The Easter message, despite its familiarity, remains one of the most incompletely understood of the foundations of the Christian faith. To celebrate the resurrection with flowers, music, and a special sermon is all very fitting. But as Floyd V. Filson said in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, “There is a fatal weakness in our modern emphasis on Easter. The emphasis is, of course, true to the Gospel message; the Resurrection is central. But too many Christians begin to look to a long summer vacation once they have had a ‘big Easter.’ For the first Christians, the Resurrection was not the end of the story; it was the climax which leads on to further momentous developments.”
Of no other great religious leader except Jesus Christ can it be said, “He showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). Such a thing cannot possibly be claimed for Moses, who died before entering the Promised Land. Nor can it be said of Confucius, who ended his days a disillusioned old man. Neither can it be asserted of Buddha or Lao-Tze, Zoroaster or Muhammad. They too went the way of other men, and their followers have never dared claim that they left the grave.
Christ is different. His work has a unique consummation and continuance. Just as no other religion aside from Christianity has a founder who arose from the dead, so no other religion has a founder who died for the sin of the world and who continues to save all who put their trust in him.
“But,” someone says—and there are many who are saying it today—“all this is mere assertion. It’s all very well to declare that Jesus Christ is unique because he alone rose from the dead. But we want more than assertion. We want proof.”
There is proof, if we will but look at the evidence. The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not rest on unsupported assumption. It is not a wistful grasping after some vision. On the contrary, it is based upon a whole chain of evidence—“many infallible proofs,” as Luke calls them.
What are they? Well, there is the fact of the empty tomb, a fact that stands in the way of all attempts to explain away the resurrection. There is the circumstance of the precisely disposed grave clothes. There are the numerous appearances over nearly six weeks, as he was “seen of them forty days,” during which he appeared to Mary Magdalene, to two disciples on the Emmaus road, to the disciples in the locked room when Thomas was absent, to the disciples in the locked room when Thomas was present, to the seven at the Sea of Galilee, to the five hundred, to James, and to Paul on the Damascus Road. These are some of the infallible proofs.
And there are also others, such as the existence of the Christian Church itself. For it is undeniable that, if the disciples had not been convinced that their Lord arose and was living, there would never have been any Christian Church. Dr. Josiah Penniman, a former president of the University of Pennsylvania, used to teach a course in English Bible to college students. When he was asked one day about proof of the Resurrection, he quietly walked to the window of his classroom and pointed to the many church spires in that part of Philadelphia. The Church is indeed a visible outcome of the fact that the Lord who is its Founder and Foundation actually rose from the dead.
Again, every Sunday bears its own witness to the living Christ. For the only adequate way to account for the shift in the day of worship from the Sabbath to the First Day is the Resurrection. Sunday is for Christians the Lord’s Day, because on this day he arose.
Luke’s emphasis on proof reminds us that the Resurrection is as much a historic event as the birth in Bethlehem and the death on the cross. As the risen Christ said: “I am he that liveth and was dead: and behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).
But the Resurrection, while indeed historical, is also an event of continuing, contemporary significance. Important as the evidence is, the risen Christ is for us Christians more than an event of the past, more than a great theological doctrine. He is a living person, and it is our inexpressible privilege to know him personally. As Paul put it in brief but intimate words, “Christ who is our life” (Col. 3:4). By this he meant among other things that, though our Lord Jesus Christ rose once and for all in the mighty display of God’s power when the stone was rolled away and his body left the grave, he keeps on living in every Christian life.
It is significant that the Bible records nine instances where human beings were raised from the dead—several of them in the Old Testament and others in the New Testament, including the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the raising of the son of the widow at Nain, and, most notable of all, the raising of Lazarus. But in every case these persons were raised in their mortal bodies to continued human life after which they died. Christ was raised “after the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16) in a unique, glorified, and deathless body. Moreover, his resurrected body is the “first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20), the very pattern and assurance of our own resurrection when he comes again. Therefore we are able to say in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
The Easter message is the message of the living Christ. But how is he living? The answer to that question faces us with a reality that is at the same time a mystery. He lives in his glorified body. He lives in a body that transcends human limitations. When he appeared during the forty days, he had a body bearing the print of the nails and the wound of the spear. In this same body he ascended. In it he is in the place of exaltation at the right hand of God. Yet because of who he is, because he is God incarnate and so an infinite person, he is spiritually and actually beyond the limitations of time and space. So we know—we don’t conjecture or guess—we Christians know that Christ is present with us. Just as David Livingstone in his journeys into the heart of Africa was not alone because of the promise of his Lord, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20), so we who are not exploring a continent but living everyday lives have Christ with us. It is our heritage to know and have fellowship with the risen, living Lord. God said to Hudson Taylor, “I will evangelize China, if you will walk with me.” And Hudson Taylor did. He walked with God with the result that the great China Inland Mission came into being. It is the risen Christ with whom we walk.
Toward the middle of his life, R. W. Dale, the author of a classic book on the Atonement, made, he said, “the discovery that Jesus is alive,” and it transformed everything for him. Have you made this discovery?
“Christ,” said Paul, “is our life.” Or, as he put it so very personally, “Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). Think of it! Jesus Christ, by his spirit, actually lives in the believer’s heart! He is identified with us and we with him. This being the case, we cannot even begin to know the fullness of the Easter truth till we learn something of what it means to have Christ living in us. These lines, attributed to St. Patrick, express it:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
But to realize these things is no sudden achievement. It was Spurgeon who said with humility, “In forty years I have not spent fifteen waking moments without thinking of Jesus.” How is it with us? Do we cultivate the presence of the living Christ by thinking often of him?
When our Lord appeared to Thomas, who had doubted the reality of His resurrection, Thomas declared, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus said to him: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed” (John 20:28, 29). That is the Easter beatitude, the beatitude of the living Christ. And it belongs to all who, looking in faith to the risen Lord, can echo the words of First Peter 1:18 in their hearts, “whom having not seen, we love.”
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