Why the Resurrection?

Why 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 guards’ watch on the tomb, and the expectancy of the disciples ended in the gloom of Calvary.

 

Mary Magadalene spent the previous night in careful preparation of her perfumes and precious ointments for the anointing of the body of her beloved dead friend instead of attiring herself in fit apparel to greet her risen Lord. So when she had made her way through the darkness to the tomb and came face to face with the vacant tomb she was taken aback. She like one frozen in their tracks, a deer in the headlights so to speak. Her frightened eyes were fixed upon the empty tomb, her heart was broken anew, and she was all the more sorrowful at having been denied the last kind of 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 a spear, and with it all were not satisfied. Now they had stolen away his body and her preparations were al 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 tomb, and we do not know where they have taken him.”

 

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

 

Was it stolen away or had it come to life again?

 

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 truly Jesus has been buried, the tomb has been securely by the Roman governor, and the Centurion guard had been stationed by it to keep watch, but despite all this 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.”

 

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 treat 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 people one of two groups would have been responsible, either the enemies of Jesus or his friends.

 

Mary’s feeling that the enemies of Jesus stole the body seems 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 have taken him, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take care of him.”

 

However, within a week the whole idea changed and people spoke of a possible resurrection. The women proclaimed it, the disciples preached it, and a large number of witnesses said that they had seen the Lord. Surely, at a time like that, if the embarrassed enemies of Jesus had taken his body they would have exhibited it and thus ended the superstition that he arose from the dead. 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 carry on his cause.

 

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

 

That is so puerile as to call forth ridicule. Who could ever imagine a hundred handpicked soldiers sleeping at their posts, under penalty of death to keep watch, while a few nervous, timid, moneyless, disappointed, discouraged and unarmed disciples entered the garden under the light of the full moon, broke the Roman seal, rolled away the heavy stone without detection, and carried the body back through the sentry line without having disturbed a single sentry? No one who has had any experience in trying to slip through guarded liens would talk so 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 did they do with 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 bee 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. Either he was buried alive, or he was dead and had a resurrection.

 

So lets look at the first alternative. For a moment let us just 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. Medical science has never accounted for that kind of recovery.

 

People who have fought in war can tell of many times about physical wounds they have seen but from which a person never recovered within seventy-two hours. Had Jesus recovered in that abnormal fashion it would have been a greater miracle than that of the resurrection.

 

Thus the second concept must hold. That he was dead and became alive again. There is no 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.

 

As well 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 that he is going before you to Galilee; there you shall see him.”  And the disciples saw Him. Paul tells us that Christ was seen by Cephas, then the twelve, after that by five hundred at one time, and then four years later asserted that he, himself, has seen him along the Damascus road.

 

The apostles preached a risen Christ to both 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 change people. Whatever their enemies had to say about the disciples being 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 a simple girl, now died for their faith.

 

If what they faced in persecution was 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 hallucination has ever so stimulated faith, changed and consecrated the lives of people.

 

So they were able to march through life with a song on their lips, trumped 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 rendezvous in 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 include 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 sheep.” ‘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 you hand and put it into my side; and 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 continuel succession of believers and victoriouis men and owmen who have not seen and yet have believed. No other evicence is so conclusive as that he now makes himself known and felt in the lives of his people.

 

A story is told of a doctor who used a lot of profanity in his speaking and was always critical of the Church. The neighbours advised the new minister that because of his rough language they could not have him in their homes and they did not think that the new minister would either. But something happened in the doctor’s life. he became a changed man. Instead of taking the name of God in vain in the hospital, 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 the 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 Jesus Christ who made the continual experience possible to everyone who will open their heart and life to the Christian influence.

 

The Church cannot live on the experiences 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 about the simple 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 are 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. As we gaze in the direction of the Easter morning our minds return to that horrible night of long ago and to a lonely tomb in a guarded garden where a crucified one sleeps the sleep of death. Whose tomb is was makes little difference. The great difference was in the one whose lifeless body was sealed in it.

 

Suppose it had been Peter or John who had been crucified and buried – with how much credence could the story of an empty tomb have been told? There are scores of other resurrection stories, but this is the only one that has ever been taken seriously, and that because of who it was that was dead.

 

Who was it that was sleeping the sleep of death? Who was it? It was Almighty God. He could not be held by the grave.

 

Death is the one enemy that man, mortal man, has not the remotest idea of conquering. Man can conquer distance, harness the winds and waters for his service, and conquer disease, but are powerless in the power of death. When death comes, medical science attempts no resurrection. That is the end. Death is larger and mightier than mankind, but it cannot baffle God.

 

Christ’s resurrection sets humankind’s last enemy in flight. Had he not risen. God would have been forever in the tomb and death would have been the victor. Then gradually as the centuries waxed and waned, the name and knowledge of Jesus would have perished from the consciousness of humans. No one could have kept faith in a God who was visible only once, and that but for thirty-three years, and who when he was subjected to the acid test of death had been found a failure.

 

But he didn’t fail.. He conquered death. He was victorious over the grace. He rose again, became the first fruits of them that slept and brought life and immortality to light.

 

Christ is risen!