Holy Week Day 8 – Resurrection Day
By Dr. Paul Wolfe
The Sabbath (Saturday) immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion was a virtual “no man’s land,” a time when the hiddenness of God enveloped all of reality. What the disciples could not see then was that it was literally the time when the judgment of God enveloped all of reality, falling as it did upon the Lord of all of reality, the creator, sustainer and redeemer of all that was, is or ever will be. The realization of this would dawn upon the disciples over the next 41 days, beginning this third day of Jesus’ passion.
Early Sunday morning two women brought spices and oils to anoint Jesus’ body for proper burial. Upon arriving at the tomb, they were confronted by three realities. First, an angel preceded them. The Roman guards, so stunned by the angel, fell as dead men. Second, the stone which had sealed the tomb was rolled away. It was not for them to speculate how, though the narrative later indicates that the Jewish leaders paid the guards to say that the disciples had moved it and stole Jesus’ body. Desperate men do desperate things.
Third, and most importantly, the tomb was empty. Empty! The angel, knowing the women’s fear and astonishment, assured them Jesus was not there, for HE HAD RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID! They hurry away to tell the disciples, who themselves run to the tomb to see first-hand. Following this, are, at least, seven different accounts of appearances of Jesus. He appears first to the women near the tomb. Next, Luke gives an extended account of his appearance to two men along the road to Emmaus. Upon his departure from them, they hurry back to Jerusalem where they report these things to the closest disciples. While there, Jesus appears to those gathered, though Thomas was absent. This leads to a fourth appearance to the disciples, this time with Thomas present. Two other accounts of his appearance to the disciples follow, one on a mount in Galilee, and the other at night by the sea of Tiberias. Lastly, as to one born out of time, Jesus appears much later to the Apostle Paul who recounts that event in one of his letters.
To be historical and apologetic (in the classical Greek sense meaning to give a reason or defense) for a moment, there is ample historical and literary evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the grave. Alternative theories have virtually nothing in their favor. True, people do not rise from the dead ordinarily. Thus, the Gospel stories are on their face simply incredible, in the true sense of that word. They are unbelievable when judged by normal events. However, this is the point. These are not normal events, partly because Jesus was not, if other parts of the Gospel accounts are to be believed, a typical man, at least in the way in which that phrase is normally understood. He was, however, THE normal man, or as Chesterton said, the everlasting man. The man who demonstrates what humanity is to be, and will be in his kingdom. Again, I say, there is every good reason historically, philosophically, literarily to believe that Jesus rose from the grave. What ought we to make of that?
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he quite frankly asserted “… if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith is also in vain. … if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:14, 17). Later, the Apostle Peter noted that the hope of Christians is inseparably tied to and animated by the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. Therein lies what we ought to make of all of this. In the midst of a world too often smothered by evil, injustice, disease, unrighteousness, disillusionment, sorrow, grief, and ultimately the inescapability of death, there is hope. In our own personal lives, often full of the same things, there is hope. Evil and sorrow do not have the last word. The end of evil is death, and Jesus Christ has abolished death. This is what distinguishes him from every other human, and thus faith in him from every other faith. As the Apostle Paul exclaimed, quoting the prophet Hosea, “O death, where is your victory? O grave where is your sting?” If Christ has risen, that sting has been removed; that victory has been put down, or abolished.
There is a catch. There is a condition. Hope and life, you see, are found only in Christ. The Apostle John affirms early in his Gospel, “All things came into being through him: and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” If he is the one in whom hope and life have their ultimate being, then it is only in him that we find genuine and eternal hope and life. How so? By humble faith, submission to him, his ways and purposes. He bids us come and follow him.
The King became the pauper; the Lord and master became the servant. The source and giver of life died. The one who had all riches became poor for our sake. However, the via dolorosa was not the end of the journey, it was not the destination. Life, glorious life, authentic life, was. And it is for all who follow him, the risen one, the glorious one, the authentic one. But his path was down the via dolorosa, and he calls us to follow, if necessary, down that same path. The early church summed up all of this in the brief statement:
“If we died with him, we shall also live with him;
If we endure, we shall also reign with him;
If we deny him, he will also deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
Our destiny is inescapably tied to Jesus Christ. This is why we celebrate Easter, why this is the high and holy day on the Christian calendar, because on this day we remember the resurrection of Christ, and hear his call anew to come drink from the eternal water he provides, indeed, he is. For therein is hope and life.
Once I was talking with one of our students after school. I asked him what he thought about studying at Cambridge. He indicated he was enjoying it very much, but he was struggling with the Christian faith underlying it. Why, I asked. “Because of the resurrection,” he said. “I just do not know if I can believe that. People do not rise from the dead.” Yes, I said, that is the crucial issue. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity cannot be true. But if he did, that changes everything. “Yes,” he replied, “that changes everything.” Indeed it does. Indeed it did. For Jesus is risen. Hallelujah!