You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs…
It was not possible that death should hold our Divine Lord and Saviour. Why?
I. WAS IT SIMPLY BECAUSE OF HIS POWER? Is the victory that He gained when He came forth from the grave only the prevalence of a stronger force over a weaker? The love of power, the delight in wielding it and in witnessing its exercise, the joy of battle, the elation of victory — how much of human energy finds vent in these great passions! Is this spectacle of the triumphing of Christ over death only another exhibition of strength? Doubtless we must see in the resurrection a proof of superhuman energy. "No man taketh My life from Me," etc., said our Lord. Here is the sign of a strength superior to nature; of an energy that is not confined by the uniformities of physical law; of a force that is stronger than the strongest of the forces with which our science deals. But is this all? No; this is the least of the truths disclosed to us upon the Easter day. Men had faith enough in physical power before Christ rose from the dead. Worshippers of power most of them were. Men believed quite enough in the power of God; as a revelation of the fact that there is a Will behind nature superior to nature, the resurrection was not needed.
II. WAS IT LOGICAL? Does the apostle mean that Christ could not have been left in the grave, because the Divine plan and purpose made His resurrection necessary? Doubtless this is true. The success of His mission required Him to rise from the grave. It was necessary as a practical measure, for the confirmation of His claims, and the verification of His gospel. But is this all? No.
III. THE IMPOSSIBILITY WAS MORAL. It was not might nor policy but love and right that conquered.
1. The apostle expresses in .this phrase one of the strongest and most persistent of the instinctive moral feelings of man, viz., that virtuous being ought to continue. It is sometimes said that man has an instinctive faith in immortality, and it is doubtless true. But the feeling to which I refer is much deeper and more dominant than this. I am not speaking now of the testimony of revelation concerning future existence, but of the conclusions to which our own instinct and judgment would lead us. And I think that if we had to depend wholly on these for our light upon this great question, while each one might hope for life beyond the grave as his own inheritance, we should hesitate to affirm it confidently respecting all our neighbours. Here, for example, is one whose life has steadily gravitated downward; who has grown more sordid, sour, brutish, with every passing year. So he lives, and so living he goes down to death. If we had no other guide than our own reason and moral instincts, should we confidently affirm of such a man that there would be life for him beyond the grave? I do not think so. I think we should be more likely to say of him, pityingly and mournfully: "If there were any prospect that his character could be mended, then we would hope that he might have life beyond; but if his life is to go on in this strain, there is no reason why his existence should be prolonged. If this universe is built on righteousness, the continuance of such lives is illogical and inexplicable." That is what the moral reason would say about it. But here is another of different quality. His life has been full of faithful and loving service of his kind; the contact of his spirit made every man more manly and every woman more womanly. Steadily as the years have gone by his character has been ripening, and now in the midst of his years he suddenly falls, and among men no more is seen. Is not our feeling about such a man's departure quite different from that with which we noted the passing out of life of the other? Do we not say at once, that if this universe means righteousness such a man ought not to cease to be; that the discontinuance of such a life would be as illogical and inexplicable as the continuance of the other would be? Death has seized upon our friend, we say, but it is not possible that death should hold him fast.
2. In cases of many that we have known we have felt that this impossibility was strong, almost invincible; but how much stronger should it have been in the minds of those who had been the companions and disciples of Jesus Christ all their lives! Might they not have said, with far clearer emphasis, when the hand of death was laid on Him, "It is not possible that He should be holden of it"? Recall some faint outline of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Remember the clear truthfulness of His speech, His courage, His friendship for the outcasts and the despised, the grand independence with which He brushed aside the conventional estimates, the tireless beneficence and boundless sympathy of His life. And now suddenly this life terminates. By wicked hands this Prince of Life is crucified and slain! Is it possible that such a life, so pure and perfect and benignant, should end like this? You could not affirm that it would reappear on this earth; on that point experience could give you no encouragement; but you could say that there ought to be and must be given to that life, somewhere, glory and immortality.
3. The force of this conclusion respecting all highest and noblest life it is hard to evade. The expectation of future existence in the abstract may be more or less shadowy; but the expectation that virtuous life will continue rests on the very foundation of our moral nature. And there is a great word of science that reaffirms this verdict of our moral sense. It is the fittest that survive, we are told. And, in a moral universe, it is the righteous, surely, who are fit to survive. You stand upon some elevated spot, where you can see, far down the valley, a railway train approaching. The pennant of smoke is lifted by the wind as the train draws nearer and nearer, bending round the curves, speeding swiftly along the straight alignments, its first faint murmur deepening into an audible roar, until it rushes past you swift, majestic, resistless, the very incarnation of motion and of might. Quickly, almost before your nerves have ceased to thrill with the onset of its power, it is out of sight behind an embankment, and out of hearing beyond a hill; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, it is gone. Would it be easy for you now to believe that that wonderful power has vanished out of being; that when it passed beyond your sight it suddenly ceased to be; that all which you saw and felt but for a moment ago is now nothing but a memory? No; that would not be possible. You are sure that the glory of going on still belongs to that wonderful mechanism, though it is now beyond your sight. And it seems to me that the reasons for believing in the persistence of a great moral force after it has disappeared from these scenes of earth are far stronger. Of such a power we say, more confidently than of any physical energy, "It cannot be blotted out; it must continue to be."
4. It was to strengthen this conviction, to demonstrate its truth and its reason, to give the world, in a great object lesson, the proof that virtue does not die, that our Lord came back to earth. It was not only to show His own Divinity; it was also to show that virtue and holiness are immortal. And as it was not possible that He should be holden of death, so neither is it possible that any of those who have His life in them should be detained in that prison-house. This is no arbitrary decree by which a future life is assured to the disciples of Christ; it is the law of the universe. Over such characters as His death has no power; and they who by faith in Him are brought into harmony with Him in this life can never be the prey of the spoiler. "He that believeth in Me," said the Master, "hath everlasting life." He who is one with Christ, who has the spirit of Christ, hath eternal life. What, to him, are all the vicissitudes and perils of our mortal state, all the sullen and ominous noises of the flood of years whose tides steadily gather round the narrow neck of land whereon he calmly waits? There is a hope within him that many waters cannot quench. His life is hid with Christ in God.
(W. Gladden, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: