Editor’s Note: Sermon preached by Christmas Evans.
|“He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”|
The celebrated Jonathan Edwards of America begins his History of Redemption with an account of the Lord’s visit to Adam and Eve at the cool of the day in Eden. All the wonderful works of God toward the children of men, since the seed of the woman was promised to bruise the serpent’s head, are to be considered as so many parts of the same great machinery of providence, whose wheels, like those of Ezekiel’s vision, all move in majestic harmony, though their thousand revolutions may seem to us discordant and confused. The chief design of all the Divine manifestations recorded in the Old Testament was to prepare the way for the Redeemer’s appearance upon earth. Jehovah often suffered his people to be in great distress and perplexity ; he lengthened the chain of Satan and his angels, allowed a partial success of their infernal schemes, and permitted them to prevail for a season against his people, and pride themselves in their power and their skill, in order to make their defeat the more signal, and gather more glory to himself from their final overthrow. During the engagement, the victory often seemed to be on the side of the enemy; but when the smoke of battle cleared away, the pillar of God was seen upon the camp of Israel. If his people are besieged between Pi-hahiroth and Baal-zephon, he raises the siege by dividing the sea, and making a highway through the deep, while the waters rise up in a solid wall on the right and the left, and roll back in ruin on the pursuing foe. If an army comes to arrest Elisha on Carmel, the mountain is covered with celestial warriors, and the surrounding heavens teem with horsemen and chariots of fire, and the enemy are smitten with blindness, and taken captive by the prophet. If Goliath of Gath confronts the camp of Israel with his challenge, roaring like a lion, till the valley resounds with his voice, a little shepherd-boy goes forth with his sling, and the vaunting blasphemer is smitten to the ground, and slain with his own sword. If the worshippers of the true God are cast into the fiery furnace, or the den of lions, to show the power and gratify the pride of an infamous tyrant, there is one among them “like unto the Son of Man,” and the violence of the fire is quenched, and the mouths of the lions are stopped.
But when Messiah was slain and buried, the enemies of God boasted more than ever in their crafty and malicious schemes. This was the great decisive engagement between Heaven and hell. The enemy imagined “the Captain of our salvation” vanquished and destroyed. But his fall was no defeat. He yielded to the powers of darkness apparently, that he might triumph over them openly. He suffered himself to be taken prisoner by death, that he might seize the tyrant on his throne, demolish his empire, and deliver his captives. And if none of his friends on earth had courage to proclaim his resurrection, a preacher descended from heaven to announce the joyful fact: “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
Wonderful message, and wonderful messenger! On the morning of the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus revived in his tomb, and the sound of the earthquake reached the heaven of heavens, and a mighty angel, swifter than the light, descended straight to the new grave in Joseph’s garden, calling on no one for the key, instantly rolled away the stone from the door, and sat upon it, and made it his pulpit, from which he preached to the women the doctrine of our Lord’s resurrection.
Let us consider, First, the testimony by which this fact is sustained, secondly, the fact itself, as the sure basis of Christianity.
I. It appears from the record of the evangelist Luke, that the women were much perplexed at finding the stone rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre, and the body of Jesus gone. Then they were saluted by two angels in shining apparel, who said; ”Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen. Remember how he spake unto you while he was yet in Galilee, saying The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words.”
Here is the testimony of two credible witnesses, a sufficient number to attest the truth of our Lord’s resurrection; who testified to nothing but what they had personally witnessed, and knew to be fact; and delivered their testimony in simple and unambiguous language, that could not well be misunderstood.
While the women went to inform the disciples of what they had seen and heard, “behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” And what was done ? What can be the testimony of these enemies of Christ concerning his resurrection ? That “an angel, whose countenance was like lightning, and his garments white as snow, descended from heaven, and rolled away the stone from the door, and sat upon it;” which so terrified them that they ” became as dead men.”
To confirm these testimonies, our blessed Lord himself “appeared unto many after his resurrection, who were witnesses of all things which he did, both in the land of the Jews, and at Jerusalem; and how he was slain, and hanged on a tree; and how God raised him up the third day, and showed him openly; not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God; even to the disciples, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead; whom he commanded to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he who is ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead to whom he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proof ; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
Here we may observe, that he appeared to those who knew him best, and gave them satisfactory and incontestable evidence of his resurrection. And he appeared, not only to the apostles, but to more than five hundred brethren at once. We have an account of his appearing at ten or eleven different times. On these occasions, he conversed with his disciples, reminded them of what he had said to them before his crucifixion, showed them his hands and his feet, and besought them to touch and examine his person, and satisfy themselves as to his identity. So that they had ample opportunity, and every facility that could be desired, for ascertaining whether he was indeed Jesus of Nazareth, their master, who was lately crucified before their eyes.
It was therefore with great power that the apostles bore witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And the Holy Spirit corroborated their testimony. Our faith in this distinctive doctrine of Christianity rests on a Divine foundation. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater,” “And the apostles went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord also working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” In a few weeks after the resurrection of their Master, their testimony concern-ing it was received and firmly believed by many thousands, not in some distant and desert part of the world, but in Jerusalem, where he had been crucified.
How nobly the apostle Peter reasoned on this subject when he said: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words. Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know; him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain ; whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”
Such was the evidence of our Lord’s resurrection, that among those who were living at the time, and even those of them who so strenuously opposed the gospel, it appears to have been scarcely doubted. Pilate, in a letter to Tiberius, the Roman emperor, said, that Jesus, being raised from the dead, was believed by many to be God ; whereupon the Roman Senate expressed no doubt of his resurrection, but debated the question of receiving him as one of the gods of Rome; which, however, was overruled by Divine Providence, for the honor of Christianity; for he who is higher than heaven, and the heaven of heavens, was not to be ranked with dumb idols upon earth.
II. Let us now consider the fact of our Lord’s resurrection, and its bearing upon the great truths of our holy religion.
This most transcendent of miracles is sometimes attributed to the agency of the Father; who, as the Lawgiver, had arrested and imprisoned in the grave the sinner’s Surety, manifesting at once his benevolence and his holiness; but by liberating the prisoner, proclaimed that the debt was canceled, and the claims of the law satisfied. It is sometimes attributed to the Son himself; -who has power both to lay down his life, and to take it again; and the merit of whose sacrifice entitled him to the honor of thus asserting his dominion over death, on behalf of his people. And sometimes it is attributed to the Holy Spirit, as in the following words of the apostle: “He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
The resurrection of Christ is clear and incontestable proof of his Divinity.
He had declared himself equal with God the Father, and one with him in nature and in glory. He had told the people that he would prove the truth of this declaration, by rising from the grave three days after his death. And when the morning of the third day began to dawn upon the sepulchre, lo ! there was an earthquake, and the dead body arose, triumphant over the power of corruption.
This was the most stupendous miracle ever exhibited on earth, and its language is: “Behold, ye persecuting Jews and murdering Romans, the proof of my Godhead! Behold, Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, the power and glory of your victim! I am he that liveth, and was dead; and lo! I am alive for evermore! I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star! Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and besides me there is none else!”
Our Lord’s resurrection affords incontrovertible evidence of the truth of Christianity.
Pilate wrote the title of Christ in three languages on the cross; and many have written excellent and unanswerable things, on the truth of the Christian Scriptures, and the reality of the Christian religion; but the best argument that has ever been written on the subject, was written by the invisible hand of the Eternal Power, in the rocks of our Saviour’s sepulchre. This confounds the skeptic, settles the controversy, and affords an ample and sure foundation for all them that believe.
If any one asks whether Christianity is from heaven or of men, we point him to the “tomb hewn out of the rock,” and say ”’There is your answer! Jesus was crucified, and laid in that cave; but on the morning of the third day, it was found empty; our Master had risen and gone forth from the grave victorious.”
This is the pillar that supports the whole fabric of our relation; and he who attempts to pull it down, like Samson, pulls down upon himself. “If Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain, ye are yet in your sins;” but if the fact is clearly proved, then Christianity is unquestionably true, and its disciples are safe.
This is the ground on which the apostle stood, and asserted the divinity of his faith : “Moreover, I testify unto you the gospel, which I preached unto you; which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain; for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.”
The resurrection of Jesus is the most stupendous manifestation of the power of God, and the pledge of eternal life to his people.
The apostle calls it “the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” This is a river overflowing its banks–“an idea too large for language. Let us look at it a moment.
Where do we find “the exceeding greatness of his power?” In the creation of the world? in the Seven Stars and Orion? in the strength of Behemoth and Leviathan? No! In the deluge ? in the fiery destruction of Sodom? in the overthrow of Pharaoh and his host? in hurling Nebuchadnezzar like Lucifer from the political firmament ? No! It is the power which he wrought in Christ. When? When he healed the sick? when he raised the dead? when he cast out devils? when he blasted the fruitless fig-tree? when he walked upon the waters of the Galilee? No! It was “when he raised him from the dead.” Then the Father placed the sceptre in the hand of the Son, “and set him above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church.”
This is the source of our spiritual life. The same power that raised the dead body of our Lord from the grave, quickens the soul of the believer from the death in trespasses and sins. His riven tomb is a fountain of living waters ; whereof if a man drink, he shall never die. His raised and glorified body is the sun, whence streams eternal light upon our spirits; the light of life, that never can be quenched.
Nor here does the influence of his resurrection end. He who raised up Jesus from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies. His resurrection is the pledge and the pattern of ours. “Because he liveth we shall live also.” “He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” We hear him speaking in the prophet: “Thy dead men shall live; together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead.”
How divinely does the apostle speak of the resurrection body of the saints! “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Then shall be brought to pass the thing that is written, ”Death is swallowed up in victory! death, where is thy sting? grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be unto God, that giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ever since the fall in Eden, man is born to die. He lives to die. He eats and drinks, sleeps and wakes, to die. Death, like a dark steel-clad warrior, stands ever before us; and his gigantic shadow comes continually between us and happiness. But Christ hath “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” He was born in Bethlehem, that he might die on Calvary. He was made under the law, that he might bear the direst penalty of the law. He lived thirty-three years, sinless among sinners, that he might offer himself a sin-offering for sinners upon the cross. Thus he “became obedient unto death,” that he might destroy the power of death; and on the third morning, a mighty angel, rolling away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre, makes the very door of Death’s castle the throne whence he proclaims “the resurrection and the life.”
The Hero of our salvation traveled into Death’s dominion, took possession of the whole territory on our behalf, and returning laden with spoils, ascended to the heaven of heavens. He went to the palace, seized the tyrant, and wrested away his sceptre. He descended into the prison-house, knocked off the fetters of the captives ; and when he came up again, left the door of every cell open, that they might follow him. He has gone over into our promised inheritance, and his glory illuminates the mountains of immortality; and through the telescope which he has bequeathed us, we “see the land that is very far off.”
I recollect reading in the writings of Flavel this sentiment ”that the souls in paradise wait with intense desire for the reanimation of their dead bodies, that they may be united to them in bliss for ever. 0, what rapture there shall be among the saints, when those frail vessels, from which they escaped with such a struggle, as they foundered in the gulf of death, shall come floating in, with the spring-tide of the resurrection, to the harbor of immortality! How glorious the reunion, when the seeds of affliction and death are left behind in the tomb! Jacob no longer lame, nor Moses slow of speech, nor Lazarus covered with sores, nor Paul troubled with a thorn in the flesh!
“It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” The glory of the body of Christ is far above our present conception. When he was transfigured on Tabor, his face shone like the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. This is the pattern shown to his people in the mount. This is the model after which the bodies of believers shall be fashioned in the resurrection. “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.”
In conclusion: “The angel said to the women, Go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him; lo ! I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre, with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.”
Brethren! followers of Jesus! be ye also preachers of a risen Saviour! Go quickly “there is no time for delay” and publish the glad tidings to sinners! Tell them that Christ died for their sins, and rose again for their justification, and ascended to the right hand of the Father to make intercession for them, and is now able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him!
And you, impenitent and unbelieving men ! hear this blessed message of salvation! Do you intend ever to embrace the proffered mercy of the gospel? Make haste! Procrastination is ruin! Now is the accepted time! O, fly to the throne of grace! Time is hastening; you will soon be swallowed up in eternity! May the Lord have mercy upon you, and rouse you from your indifference and sloth! It is my delight to invite you to Christ; but I feel more pleasure and more confidence in praying for you to God. I have besought and entreated you, by every argument and every motive in my power; but you are yet in your sins, and rushing on toward hell. Yet I will not give you up in despair. If I cannot persuade you to flee from the wrath to come, I will intercede with God to have mercy upon you for the sake of his beloved Son. If I cannot prevail in the pulpit, I will try to prevail at the throne!