Risen

During the time of the Russian revolution, about the time of World War I, some Russian communists made a village turn out for a long harangue. They then called out the local pastor of the village church and gave him five minutes to reply. The pastor replied that he only needed five seconds. He then stood up before the village and gave them the familiar Easter greeting: “The Lord is risen!” The thunderous reply came back from the crowd: “He is risen indeed!”

The central truth of Christianity, the linchpin on which it hangs, is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event is the basis of the timeless validity and certainty of the gospel, and it is based upon the unanimous and consistent testimony of the apostles through the New Testament that the Lord is risen indeed. The fundamental belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is fundamental to a person having saving faith in Jesus Christ. And as this one event stands it reduces other religions to myths and stories and other philosophies to vain speculations and mere imagination. Marx and Mohammed remain in their graves, but the sure and confident faith of the Christian is that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.

One of the eyewitness testimonies to the risen Christ comes from the apostle John. He passes on to the world the turnaround of his fellow apostle, a man whose hopes had been dashed and who seemed to have been turned into a confirmed skeptic of the resurrection. This account was passed on to persuade us of the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and to guide us to a personal faith in Jesus. For the apostle, and for the apostles and the New Testament itself, the proper outcome of the persuasion of the fact of the resurrection is a personal trust in Jesus himself and him alone for salvation, for eternal life. What was written was given to us in a confident, gentle and loving manner to guide us to enter into an experience of him as a living Savior who is able to bring us eternal life.

“But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

“Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

(John 20:24-31, Dale’s sight translation, click here for other translations)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us of his reality as a living Lord and Savior. The risen Lord lives and is able to give us all that he has promised, and in view of his resurrection, having been persuaded that he is risen, belief in him, trust in him and following him is the greatest realism.

The resurrection of Jesus was a real event three days after the crucifixion. There was no controversy among the disciples who were there that they were seeing the same Jesus alive whom they had seen arrested and crucified three days earlier. This is what they had to say to Thomas about that: “But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

The apostles, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, had recognized the same Jesus whom they had all known and loved was alive among them on the evening of the day of resurrection. The invitation of Jesus to touch his body and see and touch the wounds of the crucifixion, show that it was the same body in which he was crucified, and it was able to be touched and handled. This establishes that the resurrection wasn’t a ecstatic vision, nor the haunting of a ghost, nor a hallucination, nor the shared memory of a dear departed friend, as some have tried to explain the resurrection appearances. It was the resurrection of Jesus in the same physical body in which he had lived and died, but radically changed in nature and capability. The testimony of the eyewitnesses is that the body of Jesus was the same but he had undergone a radical transformation. It was a real body that they saw and touched, but a spiritual body that was no longer subject to death. His resurrection was more than the resuscitation of a corpse, like Lazarus. Rather, it was the entrance of an entirely new physical life from the power of God. His resurrection was not the loss of personal identity nor the loss of corporeal life, but the reception of physical immortality and incorruptibility. And this points out the ultimate destination of the believer in Christ, glorification, resurrection to be like Jesus himself.

It was and remains entirely reasonable and realistic to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and it is the ultimate moment of transformation in this life. For the apostles, it meant that a scared and defeated group of men, most likely from a couple of men as young as John to older men past middle age, saw behind the closed doors the visible, demonstrable triumph of the Son of God over the power of sin and death. This was the basis of their later zeal and preaching that turned the world upside down, and eventually, all but one of them laying down their lives for their testimony to the risen Lord. This was the power of the cross and then the resurrection that changed these men then and continues to change lives today. There’s a story about an undertaker’s son who was in Sunday School who said confidently that Jesus would never have risen if his father had gotten ahold of him. It makes a cute story, but it’s true that no power on earth could have held him down, as Dallas Holm so wonderfully put in the song, “Rise Again.”

This passage then also shows something extremely important in our day and age about the nature of belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the nature of saving faith in Jesus. It is not belief without evidence, as some may try to mischaracterize Biblical faith. It is believe through the testimony of the eyewitnesses, and it ultimately goes back to the evidence that came through the apostles, the chosen witnesses of Jesus to the resurrection.

So here’s how Jesus lovingly corrected Thomas for his refusal to believe on the evidence that came through the apostles to him:

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

Thomas wasn’t a gullible or naïve man. He was passionate and intense, as it would seem, from the gospel record. But he knew then what every normal adult man and woman knows from his or her experience in this world: dead men do not rise from the dead. Except, though, there would be this one case where that would happen despite his prior determination not to believe it. Before long, the proof would be standing before him. And not only that, the risen Lord would be standing before him speaking directly to him and contradicting his refusal to believe what he had been told.

Jesus obviously considered that the testimony of the other apostles was sufficient for Thomas to have believed their word about his resurrection. Their testimony is recorded throughout the New Testament. It is the testimony of those eyewitnesses who laid down their lives for the certainty of their claims. It is an intellectually reasonable and defensible and historically accurate record of events that actually happened. There have been many over the centuries who have examined the record of the New Testament and found it reasonable and credible. Here are two:

Charles Hodge (past president of Princeton Theological Seminary): “It may be safely asserted that that the resurrection of Jesus is at once the most important and best authenticated fact in the world.”

John Broads (past president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): “If I don’t know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then I know nothing in the history of mankind.”

The evidence is therefore considered sufficient for saving faith from all the gospel writers and the writers of the New Testament. The resurrection was the culmination of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God throughout his life and ministry. What there is is sufficient to confirm the claims of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Messiah, to back up his promises and teaching, and the reality of his resurrection. There’s a report that a Muslim once taunted a Christian that, “You Christians do not even have a tomb to which you can point, where your Jesus lies buried. We have the tomb of Mohammed in Mecca.”

The Christian then replied, “That is just the point; your prophet is dead and lies buried; our Christ is risen and with us always.”

Therefore, the historic, Biblical faith of the Christian lies in a risen Savior. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection is the basis of a strong, securely grounded faith. And this means that faith in Jesus Christ is not an escape from reality, a childish mind game, a comforting refuge for the weak minded, nor a fantasy, but an acceptance of the deepest reality in our world, and a living, livable, the only viable option of life. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection must then lead to the point of personal faith in and commitment to the Lord Jesus, the risen Savior.

Persuasion of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls for a personal faith in him. It is completely reasonable and fitting for someone who claims belief in the fact of the resurrection to come to personal belief in and commitment to the risen Lord himself. This is the proper response which is recommended from the gospel itself:

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

The personal commitment of faith in and obedience to Jesus comes from the words of Thomas himself. It means making that personal commitment of faith in him and obedience to him, to be his follower and disciple in the Biblical sense of the words. For Thomas, these words meant a full pledge of his allegiance and submission to Jesus as his Lord and Master: “My Lord!”; in our day, some try to use the word, ‘leader’, here, but I think that’s too weak a word for the complete and total commitment that these words describe. In our day and age a leader may seem to be someone out in front, but it’s often seemed to me that people feel themselves under very little obligation to follow a leader unless that person leads them in a direction which they approve. But what this meant for Thomas was giving Jesus total authority over his life.

It is, moreover, personal submission to Jesus himself, and full acceptance of his Deity, as Thomas acknowledged, “ . . . and my God!” Thomas knew Jesus as an extraordinary man. He had witnessed the miracles of Jesus and had heard all the teachings of Jesus over the course of the ministry of Jesus. It’s also evident from his earlier mention, in John 11, that he was deeply attached to Jesus personally and thought that he would be willing to die for Jesus. This admission of Deity is way more than a normal Jew of the time would have made unless he had come into contact with extraordinary, incontrovertible evidence. And the final evidence was more than the teaching and the miracles, though they had pointed forward to this moment. In this moment, what came from his mouth was the acknowledgement that the man before him, bearing wounds of the crucifixion, the one that they had known to be dead but was now alive, was God himself. The nature of this belief would later be worked out over years to come, to the attestation that Jesus was the Son of God in the unique sense, as the Second Person of the Trinity. The belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was not upon mere assertion but upon the stupendous reality of his resurrection.

From this, then, the confession of Thomas would be a fully viable expression of saving faith from those who would come to faith later on. This is why Jesus put in that remark about those who have not seen and who believe. It was more than his gentle, loving rebuke of the previous unbelief of Thomas. It was the indication to them that there would later be those who would not have the eyewitness experience that they did and yet would come to saving faith in him.

So then the apostle gets gently personal with each person who is reading: “Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

The apostle is asking each one who is reading to take the words he has written and upon them, come to faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was loving and gracious with Thomas, the apostle echoes this grace and love in extending this invitation. No high pressure; no strong demands; no spittle flecked ranting into a microphone like the caricature of an old time evangelist; the apostle just gives you the opportunity to consider what he has written and come to saving faith, eternal life, in the name of Jesus. The invitation is to make that open declaration of faith in Jesus which the Bible calls saving faith. This is the way that the apostle Paul put it: “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

What this is is personal submission to Jesus himself, from the personal conviction that he is risen from the dead, to make him Lord of your life. This is more than church membership or commitment to a church. So many may be a part of a church and may be good and moral people, but may never have made that personal commitment of saving faith in Jesus Christ. For instance, a long time friend of mine from years ago, unfortunately (for us) now deceased, years ago went to a convent and became a nun because she was seeking direction and discipline in her life. But then some years afterward, she volunteered to become a counselor at a Billy Graham Crusade in her area. It was as she she was reading the material that she was expected to explain to another person that she realized that with her discipline and work with the church, that she had missed the most important point: she had never put her faith in Jesus personally, for herself, and had not received eternal life by faith in him. And then she did so.

Lots and lots of people visit and attend churches and explore and become involved in religions and religious activities, but miss the point. I myself attended church with my family for years as I was growing up, but until August 27, 1974, I never understood or discovered the point of it all. It’s like the reaction of the newspaper editor in Dayton, Ohio, to whom Katherine Wright, the sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, gave this telegram: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” The editor said, “How nice that your brothers will be home for Christmas.” People get involved with churches and religions for guidance, for spiritual curiosity, because of family and tradition, and out of desire for some kind of social connection. But they often miss the point of the witness of the church to the resurrection of Jesus and the invitation through the apostles to receive eternal life by faith in him alone.

Years ago Leon Jaworski was a household name during the Watergate controversy in the USA. He was the special prosecutor for that time, but what is less known about him is that he was the son of a Polish immigrant who was an evangelical preacher. In 1981 he went beyond his years of church attendance to speak more openly of his faith in Jesus Christ, and he said, “I had a heavy burden off my heart because I did something that I felt I should have done a long time ago.”

Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, is this openly professed faith in Jesus Christ and submission to his Lordship. It means belief in his resurrection and his Deity, and upon the authority of Jesus Christ, the truthful and almighty Savior, this brings the assurance of eternal life. The assurance of eternal life is not in anything that we are, in anything that we have done, but in whom we have come to know, the risen Savior, through a personal and conscious decision of faith.

Jesus Christ is risen! The same Jesus Christ who died on the cross has risen from the dead! This truth calls us today to celebrate, with worship and praise to the Lord for his victory. And the point of the celebration is to celebrate with faith in him.

Join in the celebration, with all believers everywhere today. Give your praise and adoration to the Lord of life, the resurrected Son of God! Praise him for his almighty power and for his all powerful love and goodness, which has conquered sin and death. Praise him for the hope which he has made certain, for the eternal life of those who love and follow him. Praise him for his eternal glory, as the Son of God, who is greater by far than anything or anyone else is or ever shall be.

Keep on in the celebration! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is to give us joy and confidence every day of the year, even though we focus on it today. His resurrection is truth to nourish and strengthen our faith and the foundation of our faith. This will bring us consistency and stability in the faith, as we live with the understanding and awareness that we serve a risen Savior. The constant realization that the Son of God is alive means that we are not pursuing a fantasy, but that our love for him and our obedience to him is to a real and living Person. And our declaration that the Lord is risen will ignite our hope to be with him and to be like him, and make it a burning expectation within our hearts.

Enter into the reason for our celebration. For believers in Jesus, his resurrection is not something that happened far ago in history that happened to a stranger. It is the victory over sin and death of the Lord whom we have come to know personally when we put our faith in him. The reason that we celebrate is because we have received eternal life by faith in the risen Son of God. So then, the question come to you through all the ages: have you made a personal commitment of your life to Jesus Christ? Have you made a conscious decision to repent of your sins and to put your faith in him alone for your eternal salvation? Will you declare your faith in him and then follow him as your Lord?

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