Men and brothers, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried…
The only possible issue to the life of our Lord was His standing up again in life, and His entrance visibly as a risen Man into the spiritual, eternal world. In that world He had lived while still a mortal Man. "The Son of Man which is in heaven" is the sentence which contains the key to the innermost shrine of His life. This life which on earth was lived in heaven, brought to bear on man's earthly state all the influences of the eternal world. And as the life of Christ could only fulfil itself in its most quickening core of force by resurrection, so in all His previsions and predictions about His death, He included the idea of resurrection. For precisely such a phenomenon our Lord's language should have prepared the disciples; and their record is the more significant inasmuch as He was wholly misapprehended by them, and only when they were compelled by overwhelming evidence to accept it as a historical fact, did they begin to realise the regenerative power with which it might be charged for the world. For the resurrection was entirely transcendent, though, like all Divine facts, when it was revealed it fitted the place in history which was vacant for it — it explained and completed the whole movement of the ages, and keyed the arch which, but for it, would have become a wreck. But the gospel is not a philosophy of resurrection, but a proclamation. It says nothing about antecedent probabilities, secular preparations, or aspirations and hopes. These we investigate and discuss, and are right in so doing. But what the gospel proclaims is the historical fact; of the resurrection, and through this proclamation the whole world of civilisation has come to believe it. But all rests on the original proclamation, the credibility and sufficiency of the original witnesses; the character and amount of the testimony which is behind the affirmation. We have a very clear and succinct statement of the evidence in the words of Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and it seems as complete as can well be conceived. The Epistle was written within the generation which followed the resurrection. The majority of the witnesses were alive when it was written. There is no question of the moral honesty of the testimony. This thing, remember, was not done in a corner. There was a powerful national party at Jerusalem whose very existence was staked on proving it a fiction. Any flaw in the harness, any weak link in the chain, keen eyes would have hunted out and exposed. But there is not a trace anywhere of an answer to the apostle's precis of testimony; not a hint that this argument on the resurrection had been answered by denying it as a fact. The witnesses are ample in number, character, and opportunity of knowledge, and their testimony is that of men who had not the faintest idea that there was any one who could raise a valid doubt on the subject anywhere about the world. This leads me to the features of the evidence.
I. Surely the most prominent thing which strikes one about it is its PERFECT SIMPLICITY AND NATURALNESS. Pascal notes "the naturalness (naivete) with which Jesus Christ speaks of the things of God and of eternity." With the same naturalness do the apostles speak of the resurrection. In the account of the meeting at the sea of Tiberias (John 21.), the naturalness of their communion with the risen Saviour is the wonderful thing. Transcendently wonderful, as it was, they write about it quite as simply and naturally as about the Sermon on the Mount, or the journey to Jerusalem; and instead of spending all their strength on parading the evidence of it, they are more reticent and more artless about it than about many another far less momentous fact in the history of our Lord. The manner in which the resurrection brought itself at once so perfectly into the natural order of the disciples' lives, is to me an absolute proof that they knew they were dealing with a simple though profound and far-reaching fact. They write as if the restoration of their Lord to them, when they had once grasped the fact, was the most natural thing in the world. The only key to this is its truth.
II. It is entirely the evidence of DISCIPLES, of those who had a deep personal interest in establishing the resurrection as a truth. Understand what the word "interest" means. The notion of a company of interested followers of Christ, conspiring for their own purposes to palm this tale upon the world, is abandoned on all hands as utterly inadequate. These were true men, whatever else they might be. The witnesses had the deepest interest in the truth of the resurrection, but it would have been quite worthless to them except as truth. They had nothing to gain but everything to lose by the proclamation, except in as far as the power of the resurrection as a fact lay behind it. They were the best of all possible witnesses; witnesses whose supreme interest is truth. We can, however, well imagine evidence of a different character, which we are tempted to think would have at once forced conviction home on every rational mind. If it had been proved, say to the full satisfaction of the Roman procurator, after a review of all the evidence for and against it, that would have immediately established it as an unquestionable fact in history, and the whole world would have been filled with wonder and adoration. But the actual evidence is a striking contrast to this. It made no attempt to impose itself as a fact forced by the overwhelming weight of evidence on an unwilling world. Like the Incarnation, it was to be a power, and not a portent. In this, too, the kingdom of heaven came not with observation; its mission was to open minds and believing hearts alone. The spirit which seeks a sign, and the faith which is nourished on a sign, are alike worthless in that spiritual order which the Lord came to establish. The spirit which is turned to God, by the word and the work of the Saviour, is inestimably precious in His sight, and is a power in His kingdom of heaven. The Lord put deliberately from Him through life the homage which He might have won, and the power which He might have wielded, by portents and splendours; and obeying the Divine necessity to trust to the truth alone, He put them from Him also in death and in resurrection. "My kingdom is not of this world," He said through all — birth, life, death, and resurrection. The fact, then, that the evidence is entirely of the kind described, the evidence of disciples, of men in spiritual fellowship with it, and on whose lips and in whose lives it would be not a portent but a power, is in entire and beautiful harmony with the whole spirit and method of the Divine dispensations, and lies in the true line of the spiritual culture and development of mankind.
III. Granting, then, that the evidence must be that of spiritual witnesses to a fact whose whole virtue was spiritual, can anything be more EXPLICIT AND COMPLETE than the testimony which they bear? We have not the witness of a single, possibly hysterical, or fanatical, follower. The evidence was offered again and again to individuals, to companies, to a great crowd of disciples, with opportunities of tactical satisfaction, leaving actually nothing to be desired. Words were spoken and are recorded which none but the risen Man could have uttered. And the demonstration is crowned by the actual effect of the resurrection', in the instant and complete transformation which it accomplished in the lives of the witnesses. We cannot read John 21. and Acts 2. without the conviction that some such fact as the resurrection is absolutely needed to account for the contrast in the narratives. The disciples were not in a mood even to think about inventing such a fact. They accepted the decease as a death-blow to their hopes. Nothing was further from their thoughts than to lead a movement which would reconstruct and save society. And yet, in a few days, the work is in vigorous progress. As by the touch of some mighty creative Hand, these men are re-made. They are preaching the resurrection with a power which is to shake the whole structure of society, and they are kindling hearts like flame, in the very city where the events were transacted. Peter, heart-broken, going back bravely to his fisherman's toils — Peter, standing out as an incomparable teacher and leader of men, founding a Church which at this day is the strongest institution upon earth — Peter the disciple, who denied his Master, Peter the apostle, who won for Him the homage and worship of mankind — what links the two but the fact of the resurrection; the fact that a risen and reigning Christ was behind him, lending heaven's own force to every action, and heaven's own emphasis to every word? And what happened to them, through the resurrection, happened to the world. It began to work instantly as a tremendous force in organising and uplifting human society. It is said of a city, "There was great joy in that city when these evangelists came to it." It is the feature everywhere. Joy, strength, hope, vital activity, all by which men and societies grow, sprang up like willows by the watercourses, wherever the sound of that gospel of the resurrection was heard. For nearly two thousand years that order has been strengthening its foundations and widening its circuit, and its unquestioned, unquestionable basis has been and is the resurrection and reign of the risen Lord. And this you ask me to believe is an imposture or a delusion! Well, I may believe it when I am driven to believe that everything is imposture or illusion; that I am illusion; that the great world around me and the great heaven above me is illusion; that all which man holds noble and beautiful, all that he thinks worth living for, worth dying for, is illusion; and that a mocking demon is the master, the ruler, and the tormentor of the world. Till then I believe and preach Jesus and the Resurrection.
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.