Why of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
The fact of Christ's resurrection was the staple of the first Christian sermon. The apostles did not deal so much in doctrine; but they proclaimed what they had seen. There are three main connections in which the fact is viewed in Scripture. It was —
1. A fact affecting Him, carrying with it necessarily some great truths with regard to His character, nature, and work. And it was in that aspect mainly that the earliest preachers dealt with it.
2. Then, as the Spirit led them to understand more and more of it, it came to be a pattern, pledge, and prophecy of their own.
3. And then it came to be a symbol of spiritual resurrection. The text branches out into three considerations.
I. THE WITNESSES. Here we have the "head of the Apostolic College," on whose supposed primacy — which is certainly not a "rock" — such tremendous claims have been built, laying down the qualifications and the functions of an apostle. How simply they present themselves to His mind. The qualifications are only personal knowledge of Jesus Christ in His earthly history, because the function is only to attest His resurrection. The same conception lies in Christ's last designation, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me." It appears again and again in the earlier address reported in this book. "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses," etc., etc. How striking the contrast this idea presents to the portentous theories of later times. The work of the apostles in Christ's lifetime embraced three elements, none of which were peculiar to them — to be with Christ, to preach, and to work miracles; their characteristic work after His ascension was this of witness-bearing. The Church did not owe to them its extension, nor Christian doctrine its form, and whilst Peter and James and John appear in the history, and Matthew wrote a Gospel, and the other James and Jude are the authors of brief Epistles, the rest of the twelve never appear afterwards. This book is not the Acts of the Apostles. It tells the work of Peter alone among the twelve. The Hellenists Stephen and Philip, the Cypriote Barnabas — and the man of Tarsus, greater than they all — these spread the name of Christ beyond the limits of the Holy City and the chosen people. The solemn power of "binding and loosing" was not a prerogative of the twelve, for we read that Jesus came where "the disciples were assembled," and "He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose soever sins ye remit they are remitted." Where in all this is a trace of the special apostolic powers which have been alleged to be transmitted from them? Nowhere. Who was it that came and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord hath sent me that thou mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost"? A simple "layman." Who was it that stood by, a passive and astonished spectator of the communication of spiritual gifts to Gentile converts, and could only say, "Forasmuch, then, as God gave them the like gift, as He did unto us, what was I that I could withstand God?" Peter, the leader of the twelve. Their task was apparently a humbler, really a far more important, one. They had to lay broad and deep the basis for all the growth and grace of the Church in the facts which they witnessed. To that work there can be no successors.
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE TESTIMONY. Peter regards (as does the whole New Testament) the witness which he and his fellows bore as enough to lay firm and deep the historical fact of the resurrection.
1. If we think of Christianity as being mainly a set of truths, then, of course, the way to prove Christianity is to show the consistency of its truths with one another and with other truths, their derivation from admitted principles, their reasonableness, their adaptation to men's nature, and the refining and elevating effects of their adoption, and so on. If we think of Christianity, on the other hand, as being first a set of historical facts which carry the doctrines, then the way to prove Christianity is not to show how reasonable it is, etc. These are legitimate ways of establishing principles; but the way to establish a fact is only one — that is, to find somebody that can say, "I know it, for I saw it." And my belief is that the course of modern "apologetics" has departed from its real stronghold when it has consented to argue the question on these lower and less sufficing grounds. The gospel is first and foremost a history, and you cannot prove that a thing has happened by showing how very desirable it is that it should happen, etc. — all that is irrelevant. It is true because sufficient eye-witnesses assert it.
2. With regard to the sufficiency of the specific evidence —
(1) Suppose you yield up everything that modern scepticism can demand about the date and authorship of the New Testament, we have still left four letters of Paul's which nobody has ever denied, viz., the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, whose dates bring them within five-and-twenty years of the alleged date of Christ's resurrection, Now we find in all of them the distinct allegation of this fact, and side by side with it the reference to his own vision of the risen Saviour, which carries us up within ten years of the alleged fact. It was not a handful of women who fancied they had seen Him once, very early in dim twilight of morning, but it was half a thousand of them that had beheld Him. He had been seen by them, not once, but often; not far off, but close at hand; not in one place, but in Galilee and Jerusalem; at all hours of the day, abroad and in the house, walking and sitting, speaking and eating, by them singly and in numbers. He had been seen too by incredulous eyes and surprised hearts, who doubted ere they worshipped; and the world may be thankful that they were slow of heart to believe.
(2) Would not this testimony be enough to guarantee any event but this? And if so, why is not it enough to guarantee this, too? If the resurrection be not a fact, then the belief in it was —
(a) A delusion. But it was not; for such an illusion is altogether unexampled. Nations have said, "Our king is not dead — he is gone away and he will come back." Loving disciples have said, "Our Teacher lives in solitude, and will return to us." But this is no parallel to these. This is not a fond imagination giving an apparent substance to its own creation, but sense recognising the fact. And to suppose that that should have been the rooted conviction of hundreds of men that were not idiots finds no parallel in the history and no analogy in legend.
(b) A myth; but a myth does not grow in ten years. And there was no motive to frame if Christ was dead and all was over.
(c) A deceit; but the character of the men, and the absence of self-interest, and the persecutions which they endured, made that inconceivable.
(3) And all this we are asked to put aside at the outrageous assertion which no man that believes in a God can logically maintain, viz., that —
(a) No testimony can reach to the miraculous. But cannot testimony reach to this: I know, because I saw, that a man was dead, and I saw him alive again? If testimony can do that, I think we may safely leave the verbal sophism that it cannot reach to the miraculous to take care of itself.
(b) Miracle is impossible. But that is an illogical begging of the whole question, and cannot avail to brush aside testimony. You cannot smother facts by theories in that fashion. One would like to know how it comes that our modern men of science who protest so much against science being corrupted by metaphysics should commit themselves to an assertion like that? Surely that is stark, staring metaphysics. Let them keep to their own line, and tell us all that crucibles and scalpels can reveal, and we will listen as becomes us. But when they contradict their own principles in order to deny the possibility of miracles, we need only give them back their own words, and ask that the investigation of facts shall not be hampered and clogged with metaphysical prejudices.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FACT WHICH IS THUS BORNE WITNESS TO.
1. With the Resurrection stands or falls the Divinity of Christ. Christ said, "The Son of man must suffer many things, and the third day He shall rise again." Now, if Death holds Him still, then what becomes of these words, and of our estimate of the Character of Him, the speaker? Let us hear no more about the pure morality of Jesus Christ. Take away the Resurrection and we have left beautiful precepts, and fair wisdom deformed with a monstrous self-assertion, and the constant reiteration of claims which the event proves to have been baseless. Either He has risen from the dead or His words were blasphemy. "Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead," or that which our lips refuse to say even in a hypothesis!
2. With the Resurrection stands or falls Christ's whole work for our redemption. If He died, like other men, we have no proof that the Cross was anything but a martyr's. His resurrection is the proof that His death was not the tribute which for Himself He had to pay, but the ransom for us. If He has not risen, He has not put away sin; and if He has not put it away by the sacrifice of Himself, none has, and it remains. We come back to the old dreary alternative: if Christ be not risen your faith is vain, and our preaching is vain, etc. And if He be not risen, there is no resurrection for us; and the world is desolate, and the heaven is empty, and the grave is dark, and sin abides, and death is eternal. Well, then, may we take up the ancient glad salutation, "The Lord is risen"; and turning from these thoughts of the disaster and despair that that awful supposition drags after it, fall back upon the sober certainty, and with the apostle break forth in triumph, "Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept."
(A. Maclaren, D. D)
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,