Q. 45. What doth the resurrection of Christ profit us?
A. First, that by his resurrection he has overcome death, that he might make us partakers of that righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death; secondly, we are also by his power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
Strikingly brief is the chapter of the Catechism on the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. No less than eight questions and answers were devoted to the suffering and death of Christ in the preceding two Lord’s Days. Four more questions are answered, in the next Lord’s Day, concerning the ascension of the Savior into heaven. And only one question and answer are considered sufficient for the exposition of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Besides, this one question looks at that resurrection exclusively from a soteriological point of view, as expressed in the question: “What doth the resurrection of Christ profit us?” The fact, the meaning, the central significance of this important wonder of grace are left entirely outside of the scope of our instructor’s conception.
It cannot be denied that this brevity is a weakness in the Heidelberger, that it betrays a want of proper evaluation of this important truth, which the preacher would seem to be quite justified to supply.
We do not say this, primarily, because we consider it necessary that the minister of the Word enter into the field of apologetics, to defend the truth of the resurrection of our Lord before the Church of God over against various forms of modern philosophy and so-called theology that either deny the reality of the resurrection outright, or give the term a new content that deprives Christ’s resurrection of its significance and power. The truth needs no apology. The Church proceeds from faith in the risen Lord, Whose Spirit she received, and of whose life she partakes. And the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit, for they are spiritually discerned.
But it would seem that the brief discussion by which the Catechism dismisses the resurrection of Christ from the dead is disproportionate to the great significance Scripture attaches to this glorious wonder, and the central place given to it in the economy of salvation.
Without the resurrection of Christ, the cross remains the darkest page in history.
If Christ is not raised, our faith is vain, we are still in our sins, then there is no way out of our death.
It is not even too much to say that Christ’s resurrection, according to the Scriptures, has cosmological significance, for precisely as the firstborn from the dead He is the firstborn of every creature, by Whom and for Whom all things were created.
The resurrection of the crucified one,—that is the Gospel.
Hence, the apostles, in obedience to their charge to preach the gospel to every creature, do, indeed, proclaim Christ and Him crucified, but always as the one whom God raised from the dead on the third day. On the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out into the Church, the apostle Peter preached unto the amazed multitude the Christ, whom, according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, they had crucified and slain, but “whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should beholden of it.”. And again: “This Jesus God hath raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.” When the impotent man, sitting daily at the gate of the temple, was healed, and the multitude that witnessed this miracle were “filled with wonder and amazement at that which happened unto him,” and “ran together” unto Peter and John, Peter once again preached unto them Jesus, Whom the Jews had killed, but “Whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses.” . And when, on the following day, the rulers of the Jews call the apostles to account for what they had done, Peter boldly testifies: “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.” . And when they were released from prison the same apostles “with great power. . . . witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” . Also in the preaching of the apostle Paul, the resurrection of Christ occupies a central place. In Perga he proclaims that the Jews condemned and slew Jesus: “But God raised him from the dead. And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again: as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” . Notice that here the resurrection of the Lord is presented as the fulfillment of the promise of the gospel; and even as the realization of that significant word from the second psalm: through the resurrection of Christ, God has begotten His Son. In the synagogue in Thessalonica, Paul “as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” . On the Areopagus in Athens, he proclaims: “Because he hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” . Before King Agrippa, the apostle witnesses: “That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” . And in the well-known fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle writes: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel, which I preached unto you,” and this gospel is briefly summarized in the words: “how 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.” .
But what is the meaning of that resurrection on the third day? What happened on that marvelous first day of the week that was able to raise the spirits of the disciples of our Lord from the slough of despondency to the height of jubilant and triumphant faith, expressed in the shout: “The Lord, is risen indeed!”?
To answer this question we can do no better than, first of all, to turn our attention to the gospel narratives concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and to let the Word of God speak to us through the first witnesses of that marvelous event.
There were many such witnesses. There were the women who, in the early morning of that first day of the week, went to the sepulcher to finish the embalming of their Lord’s body. There was Mary Magdalene to whom the Lord appeared separately at the sepulcher. There were Peter and John who, upon the first report of Mary, went.to inspect the grave. To the sojourners to Emmaus the Lord appeared, in the late afternoon of that first day, through the word which He spake unto them, and through the breaking of bread,. And in the evening of the same day, the Lord manifested Himself to the disciples, without Thomas, as they were gathered with closed doors for fear of the Jews. A week later, He appeared again unto them, now particularly to Thomas, who was with them. Then there is, the appearance to seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee. There were the appearances to Peter alone, and, to James, the brother of the Lord; there was the manifestation on the mount in Galilee, to more than five hundred at once; and, at the end of that marvelous forty days, He appeared unto them for the last time, when he was taken up from them on the Mount of Olives. “And last of all,” Paul writes, “he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”.
In all Scripture, there is, perhaps, nothing more marvelous and exquisitely beautiful than these gospel reports concerning the resurrection. They are the testimony of the faithful witnesses, wholly unprepossessed, as to the testimony they bear, simply reporting that which they could not fully understand, but which they saw and heard, and believed.
If, somehow, as superficial and profane critics have alleged, these narratives had been invented, by the imagination of the witnesses, we would have had something entirely different.
No human artist, were he of the’ most consummate skill, could possibly have .designed them. There is only one possible, adequate explanation for them: the testimony of these witnesses has its source only and wholly in the risen Lord, Himself.
For, let us notice, first of all, that all the witnesses were wholly unprepared for the revelation of the risen Lord which, on that first day and after, they received, and of the which they became the faithful witnesses: Not one of them looked forward to the resurrection on the third day. In spite of the fact that the Lord, had repeatedly assured them that He must suffer, and on the third day rise again, when that third day dawned, they all .stood in the gloomy darkness of the, cross, and could not see, nor did expect, the way out through the resurrection of Christ. The women went to the sepulcher to perform a last act of loving service upon the; body of their dead Master; and when they reported to the apostles what they had seen and heard at the grave, and how the Lord had met them on the way back, their words were to them as idle tales. Yet, they one and all believed, and gave testimony of their faith that the Lord had risen indeed.
And then, consider the contents of their testimony. How wonderfully it bears witness of the fact that they simply reported what they saw and heard! For, let us remember that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was not a return to us, but an advance into glory. Had the Lord been raised as was the young man of Nain, or the daughter of Jairus, or Lazarus, the matter would have been simple, and the narratives of the resurrection would have been quite different from those we now have in the gospel. At the grave of Lazarus, there were eyewitnesses, that could and did see the dead become alive again, and ascend out of the grave. Besides, they could produce, the living Lazarus who had been dead, at any time, as evidence of the fact of his resurrection. He had returned to his former, earthly life. Men could have fellowship with him again, eat and drink and speak with him. Not so the resurrection of Christ. His resurrection was no return. It did not consist in a resumption of His former mode of living, in the earthly house of his tabernacle, but in an advance into the glory of immortality and incorruption. A mortal and corruptible body had been sown, but it was raised in immortality and incorruption. A natural or “psychical” body had been stored away by Joseph and Nicodemus in the former’s sepulcher, but it was raised as a spiritual body. Hence, the reports by the witnesses of the resurrection must testify of two facts: 1. the reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ; 2. the wholly “otherness” of the risen Lord, or the wonder of the resurrection on the third day. And it is precisely these two elements that make the reports by the first witnesses so marvelously beautiful.
Let us ask how this revelation of the risen Lord came to them, and how the testimony concerning the wonder of the resurrection was wrought in them.
First of all, we must call attention to the fact, that unlike the resurrection of Lazarus and others, no one was eyewitness of the fact as such: no one was present, no one saw the Lord issue forth from the grave. Closest to the moment of the resurrection approaches, it would appear, the narrative as given in the gospel according to Matthew. He tells us that “there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.” Yet, even this narrative remains silent about the moment of the resurrection of the Lord. Almost, as we read this narrative, a feeling of disappointment takes hold of us, as, instead of the sober “and sat upon it,” we expected to read: “and the Lord of glory issued forth from His dark abode.” And yet, we soon realize that this must not be. The angel did not descend from heaven to aid the Lord of glory in breaking the bonds of death, and he did not roll away the stone from the door of the sepulcher to make it possible for Him to issue forth from Hades. If is, in fact, quite probable that the Lord had risen before the angel descended from heaven. At all events, He that suddenly appeared in the midst of His disciples, gathered behind closed doors, had no need of a wide open door to come out of the grave. And the angel rolled away the stone, “and sat upon it,” to open the sepulcher for inspection to the expected witnesses, and to guard it against profane intruders, that might destroy the wonderful testimony of the empty grave. But this fact, that no one was present at the moment of the resurrection of the Lord as an eyewitness, was a factor in producing in the minds” of “the witnesses the correct impression of thatmarvelous event. It distinguished Christ’s resurrection at once from all the typical resurrections that had gone before as something that transcends all our earthly experience.
Then, secondly, there is the testimony of the empty grave, and of the “place where the Lord lay.” That the grave had been vacated certainly assured the witnesses, especially when taken in connection with the later appearances of the risen Lord to them, that Christ had really risen, that He was not merely alive in the Spirit, but that His body had been quickened and raised. They looked for Him in Hades, but they discovered that He was not there. But the testimony of the empty sepulcher v as not only negative. It did not only leave with the eyewitnesses the indelible impression that their Lord had left the grave. The sepulcher contained a positive testimony as well. It spoke rather clearly of the “otherness” of the marvel, of the altogether transcendent nature of the resurrection. For let us note that the angel that awaited the women at the sepulcher emphatically invited them to “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
But why this special invitation? Does the angel merely wish to impress deeply upon their mind that this was, indeed, the grave in which Joseph and Nicodemus had stored away the body of the Lord? But this was quite superfluous. The women had no difficulty to identify the sepulcher of their Lord. They had followed in the sad funeral procession on that sad late Friday afternoon before the sabbath. They had watched the two friends of Christ bury the body. They had seen how the great stone was rolled before the entrance of the tomb. But what then? Was it the purpose of the angel to render them doubly sure that the grave was empty? But this is absurd. They stood in the grave, spices ready for the last service of love they intended to perform upon the body of their Lord; and their first glance assured them that the grave was vacated, and that they could not accomplish their purpose. Besides, what was this special place where the Lord had lain? How was it discernible in distinction from the empty space of the grave as a whole? Why this special invitation to pay attention to the place where the Lord lay?
Here we must consult two other witnesses that, later in that same morning, came to inspect the grave.
Mary Magdalene had accompanied the other women on their journey to the grave early in the morning. But it is evident that she did not go with them to the grave, and that she was not present when the angel preached to them the first gospel of the resurrection of Christ. When, even in the distance, the women had noticed that the heavy stone, that somewhat belatedly had become an object of anxiety to them, was rolled away from the door of the tomb, Mary had at once, with characteristic inconsistency, drawn the conclusion that the body of Jesus had been taken away by human hands. And no sooner had she drawn this conclusion than she turned about to report both, her experience and her erroneous inference to the disciples. Peter and John are at once aroused by this report of the Magdalene, and hasten to the sepulcher. John being the younger of the two, outruns Peter, and coming to the tomb first, stoops down to inspect it, and is at once struck by the position of the linen clothes. Peter, the more impetuous, as soon as he reaches the grave, enters into it, and he, too, pays special attention to the linen clothes in which the body of Jesus had been wrapped. And as a special detail, he notices that the napkin that had been wound about Jesus’ head, was lying somewhat apart from the rest of the linen clothes, in a place by itself. Evidently, the two disciples did the very thing to which the angel had invited the women: they saw the place where the Lord had lain. And we read that “then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed.”
Now, what did John believe? And why?
That his belief was based on what he had seen in the sepulcher is evident.
But what had he seen?