Book Review – The Message of the Resurrection (Paul Beasley-Murray)

There are not a lot of books available on the resurrection at the moment (although I know of several due to come out later this year), but I did have this volume in the Bible Speaks Today Themes series on my shelf, and decided to tackle it over the Easter period.

The approach Beasley-Murray takes is to work through the New Testament, expounding most of the key passages dealing with the resurrection. He starts with the gospels, devoting one chapter to each. He shows how each gospel author brings a different emphasis to the narrative, as well as being careful to show the unity within the diversity. He points out that many preachers end up preaching more or less exactly the same sermon every Easter Sunday, which perhaps is why the theme of the resurrection is underemphasised – it can be hard to present it in a fresh way. One good way to start is to preach from each gospel separately, and focus on the distinctives of that particular account.

Preaching the resurrection without the cross without the resurrection leads to triumphalism; but preaching the cross without the resurrection leads nowhere: it is a ‘dead’ end.

As for apologetics, he does not systematically set out a case for the historicity of the resurrection, but deals with the evidence and objections as they come up through the gospel accounts.

He then moves on to the writings of Paul, obviously starting with 1 Cor 15, but moving on to tackle 2 Cor 4:7-5:10, Col 1:3-4 and 1 Thess 4:13-18. This of course moves from teaching about the resurrected Christ to showing the implications of the resurrection for us as believers. Then follows a chapter on the witness to the resurrection of “Peter and his friends”. This starts by going through various proclamations on the resurrection in the book of Acts, and then on to passages in Hebrews, 1 Peter and Revelation.

The next chapter is entitled “the witness of other voices to the resurrection”. Interestingly this brings us back to various passages in Paul’s writings, but identifying those passages thought by commentators to be citing early Christian hymns and creeds (Phil 2 being perhaps the most famous example). By this he shows how central the resurrection was to even the earliest Christians. He particularly links it to the Lordship of Jesus – his resurrection is the basis for his exaltation as Lord. And not just Lord of individual believers (though he is that), but Lord of everything and everywhere – Lord of the world.

In confessing Jesus as Lord the early Christians were not in the first place declaring that ‘Jesus is Lord of my life’; they were declaring that Jesus was ‘Lord of the world’.

There is a final brief chapter on the response of various theologians to the resurrection. He starts by listing influential voices who denied or doubted the resurrection (from Rudolf Bultmann through to Bishop of Durham David Jenkins), before surveying those who have written in defence of its historicity (from George Beasley-Murray – perhaps the author’s father? through to Tom Wright).

The amount of material this book covers makes it a very useful comprehensive guide to the New Testament teaching on the resurrection and will be particularly helpful to those looking for fresh ideas for preaching on the resurrection. I’m not sure how well it works as a book to be read from cover to cover as I did. There were a few places in which I got a little bogged down. But it is certainly a valuable contribution to a topic that has been surprisingly under-represented in recent years.

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