The Resurrection of Our Lord: A Verifiable, Historic Fact of Your Life
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Oh, but how do you know that He is truly risen? How do you know this is true? And, if it were not true, would it really matter whether or not Christ actually rose from the dead? There are those—even some who call themselves Christians—who dismiss the resurrection as myth. Others insist that Jesus’ resurrection was merely a spiritual resurrection. And still others are undecided, but say it really doesn’t matter because Christianity is all about being nice and doing good, and Jesus certainly was a good example and moral teacher. (But how good or moral could Jesus have been if He lied about or faked His own resurrection?)
St. Paul certainly thinks the bodily resurrection of Jesus is important. He includes it as one of four clauses that summarize the Gospel: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).
Paul is not exaggerating when he says this is “of first importance.” Christianity hangs on the truthfulness of Christ’s death and resurrection. If there is any historical foundation for our Christian faith, it must include the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. If that is true, then all else we believe as Christians on the basis of the Scriptures is true, and all that we reject as Christians on the basis of the Scriptures is false. The difference between truth and error, faith and unbelief, world and church, heaven and hell, hope and despair, depends on this central event in history—Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning.
One of the questions our catechumens must answer in their examination prior to their confirmation is this: “Why is the resurrection of Christ so comforting to us?” The answer? “It proves: 1) that He is the Son of God; 2) that His doctrine is true; 3) that God accepted the sacrifice of His Son; and 4) that we, too, will rise.”
If Christ has not risen from the dead, it means He is not the incarnate Son of God. We cannot trust what He said or taught. He was not the atoning sacrifice and we are still in our sins. And it means that we have no hope of our own resurrection.
But the resurrection of Christ from the dead is true, and so St. Paul repeats the evidence he had already presented when he first brought the Gospel to the Corinthians. Christ truly died “in accordance with the Scriptures.” From the Old Testament, Paul showed that Christ’s death was for our salvation. We think of Isaiah’s prophecy: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities… they made His grave with the wicked and the rich man in His death, although He had done no violence” (53:5-9).
By adding “that He was buried” Paul underscores the fact that Christ truly died. According to all four Gospels, Christ’s burial underlines the reality of His physical death on the cross. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed testify that He “was buried.” His corpse had to be disposed of in the usual manner.
But Jesus did not stay a corpse. “He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Earlier, Jesus had told His disciples that He “must” be killed and rise again on the third day, implying that it was the Father’s holy will for His plan of salvation laid out in the Old Testament.
In speaking of Christ’s resurrection, Paul very likely used the same Scripture he used at Pisidian Antioch: “You will not let Your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10). He might have quoted Isaiah: “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life” (53:11). As the Lord Himself did, Paul could have cited Jonah’s three days in the great fish as a prophecy of Christ’s three days in the tomb.
Paul goes on to supply the supporting evidence: “He appeared” to many witnesses. Old Testament law stipulated that legal evidence should be corroborated by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). The resurrection of Christ is so vital a fact for the Christian faith that God supplied an abundance of witnesses—more than five hundred of them! Anyone in Paul’s day could check out the story himself, for most of those witnesses were still alive.
The New Testament is nothing more or less than the inspired testimony of eyewitnesses that Jesus is God’s Son, our risen Savior and Lord, which the Holy Spirit enables us to “see” and believe. The Christian faith is not just a transmission of ideas and teachings. It is historical, built upon events that happened according to God’s saving will at the appropriate time and place. It involves a relationship with the historic figure who was at the center of those events—Jesus Christ. That makes Christianity qualitatively different from all other claims to religious truth.
For example, Eastern religions ask the inquirer to enter into the experience of the religion, for by doing so, one will find the position to be self-validating. Islam is also experiential; if you just submit and become a Muslim, the religion will all make sense to you. LDS missionaries will tell you to read the Book of Mormon, and if you get “burning in your bosom” then you will know it is true. But any approach using subjective experiences for verification is incapable of being validated, for who am I to say whether or not you really had an experience. Thus all non-Christian religious positions suffer from the same flaw: they are untestable.
Christianity, however, stands in stark contrast for as the apostle Paul states, “if Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” The Christian faith is falsifiable in principle, for if the body of Christ was discovered and it could be verified to be that body, Christianity totally collapses. If Christ has not risen from the dead, you have no hope. Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, but not the Lord. He was not the sinless Son of God sent for your salvation.
This is the Good News of Easter: Christ has died. He was buried. Christ is risen. He appeared to many witnesses. It is objective truth, and nothing you do can ever change that. This is very, very Good News.
You live in a world where the resurrection is devalued. Leading voices will tell you religion is true if it works for you. If you believe Jesus is risen from the dead, then He is risen from the dead; if you don’t believe it, then He’s not. This is as nonsensical as it is popular, and few are foolish enough to apply it to anything else besides religion. I know of no one who says that the law of gravity is true only if you believe it. I know of no one who would say Barack Obama is the president of the United States only if you want him to be. The law of gravity and fact that Barack Obama is the U.S. president are objective truths. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is just as much an objective truth; yet you will often be told today that He is risen—but only if you believe that He is. What power man claims for himself! He can keep the Lord from rising simply by saying it never happened.
To all such attempts to deny the graciousness of God, we simply repeat this joyous confession: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures… He was buried… He was raised on the third day… and He appeared to [many eyewitnesses].” Despite the vain arguments of the world, Jesus is still risen from the dead. And risen again, He continues to voice His Gospel to all nations, that all who abandon such hopeless reasoning might repent of their sin and believe.
Within liberal wings of Christendom, you will still find scholars who teach that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, but that the disciples added the story to give the Gospels a better ending. They will speak in the most sincere and persuasive voices. They will point to their degrees and diplomas, and claim to be much more honest and enlightened than the evangelists who gave eyewitness accounts. Sadly, they will lead many people astray, because they tempt their readers to believe they are smarter than God; such will outsmart themselves right out of eternal life.
To such pontificating, we respond: “Christ is risen.” Rather than the speculation of man, we have the Word of the almighty God. We have the eyewitness testimony of those who followed Jesus, saw Him die on the cross, put in the tomb, and then saw Him resurrected from the dead. There is more reliable evidence to support the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than there is of any other historic event from antiquity. It is objective truth that Christ is risen from the dead, and all the denials cannot keep Him in the grave.
Of course, it’s relatively easy to defend yourself when accusations come from the outside. You expect nothing better from the world. However, it’s far more difficult to combat the arguments from within, when your old sinful nature starts whispering in your ear. Guilt has a way of doing this. Seeing the radiant holiness of the angel, the women in our Gospel were alarmed. Even after hearing the angel’s message, they still ran away from the tomb, trembling and afraid. But remember: Their fear didn’t change the truth that Jesus was risen from the dead. Risen, He came to them—forgave their sins, erased their doubts, and calmed their fears.
So it is with you. At times, because of your sin, the Law of God will leave you alarmed because it speaks the truth of sin and its consequences. Confronted with God’s holy demands, you will see your guilt in stark contrast and you will be tempted to run away. But you can’t run away from sin and guilt, and apart from God there is no forgiveness or peace to be found.
Are you burdened by guilt today? Then hear this Good News: Jesus was crucified, and now He is risen. Jesus bore your sin and guilt to the cross and destroyed their power there. They couldn’t keep Him in the grave; they won’t keep you in the grave, either. Do not run away from the risen, holy Son of God; for in seeking to conceal your guilt, it will only grow within you. Instead, hear this joyful news: Christ is risen! The price has been paid for your sin. Confess the sin, for Christ left it buried in the tomb. You are forgiven and holy before the Lord.
Guilt is not the only tool of the Old Adam. There is also doubt and fear, a numbing exhaustion brought about by struggle, tragedy, or illness. There will be times when you are so beaten and battered that the Lord feels a million miles away, and it seems He has forgotten you. At such times, remember this objective truth: Christ is risen. The disciples were despairing that first Easter, but their despair did not keep Jesus in the grave. Before they even saw Him, they had His Word of objective truth. Jesus was alive, and He would come to them.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a verifiable historic fact. But more importantly it’s a fact of your life. Jesus died on the cross and rose again on the third day for the forgiveness of your sins. This is His Word and objective truth, and it is far more sure than your emotions, no matter how strong they may be. He is risen, and you are not forsaken. He comes to you in His Word and in His Supper, bringing you the forgiveness of sins, strengthening and preserving you unto life everlasting. Your struggles will end; you also will rise again to live forever.
We must also speak of grief on this Easter Sunday, for it seeks to rob you of all hope. The Old Adam uses mourning to accuse God of cruelty, using unanswered questions of “why?” to charge Him with unfaithfulness. The questions of “why?” cannot be specifically answered simply because we do not know the answers. But this we do know: Christ is risen from the grave, and our grief does not keep Him in the tomb. Risen from the dead, He announces to you this joyful truth and hope: He has conquered the grave. Death has lost its sting, because Christ is the death of death. He is firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Because He has died and risen again, He will raise His people whom you mourn to eternal life.
He is risen. He is risen indeed. Like the women at the tomb, you have not seen Him, but you have His Word: He who remained on the cross for you did not remain in the grave. This is God’s truth, and it cannot be changed. Many reject Him; He is still risen. Many deny His resurrection, but His tomb is still empty.
This is a world of grief and fear and doubt, all tools of sin, death, and the devil. But they cannot keep Jesus in the grave, because He has defeated sin, death, and the devil. Nothing can change the fact that He is risen. Nothing can reverse His redemption of you. Nothing can repeal this joyous truth: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
And because He died and is risen, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.