God expects from men something more at such times, and that it were much to be wished for the credit of their religion as well as the satisfaction of their conscience that their Easter devotions would in some measure come up to their Easter dress.
The fact of resurrection is not extraordinary; it is in accord with what we who believe at all believe to be the uniform law of lifethat death does not touch it. The witnesses to the resurrection of Christ were unprejudiced, unexpectant, incredulous, and their honesty is not doubted even by skeptical criticism.
Had Christ not risen we could not believe Him to be what He declared Himself when He made Himself equal with God. But He has risen in the confirmation of all His claims. By it alone, but by it thoroughly, is He manifested as the very Son of God, who has come into the world to reconcile the world to Himself. It is the fundamental fact in the Christians unwavering confidence in all the words of this life.
From the empty grave of Jesus the enemies of the cross turn away in unconcealable dismay. Those whom the force of no logic can convince, and whose hearts are steeled against the appeal of almighty love from the cross itself, quail before the irresistible power of this simple fact. Christ has risen from the dead! After two thousand years of the most determined assault upon the evidence which demonstrates it, that fact stands. And so long as it stands Christianity, too, must stand as the one supernatural religion.
This Easter-time brings us the assurance that when He comes and shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God, believers who sleep in Christ and those then living will be caught up together to meet Him in the air, and all will be, as in the twinkling of an eye, transformed and transfigured and possessed of bodies as perfect and as glorious as His own, and in these glorious and resplendent bodies we shall reign and rejoice forever.
Had He not emerged from the tomb all our hopes, all our salvation would be lying dead with Him unto this day. But as we see Him issue from the grave we see ourselves issue with Him in newness of life. Now we know that His shoulders were strong enough to bear the burden that was laid upon them, and that He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through Him. The resurrection of Christ is thus the indispensable evidence of His completed work, His accomplished redemption.
In every grave on earths green sward is a tiny seed of the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, and that seed cannot perish. It will germinate when the warm south wind of Christs return brings back the spring-tide to this cold sin-cursed earth of ours; and then they that are in their graves, and we who shall lie down in ours, will feel in our mortal bodies the power of His resurrection, and will come forth to life immortal.
In Christs resurrection, therefore, the Christian man sees the earnest and pledge of his own resurrection; and by it he is enheartened as he lays away the bodies of those dear to him, not sorrowing as the rest that have no hope, but with hearts swelling with glad anticipations of the day when they shall rise to meet their Lord. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will He bring with Him.
A happy and a glorious Easter will this one be to all of us who get a new vision of the risen Christ, and prostrate ourselves in humble adoration at His feet, and cry out: Rabboni! Rabboni! Then shall we set our hearts, lifted into a new atmosphere, on things above, and reach an actual higher life. We shall know more of what it is to live by Christ, in Christ, for Christ, and with Christ, till we reach the marvelous light around the throne in glory.
We can no longer speak of a bourne from which no traveler eer returns. The middle wall of partition has been broken down and the boundary become but an invisible line by the resurrection of Christ. That He who died has been raised again and ever lives in the form of a complete humanity is the fundamental fact in the revelation of the Christian doctrine of immortality.
It was for the glory that was set before Him that Christ endured the humiliation and suffering of the cross. Let us keep our eyes fixed steadily on the crown immortal, and then our sacrifices and services, and sufferings for Christs cause, will seem light and trivial in comparison. * * * The seal of the Sanhedrim, a regiment of soldiers from the town, a floor of rock, a roof of rock, a wall of rock, a niche of rock, cannot keep Christ in the crypt. Though you pile upon us all the boulders of the mountains, you cannot keep us down. The door of the tomb will be lifted from its hinges and flung flat in the dust.
Over all earths scarred and grave-ridged surface it kindled the light of this great hope: These moldering ashes may live again in human form. By the testimony of the senses Jesus is alive from the dead, and by the emptiness of Josephs sepulcher, by Marys risen Son, the resurrection is not incredible. Bereaved hearts may wrap themselves around with its sweet hope; human graves may be made vocal with its promise! the dying race of man come unto victory through faith.
Jesus has redeemed not only our souls, but our bodies. When the Lord shall deliver His captive people out of the land of the enemy He will not leave a bone of one of them in the adversarys power. The dominion of death shall be utterly broken.
For forty centuries, in one unbroken column, the race of man had been marching into the shadows. And of all the millions who had descended into the shadowed valley, not one had ever returned. No dead human form through all the centuries had risen up into a post-mortem life. There was in all Earths area not one empty grave. No human heart believed, no human voice declared that there was such a gravea grave robbed by the power of a victor stronger than mans great enemy, death. It was therefore a new and wonderful message which the Apostle communicated, when unto the dying race of man he lifted up his voice in the words: One human form has risen from the dead; one grave of earth is empty; the man Christ Jesus who was dead, is alive again.
This, then, is the doctrine of the resurrection. We do not believeat least I do notthat law has been rudely violated in one extraordinary and unparalleled episode. We believe that a universal law of life, overmastering death, and always superior to it, has had once a visible witness.
If you have no share in the living Lord may God have mercy upon you! If you have no share in Christs rising from the dead then you will not be raised up in the likeness of His glorified body. If you do not attain to that resurrection from among the dead then you must abide in death.
Whoever, therefore, is a true believer has of necessity an indefeasible hope, an absolute certainty of salvation. He shares the resurrection of Christ. His sins are as absolutely buried out of Gods sight as the body of Christ was buried in the tomb from the light of day. They can no more touch and spoil his hope than they can touch and condemn the risen Lord. All true children of God are now, because of His resurrection, wholly and forever justified, assured absolutely that they are now heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and waiting only for the day of full and final deliverance and glorification.
We have often asserted, and we affirm it yet again, that no fact in history is better attested than the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It must not be denied, by any who are willing to pay the slightest respect to the testimony of their fellow-men, that Jesus, who died upon the cross, and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, did literally rise again from the dead.
A bare seed is the former. Look into the wheat bin. There lie the bare seedsthe natural bodiesbut no artist would think of sitting down before them. Now turn your eyes upon the field of living grain as the winds of summer billow its surface. What beautywhat a glory! The bare grains have risen from death in a body of living green, matchless in the splendor of a new and a higher material body. So is the resurrection of the human form. It is sown corruptibleit is raised incorruptible; it is sown in weaknessit is raised in power; a low, inferior, imperfect body is sownone of glorious perfection rises up from this, as from a seed. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body, and the former comes firstis the seed of the latter? As we have borne the image of the earthly, so also shall we bear the image of the heavenly.
No one has ever yet succeeded in resolving the narrative of this event into figure or myth, and failures in this direction go to prove that the evidence on which the event rests is unimpeachable. And if it is trustworthy, then Christianity rests on a sure foundation, and our faith is in no sense vain, but warrantable and precious.
Let patriotism have its high days and freedom its monuments, and let the triumphs of navigators and generals be annually observed; but surely, beyond all these, a season that stands for as much to the race as Easter does may well be remembered each year with songs and flowers and with every mark of gratitude and of loftiest jubilation.
It longs for existence that it may have life. Life and immortality are brought to light by the higher and holy nature of the risen Christ, who shows the meaning and possibilities of life, and awakens in all responsive natures a desire to live. Every Christian life becomes thus a witness of the resurrection. Its very possibility in a world of evil is due to a living Saviour. Because I live, ye shall live also.
Christ is risen from the dead, and thus His own words have been justified. Christ is risen from the dead, and thus God has given Him the sign of His Messianic mission. The final and absolute seal of genuineness has been put on all His claims, and the indelible stamp of a divine authority upon all His teachings. The resurrection spans and binds the sacred Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Christ is risen from the dead, and every promise of God is yea and amen in Him.
Was it not most meet that a woman should first see the risen Saviour? She was first in the transgression; let her be first in the justification. In yon garden she was first to work our wo; let her in that other garden be the first to see Him who works our weal. She takes first the apple of that bitter tree which brings us all our sorrow; let her be the first to see the Mighty Gardener, who has planted a tree which brings forth fruit unto everlasting life.
Let all the jubilant sounds of earth swing up in one resonant wave of triumphant song. Let us robe ourselves in the sunny gladness of a hope so brightthe hope that defies death, and reaches across all the breadth of graves, and clasps the hand of an immortal friend, and says through any hour of sorrow, It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Himwaking or sleeping, for, waking or sleeping, we are the Lords; and while it thus chants its faith, hears, rising slow and sweet, and with an olden pathos, out of the deeps of ancient days, the quenchless faith of a twilight child of God: I know that my Redeemer liveth: * * * and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
Christendom never came from an unbroken grave. It would have been buried in that grave, as Judas thought it was going to be, and as the Jews thought it was going to be, except there had been a resurrection from the dead. Then you can explain Christendom, churches, and literatures, if Christ rose again; but otherwise they cannot be explained at all. Our whole civilization rests on the broken Cross of the Master, and it is incredible that a civilization like this, in a world advancing steadily for eighteen centuries, has been founded on a lie.
We do not strike out one part or another part of the prophecy on record; we have the whole compacted together by this mighty keystone in the arch, the resurrection of the Son of God and the glorious manifestation given by Him as the divine representative and Son in the world. Then the world is beautiful; it is not a place of graves; it is a place of graves that are to be opened. It is not the city of the dead. They who are dead to human view are living unto God. It is a portal of paradise instead of a place of graves, and there is light upon it every Easter morning such as never was before on sea or shore until the Master had risen from the grave.
We greatly need the cheer of this precious Easter truth. We make too little of the place our Lord has gone to prepare for us. We rob ourselves greatly when we try to reduce heaven to a mere state of ecstatic feeling. We need the cheer which comes of having the eye of faith fixed on the better country and the city that hath the foundations. Such a certainty of an inheritance that is real and that cannot fade away goes far to mitigate the pangs which come of the fires and floods and disasters and frauds which so often despoil Gods people of their earthly possessions; for we know that the things seen are temporal, but the things not seen are eternal, and they are only a few heart-beats away.
He who burst the bars of death was thereby declared to be the Son of God with power. Since the resurrection morning there has never beenthere could not bethe slightest question as to His final rulership of the world. Death was conquered, Satan was conquered, and He proclaimed the wearer of the name above every name. His final triumph was hence merely a question of the fullness of time. And He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, from henceforth expecting till His enemies are made His footstool. This Easter morning certifies us of that approaching day, and with, as it were, the foregleams of its glory on our faces and the stirrings of its mighty joy in our hearts, bids us watch and pray and look for the coming of the King.
Preach the defeat of death and the triumph over the grave as historic facts; preach it as the great middle truth, as the potent truth out of which all others of our faith flow forth; keep it ever lifted up as the justification of all our best endeavors; preach it as the one great thing that rails off the children of God from the children of death; hold it out as the beacon across all the dark waters of times tumult; throw it out in the face of human fears, and tell it increasingly with joy.
Remember there is no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost; so no man can profess, to any purpose, faith in Christs resurrection but by the Holy Ghost. It is the Spirit that beareth witness now, as nineteen centuries ago, by that influence on the will of man which leaves the intellect at liberty to do justice to the evidence before it. Pray that most blessed Spirit so to teach your hearts and wills that you may, at least, have no reason for wishing the resurrection to be untrue. Pray Him for His gracious assistance that you may recover or may strengthen the great grace of faith and have your part in the blessed promise of the apostle: If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
Thine, O death, was the furrow: we cast therein the precious seed. Now let us wait and see what God shall bring forth for us. A single leaf fallsthe bud at its axil will shoot forth many leaves. The husbandman bargains with the year to give back a hundred grains for the one buried. Shall God be less generous? Yet, when we sow, our hearts think that beauty is gone out, that all is lost. But when God shall bring again to our eyes the hundredfold beauty and sweetness of that which we planted, how shall we shame over that dim faith that, having eyes, saw not, and ears, heard not, though all heaven and all the earth appeared, and spake, to comfort those who mourn!
There can, I apprehend, my dear brethren, be no sort of doubt that, if an ordinary historical occurrence, such as the death of Julius Cæsar, is attested as clearly as the resurrection of our Lordnot, we will suppose, more clearly nor lessas having taken place nineteen centuries ago, all the world would believe it as a matter of course. Nay, more: if an extraordinary occurrence traversing the usual operations of God in nature were similarly tested, it would be easily believed if only it stood alone as an isolated wonder connected with no religious claims, implying no religious duties, appealing only to the bare understanding, and having no bearing, however remote, upon the will. The reason why the resurrection was not always believed upon the evidence of these who were witness to it was because to believe means for a consistent and thoughtful man to believe in and accept practically a great deal else. To believe the resurrection is to believe implicitly in the Christian faith.
He (Death) carries a black flag, and he takes no prisoners. He digs a trench across the hemispheres and fills it with the carcasses of nations. Fifty times would the world have been depopulated had not God kept making new generations. Fifty times the world would have swung lifeless through the airno man on the mountain, no man on the seaan abandoned ship plowing through immensity. Again and again has He done this work with all generations. He is a monarch as well as a conqueror; His palace a sepulcher; His fountains the falling tears of a world. Blessed be God! in the light of this Easter morning I see the prophecy that His scepter shall be broken and His palace shall be demolished. The hour is coming when all who are in their graves shall come forth. Christ risen, we shall rise. Jesus is the first-fruits of them that slept.
Most of all, when the very anniversary comes and we are carried back to the cross and to the sepulcher from which the Master came, should this note of triumph be in our hearts or on our lips: songs of triumphant praise should sound from organ and voice. When we go home, it should be with a feeling that the world is consecrated, the sepulcher has been broken, and that life is lovelier than ever, and duty more beautiful, and death not terrible. So we should walk with an elastic step, with a light shining over our faces and in our eyes, and with music on our lips as we go to our homes; and if any one ask, Whence came this new expression? Whence came this sweeter and more victorious tone? we should be able to say to them, It is natural, for to-day I have walked with the risen Christ; to-day I have walked as conqueror of the Cross with Him who conquered it; to-day I have walked near the gates which He entered who broke the bars of the sepulcher and ascended in glory to heaven.