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The Story of the First Resurrection

“In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher. 2 And, behold, 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. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. 8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. 9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. 11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.” (Matt. 28:1-11)

After studying the subject for over 700 hours, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, Josh McDowell has concluded that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the “most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history.” There is no alternative to these two positions. Some modern day theologians, and pastors, have compromised their beliefs, by saying that the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus does not matter. What is important, we are told, is the life Christ lived, and the example He gave.

Many years ago, I worked with a chaplain in the US Army who had embraced this position. I was absolutely astonished when he asked me one day if I would give up my faith if the body of Christ was found. To such a question there is only one possible answer, and that is, “Yes!” Even the Apostle Paul would abandon the faith if the body of Christ was found, because it was he who wrote, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Moreover, we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no foundation for any Christian beliefs, which means also that men are left in their sins (1 Cor. 15:17). It is because Christ arose on the third day, according to the Scriptures, that Christians can believe that the work of redemption was really accomplished at Calvary, and was acceptable to the Father.

Other religions may exist with a bloodless, lifeless Saviour, but Christianity cannot. The Christian faith alone claims an empty tomb for its Founder. Abraham, the father of Judaism, died about 1900 BC, but no resurrection was ever claimed for him. Mohammedan died June 8, 632 A.D. at the age of 61, at Medina. Each year thousands of devout Mohammedans visit his grave. The faithful come, knowing that his body is in the tomb.

When the Buddha died, original accounts of his death never ascribe to him any such thing as a resurrection. Rather, we read that Buddha died “with the utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains behind” (Mahaparinibbana Sutta). H. P. Liddon says, “Faith in the resurrection is the very keystone of the arch of Christian faith, and when it is removed, all must inevitably crumble into ruin.”

“Christ Himself”, as Dr. B.B. Warfield reminds us, “deliberately staked His whole claim to the credit of men upon His resurrection. When asked for a sign He pointed to this sign as His single and sufficient credential.” Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not just one of many tenets of belief. Without faith in the resurrection there is no Christianity at all. Church historian Philip Schaff recognizes this, and concludes, “The resurrection of Christ is therefore emphatically a test question upon which depends the truth or falsehood of the Christian religion. It is either the greatest miracle or the greatest delusion which history records.”

In light of the great importance of the resurrection, a fair question is this: “What is the evidence that the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place?” To provide an answer, various eyewitnesses can be summoned to give testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ died, that He was buried, and that He arose again on the third day.

That Jesus died can be verified by His executioners. The Roman soldiers, who put Jesus on the Cross, were experts on the matter of death. They had seen it too many times. They had killed too often. The Roman soldiers knew exactly where to drive the spikes through the victim’s hands and feet. They knew just how long it took for the average person to perish. They knew how to hasten death, by breaking the legs if necessary, so that the victim could not get any more air into the chest cavity by pushing upwards.

Having put Jesus on the Cross, the Roman soldiers did not leave the site. Amidst the cries of the condemned, beside the shrieks of the suffering, the soldiers sat down beneath the Cross to gamble among themselves for the seamless robe of the Saviour. Had the soldiers been more spiritual, they would have seen in the robe, a symbol of the life of Christ. It too was without flaw. No one had ever justly accused Jesus of any sin. At His various trials, the Lord did not need a defense lawyer. He needed the truth to be told. But the truth was not told. First one, and then another person stood, to falsely accuse Him. So He opened not His mouth. It would have done no good. Once people are determined to hurt someone else, truth, and justice, and righteousness, are sacrificed upon the altar of expediency.

The seamless robe was a silent testimony to the integrity of Christ. But the soldiers did not care. What did it matter to them that “The unnatural position [of the crucified] made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons, throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened;…and while each variety of misery went on, gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pain of a burning, and raging thirst.”

After being at the Cross for six hours, the soldiers received an unusual message from Pontius Pilate. They were to make sure Jesus was dead, and then they were to take His body down from the Cross, and give it to Joseph, of Arimathea. One of the soldiers went up to Jesus and looked into His face. To his surprise, Jesus was dead. They would not have to break His legs after all to hasten His demise. But just to make certain, the soldier took his spear, and jabbed it violently through the Lord’s side. A bloody fluid came rushing forth. The Roman soldiers were satisfied. Jesus was dead.

Never again, would human hands hurt Him. Never again, would cruel fists punch Him. Never again would men spit upon the Son Of God. Never again, would men mock the Lord Of Glory. Never again, would anyone rip the beard from His holy face. The hour of suffering was over. The time of humiliation was past. Jesus was dead. The soldiers knew it, as did Joseph of Arimathea, who took the body and wrapped it in a clean white linen cloth (Matt. 27:59). Joseph had help, because Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews, who had come to Jesus at night, was also present. Nicodemus had brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight. These spices would help preserve a body from rapid decay (John 19:38b-40).

While Joseph and Nicodemus worked on the body of Christ, a group of women stood watching. There was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene was also present, with several others. Through their tears, the women could see, Jesus was dead.

A processional was formed. The women followed, as the men carried the body of the Lord and placed it in the tomb (Luke 23:55). A large stone was rolled over the grave site, and then Roman soldiers were placed as guards. It was their job to make sure that no one came to take the body away (Matt. 27:62-66).

That such a thing would happen was not likely, because the crucifixion of Jesus devastated His disciples. The Eleven remaining apostles were now in hiding, terrified that they would be discovered, arrested, charged with crimes against the state, and crucified. Only the Pharisees were thinking about going near the grave, and then, only to make sure that Jesus remained sealed in the tomb. The Pharisees remembered how the Lord had taught, on many occasions, that the Son Of Man must be crucified, and rise again on the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:9; 20:18-19).

The religious leaders of Jerusalem were taking no chances of a resurrection hoax. So the tomb was sealed. The stone was rolled in place. Elite Roman guards were put on alert, and the waiting began.

Sunset came that Friday, and then Saturday morning. Nothing unusual happened. In the city itself, the rituals associated with the Passover celebration continued. Finally, the Sabbath ended. It was then, after sunset on Saturday evening, and before sunrise on Sunday morning, that the greatest event in all of human history took place. Sometime, during those few hours, a Man who had been declared dead by many eyewitnesses, stirred, in the coolness of the tomb where He had been placed.

Life came back to His cold body, wrapped with white cloth. There was the strong smell of spices in the air. Jesus Christ, the Son Of God was alive! He had come back, as He said He would.

“Up from the grave He arose!
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain…”

Jesus Christ came back to earth, to give witness that His work of redemption was accepted by the Father. He returned to confirm that all that He taught, and all that He said, was true.

“And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”

Unwrapping the head piece, Jesus folded the linen cloth, and laid it at the place where His head had been laid. The Lord stood up. He walked towards the sealed entrance.

“Death cannot keep his prey—
Jesus my Saviour!
He tore the bars away—
Jesus my LORD!”

Suddenly the earth shook. An angel of the lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled the stone away, and then sat on top of it. The Roman guards felt the earth quake. They saw the angel roll the stone away. And they became as dead men.

The Roman soldiers were not dead, only stunned. It was not long before they recovered their senses, and ran to tell the Pharisees what had happened. Quickly, the news began to spread that the body of Christ was no longer in the tomb. He had risen, as He said He would. Within hours, all of Jerusalem was stirring with the sensational story. Confirmation that Jesus was indeed alive came over the next few days. Fifteen times, the Bible tells us, that Jesus appeared to individuals. Consider the people to whom the Lord Appeared following His resurrection

Mary Magdalene John 20:14; Mark 16:9
The women returning from the tomb Matthew 28:9,10
Peter later in the day Luke 24:34
The Emmaus disciples Luke 24:13-33
The apostles when Thomas was not present Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-24
The apostles when Thomas was present John 20:26-29
The seven by the Lake of Tiberius John 21:1-23
A multitude of 500 plus believers on a Galilean mountain 1 Cor. 15:6
James 1 Cor. 15:7
The eleven Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:33-52; Acts 1:3-12
The disciples at the ascension Acts 1:3-12
Paul Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor. 15:8
Stephen Acts 7:55
Paul in the temple Acts 22:17-21; 23:11
John on the isle of Patmos Rev. 1:10-19

Because of these many appearances, to various people, at different times, the enemies of Christ were not able to refute the reality of His resurrection. When Peter declared that Jesus was alive on the Day of Pentecost, he was met by silence. The evidence of the empty tomb was there for anyone to examine if they wanted to challenge what was being proclaimed. But there was no challenge. Everyone knew that the grave no longer contained the body of Christ.

To this day, the empty tomb of Jesus remains an established historical fact. The Romans and the Pharisees could not produce the Lord’s body, or explain it away, and neither can anyone else. If people still refuse to believe in the resurrection of Christ, it is not because of insufficient evidence. The reason lies elsewhere. In contrast, millions do believe that Jesus arose again from the dead. And for all who believe, the Bible teaches, that they too shall one day enjoy the same experience. But in order to take part in the future physical resurrection, we must know something about a spiritual resurrection of the soul. John said, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5). What is the first resurrection? The answer is provided in John 5:24-27. The first resurrection is a spiritual resurrection of the heart. The first spiritual resurrection takes place, when those who are dead in trespasses and sin, are made to hear the voice of the Son of God, and they live!

Some are very young when they hear the voice of Jesus calling them to salvation, and service. Some are very old. Some are rich. Others are poor. Some are educated. Others cannot even read or write. It does not matter. The only thing that matters, is to take part in the first resurrection, for on such, the second death has no power. We are called upon to examine our hearts, and determine if we are alive in Jesus Christ. E.M. Bartlett did, and then wrote a wonderful testimony saying,

“I heard an old, old story,
How a Saviour came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.”

If you are struggling with sin today, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins. Believe on Him as your Saviour. He can be your Saviour, for, “The Lord is risen.” Let  all God’s people said, “The Lord is risen indeed.”

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