Our Comfort and Assurance in the Message of the Easter Angel
“And he saith unto them: ‘Be not affrighted. Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee, as He said unto you.’” —Mark 16:6-7
On Easter Sunday we Christians marked once again, as we do each and every year, the most significant, the most essential, the most glorious, and to be sure the most comforting festival on our church calendar: The Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, from the Dead. Indeed, the event we commemorate on Easter Day is absolutely central to our entire Christian faith, as central as the hub is to a wheel; for virtually every fundamental doctrine of Holy Scripture is inseparably linked to the fact of Christ’s resurrection — either pointing to it, stemming from it, or depending upon it! In fact, Jesus’ life here on earth, His entire public ministry, and His death on the cross for the sins of the world — all would be for NOTHING if He had not truly risen from His grave on Easter morning! For Jesus of Nazareth would have been the greatest fool, fraud, and “flim-flam” con-artist the world had ever seen, a liar and deceiver without equal in the annals of history! And WE, His disciples, would be fools as well to have fallen for His “line” and placed our confidence in Him!
The devil, of course, would have us and all men for that matter believe precisely that very thing about the Savior and His mighty resurrection; for Satan deeply resents that final and ultimate victory which Jesus won over him when He rose from the dead on the third day! And so the Foe’s adherents have, from that very moment, sought to discredit, disprove, and even poke fun at the resurrection account in hopes of destroying our most holy faith and leading us to everlasting destruction! But these enemies of Christ and His Word are doomed to failure from the outset, for they fly in the face of the TRUTH, of established FACT, of incontrovertible EVIDENCE and eye-witness TESTIMONY. For Jesus of Nazareth did in fact rise from His grave on Easter Sunday morning after having died the previous Friday afternoon! His true death was certified by objective medical evidence and by professional evaluation, and His true life after His resurrection was amply demonstrated “by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3). Consequently, the claims of unbelieving scoffers notwithstanding, the FACT of the Lord’s resurrection speaks for itself!
Therefore, what we want to examine in this present article is not so much the FACT but the RESULT of Jesus’ resurrection, namely, what it accomplished and why it is of such importance to us Christians. We note that the Easter angel’s message to the women at the empty sepulchre brings us a fourfold comfort and assurance from the Savior’s resurrection — the fourfold importance and comfort that we confess also in our Catechism (CPH, 1943, pp. 117-118).
The first of these is that, by rising from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth proved Himself to be the very Son of God. The words of the angel were plain enough: “He is risen; He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him.” The fact of Jesus’ resurrection was clear for anyone to see who cared to look at the evidence. “Behold!” said the angel; “LOOK at the place where you yourselves saw Him laid out on Good Friday afternoon, unmistakably dead, the blood solids already separated from the lymph, as the Roman centurion also saw and testified. Look NOW at the empty slab before you, the linen burial windings lying empty and the napkin from Jesus’ face neatly folded and laid aside as no hurried grave robber would have bothered to do. See for yourselves!” And this word “behold” points not only those women but also US, who have the additional Gospel accounts and their evidence, as well as the eyewitness testimony of literally hundreds who saw the Savior alive during the forty days following, yes, that word directs US to recognize without doubt the FACT of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
But the words “He is risen!” give us much more than a mere report of this fact. They convey to us the assurance that, in this mighty act, Jesus proved Himself to be the very Son of God! For who but God alone has the ability to raise Himself from the dead?? Who but the almighty Lord of heaven and earth could have exercised such superior might that, concerning His very own life, He could declare in advance: “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again”?? Thus the Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, chapter 1, verse 4, confirms this first assurance of the Easter angel, saying: “He was declared to be the SON OF GOD with POWER…by the resurrection from the dead.”
And, lest anyone dare claim that Jesus’ words and promises were mere empty boasts and vain prophecies, the angel brings us his second Easter comfort and assurance, saying: “Be not affrighted” — don’t be so amazed and astonished, as if this were an unexpected development — for, by His mighty resurrection from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth has shown His Word to be the truth! “He is risen; He is not here…But He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you.” Jesus had not only promised to rise again on the third day, but He had told His disciples that they would see Him face-to-face thereafter in Galilee. And Matthew’s record shows that the angel’s words, “as He said unto you,” refer not only to Jesus’ appearance in Galilee but to the resurrection itself; for Matthew quotes the angel as saying: “He is risen, as He said!” And St. Luke, by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, adds striking detail, quoting TWO angels at the grave giving the women this assurance of the truth of Jesus’ Word: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spake unto you…saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again’? And they remembered His words.”
Why, even Jesus’ enemies knew well His words concerning His resurrection from the dead. Oh, they pretended at first not to have understood them, when at His trial before Caiaphas they introduced false witnesses to make it seem as if He had threatened to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and to rebuild it in three days. But they gave themselves away when, after His death, they went to Pilate for a seal on the grave, saying: “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Pilate should have marked well and believed those words, for Jesus had told him in advance, “Everyone that is of the truth heareth My voice.” Yea, ALL of Jesus’ Word — not just the red print highlighted in modern-day Bibles, but ALL of the Holy Scriptures, which He identified as His precious Word — is the TRUTH, absolutely reliable in every detail; for He assures us: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the TRUTH, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
And it is this very freedom to which the angel refers in the third assurance we have in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, namely, that His heavenly Father accepted His vicarious sacrifice as payment-in-full for the sins of the world. “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified,” said the Easter angel. The very purpose of Jesus’ crucifixion, yea, of all His suffering, was to provide, in our place and on our behalf, a ransom-price of sufficient value that God in heaven would accept its payment as complete satisfaction of divine justice. Thus Isaiah had prophesied concerning Jesus in his 53rd chapter: “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Yes, “Christ suffered for us,” Peter writes in his first epistle, chapter 2, “who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” — “Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified.”
And yet, if Jesus had suffered all that anguish, including the very pains of hell itself (Matthew 27:46, etc.) in our place, but then had remained in the grave, helplessly bound in the chains of death, His entire sacrifice would have been for nothing! For He would have been “shown up” to be a mere man, just another human being, “none of [whom] can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious!” (Psalm 49:7-8). Then indeed we would be fools for trusting in Him as our Redeemer; for St. Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins!” We would still be lost and condemned, headed for hell!
But thanks be to God, beloved fellow-sinners, that Jesus of Nazareth did NOT remain in His grave but rose victoriously on Easter morning as the Mighty Conqueror of sin, death, and Satan — not just a mere man whose sacrifice of Himself would otherwise have been an empty gesture and completely in vain, but as the certified Redeemer of lost mankind! For the Bible tells us, Romans 4:25, “Christ was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification,” as the sure sign that His payment made good our debt to God! That was God the Father’s seal of approval, so to speak, “which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:20).
What a wonderful assurance and comfort to us Christians is this glorious fact of God’s own Word, that the Father in heaven raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead as ironclad testimony that He fully accepted the sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the world unto Himself, and has, because of what Jesus paid on our behalf, forgiven the sins of the whole world and declared all sinners righteous in His sight. This free gift of objective justification He has published to all men in the Gospel, earnestly desiring “all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4), “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Thus, as His adopted children and heirs of salvation by faith in His Son, we rejoice to praise Him with the Apostle Peter, saying: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a [living] hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incoruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for YOU!” (I Peter 1:3-4).
And the promise of that blessed inheritance brings us now to the fourth and final assurance and comfort we have in the message of the Easter angel, namely, that we too shall see our Savior face-to-face at our own resurrection on the Last Day. For the angel instructed the women to tell Jesus’ disciples that He would go before them into Galilee; “there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you.” We can well imagine the JOY that these words brought to the disciples with the prospect of seeing their Savior alive, face-to-face, just as He had promised them! But the angel’s words should fill also OUR HEARTS with the very same joy of anticipation! For the Lord’s promise to US is just as sure as His promise to the disciples! Yes, the FRUIT of Jesus’ resurrection will be our own resurrection, for He Himself links them together, saying: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19) “I go to prepare a place for you,” He tells us, “and I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).
In Christ, our risen and everliving Savior, we have the very prototype of our own resurrection from our own graves on the Last Day; for as St. Paul assures us in I Corinthians 15, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable! But now IS Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept…but every man in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits” [that is, the prototype] “afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.” Even Job in the Old Testament was confident of his bodily resurrection to eternal life as an heir of God through faith in Christ his Savior; for he declared: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself; and mine eyes shall behold, and not another, though my reins be consumed within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
O what sweet joy and gladness is ours this holy Easter season — joy not merely in the FACT of Jesus’ mighty resurrection from the dead, but, even better, joy in the blessed RESULT of this miracle-of-miracles, yea, His own assurance to quell our fears and His own comfort to dry our tears! For Christ’s resurrection proves without a doubt that He is truly the almighty Son of God. It establishes beyond any question the truth and absolute reliability of His Word. It testifies that God the Father was completely satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world. And it assures every believer, according to Jesus’ own promise, of resurrection in like manner to everlasting glory on Judgment Day.
May the words of the Easter angel ever remind us of all these blessed assurances and strengthen our confidence in them day-by-day, until by God’s matchless grace in Christ, our crucified and risen Redeemer, we enter the mansions He has prepared for us in His heavenly home and glorious kingdom!
He lives! All glory to His Name!
He lives, my Jesus still the same!
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives:
“I KNOW that my Redeemer LIVES!”
(T.L.H., 200, 8)
— D. T. M.
(This article originally appeared in the March-April issue, 2007)