Why I believe in the Resurrection

Why I believe in the Resurrection

 

Text: Matthew 28:6

 

For nearly two thousand years the Church has celebrated with song and story the resurrection of our Lord, and yet on that first Easter morning of long ago no one was prepared for its arrival in the sense that they were expecting it. Pilate gave it no thought; Caiaphas depended on the guard’s watch on the tomb, and the expectancy of the disciples ended in the gloom of Calvary.

 

Mary Magdalene spent the previous night in careful preparation of her perfumes and precious ointments for the anointing of the body of her beloved teacher instead of attiring herself in clothing fit for greeting her risen Lord. So when she made her weary way through the darkness to the tomb and came face to face with the vacant sepulcher she was aghast. She was like a deer frozen in its tracks. Her frightened eyes were fixed upon the empty tomb, her heart was broken and she was all the more sorrowful at having been denied the last kind service of anointing his body.

 

Collecting her thoughts she reflected on the past few days. They had beaten her Master, crowned him with thorns, nailed him to a cross of wood, pierced his side with the spear, and with it all were not satisfied. She thought that to add to the indignation they had stolen his body and all her preparations for anointing were all in vain.

 

Half blinded by her tears she turned and ran. In her flight she met Peter and John, and cried, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him.”

 

The disciples hurried to the tomb and confirmed the fact that it was empty except for the grave clothes. The Roman seal had been broken, the stone had been rolled away, and the body had disappeared. What had happened? Where was the body?

 

Was it stolen or had it come to live?

 

Three facts support the latter conclusion:

  1. the fact of the historical record of an empty tomb.
  2. the fact of the transformed lives of the disciples.
  3. the fact of our own personal experience in a living Christ.

 

The empty tomb has its testimony. For sure Jesus had been buried, the sepulcher had been securely sealed by the Roman governor, and the guard had been stationed by it to keep watch, but despite all the body was missing on that first Easter morning. Just as both profane and sacred history concur that Jesus was crucified and buried so, likewise, everyone, enemies and friends, agreed that the tomb of Joseph was empty. Even the angels announced: “He is not here.”

 

In what way can we account for it?

 

One of two things must have taken place: The body was stolen away, or Christ came forth alive.

 

Had the body been stolen away the theft necessarily would have been the work of human hands. The hungry wolves that frequented the sheepfolds and the ravenous vultures that feasted on the bodies of the unburied dead had no power to break the Roman seal or roll away the stone. Therefore, if the body had been removed by men one of two groups would have been responsible, either the enemies of Jesus or his friends.

 

Mary’s conjecture of the enemies doing the dastardly deed seemed plausible at first. Either the soldiers had removed it to another place or the gardener had been ordered to do so. Her plea was: “Sir, if you know where they have taken him, tell me so.”

 

However, within a week the whole idea changed and a thousand tongues spoke of a possible resurrection. the women proclaimed it; the disciples proclaimed it and a multitude of witnesses said that they had seen the Lord. Surely, at a time like that, if the embarrassed enemies of our Lord had had his body within reach they would have exhibited it quickly, and thus ended the mischievous superstition about any possible resurrection. A glimpse of the dead body of Jesus in the hands of his enemies would have dispersed the disciples beyond the possibility of their rallying again to espouse his cause.

 

Matthew credited the chief priests and elders with the second alternative: “And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken council, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying. ‘Tell everyone that his disciples came by night, and stole him while we slept.”

 

That is a ridiculous notion in and of itself. Who could imagine a armed guard sleeping at their sentry posts, under the penalty of death to keep watch, while a few nervous, timid, moneyless, disappointed, discouraged, and unarmed disciples entered the garden under the light of a full moon in the sky, broke the Roman seal, rolled away the heavy stone without detection, and carried the body back through the picket line without having disturbed a sleeping sentry? No one who has had any experience in trying to slip through guarded lines would take to foolishly. Is it any wonder that further explanation was in order?

 

If one could imagine anything so absurd as this, the next question would naturally be: ‘what disposition did they ultimately make of his body?’ it would have been impossible to retain that lifeless, mangled, and decomposing body indefinitely. Reburial would have been necessary, sooner or later. Had they reinterred the corpse some one of the enemies would have found the spot and exhumed the body to the embarrassment of all concerned? A thousand eyes were watching to see that his body came to no secret resting place. Neither friends nor enemies had stolen the body away.

 

It has not been stolen away, and yet the grave was empty. Therefore the vacant tomb can be accounted for in only one way, Jesus came forth alive.

 

Being alive, his life could be accounted for in one of only two ways. Earlier he was buried alive, or he was dead and had a resurrection.

 

So let us look at the first alternative. For a moment let us suppose that he was not actually dead, but was in a comatose state, and after the Sabbath had passed regained consciousness, exchanged the grave clothes for other garments, pushed open the stone door, breaking the Roman seal, put the soldiers to flight, and set out to meet his disciples again. He stayed with them for forty days, during which time he disclosed no signs of physical disability. His wounds were perfectly healed. Modern medical science has never accounted for that kind of recovery.

 

For example in times of war when people have been seriously injured in battle, there is no record of anyone with a severe injury recovering in seventy-two hours. Had Jesus recovered in that abnormal fashion it would have been a greater miracle than that of the resurrection.

 

So the second concept must hold. He was dead and became alive again. There is not other explanation. Only in this way can we account for the empty tomb on the first Easter morning. The empty tomb is the first evidence of the resurrection of the Christ.

 

There were sufficient witnesses to corroborate the proclamation of the angels to the women: “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead, and behold, he goes before you to Galilee; there you shall see him.”  And the disciples saw him. Paul tells us that Christ was seen by Cephas (Peter), then the twelve, after that by five hundred at one time, and then four years later asserted that he, himself, had seen him along the Damascus Road.

 

The apostles preached a risen Christ to both the Jews and Gentiles, and testified to the fact that they had seen him. “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection.”  It was this witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus which brought upon them and the early church the persecution raised by the Sadducees, the rationalists of Judaism, who held ‘that there is no resurrection, neither angel , nor spirit.’

 

The fierceness of those persecutions would have ended at once if the apostles had ceased bearing witness to the resurrection. but they could not refrain from witnessing, for they had seen their risen Lord and something had taken place in their lives.

 

They were a changed people. Whatever their enemies had to say about the disciples and women being a disillusioned and a deluded people given to hallucinations and visions, the fact forever remains that after the experience of the resurrection they were never the same kind of people as they had been.

 

Before the resurrection they were the most hopeless and discouraged group imaginable, and of all people were most miserable, but after the resurrection they were fired with a new spirit and power that no armed opposition could silence. People who once could be cowed by the accusing finger of woman by the fire in Ciaphas yard, now died for their faith.

 

‘They went through peril, toil and pain;

They met the tyrant’s brandished steel,

The lion’s gory mane;

They bowed their necks the death to feel,

And followed in His train.

 

If that be the result of hallucinations and delusions it would be well if more of us had like experiences. But such was not the case. No delusion has ever enthralled or empowered people of this type or of any type. No hallucinations has ever so stimulated faith, changed and consecrated the lives of people.

 

Thus they marched through life with song on their lips. Triumphed in death with joy in their hearts, and rendered a service to God and humanity surpassed only by Jesus himself.

 

The experience of seeing and being with the resurrected Christ brought the change in their lives. One cannot live in the presence of the living Christ without being changed into the likeness of that presence.

 

The angels at the open tomb, as we have seen, stated that the disciples were to go to Galilee, the lake around which so many blessed incidents had taken place during the three years of that eventful ministry. There they were to meet Him again. And they did.

 

It was there that Jesus addressed Peter by name, but included all in that love test, saying: “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?”  And when the disciples answered in the affirmative Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  “Feed my sheep”. On another occasion Thomas was invited to test the identity of the risen Lord: “Thomas, reach out your finger and see my hands; and reach out your hand, and put it in my side; and do not be faithless, but believe.”  Yes, they saw him, and from then on lived as he had lived.

 

The third conclusive proof of the resurrection of Jesus lies in the fact that there is a continual succession of believing and victorious men and women who have not seen and yet have believed. No other evidence is so conclusive as that he now makes himself knows and felt in the lives of his people.

 

There is a story of about a doctor who used a lot of profanity and was always critical of the Church. The neighbours advised the new minister to the community that the people in community had not a great love for the doctor. Due to his rough language they wouldn’t have in the doctor in their house and they didn’t think the new minister would have the doctor in his home. But something happened in the doctor’s life. he became a changed man. Instead of taking the name of God in vain in the sick room, he would kneel by the bed and pray for the recovery of his patients. His antagonism for the Church gave place to membership in and support of the church. What had brought about this transformation in the life of the doctor? Nothing but the power of a living Christ.

 

This and similar cases of our own personal knowledge and experience are sufficient evidence to convince us that Jesus lives today, and imparts to all who believe in him the strength and power of his own life and spirit. The Church was not built upon faith in the experience of the early disciples, but upon faith in him who has made the continual experience possible to everyone who will open his heart and life to the Christian influence.

 

The church cannot live on the experience of yesterday, anymore than a Christian can be a Christian on the experiences of others. To be Christians we must have our own personal experiences. Our own heart alone can finally speak to us the simple, indubitable fact of the resurrection. this is better than historical knowledge. Only when Christ lives within us can we be certain of his living presence. Then with the hymnist we can say:

 

‘He lives, he lives, salvation to impart,

You ask me how I know he lives?

He lives within my heart.’

 

All eyes turned again toward the first Easter. We may be thinking and talking about many things, but underneath our rambling words and wondering thoughts we are looking toward the morning of the resurrection, the life immortal. And as we gaze in the direction of the Easter morning our minds return to that horrible night of long ago and to a lonely sepulcher in a guarded garden wherein a crucified one sleeps the sleep of death. Whose sepulcher it was makes little difference. The great difference was in the one whose lifeless body was sealed therein.