He is Risen!

Some years ago the villagers in Domo d’Ossala, in Italian Switzerland, built a mimic Calvary as a symbol of their religious devotion. A series of little chapels, with pictures and images depicting the scenes of our Lord’s Passion, was constructed along the way that led to Calvary. The first showed Christ before Herod; the second, Christ grasping the cross; the third, Christ shouldering its weight; the fourth, Christ carrying it along, and so on.

The climax of the scenes was in a larger chapel where there was a great picture of Christ on the cross, and in the skies astonished angels gazing down. The path that led to this climactic scene soon was well worn by the feet of devout pilgrims. Year after year they came to witness anew the sufferings of their Savior and to weep at the sight of His agonies. Beyond this chapel there was one more shrine—the Chapel of the Resurrection. But strangely, the path that led to this final scene became grass-covered. Few pilgrims walked it. Most of them stopped at Calvary!

The witness of this untrodden path to the open tomb carries a message we had better not ignore. “There is a branch of Christendom that makes so much of the death of Christ that little space is left for the glorious truth of His resurrection. They contemplate Christ on the cross as if that exhausted the truth of His relation to sin. They seem to forget that He is no longer on the cross. He is now on the throne! Moreover, they also forget that the keynote of the Christian life as it is related to the ascended Christ is one of victory.

A Pivotal Truth

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a pivotal truth in the Christian religion. “If Christ hath not been raised,” says the apostle Paul, “then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain” (I Cor. 15:14). The records of the New Testament and the doctrines of historical Christianity are unanimous in the affirmation that the Divine claim of Jesus Christ is inseparably connected with His rising from the dead on the third day. His resurrection sets the seal on His redemptive mission on earth. Moreover, by His resurrection and the subsequent exaltation, with the redeeming virtue of His life and death in Him, Jesus entered fully on His gracious career as Prince and Savior, the Life-Giver, the Life-creating Spirit of a new humanity.

No, this truth of our Lord’s resurrection is not circumferential; it stands at the center of the Christian religion. If the death on the cross had been the end of Jesus Christ, the cross would be for all time the world’s supreme tragedy. It would signify man’s worst meeting God’s best and triumphing over it. “But now is Christ risen from the dead” (I Cor. 15:20). He lives! That’s the Easter message! John on the Isle of Patmos hears Him say: “I am the first and the last, and the living one; I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:17, 18).

Let it be said again: If no living Christ emerged from Joseph’s tomb, then the tomb became the grave not only of a man, but of a religion. If that tomb was not empty, our faith is very much empty-forever!

A Historical Fact

There are thinkers—some of them very learned people—who tell us that Christianity is not dependent on historical facts. They say that historical facts are not essential to our faith and that faith is not imperilled when we yield conviction of the historicity of the Gospels with their narratives of miraculous events culminating in the literal resurrection of Jesus.

Some years ago a popular novelist wrote: “Whether Christ had a body or not, whether he had time to be born in history and a time to die as other men have is no matter now; perhaps it never was any matter. What lives today is not the ephemeral body of flesh and bones. If once it lived, then well enough; if not, then well too.” This fits in perfectly with what the pastor of a fashionable, liberal church in downtown Grand Rapids said in an Easter sermon: “When the disciples saw that Jesus had not really died, as far as what was important in him was concerned, their hopes soared, and that was the Resurrection adorning. Jesus was still alive as every good person is always alive.”

This compels us to face the question: What difference must it make to the Christian Faith whether it be considered necessarily connected with historical facts or not?

To this we reply that what we call Christianity would be little more than an idle tale unless it be true that God has actually wrought out a glorious salvation by direct, immediate action of His own on the plane of human history; that the Word did become flesh; that an expiation which, in its very nature, is not simply a principle but an event in time and place, was achieved for sinful man; and finally, that Jesus, having borne our sins in His own body on the cross, arose in that body, as He had fore-announced, thus breaking the dominion which sin had over us, and enabling us to walk in newness of life.

The Gospel, after all, means “Good News,” that is, good news about something that has happened. It means History, and therefore a gospel divorced from history is a contradiction in terms. Lilies and bright sunshine are not the things that give us Easter. It is the fact of the living, risen Savior that gives us Easter. He really lives! He was dead, but behold, He is alive for evermore!

An Inspiring Hope

The resurrection of Christ endows the Church with a living Savior. Is that important? Indeed it is! A dead Savior could never sustain the Church. Suppose that the women on the morning of that third day had succeeded in carrying out their intentions. Suppose that the Roman guards had permitted them to enter the sepulchre and that they had completed the embalmment. Would the disciples with a dead Master on their hands have been instrumental in creating the Christendom of today? Of course not! Where is the life, the strength, the power in a gospel that ends with a Good Friday?

Over Dean Alford’s grave in London, England, are written the words: “The inn of a traveler on the way to the New Jerusalem.” The resurrection of Jesus inscribes those words above the graves of all who love Him. They are places of sleeping, houses of lowly portal where for a little while the wearied body rests, to rise one day in purity and beauty, all stains of life’s journey washed away, all weariness forever gone. This was the hope that steadily brightened through the centuries of Old Testament history. At the empty tomb of Jesus the Resurrection fact takes this hope by the hand and exclaims, Verily, it is so! And thanks be to God, that Verily will never be silenced! For now is Christ risen from the dead and become the “firstfruits of them that slept”—the first sheaf and pledge of a world-wide harvest of risen bodies of believers.

The Emperor Theodosius, having opened all the dungeons in his realm and set the prisoners free, is reported to have said: “And now, would to God I could open all the tombs and give life to the dead!” He could not do that, bill there is a King who will one day do it—the King who once in the synagogue of His boyhood home at Nazareth proclaimed deliverance to the captives, who Himself went into death, but could not be held by death, and who stepped out of the rockbound fastness of the garden tomb with a triumphant “All Hail!”

In the light of our Savior’s victory over death and the grave we view sorrows and burdens in their relationships. They are to us not isolated experiences for which there is no meaning or compensation, but experiences which fit together in God’s plan, working together for our good. Knowing this, we can well hear the toil and the trial of the journey. for even when the path goes downward, the journey actually is upward; and at the summit the Father’s hand will clasp our own, the burdens will be laid down, and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.

I was not there when thorns were pressed
Upon His anguished head.
But He saw me across the years,
And for my sins He bled.

I was not there when life did flow
From out His pierced side.
But He saw me across the years,
And for my sake He died.

I was not there on Easter’s morn
To see grim death’s defeat.
But He points out, across the years
That day when we shall meet.

Leonard Greenway is pastor of Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.