AS OUR Lord's body was lowered from the cross it must have seemed as though the final chapter of His life had ended in tragic despair. He had failed, His promises had proved worthless, His claims had collapsed—so the witnesses of the crucifixion concluded. The religious rulers of the day went back to Jerusalem gloating that the One who had so often pricked their hearts, disturbed their complacency, exposed and defeated them, was now silent in a sealed tomb.
Jesus' mother, the other Marys, some believing women from Galilee, John, and the few disciples and followers who may have gathered at Golgotha, walked their weary, heartbroken journey back home. The mob who had come to Calvary to scoff, yet were compelled by the circumstances to gaze at a ghastly murder, returned to the city, perhaps saddened a little but definitely convinced that no more would be heard of Jesus of Nazareth. This was the end!
The fatal wounds Jesus suffered at Calvary, the burial shroud so carefully and lovingly wrapped around Him, the new tomb in which He was placed, the massive stone heavy across its doorway, the never-to-be-broken seal, the soldier guards charged with their lives to prevent any tampering with His grave, were all human devices to end the chapter and close the record of this unique and amazing life.
Early that first day some thoughtful women came to the tomb to anoint the body of their loved one. A shock awaited them. The stone was rolled away and the body gone! They rushed into the city to inform the disciples. Peter and John, completely skeptical about the whole affair, came to see for themselves and in astonishment beheld an empty tomb, just as the women had said. The angel whom the women saw at the entrance of the tomb confirmed what they found almost impossible to believe: "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matt. 28:6). He lives!
Jesus of Nazareth is the surest fact of all historic realities. There is no legend or myth involved here. No place for doubts. No reason for misgivings. Histories of the ancient world and encyclopedias of today-record the certainty that Jesus lived during the first century of our era. Even H. G. Wells, who had considerable contempt for many teachings of the Christian faith, was compelled to give pages to Jesus of Nazareth in his Outline of History.
We know when Jesus lived, where He was born—in Bethlehem, a real town, not a mythical one. We know where He spent most of His young life—in Nazareth. Many of the characters of His day who touched His life and death appear in historical writings other than the Bible—Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa, Salome, Pontius Pilate, Tiberius Caesar, Gamaliel, Felix, Festus.
All dates of history refer to the time of the birth of Christ—not to that of Plato, Buddha, Julius Caesar, or Mohammed. He exerted more influence on the human race than any person who ever lived. Down through the ages a firm belief in all that He was and in all that He claimed to be, has gripped men, delivered them from the power of sin, and accomplished the miracle of transformation in human lives for multitudes in each generation. Among the great men of history He is "above all." Yes, He truly lived.
He died. We know more details of His death than we know about the death of any-other man in the whole of ancient historv. We know what He was doing before His betrayal. We know the false accusations hurled against Him during the trial, what men said to Him and did to Him each step along the way. We know the words that came from His lips during His hours of suffering. We know how, by whom, and where He was buried. But the tomb was empty. We cannot ignore this fact. We cannot escape the responsibility of coming to a conclusion as to what happened in the tomb.
Some distinguished scholars try to avoid the question or endeavor to reason it away. One famous professor of New Testament literature in a large theological seminary simply stated he could not account for it any more than he could explain how Santa Claus comes bringing gifts at Christmas time. But there is no Santa Claus, and there was a Jesus who lived, died, and was buried in Joseph's new tomb.
But the tomb was empty. How? Dr. Kir-sopp Lake of Harvard University, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus, simply suggests that the women went to the wrong tomb. But would not Joseph of Arimathea know the location of his tomb? Could three or more people so soon forget the place where they laid a loved one? Even if the women could have been mistaken, did Peter and John, or later the whole apostolic company, go to the wrong tomb? Then, too, how about the enemies of Christ? Would they not soon have found the right tomb and exposed these deluded women and other followers of the Holy One?
The chief priests and elders never questioned that the tomb was empty. According to the New Testament record they did not even go to see if what the guards reported was true. They knew it was true. So they hastily concocted a story without any supporting evidence or semblance of truth that the disciples came at night, while the soldiers were asleep, and stole the body away. They bribed the guards with "large money" to report this lie. But how could the guards know what transpired at the grave while they were asleep? Can anyone know what is going on while he is asleep?
Dr. Joseph Klausner, of the National Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in his volume Jesus of Nazareth, argues that Joseph of Arimathea changed his mind and removed the body of Jesus. If this explanation were feasible why did not the guards say so? Why would Joseph have done such a thing so quickly after he had, at a great risk to himself and to his future popularity, begged to have the body of his Friend that it might be placed in his own tomb? He made no such explanation to the disciples, who now fully believed that Christ had risen from the dead. The Scriptures tell us that Joseph was "an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43), "a good man, and a just"' (Luke 23:50). Would you imagine a man of his caliber and character perpetrating a fraud? If there had been any trickery, sooner or later it would have been exposed. All subsequent history compels us to believe that neither the disciples nor Joseph of Arimathea secretly carried away the body of Jesus but that Jesus Christ arose from death and the grave.
Peter on the day of Pentecost did not preach to the multitude as a man who knew he was proclaiming a lie, but as one conscious of the undeniable fact that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. This was the main theme of his gripping message at Pentecost. No one could contradict him. No one attempted to deny it. The truth of the resurrection of Christ swept on to close pagan temples, cast down idols, lift men into mobility and bring hope to a despairing humanity.
When the Master came forth from the tomb He did not leave His followers in a state of speculation and wonderment. He appeared to them—literally, visibly, and frequently: to the women at the tomb early Sunday morning, later that day to Mary Magdalene alone, to Simon Peter alone, and in the afternoon He walked with the two toward Emmaus. That night He appeared to the apostles in the upper room. After eight days again, perhaps in the same room, He stood in the midst of them and there skeptical Thomas affirmed in jov, "Mv Lord and my God" (John 20:28). A few days later He performed a miracle for a few apostles in the morning down by the Sea of Galilee. He was seen by more than five hundred at one time. The disciples beheld His ascension.
During all these occasions the favored ones spoke with Him, touched Him, and dined with Him. The risen Saviour talked, walked, ate, opened the Scriptures, prepared a fire for breakfast, and showed the nail scars. He also gave the great commission to evangelize the world.
The glorious resurrection of Christ seals with certainty that He was all He professed to be—the Son of God dwelling in human flesh, living a perfect life for us. taking upon Himself our sins, paying the penalty of our transgression, and dying our death that we might have His life for eternity. The resurrection seals the fact that all His words were and are true. He made some staggering claims—pre-existence; He came down from the Father above: He is the only way to God; His blood was shed for the remission of sins; only through Him can we have immortality; through His name we can have audience with the Father in prayer; and that the Holy Spirit would come in His stead to be our companion, even to the end. As a living Christ He would be our high priest to make intercession for us before His Father's throne. He affirmed that He had power over death and one dav He would come in glorv to raise the dead and take His own to be with Him forever.
This is what the resurrection of our Lord meant to the apostle Paul as is revealed in his letter to the Romans when he said that Jesus Christ was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4). Such preaching gave power to the men of old. It had a transforming effect upon the disciples, releasing them from the grip of fear and doubt, and thrust these timid and unlearned men into an unparalleled ministry of courage and power. They never again doubted. They were willing to suffer all manner of hardship and persecution, even to the sealing of their testimony with their blood, rather than deny the resurrection. They cried, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
The resurrection, mentioned 104 times in the New Testament, became the central doctrine of the early church—a cornerstone of Christianity.
May the same great power be upon Christ's ministers today as they bear witness of the resurrection. May God's men go out in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit to preach the everlasting gospel more fully: "This Jesus hath God raised up,, whereof we all are witnesses" (Acts 2:32).
A. C. F.