In honor of Halloween, when everything ghoulish and strange storms the scene, I wanted to consider what it really means for someone to become undead. I mean, that has to be one of the favorite themes of American life right now, the not-alive who become alive. Turns out, Jesus has a lot to say on that topic.
So a couple weeks ago a fellow professor announced to me, “I want to see someone rise from the dead.” Of the conversations I’ve had with other professors and staff at the community college, this was probably one of the most unusual. I’ve talked with other professors about politics, culture and other things, but not much about people rising from the dead.
This same colleague said that she had been taking a class at her church on the topic. That God would want to raise people from the dead, I have no doubt. Jesus raised people a couple times, and I’ve read about reports of this happening nowadays in places where Christian missionaries are active. And these aren’t brain-eating re-animated humans, but humanoids reinstated to life as they knew it — eating dinner, going to work, playing with the kids, arguing with the spouse — in non-decaying bodies.
As a way to demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ to people who may believe anything from voodoo to relativism, resurrection from the dead would seem to be a winner. How could you deny that something powerful and good was at work in bringing a loved one back from death? It just seems like one of those events that would capture the attention of even the most cynical skeptic. Come on, this guy was dead but now he’s alive!
My colleague said she was praying for the opportunity to be involved in bringing someone back from the dead. I’ve never thought of that as something that I should or could be involved in. Jesus did say those who believed in Him would do the kind of things he did, so why not?
Of course, it’s also clear that even a resurrection won’t convince some people. In what may be the most remarkably hard-hearted response to a rising from the dead, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day plotted to kill not just Jesus, but his friend Lazarus, who had just been summoned from his tomb.
“The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” (John 12:9-11, NASB)
That would have to be an extreme major bummer. You die; Jesus comes by and brings you back to life; religious leaders of your community get ticked off about how your re-animation because it’s made Jesus more popular; they plan to do you in and send you back to the tomb.
There’s a parable in Luke 16 that describes a conversation between the patriarch Abraham and a rich man who’s in Hades. In the story the rich man begs Abraham to send a poor man named Lazarus (not the same man) to visit his brothers, who are still alive, and warn them to straighten out or face his fate.
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’” (Luke 16:29-30, NASB)
Seems reasonable to me. I think the dead man in Hades has a point. But not so, responds Abraham.
“But [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31, NASB)
Which I guess brought me to this realization: for the dead to become alive, it takes a softening of heart that enables us to believe that God’s truth is the truth. When I say dead in this instance, I’m talking about the condition of all people spiritually.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (v.4-5, NIV)
I remember hearing months after my conversion that there were many total strangers praying for my eyes to open to my own lost, hopeless, lonely situation. How could I possibly come to believe that an ancient teacher and supposed miracle worker was actually the Son of God whose death settled accounts with the Creator? It took people asking God to warm my heart to the remote notion that the Bible might actually contain a true account of this man named Jesus. And, according to Ephesians 2, God responded by opening my eyes and giving me the ability to believe. He raised me from the dead.
If I had seen someone rise from the dead that might have freaked me out in my pre-Christian state of mind, or I would have gone skeptic on the whole deal and just assumed it was staged. It does take a miracle for anyone to believe that Jesus is the unique savior of mankind, regardless what evidence we’re given.
However a person comes to faith, there were probably many prayers by God’s people for that “dead” person to find life. I’m glad someone was praying for Jesus to wake me from the dead. I am alive from the dead, but I’m no zombie.