“CHRIST IS RISEN! Hallelujah!”
This is the triumphant song of every Bible-believing Christian, not only on Easter Sunday but on every Lord’s Day and whenever his thoughts turn to the foundation of his faith.
But can we believe Christ’s resurrection without the slightest tinge of doubt? Can we be absolutely sure of it?
It is of the utmost importance to know that the resurrection of Christ is an indubitable fact. We cannot have true comfort if there is any room for doubt that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, as he promised, and that his body, once mortal, is now clothed with immortality and heavenly glory.
We are reminded of the words of Paul in I Corinthians 15, the great chapter on the resurrection: “if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ…and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” If Christ had failed to rise from the dead the inescapable conclusion would be that he had failed to pay in full the price of our sins.
True Christianity stands and falls with the resurrection of Christ. It is the central fact of the Christian religion. Since it is absolutely essential to our salvation, we must have irrefutable proof that Jesus’ resurrection was a fact.
It is significant that in the Gospels very few words are devoted to the resurrection as such. They offer no description of the manner in which that tremendous miracle took place. We do not even read: “At that moment Jesus became alive and left the tomb, clothed with a glorified body.” All the emphasis falls on what happened after his rising was an accomplished fact. Perhaps God judged that the miracle as such was too sacred for human eyes to behold. We are more sure that even if it had been witnessed it could not have been understood and described. Miracles defy analysis just because they are miracles. The only thing that is important to know is that Christ really conquered death, and for that reason aU stress is placed in the sacred record on our Lord’s appearances to his disciples. Note how Luke accents their significance in Acts 1:4; “to whom (the apostles) he also showed himself alive, after his passion, by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Perhaps what is said about the forty days mentioned here justifies the conclusion that Christ appeared to his disciples daily, hence more often than is indicated in the record.
THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES
In reading what the Gospels have to say about the events of those last forty days of our Lord’s life on earth, we perceive that the Lord determined to convince the apostles, who were to be his witnesses, of the absolute certainty of his resurrection. Not fewer than eleven post-resurrection appearances are recorded. These were as follows; 1) to the women among his disciples who went to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint his body; 2) to Simon Peter; 3) to Mary Magdalene; 4) to the ten disciples on that first Sunday evening, Thomas being absent; 5 ) to the hYo men of Emmaus; 6) to the eleven apostles, Thomas now being present; 7) to seven of them at the sea of Galilee; 8) to more than 500 brethren at once, somewhere in Galilee; 9) to James, his brother according to the flesh; 10) to his disciples at his ascension from the mount of Olives; 11) to Paul. after the ascension, as to one untimely born.
Much could be said about these appearances. We call attention to only three things.
First, the Lord appeared first of all to the women, whose intuition and simple faith grasped the tremendous truth of their Lord’s resurrection when the cautious, hard-headed apostles were not yet ready to receive the glad tidings. We imagine the latter saying: “Those credulous women! They have been imagining things. We may as well realize that Jesus is dead and that our cause is lost.”
Second, the Lord left no stone unturned to convince unbelieving Thomas, who would not even consider the possibility that Christ was risen, of the reality of the Lord’s resurrection and resurrection body.
Third, Christ first showed himself to few and then to many. There is progress in this and in other respects as well, each appearance paving the way for those that follow. Christ did not ascend to heaven until all his witnesses were immovably convinced that he had risen from the dead and that he was now living on a higher, essentially heavenly plane.
WHAT THE SKEPTICISM OF THE APOSTLES MEANS FOR OUR FAITH
l once heard of a resurrection sermon in which the preacher contended that the disciples confidently expected their Lord to rise from the cruel, seeing he had promised this as often as he had foretold his cruel death on the cross. There is nothing in the record to support that contention. On the contrary, it is evident from their attitude when he was condemned and crucified and after he had died that the disciples were a disconsolate and disillusioned group. Even the women did not give a moment’s thought on Sunday morning to the possibility that his body might no longer be in the grave. They wondered who would move the stone for them.
Note also the skepticism with which the apostles greeted the message of the women. We read in Mark 16 that those who had been with him mourned and wept and disbelieved when they heard that he was alive and had been seen of Mary Magdalene. Later, when Christ was in their midst, “he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them that had seen him after he was risen.”
It is not easy to explain the skepticism of the apostles. We can scarcely imagine that the three predictions of Christ, when he was still alive, that he would rise from the dead the third day, had been forgotten completely by all the disciples. Yet it seems not to have registered with them. The very idea of a suffering and dying Messiah was wholly out of line with their carnal conception of his kingdom. Since there was no room in their theology for a suffering and crucified King, the idea of a resurrection did not fit in with it either. No wonder the prediction that he would rise the third day did not impress them! It afforded them no comfort during the awful suffering of Golgotha and the gloom of the three sad days when he was dead.
But let us not fail to consider that the very unbelief of the apostles, sinful though it was, adds immeasurably to the value of their subsequent testimony that Christ had truly been raised from the dead. Their conviction on this point could not have been the fruit of wishful thinking, of an overwrought imagination. The last thing they expected was that Jesus would rise and that in heavenly glory. Their grief and despair, the extreme reluctance with which they gave credence to the various reports that their Lord had been seen alive, the dejection of the two men of Emmaus, and the eclipse of their faith as revealed in their melancholy words to Jesus: “We hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel”—all this indicates that when the disciples finally were convinced that the Master had risen, it was because they could not but accept the overwhelming evidence of the reality of that glorious event.
Our implicit faith in the fact of the resurrection rests on the testimony of the apostles. John says in his first epistle: “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning tlle Word of life … declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us.” Our faith is a reasonable faith because it is supported by the witness of reliable men, whose testimony bears the earmark of truth and sincerity. Do we how that Christ lives only because he lives in our hearts, as a certain popular hymn has it? To be sure. the Spirit testifies in our hearts that Christ is a living Christ, and we are assured that Christ lives within us, but that mystical assurance would be quite ineffectual without the intellectual certainty of his resurrection, based on the testimony of many witnesses. It has often been said that the resurrection of Christ is the best attested fact of history.
A final thought. Our faith in the fact of the resurrection, though based on the testimony of eye and ear witnesses, is connected with our belief in the Bible as the infallible Word of God. We cannot be absolutely sure of the testimony of those witnesses unless we can be sure of the absolute veracity and infallibility of the Word of God which contains their testimony. We must be as sure of the complete reliability of the written record as of the dependability of the witnesses whose testimony it conveys to us. And we are sure. We have not only the witness of the Bible itself but we also have the testimony of the Spirit. Of this our Confession speaks in article 5: “believing without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they arc from God, and because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”