We saw in our last article that the early Christian church was very careful to confess the fact of the resurrection of Christ. In Article 5 of the Nicene creed she confessed that Jesus Christ rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. This she confessed over against the unbelieving world of both Jew and Gentile that emphatically denied the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As we saw, the world even in the early history of the church had invented various theories to explain away the resurrection of Christ. According to some the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the sepulchre and claimed a resurrection. According to others Jesus never died on the cross. He merely went into a deep faint simply to revive several hours later in the grave. Still others sought to explain the appearances of the risen Jesus in terms of delusions on the part of the disciples. Over against all this, however, the early church was very emphatic to confess in this fifth article of the Nicene creed that Jesus Christ did in fact rise again from the dead on the third day. This He did according to the prophecies of the O.T. Scriptures. 

It is of extreme importance that the resurrection of Christ be maintained. The question may be asked: What difference does it make whether Jesus is risen from the dead or not? Why must the church involve herself in controversy with those who deny the resurrection? The answer is to be found in I Corinthians 15. In I Cor. 15:14 of that chapter we are told, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” The word “vain” as used in this particular verse means “empty, without content.” And that, says Paul, would be the case with his preaching and our faith if Christ be not risen. Paul, and for that matter any preacher, would have nothing to preach about. Nor, therefore, would we have anything to believe in. In I Cor. 15:17 of this same chapter Paul adds, “and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” The word “vain” in this latter verse is not the same word as in verse 15. In verse 17 the word “vain” has the idea of “without effect.” Hence, if Christ be not risen, then our faith is without effect. It is fruitless. It certainly does not result in our salvation as the Scriptures teach us and as we have believed all along. For if Christ be not risen, we are still in our sins and therefore liable to the condemnation of God. 

Nor do we need to be very theologically inclined to feel the thrust of this. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then He is still dead in the grave. And if He is still in the grave, then the suffering and death of our Savior mean nothing but bitter defeat; they are the end of all our hopes and aspirations for salvation. For, in the first place, a dead Jesus would be a most damning testimony to the ineffectiveness of the cross. If, after all, the cross is powerless to deliver Jesus Himself from the death of the grave, what good will it ever accomplish for us. All our hopes and dreams of salvation are founded on the cross. But if the cross could not even secure the release of our Savior from the clutches of death, that cross has absolutely no meaning for us. We too one day will die. And the cross will be just as powerless to deliver us from our last and most dreaded enemy as it was to deliver Christ. But there is more. Let’s assume once that the cross could still serve as the foundation of our salvation, even though it did not deliver Christ from the grave. The question arises: Who will bring us that salvation implied in the cross? Who, for example, will appear before God as our Advocate to gain the forgiveness of our sins on the basis of the cross? And who will work in our hearts to give us the new life merited for us on the cross? And who will preserve us in that new life from all the wiles of the devil? And who will come down from heaven one day to destroy the world and bring the church to her final glory in a new creation? All these works of salvation must be performed for us and in us or we have nothing. We have nothing to preach about, nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for. And these works are all the works of Christ as our Savior, which He has promised to perform. But if He is not risen, if He is still dead in the grave, how shall He accomplish them? And if Christ can not do these for us, who will? One need not penetrate too deeply into the subject to understand that if Christ be not risen we have absolutely nothing. 

The world certainly understands that. That is why it sought from the very beginning to undermine the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. When the Roman soldiers fled to the Jewish leaders on Easter morning with the report that an angel had descended from heaven to roll away the stone from the sepulchre of Jesus, the leaders immediately sensed the significance. Were Jesus to be raised from the grave, as He had claimed, it would mean that somehow Jesus had managed to defeat them. Their victory of Friday, as they saw Him crucified, was gone. And so they bribed the Roman soldiers to spread the lie that the disciples had stolen the body. To destroy the faith of the people in Jesus, they had to destroy the resurrection. And as we saw in our last article, the wicked have not given up in this attempt. From the days of the early church until now the world has sought to destroy the fact of the resurrection. For if it can accomplish that, it has effectively destroyed the whole work of salvation, the faith of the saints, and the church itself. 

This also explains the zeal of the true church, even from the beginning of her existence, to defend the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. The church too has always understood that without the resurrection of her Lord she has nothing. 

Because our faith stands or falls with Jesus’ resurrection, God was very careful to leave behind various proofs of the resurrection. There are especially four things that point conclusively to the resurrection of Christ. 

There is first the empty grave. When the women came to the sepulchre on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus, they found to their surprise that the grave was empty. 

In the second place, there are the grave clothes. The gospel accounts relate quite specifically that the grave bands wrapped around the body of Jesus had not been disturbed but were perfectly intact as they had been wound around the body of Jesus on the day of His burial. This points us not only to the fact of His resurrection but also to the nature of the resurrection. Through the resurrection Christ received a heavenly and spiritual body that was not limited by physical barriers as are our bodies of flesh and blood. In light of these grave clothes no one can possibly claim that the disciples stole the body of Jesus or that Jesus merely went into a deep faint on the cross simply to revive in the grave and sneak off. 

In the third place, there was the message of the angel to the women at the sepulchre. The women that came to anoint Jesus on Easter morning not only found an empty grave and Jesus’ grave clothes intact; they were also met by an angel. And the angel explained it all to them: “. . .I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen as He said” (Matt. 28:5, 6). 

Finally, there were the ten appearances of Jesus to His disciples from the day of His resurrection to the time of His ascension forty days afterwards. The purpose of these appearances was not only to establish for the sake of the disciples the fact that Jesus had risen, but also to provide Jesus the opportunity to instruct the disciples in the meaning and significance of the resurrection. 

These proofs of the resurrection serve to confirm our faith in the resurrection. The Scriptures are very clear to proclaim the resurrection of our Lord. And on the basis of that claim alone we believe that Jesus is risen. This is in harmony with the character of faith. Faith believes all that is contained in the Scriptures. We believe that Christ is risen from the dead simply because the Bible tells us so. However, in light of the fact that the resurrection is all important for our faith and because therefore the powers of darkness would destroy the resurrection, God in His wisdom has given these proofs of the resurrection of our Savior. Their purpose is to confirm and strengthen our faith in the blessed resurrection. Clinging to these proofs we are able to remain steadfast in the faith in spite of the onslaughts of the world to move us from the faith. With these proofs we cut to pieces the silly attempts of the world to deny the resurrection of Christ. And strengthened by these proofs we confess with the church of all ages that Jesus Christ, our Savior, rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.