Sunday, April 05, 2015

Why did Jesus Christ Resurrect?

Artwork: John Marr

First Corinthians 15:1-28

In our last consideration, we looked at the miracles of incarnation and crucifixion. We saw that Christ in the incarnate life lived a life that is exemplary, challenging and without blemish. His entrance into the world was unusual having come without the help of man but through a virgin; he lived a life of sinlessness - the first fact prepared Him for the second because in that He did not inherit the Adamic sin. He manifested supernatural powers in the form of miracles. He had power of God in Him. This is so because there was no sin to break His relationship with His Father, and so He was different from all men. Life of sinlessness is an attribute of God and not of man. He spoke the greatest words ever said – words that should be said only by One who knows the end from the beginning, even God Himself. His life, His words, and His powers left a lasting and universal influence. We all here testify and in fact are eloquent and living testimonies of how He influences lives. His influence brought satisfaction to all who were spiritually hungry and thirsty. He gave peace where there was none and brought life where all hope was lost and to give us the final hope and victory He conquered death, man’s greatest enemy. His death was victory for it brought life to all who came to Him.

All the aforesaid qualified Him for a substitutory death, atoning death for you and I; and made Him the Great High Priest who not only sacrificed and pleaded for others but gave Himself as the Lamb – the only Lamb without blemish and able to satisfy God’s high standard for man’s salvation. He became man to save man. He died man’s death that we shall die no more.

Today, we want to look at the issue of His resurrection.

Resurrection presupposes that He truly died and was buried. Over the years people have put forward series of hypotheses regarding His death. Some have even said that He did not die, but swooned on the Cross only to revive in the coolness of the grave. They fail to look at the evidence of the spear that pierced His side and the Bible says: “blood and water flowed out” these are only so in a dead man. They also forget that He was buried and the grave sealed by the Roman Government who were then His declared enemies. Let us not split our heads over the issue. The Bible is affirmative that He died.

The Bible asserts that Joseph asked for the Body and it was given to him after Pilate had made sure He was dead (Matthew 27:57-60). He was buried with all rites according to the Jewish custom for Nichodemus came to Joseph with one hundred pounds of pieces of spices of aloes and myrrh (John 19:39-42). Joseph wrapped the body up in a white linen, laid it in a tomb and rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary His mother saw the tomb (Mark 15:46-47). These two women went home and prepared  spices and perfumes in order to go again to the tomb after the Sabbath rest (Luke 23:56). The Pharisees did not take anything for granted so they sent guards who went and sealed the tomb and they also watched the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66).

After all these preparations, what happened to the body on the first day of the week morning when the women went there? The women met an empty tomb. What is the mystery of the empty tomb? Many people have put up many suggestions and hypotheses to explain out the fact of the empty tomb. Let us look at some of these hypotheses briefly and see their merits and demerits.

Hypothesis #1 - His Body was stolen

First, let us look at the suggestion that His body was stolen from the grave. In this we are neglecting the ability of the Roman soldiers and their faithfulness who were placed on guard at the tomb. But who could have stolen the body; His enemies or His friends?

His enemies:  Why would they do that? They could be lending a helping hand to His assertion that after three days He would rise. His loss from the grave would lend a hand. One thing that characterized the first Christian preaching is its emphasis on the resurrection. If the enemies stole the body they would have produced it during these preachings to burst open the bluff of the preachers. In this situation had the enemies produced the body of Jesus, the Christian Church must have dissolved in gale of laughter. The silence of the enemies, the Jews, as someone has put it, is just as significant as the speech of the Christians. The failure of the enemies to produce the body of Jesus Christ is conclusive evidence that they could not do so. They did not steal the body.

His Friends: Again for what reason? They were not expecting His resurrection. The two men going to Emmaus sounded despondent and lost all hope. They had hoped that He would save Israel. Mary could not have been busy preparing the spices. We also remember that His enemies set a guard over the tomb. Who amongst His friends could have over powered the guards – John who ran away naked, or Peter who denied Him before a house-maid? Who? But the crowning improbability is that they would not have suffered for preaching the resurrection as Acts tells us they did. Some were imprisoned, and James was executed. Men do not suffer such penalties for upholding what they know to be a lie. It must also be borne in mind that then the Christian sect was troublesome enough for the authorities to persecute it, the chief priests would have been very ready to have paid for information as to the stealing of the body, and the case of Judas is sufficient to show that a traitor could be found in the ranks. All in all, it is impossible to hold that Christians stole away the body of Jesus Christ.

Hypothesis #2 - The women went to the wrong tomb

There is the other hypothesis that the women mistook the right tomb for a wrong one. The proposers of this hypothesis say that that was what the man at the grave side meant when he said:”He is not here” but what of the second clause “For He is risen”? Why didn’t he point out the right tomb for the women. Again when the Christians started making this their preaching point, what stopped the authorities from searching for the correct tomb and bringing out the decomposing body of Christ. Could Joseph have missed his own tomb?

Hypothesis #3 - Jesus didn't die, He merely swooned on the Cross

There is also the other hypothesis that Jesus didn’t actually die, that He swooned and resuscitated in the coolness of the tomb. This also crumbles like the others. They hold to the point that Pilate said in Mark 15:44 –”Is He dead already?” showing surprise that He died so quickly. They say He didn’t die but swooned as a result of exhaustion. Fine! But how did He escape from the guards? How did the exhausted, tired man escape from the sealed tomb? Who moved the stone that the women were afraid of? Sceptic Strauss has a word for these theorists: “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence and also who still at last yielded to His suffering, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death, and the grave, the Prince of Life; an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship” Again there is a question yet to be answered, when did He finally die?

Hypothesis #4 - Jesus' appearances were hallucinations

There is also the hypothesis that the whole thing was a case of hallucination. But there are certain facts we ought to know concerning hallucinations – Only certain types of persons are normally liable to such experiences – the highly imaginative persons. But how could a crowd of five hundred (500) sitting at a place be so affected at the same time and on the same object –covering all classes of people from Mary Magdalene to hard-headed Matthew the tax-collector to the prosaic fishermen.
Again Hallucinations are highly individualistic for their source is the subconscious mind of the recipient. Unless we can prove that all the 500 persons have one subconscious mind, they cannot have the same phenomenon, yet they claimed they all had one hallucination, that Jesus appeared to them.

Hallucinations usually concern some expected event, long meditated and desired. Everything shows that the disciples were not expecting their Lord’s resurrection; they were sad and defeated and hope seemed to have died.

Hallucinations which are psychic, usually occur at suitable times and places; the evening, night or early morning, for instance, and in characteristic surroundings. But the hallucinations of the appearances of Jesus occurred at all sorts of times and places – the Upper room in the evening, the tomb in the early morning, and afternoon walk in the country, a morning fishing at the lake, a mountain in Galilee.

Hallucinations once they have started tend to continue for a long time with a measure of regularity either increasing or decreasing in frequency. But the phenomena in this occurred only during a short period of forty days and then stopped forever.

So, the resurrection of Jesus and the appearances cannot be explained away by on the basis of hallucinations; nor can it be explained in terms of vision.

The fact of the empty tomb therefore can only be explained by the obvious – Jesus really resurrected. That is the only evidence left and it is the only plausible explanation for the empty tomb. This fact of the resurrection is confirmed by the resurrection appearances.

Mostly the appearances were to believers, but possibly that to James was to one who had not believed up till that point. Especially important is Paul. He was not credulous, but an educated man who was utterly hostile to the Christians. And he is emphatic that he saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead. Indeed, so sure was he of this that he based the whole of the rest of his life on the certainty.

We should not overlook the transformation of the disciples in all this. As noted before, they were beaten and dispirited men at the crucifixion, but they were ready to go to prison and even to die for the sake of Jesus shortly afterwards; why the change? Men do not run such risks unless they are very sure of themselves. The disciples were completely convinced. We should perhaps add that their certainty is reflected in their worship. They were Jews and Jews have a tenacity of clinging to their religious customs. Yet these men observed the Lord’s Day, a weekly memorial of the resurrection, instead of the Sabbath. On the Lord’s Day, they celebrated the holy communion which was not a commemoration of a dead Christ but a thankful remembrance of the blessings conveyed by a living and triumphant Lord. Their other sacrament – baptism, was a reminder that believers were buried with Christ and raised with Him (Colossians 2:12) the resurrection gave significance to all that they did. We cannot under these incontrovertible evidences deny the fact of resurrection for the empty tomb still stands and gives us no room to deny its presence. Jesus rose indeed!

Why then did He resurrect?  Jesus resurrection gives the believer the assurance that one day he too will rise. Jesus refuted the scepticism of the Sadducees on this point when He said in Matthew 22:31-32 “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” Jesus further said, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).  Several times He spoke of raising believers up at the last day. (John 6:39-40; 44, 54) Paul preached it (Second Corinthians 15:21; First Thessalonians 4:14) Peter also preached it (First Peter 1:3) Because God raised Christ He set His seal on the atoning work wrought out on the Cross. He demonstrated His divine power in the face of sin and death, and at the same time, His will to save men. Thus the resurrection of believers follows immediately from that of their Saviour. So characteristic of them is resurrection that Jesus could speak of them as “the children of God, being the children of resurrection” (Luke 20:16)

The plain New Testament teaching is that all will rise but that those who have rejected Christ will find the resurrection a serious matter indeed. For believers the fact that their resurrection is connected with that of the Lord transforms the situation. In the light of His atoning work for them they face resurrection with calmness and joy.

In the passage we read in First Corinthians 15:14, 17 Paul says “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” Paul is here emphasizing that Christianity stands or falls with the fact of resurrection. The point is that Christianity is a Gospel; it is good news about how God sent His Son to be our Saviour. But if Christ did not really rise, then we have no assurance that our salvation has been accomplished. The reality of the resurrection of Christ is of deep significance so also is the resurrection of believers. Paul’s view is that if the dead be not raised, let us adopt the motto “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (First Corinthians 15:32) the believers life hope lies elsewhere (verse 19)

The resurrection of Christ is also connected with our salvation as Paul says in Romans 4:25 – “He was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification.” This dominated Paul’s life desire. In Philippians 3:10 Paul says “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” And he exhorts all the Colossians “if you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1).

Paul had earlier in Colossians 2:12 reminded them that they were buried with Christ in baptism and in the same sacrament raised with Him.” In other words Paul sees the power that brought Christ back from the dead as operative within those who are Christ’s. The resurrection is an on-going thing.

But the ultimate proof of the resurrection for each individual lies in his own knowledge of the risen Christ, for in this matter the evidence of experience can supplement that of history. Happily the promise of the risen Saviour still stands: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock, if any man hears My voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20)

Have you experienced the risen Lord in your life and do you go on each day to experience Him? John concluding his Gospel says: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is then Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)

Christ is risen and is risen indeed. This is the message of Easter as it is the message of Christianity. It is our hope; it is our life. We have relationship with a living Saviour who has power of life and death. Go out and proclaim it loud and clear.

He lives, He lives; Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me and He talks with me along life narrow way.
He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives;
He lives within my heart!

Once Billy Graham was challenged when giving a message on the reality of God and His Son Jesus Christ; somebody said to him. ‘Hi, Billy, you talk very much about God as if He lives. He is dead. He has no more power in the affairs of men” Billy Graham coolly replied “I do not know of His death. I spoke to Him this morning” Did you speak to Him this morning?

God bless you all

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