The Vault

The Message of the Resurrection

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There are several aspects of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ dwelt upon in the New Testament. It is profitable for us to consider two of them as we recall this outstanding event.

An aspect which is frequently overlooked in these days is brought prominently under our notice by St. Paul’s speech at Athens. Addressing Epicureans and Stoics Paul declared, “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent; Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The Resurrection is a guarantee of judgment as it is an endorsement of the claim of our Lord to be the judge. When on earth He said, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day (John 12:48). Now God has vindicated the claim of His Son in that He has raised Him from the dead. The unusual form of Paul’s speech justifies us in asserting that God has pledged Himself to judge the world and has committed that judgment to His Son. As we recall the triumphant emergence of our Lord from the tomb we must ever remember  that it indicates with the greatest clearness that God has not abandoned His world nor has He relinquished the reins of government. As surely as Jesus Christ rose from the dead so surely shall judgment be meted by Him to the sons of men. It is a solemn thought. There is nothing haphazard about the purposes of God. Perhaps we may be justified in comparing the world today with the world of that first century A.D, when the glory of the Resurrection burst upon it. The world of that day resembles our world of today in the fact that the message of God was largely neglected. The Greek philosophers were still so enmeshed in the crude superstitions of their age that they erected an altar to “The Unknown God,” pathetically exemplifying the sorrowful fact that they were still groping after God if haply they might find Him. The Jews of that age were proud of their superior culture but the plaint of the prophet still held true, “This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Their religious leaders failed to recognise their true Messiah and crucified Him. The world, as a whole, saw no hope of deliverance in  Jesus of Nazareth. The world stood in need of repentance. It had failed to experience that change of mind which placed the things of God in their true perspective and made the destiny of men resolve round the person of the Son of God. Paul issues the ringing challenge. You have a pledge of God that He will judge the world. You find it in the Resurrection. The world today is like that world of the first century A.D. The vast mass of mankind are still bereft of the knowledge of the true God. They are devising plans for advance and amelioration that centre round time and ignore eternity. The nominal Christian world, boasting of its admittedly higher civilisation has largely forgotten the source of its inspiration. ‘The Resurrection is the answer to the cynical skepticism that fails to see anything of permanent value in the Gospel message. It says to us quite definitely — Men rejected the Christ but God raised Him from the dead. He vindicated His message and fully attested His claims. Even the believers were dismayed at the turn of affairs. But they had to learn that God is never defeated. His purposes cannot be overthrown by the malice or ignorance of men. However much the world today may reject the overtures of grace one thing abides. God has marked out Jesus Christ as the Arbiter of man’s destiny. The proof is that when malice had done its worst the intervention of God secured a glorious triumph out of what appeared to be a crushing defeat. We need to recall this aspect of the Resurrection. God will judge the world. God will judge us. Sin is often regarded as a mere stage in a process of development no more serious than growing pains. Judgment is regarded as a theological bogey invented by the priestly class to retain power over the simple. There stands the Resurrection. If Jesus Christ rose from the dead no foolish philosophy can dethrone Him. He will certainly judge the world. He will certainly judge us. Men are worried, and rightly worried about the Hydrogen bomb. But even if our worst fears were realized and civilization were wiped out there will still remain the day in which God will judge the world. How is it that we do not relate our concern to the great actuality to which the Resurrection bears witness and of which it is a pledge?

But not only is the Resurrection a message of judgment; it is also a message of power. There are at least two aspects of this conception brought before us in the New Testament. There is the aspect emphasized in 1 Corinthians. The Resurrection affords a guarantee and is an earnest of our personal resurrection. In Christ all shall be made alive. One of the most sustaining convictions that abide in the heart of man is the conviction of immortality. We resist with passionate intensity any suggestion that we shall finally lose our identity in complete oblivion, And yet the incidence of death continually recurring, and the silence from the region beyond the grave seem to give the lie to our cherished desire to persist. The age-long practices condemned in the Old Testament of seeking the aid of “familiar spirits” are in themselves witnesses to man’s deep-seated desire. All the boasted advances of science have not served to extinguish this perennial longing. The ambition of man is not merely to survive the grave, but to retain the essentials of his present conscious life. This ambition has taken bizarre forms in many religious cults. The ancient habit of burying food with the dead is a strong witness to the strength of this hope. The Resurrection gives us the answers to our longing. It is an answer of triumph. Death the last enemy, has been conquered. The gospel narratives picture our Lord as having risen with power to resume his earthly activities and concerns. The apostles are conscious to impress this fact upon their hearers. Peter in the house of Cornelius emphasized the fact that the chosen witnesses to the Resurrection did eat and drink with the Lord after He rose from the dead (Acts 10: 41). We are justified in inferring from such messages and from the imitating of the Lord “Handle Me and see,” that however exalted the heavenly condition may be it is not in any sense a diminution of those powers of personality with which we are gifted. The bodily resurrection of the Lord and His adaptation of Himself to the usual features of human intercourse enforces this lesson. There is evidence afforded that we shall retain our personal, even our individual, character, even if we transcend many of our present earthly conditions.

But there is another side to the message of the Resurrection as a message of power which receives even greater prominence. Our conflict with sin. It burdens the saint though it is too often lightly regarded by the unbelieving sinner. The struggle at times seems unending. It has two features. We wrestle against principalities and powers in our struggle to serve our Lord. The kingdoms of this world have not yet become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. In what we may call the external battle we frequently lose ground. But the assurance comes to us that He Who conquered death cannot be defeated. “He must reign.” This is a tonic for depression. It nerves us to struggle on even when the odds against seem so heavy as to bid us despair of victory. St Paul speaks of this new hope engendered by the resurrection as “the working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” It finds expression in the Divine promise, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” The enemy may win a battle here and there, but they are bound to lose the campaign. Christians seem to be losing this spirit of high endeavour. There is often prolonged discussion on method and but a faint recognition of our available resource in God. Not that method is unimportant. God does not bless foolishness. But the Resurrection power of our Lord is all important. If we fail to recall it and to rely upon it we are offering an insult to our great Master. Space permits only a brief reference to the other feature. We have an internal conflict as well as an external one. The flesh lusteth against the Spirit. Daily we are conscious of what Longfellow called “the treacherous undertow and stress of lawless passions”. Sometimes the agony of the Apostle is ours and we cry out, “O wretched man that I am.” Well will it be for us in the hour of bitter struggle if we remember that through the Resurrection the Second Adam has become a quickening spirit. There is a reservoir of power which becomes available to us through our union with our Risen Lord. First we say with the Apostle, “How can we who died to sin live any longer therein”. We reckon ourselves dead to the old life and insensible to the old temptations. So far good. It is the first genuine impulse to holiness. But there is more. There is the operation of the “law” of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. God has condemned sin in the flesh for the express purpose of securing that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us. So being justified by the death of God’s Son we are saved by His life, the new life released that the Resurrection pulses in us making us more than conquerors through Him Who lived.

From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, April 15, 1954

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