|Vol. 13 No. 8 August 2011||
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
For over 60 years, I have been reading the story of Moses and the burning bush, as recorded in Exodus 3, but when I read it a few moments ago, I got a lesson from it that had never occurred to me before. Of course, this is the way God’s Word is. We could read it daily for a hundred years, and though we might assume that we have exhausted its meaning, it is ever fresh and new.
We have seen preachers or others who seemed to be “on fire for the Lord” at some time in their lives, but after a while they seemed to burn out. We may remember Jeremiah who said, “And if I say, I will not make mention of him, not speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I cannot contain” (Jeremiah 20:9). What was once a burning fire in some preachers has become little more than warm ashes now. We hear frequently in many areas of life talk of “burnout,” but it is especially troublesome to hear of preachers who get “burned up” at something and quit preaching the Gospel.
What was it that made the bush not burn up or burn out? It was no doubt a miracle, but it was nevertheless the power of God. It was the miraculous power of God that was behind the first preaching of the Gospel when cloven tongues like fire came and sat upon the apostles and they began to speak with other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2). Without such a miracle, it is still true that the Gospel is the power of God to save, and if one gets his power and utterance from the Holy Spirit, and is strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16), the chances of him burning out would be almost nonexistent.
However, if his power comes from a consciousness of his own great wisdom, insight, oratorical ability or other such factors, it may well be that he will burn out as a Gospel preacher, and possibly even burn up eventually. When the weak and limited man comes to the strong and limitless God, he can be on fire and still not be consumed.
One of the cardinal doctrines of the New Testament is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are 38 references to the resurrection of Jesus in the books of the New Testament. The resurrection of our Lord is mentioned at least 13 times in the Book of Acts alone; so it was the center of the preaching of the apostles and other inspired men. If a person believes in the resurrection of our Lord, then all the other miracles listed in the Bible can be easily accepted as being true. Should a person deny the resurrection of Jesus, then the other miracles would also be denied.
In the epistle to the “church of God which is at Corinth,” the apostle Paul wrote in detail concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The general resurrection at His second advent is predicated upon the fact that our Lord Himself was resurrected from the dead. To deny one is to deny both. In the time of Paul, the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the body. They felt like the spirit relieved of the body was actually a blessing and the human body would never be resurrected. Even among the Jews, there was a sect called the Sadducees that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23). In the great resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle dealt at length with this important subject.
Here are some fateful conclusions that must be accepted if Christ was not raised from the dead.
1. “Our preaching is vain” (V.14). The central theme of the apostolic message was the resurrection of Jesus, that is, “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he arose again the third day according to the scriptures.” The first Gospel sermon that was preached by the 12 apostles dealt with the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:24, 30-31).
2. “Your faith is in vain” (14, 17). Our faith in the deity of Christ rests largely upon His resurrection. If He had not risen, His words were false because He Himself predicted His resurrection. “Jesus answered and said unto them, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remember that he spake this; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (John 2:19-22; see also Luke 9:22 and Matthew 12:40). If Jesus was not raised from the dead, He would have proven to be inferior to death and the grave. The redemptive work of God was accomplished through the resurrection of Jesus. It gave spiritual power to those who believed to live a life of holiness and to posses the belief in eternal life. Please observe that the term “vain” in verse 14 and in verse 17 is different. “Vain” in verse 14 means “void,” and in verse 17 it means “devoid of force and truth.”
3. “We are found false witnesses of Christ” (V. 15). The apostles were told by Jesus that they were to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). If Christ was not raised, the apostles were false witnesses in stating that they had seen Him after His resurrection. Either one of the following two things would have to be true. The apostles deceived themselves, or they were some of the world’s greatest liars and imposters. To bear false witness against men is bad, but to bear false witness concerning Christ is even worse.
4. “Ye are yet in your sins” (V.17). A dead redeemer who has not been raised is no redeemer at all! It is true that Jesus died for our sins but Paul wrote in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Also, Jesus “was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The resurrection of Jesus lies at the foundation of faith and forgiveness of sins, and without it, a confession of faith in Jesus Christ is meaningless.
5. “They also that have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (V.18). Their loved ones who had obeyed Christ and lived for Him who had died were lost if Christ was not raised. It is not that they were annihilated, but rather they were before God the Father without an Advocate and a Mediator. There was no one to help them. They were in God’s presence with their sins still upon them if Christ be not raised. If Christ was not raised from the dead, then the term “asleep in Jesus” is nothing but a mocking rhetoric, a worthless expression denoting no comfort whatsoever. Yet, Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that they have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28, 29; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
6. “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable”(V.19). Believers in Christ are worse off than unbelievers if Christ be not raised. Degrees of pitiableness are regulated by hope. Christians are most pitiable because of their willingness to suffer, to be mocked and to die because of their hope in Christ if He be not raised from the dead. The apostle Paul compared all His sufferings as “light afflictions” in comparison to that “eternal weight of glory” awaiting him in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). However, such sufferings would be in vain if Christ be not raised. However the Christian has this precious promise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
The apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as being an established fact in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22. During the 40 days between the resurrection of Christ and His Ascension back to heaven, He appeared 10 times to different ones beginning with His appearance to the women (“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,”Matthew 18:1). In 1 Corinthians 15:5-9, Paul mentioned several of His appearances: “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” The evidence, therefore, is overwhelming that Jesus Christ did in fact arise from the grave.
The lives of His apostles were changed after His resurrection. Christianity began to spread with great rapidity throughout the Roman World. Even after nearly 2,000 years, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is having a tremendous impact on the lives of countless men and women who believe in Him as being the divine Son of God. Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome wrote the following: “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness”(Romans 6:17-18). A “form” is a likeness, and the “form” of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is found in Romans 6:1-4 when Paul wrote that the Christians had died to sin and were buried with their Lord in baptism and were raised to “walk in newness of life.”
The empty tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea (in which Jesus Christ was laid to rest after His crucifixion) is proof beyond any reasonable doubt that we serve a risen Savior.