Things Which are Surely Believed Among Us
The phrase, “Things which are most surely believed among us” is to be interpreted in no sectarian sense. “Food for the Flock” does not foster sectarianism. The phrase has been extracted from Luke 1:1, and, in using it as a caption for a series of articles touching our Faith, we wish to imply that those responsible for the production of the magazine unreservedly believe all that is contained in “the Scriptures of Truth,” and they write for that large body of Christians who share their like faith. All over the world, and at all times, God has those who like Paul say, “I believe God.”
Seeing that our beliefs are based on Holy Scripture, it follows that we should first consider the nature of those Scriptures, in order to satisfy ourselves that our faith is well-founded. Our eighth paper, therefore, will relate to …
The Resurrection Of Christ
Christianity is different from all other religions because it was founded by a Person who, though once dead, is now alive. All other religions were originated by leaders who are now dead. Confucius is dead: so, too, is Mohammet; so, too, is the Virgin Mary (though she did not found any religion). We say nothing as to the gods of Hinduism or Buddhism; they never had life. But Christ is alive.
Just as God of old marked out His chosen man by the dead stick which came alive and bore bud, blossom and fruit, whilst all the other eleven sticks remained lifeless (Num. 17:8) so Christ is the only One acknowledged by God, for He alone is alive.
But are we sure that He is alive? We have not actually seen Him. Any alleged inward experience will not suffice genuine investigators.
“You ask me how I know He lives,
He lives within my heart.”
will not satisfy them. They will ask for convincing evidence. What proof have we that He lives today?
This question was, fortunately, raised in the early Church and it afforded Paul the opportunity to deal with it. That it should have been Paul, and no one else, that did this is remarkable, since he once used every endeavour to stamp out Christianity and all who adhered to it. He was, of course, by no means the first to believe that Christ was alive, nor was he the first to preach it. Peter and others had done so much earlier, and they had suffered considerably at the hands of those who refused to believe their testimony. Yet these honest witnesses clearly had no personal axe to grind: they could do none other. “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” they said (Acts 4:20).
Paul goes into the whole matter in his letter to the Corinthians and enumerates the eye-witnesses. (1 Cor. 15:10). He has overwhelming proof which should satisfy the most insistent mind. In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established: so spake the law. But how many could be produced to establish the fact that Christ rose?
Paul well knew that the world had not seen the Risen Christ and that, therefore, the witness came only from those who had accepted His claims and had allied themselves with His cause. He knew that men would think them biased: could they be otherwise? But the evidence was too strong to admit of any genuine doubt. He had been seen of Peter, then of the apostolate, then of more than five hundred brethren at once. The latter were, at that time, for the most part, still living so that reference could then be made to them in order to verify the matter, He repeats it, saying He was seen of James, then of all the apostles, and then Paul adds his own personal testimony. He was not depending solely on a second-hand report, for he himself had personally seen Him.
Had the Risen Christ been seen only by one, that testimony could not be admitted in law for according to Moses there must at least be two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6). One only could have so easily been mistaken, though honest in his belief. Had He been seen merely of the apostolate, it might have been contended that there was collusion between them to spread a report which they all knew to be false. But it would not have been possible to have secured such an agreement to deceive by over five hundred persons.
It may not be possible for us, in the absence of full information, to harmonize the various appearings of the Risen Christ, but none of them contradicts or is incongruous with the other, and, together, they form an irresistible proof of the reality of the fact. He was seen in the morning (John 21:4), in the afternoon (Luke 24: 13), in the evening (Luke 24:19). Appeal was made to their senses: He ate with them (Acts 10:41), He spake to them, He was touched by them (John 20:19). His scars were recognized (John 20:27), His voice was identified (John 20:16. There could be no reasonable doubt whatsoever that He was alive.
The rumour that was spread abroad that His disciples had stolen the body by night (Matt. 28:11-18), whilst the guard was asleep, was so obviously untrue that it is difficult to explain its reception by anything else than wilful unbelief. How did they know who it was that took the body if they were asleep? How was it they dared to admit they were asleep whilst on duty? Was it likely that the seal could be broken without waking the sleeping guard? Could the stone have been rolled away so quietly as not to wake them? Why did they not make the disciples produce the body? That should not have been difficult, though, for the disciples to dispose of the dead body was no easy task, Many a murderer has found this out to his great embarrassment. Again, why did they not indict them for theft? But no such attempts were made, for whoever would believe that an unarmed band of eleven men, many of whom were plain fishermen and none of whom was a trained soldier would have dared such a thing? There is another thing: the disciples did not so much as expect Him to rise again, (Luke 24:15), so that the idea of their attempting to do such a thing is altogether out of the question. In fact, when the women reported the resurrection to them they regarded their talk as “idle tales.”
Moreover, is it to be supposed that such men as the apostles would publicly preach His resurrection to the vast crowd met together in Jerusalem at Pentecost had the fact not been true? Could one imagine that Peter, who so recently had denied Him before a mere girl, would dare to preach this were he not sure of his facts? Would the other ten have been willing to stand by him as co-witnesses had it not been true? They all stood their ground and this angered particularly the Sadducees who denied resurrection altogether, yet “with great power they gave witness” to this fact. The resurrection of Christ out from among the dead upset all their long-standing theories that such a thing was impossible. As one body the apostles were a more than sufficient witness to the fact.
Paul insists that the resurrection of Christ is basic to Christianity. If Christ is not raised then they have been misrepresenting God, saying He did what, in fact, He did not. Moreover, those who had believed He was alive perished when they died if their belief had not been well-founded. There could be no forgiveness if Christ is not raised, and all are “still in their sins” no matter whether they believed He was alive or not. Paul’s whole argument on the supposition that Christ is not raised is of tremendous force. The whole fabric of Christianity falls to the ground like a pack of cards.
There is no neutral territory here: either He is alive and believers are rightly confident of eternal bliss, or else He is not and they have all been deluded, and the preachers, in particular, are of all men the most to be pitied. But Paul has no doubts about it and he continues his discussion of the matter: Christ is raised from the dead.
But did He actually die? Is it possible it was not an actual case of resurrection from the dead but merely a restoration after a most harrowing experience? That could not be, for John bears witness to having seen the “blood and water” which flowed from His side when pierced with the sword on the cross. Were it merely a case of restoration back to life, would it be likely that He would have been able to go about within three days in the full vigour of perfect health? Would He not rather have required to be nursed back to health with many weeks of tender care?
But let us interrogate others. Ask Peter and John, and they will tell you that they entered the tomb: they found it empty, though the grave clothes were there, arranged just as they were wound round the body and head. No thief had been there, for that they certainly would have taken the linen and spices we may be sure (John 20:5). Ask Mary, and she will tell you He spoke to her by name and all her grief at once vanished like the mist before the sun, (John 20:16). Ask Thomas — he was sceptical enough — and he will tell you how he saw the scars and what he said and did in consequence, (John 20:28). Ask the Apostles what happened when they were in the barred upper room, fearing what the Jews might now do to them who had followed their (supposed) dead Leader, (John 20:19). Ask the Lord’s natural brethren what it was that made them believe on Him, though they did not before He died, (Acts 1:14-25). Ask yourself, how is it that all the world over, ever since the Lord ascended, believers have kept the ‘Lord’s Supper’ till He return? He could not return were He not alive. Ask yourself, how do you account for the very existence of Christianity if it did not originate consequent upon His proclaimed resurrection? Again, how is it that time is divided into BC and AD? How is it that Easter Sunday is observed throughout Christendom? It must have had a cause.
If Christ is not raised all the doctrines of Christianity which have been built thereon are untrue. We were told He was raised again for our justification, but if He is not raised then we are guilty and utterly hopeless, (Rom. 4:25). We have been led to suppose that friends and relatives who have died in the faith were sure of eternal glory: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them that sleep through Jesus will God bring with Him” (1 Thess. 4:9). On this account we have sought to place our lives under His Lordship, and that by no means without benefit. Have we been mistaken?
When risen, the Lord Jesus displayed powers that were not so often used before His death. The significant phrase is used “He gave Him to become manifest” (Acts 10:40) to those met in the upper room without using the door. He left in like manner. We have no account of where He lived during the forty days, nor with what He was clothed, for His grave-clothes were left in the tomb. He could either be tangible or intangible: visible or invisible. He could eat and drink or subsist without doing either. He had a ‘body of glory’ with which He ascended to Heaven (Phil. 3:2). He was the ‘first fruit’ of them that sleep: they too will be given a similar body.
Of course in this, as in all else, He stands alone and unique. His body saw no corruption: those of the saints do. His body was a special preparation by God and, therefore, was incorruptible. But incorruptibility will characterize the bodies of the glorified believers. By His resurrection He has brought to light both life and incorruptibility, which two things are announced in the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:10). He died in dishonour and was “crucified in weakness” (2 Cor. 13: 4). But He was raised in glory and in power, So it is to be with His people. His resurrection body is a prototype of theirs.
Forty days after His resurrection He ascended into Heaven. Eleven accredited witnesses saw Him go and three have seen Him subsequently. First, Stephen saw Him standing at the right hand of God, (Acts 7:56). Secondly, Paul says he saw “Jesus Christ who appeared to him in the way” (Acts 26:16). Thirdly, John saw the Son of Man — the Lamb —in the midst of the throne in Heaven, (Rev. 5:6). In the mouth of these three witnesses every word is established.
The four Gospels record the fact and circumstances of the resurrection. There is no cunning collusion in the records as is plain from their disconformity: we did not say their contradiction. They each record that it was a woman who made the first announcement, a forceful reminder of the fact that it was a woman who first brought sin into the world. The Book of the Acts recounts the preaching of it by both Peter and Paul in particular and others in general. All the Epistles are written on the assumption that Christ is risen: they recount it, assume it, and explain its significance and effects. And the Apocalypse forecasts its glorious issues both as to Heaven and earth.
The subjective experience of the Christian that Christ is in him “the hope of glory” may suffice for himself alone, He has no misgivings that Christ is alive: he knows it within himself. But others will ask for external evidence and the foregoing should suffice for all whose minds are not closed.