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When the disciples saw the tomb in which they had previously buried the body of Jesus, it was empty. The burial garments were in such shape and place to indicate their abandonment by the orderly departure of the body of Jesus. When Jesus later appeared to His disciples, it was in a body, for He said: “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). His resurrection body occupied spatial conditions and performed the functions of movement, appearance and the eating of food. He talked and heard. He occupied a room but did not need a door for access. It was the same body in its glorified form that Jesus took from the tomb, leaving it empty and without occupant.
The Bodily Resurrection
Any notion that seeks to disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus is confronted with the appearances of Jesus in His own body.
With amazing frequency, the Bible affirms the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ. Perhaps the most direct of all its statements is Luke’s account in the Book of Acts, where he reports: “To whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days” (Acts 1:3).
What are we going to do with these “many infallible proofs”? Someone asked my colleague George Beverly Shea how much he knew about God. He said: “I don’t know much, but what I do know has changed my life.” We may not be able to take all of this evidence into a scientific laboratory and prove it; but if we accept any fact of history, we must accept the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
The resurrection of Christ was not simply a postscript to the earthly life of Jesus, but it is one of a series of redemptive events that are links in a chain from eternity to eternity. These include the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension and the return. Any missing link would destroy the chain and thus make redemption impossible.
The Resurrection Is Essential
Christianity as a system of truth collapses if the resurrection is rejected. That Jesus rose from the dead is one of the foundation stones of our faith. As Paul said: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The Gospel message—that is, the good news of salvation—is related to a belief in the resurrection. Along with the crucifixion, it was the central theme of the apostolic preachers at the beginning of the Christian era. They proclaimed the resurrection as central in the Gospel. This is what Paul said: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Charles Reynolds Brown tells of a conversation between Auguste Comte, the French philosopher, and Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist. Comte declared his intention of starting a new religion that would entirely supplant the religion of Christ. It was to have no mysteries, was to be as plain as the multiplication table, and its name was to be positivism. “Very good, Mr. Comte,” Carlyle replied, “very good. All you will need to do will be to speak as never a man spake, and live as never a man lived, and be crucified, and rise again the third day, and get the world to believe that you are still alive. Then your religion will have a chance to get on.”
Personal salvation is related to a belief in the resurrection. When Paul gave the formula of saving faith, it was centered in a belief in the resurrection: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Whenever the argument arises that the resurrection of Jesus did not involve the reanimation of His body, those who hold this view argue that the resurrection is resurrection from death, never from the grave. They say that Jesus immediately rose out of death unto spiritual life with God. This means a spiritual but not a physical resurrection. This is what many modern preachers proclaim on Easter morning when they talk about, but do not explain, the resurrection of Jesus. One minister told me that when he said the Apostles’ Creed, he crossed his fingers. He said: “I cannot believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The New Testament Scriptures speak unanimously of eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. They say:
“We beheld His glory” (John 1:14).
“This Jesus God has raised up, of which we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).
“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen” (Mark 16:6).
“You will see him” (Mark 16:7).
“He was seen” (1 Corinthians 15:5).
“I have seen Jesus” (Cf. John 20:18).
Within the short span of three days both events, the death and resurrection, took place bodily and not symbolically—tangibly, not spiritually—watched by men of flesh and blood, not fabricated by hallucination.
The resurrection was the confirmation of the nature and ministry of Jesus, who was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection was also the pledge and promise of our own resurrection. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Furthermore, Jesus staked the validity of all His claims and the reality of all His works upon His resurrection. Everything hinged upon His rising from the dead. By this He would be judged true or false.
What Does the Resurrection Mean to Us?
It means the presence of the living Christ. Christ is the living companion of every person who puts his trust in Him. He said: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He is the guarantee that life has a new meaning. After the crucifixion, the beleaguered disciples despaired and said: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). There was anguish, despair and tragedy in their midst. Life had lost its meaning and purpose. But when the resurrection became apparent, life took on a new meaning. It had purpose and reason.
David Livingstone once addressed a group of students at Glasgow University. When he rose to speak, he bore on his body the marks of his African struggles. Severe illnesses on nearly 30 occasions had left him gaunt and haggard. His left arm, crushed by a lion, hung limp at his side. After describing his trials and tribulations, he said: “Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ On these words I staked everything, and they never failed.”
It means the prayers of the living Christ. The Scripture says: “It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34). In other words, there is a Man at the right hand of God the Father. He is living in a body that still has the nail prints in His hands. He is interceding for us with God the Father as our great High Priest.
It means the power of the living Christ. The resurrection made it possible for Christ to be identified with all Christians in all ages and to give them power to serve Him. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). Paul even prayed: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). His resurrection presence gives us strength and power for each day’s task.
It gives the pattern of our new bodies. The resurrected body of Jesus Christ is the pattern of what our bodies will be when we too are raised from the dead. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
It means the promise of a returning Redeemer. The entire plan for the future has its key in the resurrection. Unless Christ is raised from the dead, there can be no Kingdom and no returning King. When the disciples stood at the place of the ascension, they were given angelic assurance that the Christ of resurrection would be the Christ of returning glory. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Yes, our leader Jesus Christ is alive. ©1965 Billy Graham
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Taken from “World Aflame,” by Billy Graham. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Photo: Greg Schneider/©2002 BGEA
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