Christ’s Triumphant Resurrection
“This is the day which the Lord hath made! We will rejoice and be glad in it! —Psalm 118:24
The Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord is indeed the most joyful, the most uplifting, the most exhilarating day of the entire year for the child of God! It is without doubt the highest and most important festival on our Christian calendar —more significant even than Christmas or Pentecost! For it is the very day about 2,000 years ago, on which our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ victoriously rose from the dead! —Now, that might not mean much to a merely “nominal” Christian (for whom Easter Sunday is one of two occasions during the year when he is expected to put in an appearance at the House of God); and it certainly gets short billing in the marketplace of this world, where spring outfits, flowers, bunnies, eggs, and candy is what Easter is all about! But for us Christians, who “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” our Savior’s mighty resurrection on Easter morning is the greatest cause for rejoicing that there is!
Why? It is because the physical, the real and absolutely certain resurrection of Christ on the third day is essential to our Christian faith! In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter fifteen, he declares just HOW essential it really is: “If Christ be NOT raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins! Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ [those who died confiding in Him as their Savior and Redeemer] are perished!” (vv. 17-18) —they’ve gone to hell!! That’s putting it about as bluntly as it can be put! If Jesus Christ did NOT in fact rise from the dead with His real body, as He had promised, then we and all believing Christians down through the centuries have been plain fools, suckers, and hopelessly naive victims of the greatest hoax ever pulled off in the history of the world!! Then our faith is empty and meaningless, and there is no life beyond the grave! AND, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ,” as do those who preach and believe a purely “social” gospel, Paul says, “we are of all men most miserable!” …because life’s just too short; and then we’re “history”!
“BUT now IS Christ risen from the dead,” Paul assures us. His resurrection is a FACT, established “by many infallible proofs” —proofs which the scoffers of this world are unable to shake! And our faith in Christ is therefore vindicated, reassured, and strengthened. Moreover, His resurrection is a TRIUMPH, the blessed results of which give us triumph through Him!
The holy Evangelists tell us that, when the women went to the sepulchre early on Sunday morning “at the rising of the sun,” they intended to complete the embalming process only begun but not yet finished on Friday afternoon. They fully expected to find Jesus’ body right where they had left it, definitely dead (as established by medical evidence), temporarily wrapped in long linen burial windings, and by now quite cold and rigid in the rigor of death —just what we too would have expected, not quite believing as a literal prophecy Jesus’ promise that He would rise again on the third day. —It was a sad walk for these women, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, witnessed His many miracles, believed Him to be the long-promised Messiah, and lovingly stood at the foot of His cross, watching all their hopes gradually fading away with each drop of precious blood that flowed from His sacred veins. … AND, if they had indeed found His body that morning as expected, death would have won a great victory; their faith in Jesus would have been in vain; and they would have remained disillusioned, distraught, and even despairing! That’s what they were fully expecting! … until…
“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. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:2-3). The Lord Jesus didn’t just sneak out of His tomb on Easter morning! He “exited” that prison with fanfare and flair, the very forces of nature taking part in His praise and a heavenly messenger singlehandedly whisking the heavy stone slab to one side to reveal the emptiness behind it! —“And for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men” (v. 4). The military guard placed there by Pilate at the Jews’ insistence —tough, seasoned soldiers— saw that angel in his heavenly brightness, and passed out cold! The body of Jesus wasn’t being “stolen” — it was already GONE!
Christ’s resurrection was no “covert operation”. It was planned in eternity, announced ahead of time to friend and foe alike, and then executed right on schedule in spite of every effort of Jesus’ enemies to prevent it —executed with a display of divine power to proclaim it! This was an act of TRIUMPH on Jesus’ part, not over mere earthly foes and obstacles, but the heretofore unimaginable: The defeat of Satan, the satisfaction of God’s justice, and victory over death!
Yes, Christ, the “woman’s Seed,” had crushed the head of that old Serpent, the devil (Genesis 3:15), not just by His death on the cross, by which He “finished” or “accomplished” our redemption (Matthew 19:30), but by His victorious resurrection from the dead. For, as soon as He had been made alive in the tomb, He “descended into hell” to proclaim that victory over Satan to the devil himself, to his wicked hosts, and to the damned already there who had rejected Him as the Messiah! Now Satan can no longer lay claim to us who have been redeemed from his slavery by Christ in His vicarious atonement! And we now, empowered and enabled by the Victor Himself, can “resist the devil, and he will flee from [us],” James assures us.
Jesus triumphed also by satisfying perfectly the demands of His heavenly Father for man’s ransom: Perfect obedience to His holy Law in the place of sinners by His holy life here on earth, and perfect payment in their stead for the sins of the world “not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (Luther; also I Peter 1:18-19). “Him GOD raised up the third day,” Peter preached in Acts chapter 10, in testimony of His acceptance of Christ’s redemptive work, “who…was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25), so that Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of our forgiveness by God the Father in heaven.
And Jesus triumphed over death. He “abolished death,” the Bible tells us, “and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (II Timothy 1:10). Now, because of Jesus’ triumph, we too can laugh death in the face, confessing in perfect confidence: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? … Thanks be to God, which giveth US the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:55-57). For when we cling to Him in childlike faith, He promises us: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19).
This threefold TRIUMPH accomplished by our Savior in His mighty resurrection from the dead brings untold joy and peace to our hearts, the peace and joy expressed in the Easter angel’s Gospel message, “Fear not ye! … He is not here, for He is risen as He said” (Matthew 28:5-6). The message is simply: Don’t keep on being afraid. There’s no need to be fearful. Why?? For three reasons: First, because “Jesus was crucified” (v. 5b), bearing your sins in His own body on the tree, so that you have no punishment to look forward to. Secondly, because “[Jesus] is risen” (v. 6) in demonstration of His mighty Godhead, of His office as our High Priest before God’s throne, and of the Father’s satisfaction with His mediation on our behalf. And thirdly, because “[Jesus did it all] as He said” (v. 6) because His Word is the truth —ALL His promises and assurances! So don’t keep on fearing the wrath of God because of your sins; Jesus nailed them all to His cross. Don’t worry about the unceasing efforts of Satan to devour you; Christ, the Son of God, “was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). Don’t be in the slightest concerned as to whether Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to win your reconciliation to God; for St. Paul assures you: “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). Don’t keep on being afraid about death and the grave. Christ triumphed over both when He became “the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20ff.), the perfect prototype according to which, at His coming, “[He] shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” …“Fear not ye,” but rejoice! Christ IS risen! Hallelujah!!
He lives TRIUMPHANT from the grave;
He live eternally to save;
He lives, and while He lives I’ll sing:
“He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King!”
(TLH 200, 2, 6 adapted)
—D. T. M.