By John Henry Jowett
"He is risen" -- Matthew 28:6.
And what a sunrise this was after these dark days of disaster and hopeless defeat! It was "like some sweet summer morning after a night of pain." Love had been weeping amid the fallen leaves of her own tender hopes. All her joys were silenced like the songs of wounded birds. Love had been peacefully anticipating the coming of an endless summer, and lo! Here was winter, in dark and merciless severity! The great Lover had seemed to be the very fountain of life, with quickening vitality which nothing could destroy, and yet the fountain had been choked up in Gethsemane and Calvary! "We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel," but the shining, welcoming pool proved to be only a mirage; hope withered in disillusionment; and the brutal majesty of material force held the entire field.
And so all the disciples were in a mood of deepest and darkest depression. The light had been cut off from their minds. They were in the dark. The taste had gone out of their lives. Everything had become stale and profitless. Simon Peter was gloomy with despondency and haggard with remorse. Two disciples were walking in the twilight to Emmaus, "looking sad," communing about the awful and sudden eclipse in which their hopes had been so miserably quenched.
In every life the light was out. Mary Magdalene started at the "early dawn" to carry spices to the grave, but there was no dawning in her spirit, and the roadway was wet with her tears. Even in the heart of the Magdalene there was no vigil burning, like uncertain candle in a dark and gusty night. No one was anxiously watching on the third day, with eyes intently fixed upon a mysterious east. No; death reigned, and wickedness, and hopelessness, and no one was looking for the morning!
And then came the cry, "He is risen!" The Lord is alive. His tomb is empty! He has shaken off death and its cerements, and He has marched out of the grave! Think of that trumpet note pealing through the late night. Think of that great burning light streaming through the darkness, kindling life after life into blazing hope again -- now the Magdalene, now Peter, now John, now the two journeying to Emmaus, now Thomas, until the entire disciple band was a circle of light again. It was an almost unspeakable revolution. "The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light!" "The Lord is risen indeed!"
Now what did the apostles find in the resurrection which made them give it this weighty and unfailing emphasis? What was its practical significance? What did it mean? First of all, it meant this, that Jesus of Nazareth had been clearly manifested to be the Son of God. Before this wonderful morning the disciples had been the victims of uncertainty, chilled by cloudy moods of doubt and fear.
But with the resurrection the uncertainty ends. It is not only that the immediate darkness passes, but the troublesome mists are lifted as well, and the Master emerges as the clearly manifested Son of God. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee!"
Now, it is with that trumpet note that St. Paul begins his great letter to the Romans. It is well to remember this, because the letter to the Romans is largely concerned with sin and the guilt of sin, and with the sacred ministry of emancipation from its stain and power. And yet, on the very threshold of this mighty book, it is the eternal Sonship of the Lord which is proclaimed, and this in association with the fact of His resurrection from the dead.
Here is the big-lettered placard we meet as soon as we address ourselves to travel this fine and bracing mountain road: "Jesus Christ . . . declared with power to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from the dead." Not, you will notice, "declared to be the Son of God with power"; the power belongs to the declaration, the proclamation, the trumpet.
Before the Easter morn the trumpet had seemed to the apostles to give an uncertain sound; there was either a trembling in its notes or a trembling in their ears; but now, with the resurrection, all uncertainty had gone, and the trumpet rang out its glorious blast, firm and rich and clear. "Declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead!"
What else did it mean? In the power of the resurrection the apostles saw a vast reservoir of spiritual energy for the quickening and emancipation of the race. This was their reasoning and their faith, that the Lord, who had emerged from the grave, and had thereby vanquished death, had the power to vanquish all death, whether it enthroned itself in body, mind, or soul. This was their faith, as this was their evangel, that in Christ we, too, can rise out of death into newness of life, that, just as He walked out of that tomb, we, too, can walk out of the grave and graveyard of our own corrupt past, and in vigour and sweetness of being become alive unto God.
"I hold it true with him who sings
To one clear harp in diverse tones,
That men may rise on steppingstones
Of their dead selves to higher things!"
Ay, but those lines omit the evangel. It is true that man can take his own dead self, and stand upon it, and use it as a step into a larger life of blessedness and sacrifice, but the energy wherewith to rise upon the dead self is only to be found in "the power of the resurrection."
That is Paul's gospel, and there is no other. We rise with Christ, we are risen with Christ. Because of the Lord's Easter morn we may pass out of our three days of death and corruption, and may rise to the "higher things," and have our own Eastertide "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." That is what the apostles found in the resurrection -- vitality enough to quicken all the dead, whether the corruption be in body or in soul. "In Christ shall all be made alive."
And surely we have a wonderful symbolism of all this in the mystic movements of the springtime. If anyone would be besieged by suggestions of the resurrection, let him look about in garden and in field, and he will see the quickening glory. Spring is ever a gracious time to me. Never do I so intensely feel the pressure of the quickening Spirit as when I see the black hedgerows bursting with their flooding life into green and tender leaf. Never do I so realize the surging, encompassing energy of God's resurrection communion when the dominion of winter is breaking and the time of the singing of birds is come. "In Christ shall all be made alive!"
I would have the resurrection power flow into my dead affections, and make them bud in tender sympathies, and gentle courtesies, and all the exquisite graces of the heart of my Lord. And I would have the resurrection power pervade my dead conscience, and make it act with hallowed sensitiveness, with fine scrupulous feeling of the sacred and the profane. And I would have the resurrection power possess my mind, and make it fertile in noble ideals, in holy purpose, and in chivalrous resolution.
Wherever there is death where there ought to be life, let there come an Easter dawning and the springtide of our God. And that possibility is just the apostolic evangel, and it is born in the light and joy of the resurrection of our Lord. Again and again I would say, "In Christ shall all be made alive!" "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." "Because He lives, we shall live also!"
And, last, to the early apostles the resurrection had this further significance, that in it right was manifested as the ultimate might. It had seemed to the apostles as though the truth had been defeated, that it had been overwhelmed by hordes of wickedness, and that amid the laughter and ribaldry of its foes it had sunk in complete and final disaster.
But on the Easter morn the truth emerged again. It snapped the cerements of the grave, and reappeared almost before the laughter of the enemy had ceased. "Vain the stone, the watch, the seal!" "Truth crushed to earth shall rise again!"
I say that the apostles laid hold of this as one of the primary significances of the resurrection, the vital tenacity of the truth, the indestructibility of the right, its sure and certain resurrection. If we cannot permanently bury the Christ, we cannot permanently bury the Christlike; if One emerged from His temporary grave, so assuredly will the other. Right is the ultimate might, and all the forces of Hell cannot gainsay it.
It may seem at times as though truth is a frail and fragile creature, a tender presence in a tempestuous day, and men may take her, and scourge her, and crucify her, and bury her in a sealed and guarded grave; but, as surely as right is right and God is God, that buried frailty shall reappear in invincible majesty, and shall incontestably dominate and command the affairs of men.
That is apostolic teaching; and, therefore, written in this faith we have that wonderful ending to Paul's great resurrection chapter in his letter to the Corinthians. Have we marked its culmination? "Wherefore," he says, in the closing verse, when he has just taunted the beaten forces of death and the grave, and sang anew the praises of the Lord, "wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." Do we mark the force of the succession? He seems to say, "Your Lord emerged from the grave in irresistible strength and glory. There were no bonds strong enough to hold Him. He broke them all like tender threads. There was no grave mighty enough to imprison the truth; all the stones were rolled away!
So shall it be with the truth in our life and service. It shall not go under in endless defeat. Our strength shall not be spent for nought, precious water easily spilt upon the ground. Every bit of truth shall live, every bit of chivalrous service shall abide for ever." "Wherefore, be ye steadfast, unmoveable."; go on living the truth, speaking and doing the truth, even though immediate circumstances crush you like a juggernaut -- go on -- there is resurrection power in the truth, and it shall reappear and surely conquer, and your labour shall "not be in vain in the Lord."
And so it is true, what we learned in childhood, for the Easter morn confirms it, "Kind words can never die, no, never die!" And so it is true what is said by Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Truth gets well if she is run over by a locomotive, while error dies if she scratches her finger."
"Truth crushed to earth will rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers,
But error wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies amid her worshippers."
"He is risen!" And in our Lord's resurrection is the pledge of the resurrection of all that shares His nature.