garden. It has been reported that the body of a man known as Jesus, who was executed by crucifixion on Friday, has disappeared from its tomb, even though the tomb had been sealed with a large stone. Women arriving at the tomb on Sunday to care for the body found the stone rolled away and the body gone. They were perplexed but became terrified when two unidentified men appeared in dazzling clothes beside them. The men spoke strange words to the women, suggesting that their friend was not dead at all: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
Even more suspicious was the fact that the men were familiar with conversations the women had had with the dead man before his execution and where he had spoken with them. In fact, the strangers challenged the women to remember the dead man’s words to them: “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
The women, three of whom have been identified as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, reported these events to the group of Jesus’ followers known as “the apostles.” Understandably, the so-called apostles consider the story nonsense.
So, which story would you choose as the true one? Which story sounds the most plausible? Story #1, about a new, lightweight, inexpensive Tesla model? Story #2, about a new fad in prom attire? Or Story #3, about a crucified man raised from the dead? If you didn’t already know what you already know, which one would you believe?
We know that the apostles would probably have chosen Story #1 or Story #2. Luke tells us that they thought Story #3 was “an idle tale.” That’s a pretty gentle translation. What Luke’s Greek words actually suggest is that the guys all put their heads together, and the consensus among them was that the women’s story was total nonsense—completely devoid of anything believable.
They thought it was leros—that’s the Greek word Luke used for it. It’s related to our word “delirious.” Here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines delirium: it’s “an acutely disturbed state of mind that is characterized by illusions and incoherence of thought and speech.” That’s what the apostles thought of the women’s report. An idle tale? The apostles thought the women were hallucinating! They thought the women were nuts!
At least Peter goes to check out their story. He finds the empty tomb and the linen burial cloths. And what does he do? He turns around and goes home. Hearing about and even seeing the empty tomb was enough to amaze Peter—enough to make him wonder, to astonished him, to disturb him even. But it wasn’t enough to make him say, “Story #3! I choose Story #3! The story about Jesus being raised to life is the one I believe!”
There are so many people in the world today who do not believe. Like the apostles, they hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection and think it’s just so much nonsense. Bill Maher could be the poster child for this view. You might remember that he made a movie a few years ago called “Religulous,” in which he skewered Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam. (He’s an equal opportunity skeptic.) Here’s his version of the resurrection: “God had a son. And he said to him, ‘Jesus, I’m sending you to earth on a suicide mission, but don’t worry; they can’t kill you because you’re really me. But it is gonna hurt for a few days. There’s about three days you’re gonna hate me.’”
Maher concludes, “It is one of the silliest stories I’ve ever heard.” If Bill Maher spoke Greek, he’d say the story of the resurrection—the story that is central to our faith, the story which we look to as the defining event that secures our eternal relationship with God—is leros.
Now, I find Bill Maher pretty offensive—not because he doesn’t believe, but because he’s so dismissive and derisive of what I believe. But the thing is, there are lots of people who hear the resurrection story—indeed the entire story of our faith—and while they may not call it leros, they’re puzzled by its strangeness. And, they wonder how anyone can believe what cannot be proven with cold, hard, measurable evidence.
This kind of skepticism about the resurrection story has existed from the earliest days of the Church. It just seemed crazy to people who believed a true god couldn’t change, couldn’t suffer, couldn’t die. The story seemed foolish to them. But Paul didn’t respond to them with facts and figures. He explained that earthly wisdom simply isn’t sufficient for us to know God deeply and eternally. So, Paul said, God reached us through a way that seems completely foolish to human minds. Here’s what he wrote to the Corinthians:
“The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
The way some of our contemporary Christian brothers and sisters attempt to answer present-day doubters is to try to fight fire with fire. If non-believers want facts, they try to come up with facts. But the truth is, there are very few scientifically provable facts associated with our faith story, and certainly not with the resurrection story. We will never be able to convince people of the truth of Story #3 with scientifically or historically documented facts. If we try to argue someone into believing, we’ll lose every time. Even the cold hard evidence of the empty tomb and abandoned burial cloths weren’t enough to make Peter believe.
But we know that the disciples did come to believe that Jesus is alive. What happened that led the disciples from thinking the story was leros to being convinced of its truth? What enables us to believe that this story—this seemingly preposterous story?
The truth of the story is revealed when we see the Risen Christ. This was true of the disciples. It’s true of us. And it’s the only way that others will come to celebrate the resurrection of Christ as we do today.
The pages of Scripture that follow the resurrection accounts are full of reports of Jesus appearing to his followers. He appeared to Peter and James, to Stephen and to Saul. He appeared on the seashore, on a Galilean mountain, on the road to Emmaus, and in a locked room in Jerusalem. He appeared to a group of twelve and a crowd of five hundred. He appeared to the disciples as they sat at the table and as they worked at their jobs. And in seeing the Risen Christ, they believed that the story of the resurrection was true.
It’s because we have seen the Risen Christ in our own lives that we believe in the truth of Story #3. Where have you seen him? Where have you felt his presence? I’ve been blessed by those of you who have shared your stories of where and when and how you’ve seen Christ in your lives. His presence has given you the strength you needed to face challenges you couldn’t get through alone. He’s inspired you to try things you never imagined yourself doing. He’s comforted you in your grief, delighted with you in your joy, stood with you when you were afraid, and empowered you when you felt weak. We believe in the resurrection because we have experienced the new life that the Risen Christ brings. We have seen him for ourselves.
Those who have not yet seen the risen Christ are like the disciples who only heard a story that seemed to be leros. It sounds like an idle tale to them. But they can begin their journey toward believing when they see the Risen Christ for themselves, and it’s likely that they will see him in us and in our lives before they can see him in their own. When we live as those who have seen the Risen Christ, when we live as those who have been freed from the power of sin and the fear of death, when we live as Easter people, others will begin to catch glimpses of the Risen Christ for themselves.
It’s because we have seen the Risen Christ that we believe in Story #3. We believe in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. We believe in the truth that Jesus went to the cross in perfect obedience to his mission to save the world from sin by proclaiming the nearness of God’s kingdom and inviting us to be part of it, as only the Son of God could do. We believe that in both his living and his dying, he was the Prince of Peace who refused to allow the violence of Good Friday to continue through him, and in his refusal that took him to the cross, he broke the power of sin for all of us. And, we believe that when God raised Jesus from the dead, it was to prove to us that death can never have the final say.
Priscilla Shirer is a Christian speaker and author. In one of her appearances, she spoke of the Lord we believe in—the one whose resurrection is proven through what he has done and is doing in the world, and what he has done and is doing in our lives. Listen to her words about what we believe:
“He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
He’s the keeper of creation and the creator of all.
He’s the architect of the universe and the manager of all time,
He always was, always is, always will be unmoved, unchanged, undefeated, and never undone.
He was bruised but brought healing,
He was pierced but eased pain;
He was persecuted but brought freedom,
He was dead and brings life;
He is risen to bring power
and He reigns to bring peace.”
Story #3 is true. Believe it.
The message of Christ’s life and death and resurrection is not an idle tale. Believe it.
We have seen the Risen Christ and know that the Easter story is true. Believe it. Believe it. Believe it! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Amen.
~~ Pastor Carol Williams-Young