The Resurrection of ChristPosted: April 24, 2011
(Sermon by Octavious Winslow)
‘And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:11
Having affirmed of the redeemed body that it was dead because of sin, the Apostle, as if anxious to rescue the saints from the humiliation of so affecting a truth, hastens to unveil the light which plays so brightly and cheeringly around each believer’s tomb. He shows that light to spring from the fact of the resurrection of the Savior. This doctrine is the grand luminary of the Christian system- it touches and gilds with its brilliance each cardinal doctrine of our faith. If Christ has not been risen from the dead, then is that faith vain and lifeless; but if he is risen, then each truth becomes instinct with life; and hope, like the day-spring from on high, rises with light and glory upon the soul.
The credibility of this great fact is perhaps the first point to which the mind naturally directs its inquiry. But in the present instance the truth of the doctrine must be assumed rather than established. We are not writing for the sceptic, but for the believer. Not so much to convince as to confirm the mind. And yet, were we arguing the question with a disputant, we might pursue a simple line of reasoning, somewhat like this- That the body of our Lord left the tomb is a fact which even those who have attempted to invalidate the doctrine readily concede. The great question in dispute, then, is- Who removed it? Did the enemies of Christ? What would they have gained by that step? Would they not on the contrary have lost much? Would it not have weakened their declaration that he was an impostor, and have strengthened that of his apostles, that he was risen? Why did not the priests and rulers, who bribed the Roman soldiers to affirm that his disciples had first surreptitiously possessed themselves of the body, and then secreted it, prove their assertion to the satisfaction of all Jerusalem, and thus at once strike the death-blow at the infant religion, and overwhelm the apostles with infamy and scorn? With the power of search which they possessed, surely, this were a natural and an easy process. To have produced the still lifeless body of our Lord would have substantiated their assertion, and thus have set at rest a question, upon which interests of such moment hung, at once and forever. But what were the circumstances of our Lord’s interment? They were all such as to strengthen the fact of his resurrection.
He was buried in a tomb hewn out of a rock. To have excavated that rock would have been a work of time, of immense difficulty, if not of utter impossibility. The exit of our Lord therefore from the tomb could only have been by the door through which he passed within it. And, as if to encircle the grave of the Savior with sentinels of unimpeachable veracity, the Holy Spirit informs us, that in the “place where he was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man laid.” Thus, then, if that sepulcher were emptied, none other than the body of Jesus had broken from its lone captivity. The substitution of another for the corpse of the Savior, was beyond the range of possibility. And who are the witnesses? A company of poor, unlearned, and timid fishermen- as unskilled in the art of falsehood and collusion, as they were in the lettered sciences of their age. They had nothing earthly to gain in testifying to the fact, but everything to lose. Instead of human applause, and honor, and wealth, they were rewarded with every species of obloquy, deprivation, and suffering. And yet, oppressed by poverty and persecution, and with the gloomy machinery of torture- the dungeon, the rack, and the cross staring them in the face, they traveled everywhere, testifying to the sceptic philosophers of Athens, as to the unlettered peasants of Rome, that Christ was risen from the dead. Nor were they men likely to be imposed upon. They were at first strangely incredulous of the fact itself. How slow of heart were they to welcome the testimony that their Lord was indeed alive. Retired from the sepulcher, where in love and sadness they had laid him, they met the holy women, who at the dawn of day had borne their aroma to the tomb, and returning, who proclaimed to the “eleven and to all the rest,” that he was alive. Yet we are told, “their words seemed to them as idle tales.” And when one of the witnesses to the credibility of the fact testified to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord,” how was the testimony received? “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails,” were the words of that disbelieving disciple, “and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thus reluctant to receive the fact of his resurrection, is it possible that they could have been easily imposed upon by a fiction? We may, then, safely leave the credibility of this cardinal doctrine of our faith to its own evidence, and pass on to other and more experimental views of the glorious truth.
We may refer for a moment to the necessity that Jesus should rise again from the dead; and this will supply a collateral argument in favor of the truth of the doctrine. It was necessary that he should make good his own prediction, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That some of his enemies rightly understood him to refer to the temple of his body is evident from their subsequent allusion to these words, “We remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.” Our Lord thus fulfilled his own undeviating prediction. But the perfection of his mediatorial work also pleaded for its necessity. “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” The Father’s glory was clearly interwoven with the fact- his honor, faithfulness, and power. Thus it is said, “Therefore are we buried with him by baptism unto death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
But let us trace the effect of this truth in the believing soul, and this will supply us with no small evidence in favor of its credibility. For if the power of the fact is experienced, the fact itself must be certain. It is one thing to yield the assent of an informed understanding to a truth, and it is another to feel the influence of that truth in the heart. But what is it to sympathize with Christ’s resurrection? It is to be a partaker of its quickening energy, to be sensible of its life-giving, life-elevating power. Oh, there is no single truth which embodies and conveys so much blessing to the believer as his Lord’s resurrection. Trace its sanctifying tendency: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” To be sensible of this amazing power in the soul is to be born again- to be raised from the grave of corruption- to live on earth a heavenly, a resurrection-life- to have the heart daily ascending in the sweet incense of love, and prayer, and praise, where its risen Treasure is. It possesses, too, a most comforting power. What but this sustained the disciples in the early struggles of Christianity, amid the storms of persecution which else had swept them from the earth? They felt that their Master was alive. They needed no external proof of the fact. They possessed in their souls God’s witness. The truth authenticated itself. The three days of his entombment were to them days of sadness, desertion, and gloom. Their sun had set in darkness and in blood, and with it every ray of hope had vanished. All they loved, or cared to live for, had descended to the grave. They had now no arm to strengthen them in their weakness- no bosom to sympathize with them in sorrow- no eye to which they could unveil each hidden thought and struggling emotion.
But the resurrection of their Lord was the resurrection of all their buried joys. They now traveled to him as to a living Savior, conscious of a power new-born within them, the power of the Lord’s resurrection. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” But is this truth less vivifying and precious to us? Has it lost anything Of its vitality to quicken, or its power to soothe? Oh, no! truth is eternal and immutable. Years impair not its strength, circumstances change not its character. The same truths which distilled as dew from the lips of Moses; which awoke the seraphic lyre of David; which winged the heaven-soaring spirit of Isaiah; which inspired the manly eloquence of Paul; which floated in visions of sublimity before the eye of John; and which in all ages have fed, animated, and sanctified the people of God- guiding their counsels, soothing their sorrows, and animating their hopes- still are vital and potent in the chequered experiences of the saints, hastening to swell the cloud of witnesses to their divinity and their might. Of such is the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection. Oh, what consolation flows to the church of God from the truth of a living Savior- a Savior alive to know and to heal our sorrows- to inspire and sanctify our joys- to sympathize with and supply our need! Alive to every cloud that shades the mind, to every cross that chafes the spirit, to every grief that saddens the heart, to every evil that threatens our safety, or perils our happiness! What power, too, do the promises of the gospel derive from this truth! When Jesus speaks by these promises, we feel that there is life and spirit in his word, for it is the spoken word of a living Savior. And when he invites us to himself for rest, and bids us look to his cross for peace, and asks us to deposit our burdens at his feet, and drink the words that flow from his lips, we feel a living influence stealing over the soul, inspiriting and soothing as that of which the trembling Evangelist was conscious, when the glorified Savior gently laid his right hand upon him, and said, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Is Jesus alive? Then let what else die, our life, with all its supports, and consolations, and hopes, is secure in him. “Because I live, you shall live also.” A living spring is he. Seasons vary, circumstances change, feelings fluctuate, friendships cool, friends die, but Christ is ever the same. He is that “Tree of Life,” whose boughs overhang either side of the river, and which yields its fruit every month. Travel to it when we may, we find it fruitful. It may be winter with us, it is always summer with the Tree. Cold and dreary may be the region where we have come, all chilled and desolate, to the spot where it stands: in an instant it is as though we had emerged into a southern climate- its balmy air, its spicy breezes, and its warm sunlight, encircling us in their soft robes. Oh, the blessedness of dealing with a risen, a living Redeemer! We take our needs to him they are instantly supplied. We take our sins to him- they are immediately pardoned. We take our griefs to him they are in a moment assuaged. “Every month,” ay, and each moment of every month, finds this Tree of Life proffering its ample foliage for our shade, and yielding its rich fruit for our refreshment. Such are some of the blessings which flow from the resurrection of Christ. The identity of this great fact with the resurrection of the saints we reserve for the next chapter; closing the present with the fervent prayer that the Eternal Spirit may give us a heartfelt possession of its power, enabling us to exclaim, with the unwavering faith and undimmed hope of the holy patriarch- “I know that my redeemer lives!”