At the close of the battle of Waterloo, upon which hung the destinies of Europe, people in Britain anxiously awaited news of the result. Their only way of receiving rapid communication was by means of signal lights flashing across the English Channel. As the report of the battle was being transmitted, an intervening fog became so dense that only a part of the message was received. It read: “Wellington defeated.”
Gloom fell upon the people waiting for the news, for it seemed that all was lost. But then the fog lifted, and the blinking signal lights spelled out the full message: “Wellington defeated the enemy!”
What a difference it made in their hearts when the complete account reached the people. Sorrow turned into rejoicing, and songs of victory rang through the streets.
In a similar half-sent way, the world received the message of the cross. It seemed that Jesus was defeated. Hell was jubilant; disillusionment gripped the hearts of Jesus’ disciples.
But God’s message was not yet complete. Not until early on the morning of the third day was the news sent in full, when the angel announced to the startled women at the tomb: “He is not here, He has risen!” (
Jesus has defeated death; that is the full message of the Gospel. Yet what the world regards as inviolable laws of nature seem to have been defied. Can it be true?
There is something about the resurrection that our spirits reach out to embrace, and even the skeptic stops to wonder, to hope, and perhaps to pray. Yes, here is one place in history where the aspirations of the soul cannot be suppressed. And for those who must have objective evidence to believe, there are few observable datums of science more confirmed by reasonable testimony.
Consider the witness of the open tomb. Despite the libel of the Sanhedrin priests, the world could not discount the fact that there was an open grave in Joseph’s garden. The great stone at its door was rolled away (
Inside the sepulcher, the linen cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus rested in a sunken heap. The napkin covering His head lay gently folded at the place where the Lord’s head had lain (
If someone had stolen the body by night, as the frantic rulers claimed (
We cannot imagine that His disciples stole the body, and then later deliberately died for a faith which was based on that resurrection. People do not die for what they know is a lie.
Then who did take the body? Surely not the temple priests, else they could have produced the mummified remains to forever discredit the disciples’ testimony. No one needs to resort to abuse and persecution when in possession of evidence to prove their point.
And certainly we cannot believe that the Roman guards stole the body, knowing that such an act of disobedience was punishable by death. But if they had, who prompted them to do it? However examined, the only reasonable explanation was given by the angel: “He is not here, Jesus is risen.”
Other religions have their impressive shrines, but the tombs of their leaders are full of dead men’s bones. Only the Christian Church points to an empty grave and says, “Our Lord has conquered death”!
Yet, so astounding is this fact that even many of the disciples at first could scarcely comprehend it (
On Easter morning He appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (
On the shore of Tiberias, Jesus manifested Himself to the disciples while they were fishing, and later had breakfast with them beside the sea (
On many different occasions, in various parts of the country, appearing to hundreds of people from all walks of life, Jesus Christ was seen in His resurrection glory. It was no illusion, no wishful thinking; these eye-witnesses saw a real person. They talked with Him, they ate together, they touched Him with their hands. Though His glorified body no longer was bound by the limitations of the flesh, and could assume whatever form necessary for communication, clearly the same Jesus who was crucified had risen from the grave; He had defeated the enemy of death.
For nearly 2,000 years the Church has testified to this fact through preaching and sacraments. Moreover, the reality is confirmed in the personal experience of millions of men and women who by the Spirit of God have encountered the living Christ.
We join that host to affirm with the apostles some basic truths established by the resurrection.
I. It proves that God keeps His word.
As Peter proclaimed at Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth … was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was not possible for death to keep its hold on Him” (
Similarly, Paul testified: “What I received I passed on to you … that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to tie Scriptures” (
Jesus had taught on numerous occasions that the Son of Man would be rejected by the chief priests and scribes, that He would be killed, and that He would rise again on the third day (e.g.,
II. The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Divine Savior.
When asked by what name or power He worked, Peter told the elders and teachers of the law: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. … He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (
Jesus is not a mere teacher of noble truths; nor just an example of godly character. He is the Son of the Most High, sent into the world to seek and to save the lost. As He said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (
Clearly, the resurrected Jesus is the mighty conqueror of His foes, the King of kings and Lord of lords. “The head that once was crowned with thorns is covered with glory now.” This makes a third truth obvious.
III. Because Christ triumphed over death, we can affirm that His sacrifice was not in vain.
When someone dies who has power to rise from the grave, there must be some explanation why He ever died in the first place. The resurrection, thus, makes us give a reason for the cross.
To this baffling question, the Scripture gives only one answer: “He was delivered over to death for our sins, and was raised to life for our justification” (
The late Robert G. Lee liked to tell about his visit to the Holy Land, when the guide of the touring party pointed in the distance to the place called Calvary. Seeing it for the first time, Lee’s excitement was so great that he started to run up the hill. The guide was the first to get to Lee, on the summit, his head bowed, still panting for breath. “Sir,” he asked, “have you been here before?”
For a moment there was a throbbing silence. Then, in whispered awe, Lee replied: “Yes, I was here nearly 2,000 years ago.”
Indeed, we were all there nearly 2,000 years ago. When Jesus died on that cross, He took our place. We had all turned to our own way, and the penalty of sin is death (
Do you believe that Jesus defeated death? Then you can believe that He died in your stead. Everything has been done that needs to be done to provide your salvation. To this a fourth truth can be affirmed.
IV. The Easter fact proves that God’s power is available to change lives.
The apostle Paul declared: “That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (
Through the resurrection, Jesus has brought into focus the new birth. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation” (
In this light we see the ultimate meaning of rising with Christ into newness of life. Our old calculations of what is possible and impossible become obsolete. The power that raised Jesus from the grave surely can take human personality and recreate it according to its true purpose. The social planner can point to a derelict on skid row and say, “Let me clean up his environment, and I will put a new coat on that man’s back.” But the Gospel can say, “Let that man experience the resurrection power of God, and I will put a new man in that coat.”
The Christian life is no mere reform of bad habits, no psychological whitewash of corruption. It is a transformation of life. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (
Because Jesus lives, there is no person beyond the reach of God’s grace — no life too wasted for Him to save; no sin too great for Him to cleanse; no burden too heavy for Him to bear. We can sing from Charles Wesley’s hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”:
“He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.”
In Christ we, too, shall be resurrected unto eternal life. The apostle Paul put it this way: “By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (
Remember the words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (
No more can death enshroud the souls of men and women. Its gloom is gone! Its strength is done! God has rent the bars in twain, and loosed the prisoners of the grave.
Death is the only entrance into eternal life. The spirit of one who dies in the Lord rests in the arms of God.
I cannot close without one final affirmation: Easter proves that someday all of us must give account to Jesus for what we do. Paul declared: “God has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (
The good news is that because Jesus lives, no one need leave our congregations in condemnation and fear. As the apostle proclaimed: “The promise is that if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (
Come and let us join with those across the earth who lift their praise to Him who has put death under His feet and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for Christ our Lord is risen today!