More than three thousand years ago, Job asked the question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” This question is still on the lips of every man. It has been asked by every generation, and some kind of answer has been given by every religion. But no religion save Christianity has ever found a satisfactory and compelling answer to it. With the single exception of Christ, all the great religious leaders are dead. Zoroaster is dead; Confucius is dead; Laotze is dead; Buddha is dead; Mohammed is dead. None of them arose from the grave.

With eyes closed to Christian truth, hearts and minds locked in darkness, many cry out that man is mortal and nothing more. “Life’s circle ends with death,” they say, “and resurrection’s morning is the phantasy of deluded men whose tombs will never release their captives and whose pious hopes of resurrection partake of no reality save death itself. Man goes into the grave to rise no more.” Corliss Lamont, the well-known opponent of immortality, has written: “I have come to the conclusion that the life which human beings know on this earth is the only one they will ever have.… And in this case the probabilities against the human personality surviving in any worthwhile way the event called death seem to me so overwhelming that we are justified in regarding immortality as an illusion” (The Illusion of Immortality, Corliss Lamont, New York: Philosophical Library, 1950, p. xi).

We Christians do not accept this futile view of life. We place our loved ones in coffins knowing that we shall see them again. We bury them in the earth confident that it will not consume them eternally. Though we weep at the open grave, we see beyond it the dawn of a brighter day for Christians who have died. Therefore we proclaim for all men to hear that there is a resurrection day. Tombs shall be opened and coffins emptied. The earth shall release its captives, and even the sea shall give up the bodies committed to its restless waves. Neither fire nor famine, pestilence nor bomb, shall slay forever. In that resurrection day the dead in Christ shall rise, and rising they shall live eternally in bodies that have been redeemed from corruption, delivered from the effects and marks of sin, and fashioned into incorruptible bodies after the likeness of Jesus Christ to the praise of our God.

Men ask: “How can you say this, and on what basis do you make such a staggering claim?” There is an answer for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. That answer rests on facts. We shall live again because Jesus Christ is alive. Our bodies shall be raised incorruptible because his body was raised incorruptible. The Apostle Peter testified to the great truth of Christ’s resurrection. Standing before multitudes of unbelieving Jews he cried out: “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” When Paul stood before King Agrippa he said to him, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”

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In 1855 Louis Napoleon, then a refugee in the United States, received a letter from his mother, who was in Switzerland. He carried this letter next to his heart throughout the rest of his life, in the days of the Third Empire and amid the reverses of Sedan down to the hour of his death in England. His mother wrote that she was facing an operation which she had no hope of surviving, and that therefore she would never see him again in this life. She finished her message to her son with these imperishable words: “Have faith that we shall meet again. It is too necessary not to be true.” Somehow this woman had grasped the truth that has eluded atheists and agnostics alike. Somehow the idea of the resurrection from the dead made sense to her.

We celebrate Easter because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. All around the world men and women gather together to bear testimony to this great fact of history. The stone has been rolled away from the tomb. The angel voice has been heard: “He is not here; he is risen as he said.” Thomas, the doubting apostle, to whom Jesus said, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless but believing,” has cried out: “My Lord and my God.” Peter, the dispirited and frightened denier of Jesus, has received the Holy Spirit and has gone forth to witness to the Resurrection with a new power. Paul, the persecutor of the Church, has been granted a vision of the risen Christ and has left all to follow the living Galilean and to preach his Gospel. Yes, Christ has risen from the dead. But what does this mean? What truth does it teach us? What difference does it make?

First, the Resurrection means that God has triumphed in history. We know that the end of the world has not yet come. We know that principalities and powers still exist. Satan still is the prince of the powers of darkness and the ostensible ruler of this world. Jesus himself spoke in John’s Gospel of Satan as in possession of this present evil world. When Satan tempted Jesus at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry, he claimed power over the world and offered to share that power with the Son of God if he would bow down and worship him. Jesus did not deny Satan’s power at that time. But later he proclaimed final victory over him, saying, “He shall be cast out.” He shall be cast “clean out” is the better rendering of these words of Scripture. Later Jesus said that Satan stands condemned. The seed of the woman whose heel was bruised has indeed crushed the head of the serpent. Jesus Christ, having been lifted up on the Cross and raised from the dead, has won the victory over Satan, sin, and death. Satan has been judged. While his frightful dominion continues for a season, his ultimate hold has been broken. God’s kingdom has come, and Satan will at last be banished from earth, from heaven, and from our lives forever.

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Free Men In God’s World

We Christians face life with all its complexities, all its trials, and all its temptations. Amid them all we can say with conviction: Christ is victor, because Satan has been defeated. We do not grovel in the dust as slaves who have been bound in Satan’s prison. We lift our hearts and our eyes to the heavens. We breathe the air as free men. We stand among the redeemed because God has triumphed. At Eastertime we can say for all to hear that this is God’s world because he has redeemed it. He did not leave it in its degradation nor permit it to be consumed in its sin. He has recalled it to himself and has promised that the day will come when it too shall be released from its bondage; when night, tears, sickness, and sorrow shall be banished from his kingdom forever. Truly God has entered into history in Jesus Christ and has triumphed in his cross and resurrection.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Does his successive journeys run.

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Second, Easter means that there is the forgiveness of sins. The world is out of joint. Something is desperately wrong with men. Selfishness, greed, depravity, and lust abound. Men know more than ever before. In place of ignorance has come knowledge. But it has not kept men from sinning. The word of Scripture lays bare the ugly fact of their separation from God because of sin. Paul proclaims that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “There is none righteous, no, not one.” All flesh stands guilty before God. All men have been cut off from his kingdom and from his presence. All men are without hope, for they are without God. But what do the Scriptures say? God has taken the initiative. He has done something to restore men to his fellowship, to let them enter into his kingdom, to permit them to eat at his table, to allow them to be called the sons of God and to be transformed into his likeness. What has he done?

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Forgiveness Made Possible

Before Easter there was the darkness of Friday. Before the Resurrection there was the Cross on which the Son of Man was lifted up. The Devil and his demons did their worst, and sinful men helped them crucify the Lord of glory. But unknown to men the very deed they performed was the divine method that made possible the forgiveness of sins. The very cutting off of the Redeemer was the act that made redemption a reality. The Cross that was a symbol of defeat became God’s symbol of victory. Jesus Christ died, but not because men had the power to take his life from him. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” He died of himself that he might bear the sins of all of us, for we are all responsible for crucifying him. And he rose again in demonstration of the power of God and as a witness that his sacrifice was acceptable and accepted, that his atoning work was finished, that his redemption is a reality. In his life there is forgiveness. The vile, corrupted, and dissolute come to find mercy in him. They hear him proclaim those victorious words: “Because I live ye shall live also.”

See how the Apostle Paul preached this great truth of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ risen life. In a sermon at the Jewish synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, he said: “He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” How beautifully Paul blends together the two thoughts of justification and forgiveness! God declares that the sinner is accepted as righteous by faith in Jesus Christ through the power of his resurrection. In the courts of heaven the slate is wiped clean; the debtor is discharged from every bit of his indebtedness; his name is placed in the Lamb’s Book of Life from which it shall never be erased. He has been granted the right to live. As God justifies in heaven everyone who believes, so to everyone who believes he makes known here on earth the forgiveness of his sins. The guilt, the burden, and the power of sin are gone. The soul stands free and untrammeled. So great is God’s mercy that he not only forgives; he also forgets. How sweet the words sound: “Buried in the deepest part of the deepest sea; cast behind his back; remembered against us no more.” We whose lives were in bondage and whose hearts were darkened have been delivered. Truly Easter means for us the forgiveness of our sins.

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Yet there is a third great meaning of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. They mean that there is hope in this world. Now there are two kinds of hope of which we must speak. There is the hope that comes to those who are the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This hope provides optimism of heart and buoyancy of spirit. It says that however dark the night, a new day will dawn. It proclaims that Christians have a divine destiny. Death and the grave are not life’s weary end. Christians do not say with Robert Ingersoll, the agnostic: “We do not know which is better, life or death.… Every cradle asks us whence; every coffin asks us whither. The poor barbarian, weeping over his dead, can answer the question as satisfactorily as the robed priest of the most authentic creed. The tearful ignorance of one is just as consoling as the learned and unmeaningful words of the other.” On the contrary we know that, while we must die, should the Lord tarry, we cannot remain dead, because Christ is alive forevermore. No hymn-writer has captured this truth better than Christian Gellert:

Jesus lives, and so shall I.

Death! thy sting is gone forever!

He who deigned for me to die,

Lives, the bands of death to sever.

He shall raise me from the dust:

Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives and death is now

But my entrance into glory.

Courage, then, my soul for thou

Hast a crown of life before thee;

Thou shalt find thy hopes were just;

Jesus is the Christian’s Trust.

Moreover, the Scriptures gloriously teach that Christianity is not only a faith for the future life. We do have a deathless hope of the life beyond the grave. We do proclaim that the dead in Christ shall rise again. We do preach that heaven lies before us with death only as a doorway to that land that is fairer than day. Yet the Resurrection has something for us here and now. Eternal life does not beckon only after we die. It begins when first we know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Therefore, in reality, however incomplete and imperfect, we enter now into our inheritance in Jesus Christ in this life. We have a new quality of life; we have a new power over sin; we have a new perspective and outlook. Life takes on a new dimension. There is a glow in our hearts and a light on our countenances. We are “a peculiar people,”—that is, to say, a “beyond ordinary” people, a people for his own possession. As such we are to reflect Christ’s light and his glory. We may have little of this world’s goods; we may enjoy no great fame; we may occupy no high offices; yet we have untold riches and are members of the royal family of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Reflection And Action

The Christian is the light of the world; he is the salt of the earth. He lives now to reflect the beauty of Jesus and to do the work of God in his life. He is buttressed by hundreds of promises from the Word of God, indwelt by His Holy Spirit, and granted His quickening power. He knows that if the world is to hear of the Redeemer, it must hear through him. He is not only saved for heaven; he is also saved to serve and to witness here and now. Christian, arise in the strength of what you are and what you have! Go forth conquering and to conquer!

There is a final word that must be spoken. It is directed, not to those who name the name of Christ, but to those who are strangers to him. The Resurrection speaks both to Christians and to non-Christians. To the latter it says: Life may have dealt you some hard blows. All of your efforts may have come to nought. For you there may seem to be neither rhyme nor reason to life itself. You ask: What’s it all about? and, Is life worthwhile? Yet for you there is hope. However dark and difficult the road, there is a way out. The living Jesus stands before you in your darkness. His nail-scarred hands are outstretched, and he beckons to you. His invitation is the same one that has satisfied the longings of men through the ages: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.”

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John the apostle of love declared that as many as received Jesus, “to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Thus Cod is saying that there is hope for sinners. Christ can come into the sinner’s heart this morning just as he came into the hearts of people long ago. Easter is not only for the fortunate few who know him now. It is also for the multitudes who do not know him. He is here, always here, and with arms outstretched, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to come. The decision you make today will determine whether he waits in vain or whether Easter will dawn and the sun rise in your heart.

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