[B23] The Resurrection of Jesus
Recognizing the supreme importance of this doctrine to the whole fabric of our Christian faith, the enemies of the Gospel have ever been active in trying to undermine faith in the historicity of the resurrection. This was begun at once. Those who had been instrumental in putting Jesus to death, recognizing that His resurrection would be an unanswerable testimony to the deviltry of their deed, on being notified of the fact of Jesus' resurrection, began at once industriously to circulate the report that His body had been stolen by some of his friends. And from that day to this the enemies of Christ and His Gospel have been actively engaged in seeking to destroy this foundation truth of the Christian religion. In the earliest days the opposition was directed primarily against this particular miracle. In our modern day the opposition to the doctrine of the resurrection is prompted by the principle which maintains that miracles of any kind are impossible.
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23. The Resurrection Of Jesus
I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. … Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. — 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20.
The chilling blasts of winter are being moderated by the south winds; the Sun is making his northward journey; and the singing birds, the swelling buds and bursting flowers all remind us that the temporary reign of death in nature has passed. This is nature’s witness to the spring which awaits the children of men after the winter of death. Every radiant blossom which has silently worked its way up from the cold, dead soil of winter is a smiling prophet of the resurrection.
Last Friday, Good Friday, was the day of all days which symbolized the world’s starless night; the night of riot, of godlessness, of hopelessness; the carnival night of death. But Easter is here to remind us that the winter of our disappointment, the lenten season of gloom and sorrow, is past, that the springtime of joy, and peace, and hope, and life, are the enduring heritage of the children of men. Easter is the day of days which assures us that truth has defeated falsehood, that righteousness is triumphant over unrighteousness, that Jesus Christ has broken the dominance of Satan over the souls of men, and that, in the victory of Jesus, the representative and substitutionary man, there is the possibility of final victory for every one of the sons and daughters of Adam’s sin-cursed and distressed race. This is the content of the joyous Easter message.
Let us take for our study and meditation this morning the absorbingly interesting and supremely important subject of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We shall consider it first of all as a fact of history, and then the relation of this fact to our Christian faith and life.
I. The Resurrection Of Jesus Is A Fact Of History.
One of the best substantiated facts of history, substantiated by every form of evidence; but the resurrection of Jesus is not an undisputed fact of history. Recognizing the supreme importance of this doctrine to the whole fabric of our Christian faith, the enemies of the Gospel have ever been active in trying to undermine faith in the historicity of the resurrection. This was begun at once. Those who had been instrumental in putting Jesus to death, recognizing that His resurrection would be an unanswerable testimony to the deviltry of their deed, on being notified of the fact of Jesus' resurrection, began at once industriously to circulate the report that His body had been stolen by some of his friends. And from that day to this the enemies of Christ and His Gospel have been actively engaged in seeking to destroy this foundation truth of the Christian religion. In the earliest days the opposition was directed primarily against this particular miracle. In our modern day the opposition to the doctrine of the resurrection is prompted by the principle which maintains that miracles of any kind are impossible.
The particular line of attack which the opponents of the doctrine of the resurrection follow varies its form somewhat, but they all have the same general point of departure. They generally recognize the historic character of the evidence. They admit that the records telling us of this great truth were written by men who were eyewitnesses of the events of Christ’s closing days, — His death and burial; that they were written by men who saw, or thought they saw, the risen Christ. But this latter is the point for the entering wedge of doubt. The deniers of a real resurrection maintain that these men, the Apostles, were mistaken, that they believed so profoundly all the time that Christ was going to rise from the dead that they allowed their subjective beliefs to assume the form of objective realities, that they came to believe that they saw what they were constantly hoping to see. Others represent the matter even in this form: God Himself, in order to assure the continued existence, and Lordship, of Jesus Christ, though in His purely spiritual nature, gave the disciples visions of Christ from time to time. All this is purely invention. It is contrary to the oft repeated statements of Scripture. It is in direct opposition to all that is revealed to us of the understanding, the hopes and fears, of the Apostles. Let us now consider these facts of history as the Apostles themselves report them to us.
In the first place, though it is a revelation of their own lack of understanding and faulty faith, the Apostles clearly tell us that they were not confidently expecting Christ’s resurrection. Indeed, they could not understand, they would not believe, that Jesus had to suffer and die. How, then, could it be with them a firmly fixed article of faith that He was to rise triumphantly? It was not, as they tell us.
Under the genial rays of the Sun of Righteousness Divine truth had taken root in the souls of the Apostles. This truth was slowly expanding. Their religious characters, which had been largely in a state of flux, were taking on something of form and firmness. But the one great truth which, as yet, they had not been able to accept, or grasp, either as to the fact or its meaning, was this that Jesus had to die in order to complete His work. In this state of mind and heart, consider how they must have felt when the darkness of Good Friday settled down about the cross. The foundation on which they had built was, apparently, destroyed. The staff on which they had leaned was broken. At one fell stroke their hopes were dashed to the ground. Can imagination conjure up a condition of life more helpless, hopeless, bewildered than that of the Apostles? It is to their discredit, but they do not try to hide it; they tell us all about it. They were not unbelievers, they were not enemies of the truth. They simply lacked understanding, lacked faith. They were lost, confounded in the maze of, apparently, irreconcilable contradictions; just as, under the circumstances, we would have been, or anyone else.
This condition is revealed by all the Gospel records on the subject. The Apostles, when they saw the Lord dead and buried, did not forget Him. Reason was confounded, faith was eclipsed; but love did not abdicate the throne. They were all thinking of Jesus. And early the first day of the week some of the devoted women came to visit His grave. But what a sorrowful picture they present. They were going to find, not a living, but a dead, friend. And how unutterably helpless and hopeless are their words of astonishment, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid Him.” Twice they had been robbed. Death had robbed them of the living Lord. And now some vandal had taken away even the lifeless body of their Master. And when the first visitors to the tomb told the Apostles of what they had seen and heard, these men could not believe it. “Their words seemed to them as idle tales.” Could the picture be painted in darker colors? Could a group of people be represented more completely overwhelmed, more hopeless, more helpless than these? Assuredly these were not the people, irrespective of their religious character, to carry out a gigantic scheme of deception.
What, then, is the simple, Biblical, historic teaching concerning Christ’s resurrection? First of all, that He had actually died. He did not simply swoon, or pass into a comatose state from which He was revived. He died and was buried. By the power of God, in all three persons, the dead body of Jesus was raised from the dead. He did not appear in the form of a body just to convince the distressed Apostles of His continued existence. It was the actual body which was crucified on Calvary’s cross which came forth from the grave on Easter morn. In this real, but glorified and heavenly body He reappeared to his disciples, and sojourned for awhile among them; being seen, not only by isolated individuals here and there, under mysterious circumstances; but by groups of the Apostles, by all of them, and to other believers to the number of five hundred.
The conviction of the Apostles as to the actuality of Jesus' resurrection, a conviction not easily produced, is the only thing which can satisfactorily explain the changed attitude, the absolute fearlessness, and wondrous activity we find in the Apostles so soon after the manifest helplessness of Good Friday. Is this not what St. Peter tells us when he says:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).
The resurrection of Jesus was the key which revealed to them the real nature and mission of the Master. It became at once the burden of their preaching. On the day of Pentecost this was the message with which St. Peter wrought dismay in the ranks of the enemies of Jesus, and brought to faith those in whom the Spirit was allowed to do His work. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you all, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it. … This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:22—24, 32).
The truth of a real bodily resurrection was proclaimed, not only by the original Apostles, but with equal frequency, clearness, and emphasis by the one who had been the greatest early enemy of Jesus and the doctrine of His resurrection, — St. Paul. He tells us that his apostleship rested on the fact of his having seen the Lord Christ. Unquestionably the risen, glorified Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). Does he not tell us everywhere, as he does in our text, that the Christ whom it is his glory to preach is the Christ who died, who was buried, and who was raised again from the dead? And that all this was in accord with the Scriptures, that is in fulfillment of God’s predetermined plans?
II. The Meaning Of Christ’s Resurrection To Our Christian Life.
That Jesus rose from the dead, that His resurrection is an actual fact of history, is so well attested that few attempt outright to deny it. Something took place in the lives of the Apostles, something which so fundamentally transformed them, that it can be satisfactorily explained only by accepting the record of Christ’s resurrection which they gave. It is largely from the viewpoint of the effect of the Resurrection on the life of these people, of course, substantiated by their teaching, that we should learn the meaning of the resurrection to Christian life in general.
The first thing which we Christian people need to keep in mind is that Christ’s resurrection is the indisputable proof of the reality, and perfectly satisfactory character, of our redemption. Christ died announcing: “It is finished.” Easter morn is heaven’s response to that statement. It is finished. The Father has accepted what Jesus came to do. The work of redemption has been completed, not merely ended. Our sins have been taken away. The sacrifice was wholly sufficient. The only thing which stands between any human being and eternal life is the question of acceptance, or refusal to accept, the work of Jesus Christ in his behalf. We are perplexed, often perplexed, perplexed by the fractional vision of things which alone are possible to us, perplexed by the nature and extent of our ills; but here it stands written, the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin. And we know, those who have allowed Jesus to come into their hearts know, that He has taken away sin; for we have felt the peace of sins forgiven. But this brings us to a new subject.
We have seen that the Apostles, after Easter, were new men. This change of character is not to be explained by the simple fact of a change of opinion. These men did have changed views, an enlarged understanding, a clarified vision; but it was more than an intellectual change. It was the incoming of a truth which changed the whole life. And that incoming truth was the Christ Himself, whom they had but imperfectly understood up to the time of His resurrection. When the Apostles came to know the meaning of Jesus' death, and the certainty of His resurrection, they rose with Him into a new life. Their old selfishness disappeared, their fears evaporated, sacrifices henceforth become joys, their highest ambitions were to live in fellowship with the risen Lord, and further His work.
The truth of Christ’s resurrection, where truly embraced, always has, must have, this effect in men’s lives. The depressing burden of sin is lifted, Jesus has taken it away. Instead of the reign of self in man’s life, Jesus reigns in him and over him. Much of the old carnal self is burned away in the holy fire of the new faith and the new love. The whole outlook on life is vitally changed. The center of interest is changed from things earthly to things heavenly, from things perishable to the things imperishable. This is what the Apostle means when he says:
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above” (Col. 3:1).
The things which are above are not first of all, so far as our lives are concerned, eternal life and glory; they are the things of the practical life which have their source and sustaining power above, in the risen, glorified Christ. The living, glorified Christ living in man’s heart means higher conceptions of the dignity of human life; it means a higher conception of parenthood; childhood takes on an added worth; citizenship assumes a new dignity; the toil for daily bread becomes sacred, for it is instrumental in serving eternal ends. The things above which come into the lives of those who have risen with Christ are, as the Apostle explains in this same chapter, mercy, kindness, humbleness, forgiveness, forbearance, love of truth, purity, peace and love. Oh, no, the resurrection of Jesus is not only a dogma, to be abstractly pondered, objectively believed, and formally defended; it is a power, a living, transforming power. It is of worth only where it is so entertained that it means a living appropriation of the risen Lord Himself, the incoming of His full, perfect life for the curing of the ills of our imperfect life.
Easter, with its triumphant message of a risen Redeemer, has done more than any other thing to put purpose and worthwhileness into human life. The round of the daily routine becomes very much like drudgery when there is no worthy, lasting object in view. And if there is nothing which lasts beyond the confines of the little span of existence which is cut out for each one here, the question will persistently recur, — is it all worth while? And when the need for exertion still remains, but the strength has been undermined, and there is a heavy burden of pain to be borne; then the question becomes still more insistent. To these and all similar questions Easter gives the unmistakable answer. All human life may be made worthwhile, because these are but the days of the body of our humiliation. If the risen Christ has become the life of our life there shall be an Easter for us also. Then the burdens will be left behind. Then the imperfect shall have become perfect. Then there will no longer be the question about the worthwhileness of life. In that universal Easter-day we shall be perfectly satisfied, for we shall have arisen in His likeness.
As Christmas is, in a certain sense, the children’s great festival, so Easter is, in a sense, the special festival of the aged. As age comes on the grasp of many things naturally loosens. To those whose affections are set on the things of earth alone, this means heartache, and gloomy retrospect. They live in the past, they regard the future with feelings which make them, to say the least, ill at ease. It is not so with those who have grown old with Christ, who have known, and still know, the power of His resurrection. They have experienced the fulfillment of the ancient promise:
“Even to your old age I am He, and even to hoar hairs I will carry you” (Isa 46:4).
There is quite generally a sanctified joy, a blessed restfulness, a cheery hopefulness in the latter days of those who have faithfully followed Christ. They are not unmindful of the fact that the shadows are lengthening, that the sands are running lower in the glass, that their locks are thin and white, that their steps are growing more and more tottering; but they are not dismayed. The road over which they must go they have never traveled; but others near and dear to them have traveled it, and they beckon them to follow unafraid. But the real secret of the courage and good cheer of these aged pilgrim warriors is that Jesus is with them. He has been over the way. He smoothed its rough places. He took away the dangers. And He tenderly takes the trembling traveler’s hand and assures them, not only of a safe passage, but of better things at the end of the journey. And so there is a hopefulness, and a faraway look in these patriarchs' eyes; and they travel on dreaming of that assured land, where every day is spring, redolent with the perfume of flowers; where friends are forever united, where all is perfect, and shedding His radiance over all the risen and forever triumphant Lord.
As the years pass every one of us is called upon to surrender those whose lives were intertwined closely with ours. How often, as we sit wistfully in the shadows, do the old loves burn in the heart, and questions concerning their estate in the great beyond press upon us. With respect to many of these questions, at least so far as details are concerned, the veil has not been lifted; but still there is enough to give us all needed comfort. If they were believers in Christ in this life, they have passed into life, they are with Christ. That is enough, to know that they are with, and partaking of the victory of the risen Lord.
As for ourselves, our spirits still bear the vesture of flesh and blood; and flesh and blood, though dwelt in by a renewed spirit, is still weak and sinful. This explains our doubts and fears. But the Easter message of the risen Lord comes again and again to cheer and reassure us. Gradually life is transfigured, fears vanish, doubts lose their power; the words of Jesus become more and more reassuring: Fear not, I am He that was dead, and, behold, I am alive forever more. And because I live ye shall live also. “He is risen” is the world’s greatest cry of victory. It has done more to put hope, and courage, and cheer into the hearts of men than any message that has ever been proclaimed. It has put a song of victory on the lips of untold millions of the weary and worn children of men. Blessed forever be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us unto this lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.
- Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
- Title: “The Apostles' Creed”
- Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
- Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
- Copyright: CC BY 4.0