It is the simple, matter-of-fact account of the New Testament that Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, and that on the third day he rose again from the dead. The men and women who narrated the events of the resurrection and appearances of the risen Christ were without exception unbelievers in those stupendous events before they occurred. Even though the Christ had foretold his death and rising again, the disciples were far from understanding his words. Peter even rebuked his Lord for such gloomy predictions. Men on the Emmaus road talked secretly of their disappointment over the crucifixion. They had hoped that here finally was a man who could have redeemed Israel, but now on the cross this fond hope had been shattered. The disciples were utterly discouraged and talked of returning to their fishing. The enemies of Jesus waited, more secure in each passing hour. You can almost feel the tension, the shock, the darkness.
Then, suddenly, very early on the first day of the week something happened. The tomb in which they had placed the dead Jesus was found empty. The very same Jesus, yet somehow quite different, appeared many times to men giving many infallible proofs that he was alive. Then it was that they remembered how their Master had foreseen and foretold his death and his rising again. Their joy was further buttressed when it was drawn to their attention that the momentous events of the death and resurrection of Christ were also for e t old in the ancient Scriptures. To the discouraged and unbelieving disciples the risen Christ appeared saying: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in aU that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?” Later the apostle Paul could say, “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; and he was buried; and he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures.”
The original disciples who experienced the events of the resurrection were simple, unschooled men. They told their story because they had to tell what their eyes had seen, what their hands had handled, and what their ears had heard. The narratives of the Christ and his resurrection arose from the fact that men could not deny their five senses. All the accounts are given in this open air atmosphere. We cannot get the impression that they were mistaken, much less that they were trying to deceive.
But this event of the resurrection, though it is a part of history, is accounted for by the mighty power of God. The resurrection of Christ was the divine attestation and proof that this was indeed the divine Son of God and the Savior of the world. If all this seems far removed from ordinary, everyday life, it is because we do not think deeply. The empty tomb is that something added to this world which allows the mind to make sense out of life. The reasonableness of the resurrection in general, and of Christ’s resurrection in particular, is set forth in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. The writer, Paul, claimed that he was not fit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church of God. He also spoke of himself as one “born out of due time,” referring to his late conversion. He was breathing out threatenings when the risen Christ appeared to him on the Damascus Road. Christ called him by name saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Paul was blinded by the glory of that appearance, and lay for days in darkness while the new light streamed into his being. What a complete adjustment had to be made. Jesus, whom he had hated as a dead impostor, was alive; he was, after all, the long promised Savior. God, in raising him from the dead, had reversed the world’s judgment concerning him. The acceptance of the risen Christ meant a total revolution in Paul’s life—so must it be for all men.
In the above mentioned chapter, which for significant content and passionate logic has no equal in the whole of literature, Paul lays the ax at the root of unbelief. Men had prejudged the whole case of the gospel by adopting a philosophy which says “the dead rise not.” Paul shows that this abstraction cannot stand in the same world with Jesus Christ. Generalizations simply must give way before the facts. Christ is a fact too real to be dismissed by a mere declaration based, as it must be, on ignorance. Christ and his resurrection are not speculation or theory but overwhelming evidence and history. Deny all resurrection of the dead and you fight against history and history must win. The world was saying “No” on the possibility that the dead should rise, but God has said “Yes.” Christ’s resurrection was God’s affirmation in the teeth of the world’s negation. What did the “No” of man matter, when God has so decisively said “Yes”?
Now Paul draws man’s negation out into its practical application so that we may see it in its true light. If Christ is not risen, he argues, then all preaching is vain, it is all an empty lie. Your faith is also vain. If Christ is not risen and if there is no life after death, faith is an insanity. And what about the forgiveness of sins; can sins be forgiven if Christ is not risen? No. Forgiveness would be a mockery if we adopt the world’s theory that the dead rise not. How many sins can a dead Savior save us from?
Again, think of your loved ones who have died. If there is no resurrection they have all perished. We have buried our hopes in the grave and there is not a single light in our sky. Suppose it is true that dead men rise up never. Then we would have to go to a certain grave in Palestine and say, “Here lies the Son of God; here lies One who was sent into the world to save men from death and sin; here lies the One God sent to conquer death, but death conquered him instead.”
Furthermore, if we adopt the abstractions of men that the dead rise not, then many can reason thus; “Let us eat. drink, and he merry for tomorrow we die. Why he good if there’ is no resurrection? If we die like the beasts, why not live like the beasts?” And what about the achievements of men? Why the struggle, why the search for truth, for purity, for art, for God, for happiness? The elemental energies of life rise in rebellion against the world’s “No.”
The hope of the resurrection is a violin bow drawn across the heartstrings of all men. Without this fountain of life. dry are all the streams that have washed the years. Jesus Christ and his resurrection constitute the next stepping stone in mid-stream necessary for all succeeding steps.
Our world has traveled far in its denials of God’s great affirmation. Long have men struggled to remove the supernatural from history. Today the attempt is to remove history from the supernatural, i.e. to hold that a supernatural event is not in history. TIle results have been an emasculation of historic Christianity.
But perhaps we have also been moving in a more positive direction. It was short years ago that Columbus sailing westward, gave us a new world, and that Copernicus with his sextant gave us a new universe. Today Einstein with his formula has given us a new dimension. From the arithmetic book we have graduated into the world of the incalculable, an atomic world without walls or edges, a world of new and immense mysteries, of new and immense fears. Something has happened to the line separating the spiritual from the physicaL Modem man has had a whiff of the infinite and he feels more lost than ever. The thoughts of men, be they never so faulty, are somehow widened with the process of the suns. We have been brought to that place where we should realize that God is bigger than our own hat band, and that a piecemeal acceptance of revealed religion will no longer do. These are days when God has us on the spot. Science now stands in the witness box for the prosecution. We have toiled to make religion man-sized, and the day is now upon us when men are crying out for God.
Our generation has a rendezvous with an unanswered question, a question pregnant with new worlds and human destinies; “What think ye of the Christ?”