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Russia and the Resurrection

{My apologies--somehow the URL of the embedded link self-modified. It is corrected.}

During college, I had to have 3 semesters of either, French, German or Russian. I didn’t want to learn French, everyone else was taking German, so I took Russian and loved it. During the summer of 1991, I got to spend two months there for a Study Abroad program. It was an amazing experience. It was also a traumatic time for the then USSR. Later that year, Leningrad would revert to St. Petersburg and 5 days after I returned home, President Gorbachev was kidnapped in a coup that led to the rise of Boris Yeltsin, whom I nearly got to see mere weeks before.

I also took the opportunity to make it a personal missions trip, and took a lot of Russian New Testaments with me. As ‘coincidence’ would have it, my first day in Akademgorodok (the university town in Siberia where we studied) I met a Russian guide who was a Christian, and she told me of the imminent arrival of a group of Navigators to town. It turned out that one was the roommate of a friend from Austin! So in my free time, I worked with them.

I was open about my faith, but was never an in-your-face type, so all of the Americans in my study abroad group knew of it. (I think they all found out on the flight from Moscow to Akademgorodok. The Russian lady sitting next to me and I had a conversation about faith during most of the four hour flight. I found out later that I was talking louder than I thought in order to compete with the Aeroflot engine noise, and so it turns out I was sharing the Gospel with half of the plane. Oh shucks.)

One of my group, who nicknamed himself Sasha, and I had one of those late night conversations about faith and Christianity well into our time there. I don’t remember much of the conversation, except the end. We had been talking for hours, and he finally asked me, “But Robb, how do you KNOW it is true?” All of a sudden, my mind went blank. I had no answer. I began to pray desperately, reminding God of His promise in the Gospels that we should not worry ahead of time what to say for in that hour we would be given the words. I was informing Him that this was the hour, and I needed the words, so please deliver! Nothing. Our conversation ended, and I crashed in bed. The next morning was full of classes, so as soon as lunch was over, I rushed to my room and dropped to my knees.

The best way to describe the state of my mind at that time is that it was filled with static, like TV snow (which I’m afraid that only people over 25 will understand). All of a sudden, and it was very sudden, and very literally, clear text appeared across the snow, “Robb, the Resurrection.” At that instant, in a fraction of a second, all of the evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ flashed through my head like a dam unleashed.

Later that day, I saw Sasha walking with one of the Navigators, talking. A couple of hours later, I found the Navigator and asked about the conversation, and he replied matter of factly that he explained the Resurrection to Sasha. To my knowledge, Sasha never came to Christ, but it was a watershed moment for me. I have never forgotten it to this day, even going so far once as to quip that Christianity is the only faith built on an empty foundation—the empty tomb.

What is interesting about the setting of this story is that the Russian word for Sunday is “Resurrection Day.” (Voskrasenye) Even during the Soviet era, their calendars weekly proclaimed the Resurrection. The ironic rest of the story is that it wasn’t always called that. I’m not sure when the change was made, but the previous name for Sunday was, literally, “Do-Nothing Day.” (Nedyelnik) This legacy survives today in the name of Monday, which is, “Day After the Do-Nothing Day” or “Ponedyelnik.” What is the do-nothing day? The (Christian) Sabbath. But, to make sure people ‘got it,’ someone made the connection unmistakable by changing the name.

But, other than the fact that this happened 20 years ago this summer, why bring it up? Aside from the fact that it is Lent and we are two weeks from Good Friday, so what? I encourage all of you to find out about a man named Gary Habermas. He is probably the foremost scholar in the world on the Resurrection. He maintains, and my story testifies, that the Resurrection is THE central point of Christianity.

Wherever it is preached, the most fundamental expression of the Gospel comes from Romans 10:9. To wit, 1) Believe Jesus is Deity, 2) that He died, and 3) rose from the dead, and you will be redeemed from sin and death to eternal life.

Dr. Habermas makes his arguments about the historicity of the Resurrection using the data and interpretations ceded, accepted and even proposed by skeptic historians! He shows that what they see and accept from the historical record makes for a stronger case than even what most Christians use in their apologetics!

Using what is nearly unanimously accepted by the consensus of New Testament scholars (and many are far from evangelical and even antagonistic to the faith), he shows that the ‘legend’ of Christ’s resurrection can confidently be dated to FIVE years after it happened, and that Paul himself had the road to Damascus experience around TWO years after the Resurrection, and that some have argued that the first ‘creed’ of the new church dates from about SIX MONTHS after the Resurrection.

So what? One of the main skeptical arguments against the validity of the faith is that Jesus’ miracles and Resurrection are legends that sprang up over the centuries and can’t be believed in. Legends of that magnitude and importance simply don’t spring up in six months, especially when you consider the hostile opposition that would have been happy to disprove it by producing the Body from the tomb. (Yes, there are objections to this line of thinking, but there are solid answers to these—go to Habermas’ site, linked above.)

Prominent skeptical scholars have conceded that the textual evidence in Scripture shows that Paul (and Luke for that matter) were extraordinary historians for their era—they demanded standards of proof and evidence for their message that are comparable to today’s scholarly standards. Furthermore, the rigor of the evidence exceeds that of any other contemporary facts of that time period by orders of magnitude.

I thought about waiting until Holy Week to share this with you, but I wanted to give you the opportunity and time to read up on the topic for yourselves, so that if you are seeking, perhaps you will find this Easter to be your first in the faith, and if you are a believer, you can learn more about the Resurrection in time to share with those who ask you for how you KNOW your faith is true during this season.

There are many things in this world where God seems to have left ambiguity regarding Himself and His Hand in this world. This is one area where He has left nothing to chance, providing internal, external and logical evidence plastered across the historical landscape. He has left it so the only option for an informed person to not accept the truth of the Gospel is an act of the will. He wants to be found. He wants us to find redemption.

He paid too high of a price to let it be misunderstood.


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