Remember Jesus Christ

By Charles R Erdman

Chapter 12 - The Day He Arose


A modern artist, Eugene Burnand, has given us an interesting picture of “The disciples, Peter and John, running to the sepulchre on the resurrection morning.” In their faces he has portrayed the contending emotions of anguish and relief, of sorrow and surprise, of despair and of wonder. Soon after daybreak, Mary Magdalene brought the disciples word that she and her friends had visited the tomb and found it empty. In Mr. Bur- nand's painting Peter and John are hastening toward the garden to learn what her message may mean. Their fixed eager gaze and their bending forms turn our thoughts toward the tomb, and instinctively we ask ourselves, What did they find, and what were the experiences of these men, and of their fellow disciples, that day on which the Lord rose from the dead?

The answer is familiar, but it may be well for us to review the main features of the story, because the experiences of those disciples may be ours, and the glad message of that day some of us may need.

First of all, when the disciples reached the tomb, the guards had gone. These soldiers had been sent by Pilate to watch the sepulchre, at the request of the Jewish rulers, who feared that the disciples might steal the body of Jesus and pretend that He had risen from the dead. While these guards were watching, suddenly they were terrified by an earthquake and by the sight of an angel descending and rolling away the stone and revealing an empty tomb. They had rushed to the city to report this marvel to the rulers, who bribed them to say: “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.”

For us, too, the guards are gone. There is nothing to keep us from the empty tomb and its infallible witness to the resurrection of Christ. To be sure, there are faint echoes of the falsehood circulated by the soldiers; some men really believe that terrified disciples who had fled for their lives, boldly returned and dragged the body of Jesus from the tomb which had been sealed with a stone and guarded by armed soldiers.

Some profess to believe that Jesus did not die but that He merely swooned upon the cross; and that creeping from the tomb, He made His disciples believe that He had risen from the dead. Some maintain that His followers forged a lie for which they were willing to lay down their lives, others believe that these stolid and phlegmatic fishermen, who did not expect Christ to rise, were victims of hallucinations and dreams of resurrection. All these explanations of the empty tomb are like that of the guards. Theirs was not original, they were bribed to report it. Theirs was absurd, for if they were “asleep” how did they know who came to the tomb, and what was done? Theirs was self-incriminating, for if they were asleep on duty they surely needed the promised protection of the rulers who dreaded to know the truth. Such are all other explanations of the empty tomb; there is only one we can accept: the tomb is empty because the Lord arose. For us, the guards are gone.

The angels, too, are gone. One had been seen by the soldiers, and two by Mary and her companions, but none by Peter and John. The message of the angels to all the disciples is: “He is risen from the dead; and behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him.” The nature and service of angels is full of mystery. They were mentioned more than once in the life of Christ. We are assured that they are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” We need not expect to see them, even on an Easter morning; but God does send other messengers who bring to us glad tidings of resurrection and of life. Some believers hear them in the burst of dawn, some in the fragrance of the flowers, some in a phrase from the Gospels, some in the fragment of a hymn. By tender hearts voices of hope and cheer are heard even in the shadow of the tomb.

The angels are gone, but in the empty sepulchre there is evidence enough to convince John that his Lord is risen indeed. There are the linen clothes lying, “and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” This was a silent scene, not of violence or haste, but of mysterious and majestic withdrawal. These were but trifles, yet they were witnesses enough to satisfy the Beloved Disciple; “he saw, and believed.” A heart, full of love for Christ, requires but little proof to find in Him a living Lord.

It is interesting to note, however, that the evidence which brought rapturous belief to John left Peter in hopeless gloom. Both loved their Lord, but in the empty tomb Peter possibly was still mindful of his disloyalty and disgrace, while John was conscious only of a friendship on which no such shadow rested. This “apostle whom Jesus loved,” was the first person to believe in the resurrection of Christ; and he it was who afterwards recorded that beatitude which fell from the lips of his living Lord, a beatitude which he was the first to know and in which we all can share, “Blessed are they that have not seen, yet have believed.”

The first person to see the risen Lord was Mary of Magdala, Mary the mourner; and surely the mourner is the one who most needs the message of an Easter morning. She stood weeping by the grave of buried hopes, distressed because she could not find the body of her Lord. Suddenly, as she turned, she was amazed to see standing before her the living glorious form of the risen Christ. As she falls at His feet she hears the words which still are bringing comfort to bereft and broken hearts: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God.”

The risen Savior bids us look, not downward toward the grave, but upward into the glory. Then instead of the “never more” of unbelief, comes the “not yet” of faith. Are we puzzled by the dark providences of God? Then let us think of Him as the “Father” who deals with us in perfect love. Let us believe that our Lord has ascended and is now a spiritual abiding Presence, a divine Comforter, an unseen, unfailing Friend.

The man who most needed a meeting with the risen Christ was Simon Peter, who had deserted and denied his Lord. How desperate that need was, and how graciously it was to be met are intimated in the words of the angel by whom the resurrection was first announced: “Tell his disciples and Peter ” Where our Lord found His unfaithful follower, whose heart was crushed by remorse, or what words of self-reproach were spoken, what words of forgiveness were heard, we can only conjecture* but of this we are absolutely certain: it is possible for everyone who feels the shame and disgrace of disloyalty to Christ to meet with Him alone today and to receive from Him assurance of pardon and peace.

Now, as the sun is declining, two disciples are seen walking in sadness, through the deepening twilight, toward the village of Emmaus, their home. They have heard reports of an empty tomb but not of a resurrection. Suddenly Jesus joins them and walks with them; “but their eyes were holden”; they did not recognize Him, even while He talked with them and explained the Scriptures which foretold the sufferings of the Messiah, and the glory which should follow. When they reached their destination, however, and they had sat down to break bread, “their eyes were opened and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.”

Is not our experience somewhat the same? Do we not fail to recognize the divine Companion who is with us always, ready to cheer and instruct us, to open to us the Scriptures, and to reveal Himself to us in the “breaking of bread”? Yet there is this difference: when our journey of life is ended and we reach our Home, “we shall see him as he is,” and the vision will not vanish in darkness but will brighten into the abiding glory of an eternal day.

The last scene of all is at night, in the Upper Room, in Jerusalem. It was probably the place where Christ had been accustomed to meet with His disciples. There, with darkness and danger about them, the disciples were listening to some of their number who brought the incredible news that the Lord had been seen alive, risen from the dead. Suddenly, “Jesus himself stood in the midst of them.” They “were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit”; but He said, “Peace be unto you,” and He showed them His hands and His side with the scars of Calvary. He reminded them of the Scriptures which predicted that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. He gave them their commission to give His message in all the world, saying, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you,” and He assured them of the abiding presence and power of the Spirit. “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.”

Such, repeatedly, have been the experiences of His followers through all the passing years. As they have gathered in His name, and together have rehearsed the resurrection story. He has become to them a living Presence, He has spoken peace to their troubled hearts, He has sent them out to testify for Him, filled with His Spirit and rejoicing in His love. Thus at Eastertide they sing to His praise:

Neither might the gates of death,

     Nor the tomb's dark portal,

Nor the watchers, nor the seal

     Hold thee as a mortal;

But today amidst the Twelve

     Thou didst stand, bestowing

Them thy peace, which evermore

     Passeth human knowing.