SERMONS ON THE RESURRECTION
by B.H. Carroll
“To whom also he showed himself alive after his death by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” – Acts 1:3.
You will recall in the preceding sermon that I thought it important to show from the word of God that our Lord Jesus Christ when he was alive, at six different times — three times with his enemies and three times with his friends — especially fixed the test of his Messiahship, and that that test was that he would rise from the dead.
Three other things occurred in his lifetime bearing upon the same subject, all of them of tremendous signification. The first is the institution of the ordinance of baptism, which has no signification apart from the resurrection of the dead, it being a picture of a burial and an emergence from the grave. That this institution was appointed before he died, that it was appointed for perpetual obligation, showed the clearest apprehension in his mind of the nature of the test and the worth of this monumental evidence.
The second is the institution of the Lord’s Supper, whose only hope is in the resurrection of the dead. In the very act of commemorating his death he assures them that he will drink this wine anew with them in his Father’s kingdom, and that while this ordinance is to be a perpetual obligation and points significantly backward, it also points still more significantly to the future, in that it was to be observed until he came again. For 1,900 years these two monuments have stood in the eyes of the world. The third thing was that when they were saddened over the clear announcement of his departure from them by death, he gave them an assurance based upon his resurrection that he would not leave them always; that when he rose from the dead and reached his Father’s house, he would send the Holy Spirit, whose coming would confer upon them power to do all he had commanded them to do.
Thus the institution of baptism and the supper as perpetual ordinances and the promise of the Holy Spirit all conditioned on his resurrection, take their place with the test six times preannounced. That a mere man, and particularly that an impostor, would make such conditions of faith in himself is inconceivable.
Our former sermon closed at the grave of Jesus, and at the empty grave of Jesus. We stopped at the disappearance of the dead body that had been put in the grave, and with the question pending, What became of that body? I have never heard of but two theories concerning the disposition of the dead body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both of the theories are possible . Both of them make allegations legitimately belonging to the domain of testimony; that is, they are matters upon which testimony may be received and susceptible of sufficient proof.
The first theory is set forth in the following language: “Some of the guard came into the city and told unto the chief priests all of the things that were come to pass”; that is, they told the chief priests that an earthquake came, and that there was dazzling appearance of an angel from heaven, and that they fell down like dead men, and that when they arose from that prostration by the power of the heavenly messenger the grave was empty. Those were the facts they recited to the chief priests. Then the record adds: “And when the chief priests were assembled with the elders and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the guards, saying, Tell ye that his disciples came by night and stole him away while ye slept, and if this come to the governor’s ears we will persuade him and rid you of all care. So they took the money and did as they were taught, and this saying was spread abroad among the Jews and continueth until this day.” This first theory, therefore, was that the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was stolen by night by his disciples and stolen for the purpose of making a claim that he was raised.
This was a possible solution of the question, and it was an allegation that could be sustained by adequate testimony. We know that there have been such things as robbers of graves. We know of many historical instances where dead bodies have been taken from the grave for some purpose; medical students, for example, who carry them to the dissecting table, or robbers, whose object is to obtain a large ransom from the afflicted relatives. So then, if the evidence is sufficient there is nothing in the theory itself to make it objectionable. The witnesses are sufficient in number. That guard constituted enough witnesses to prove any fact, so far as numbers go. The only thing is that what they testify must be subjected to the rules of evidence such as are commonly recognized among men. Let us look, then, at their statement.
They first gave a different account. In the second place, they accepted a bribe of a large sum of money to put this theory in circulation. In the third place, what they finally allege was absolutely impossible, so far as their knowledge could go, to wit, that the disciples stole that body while they were asleep. If they were asleep they could not testify as to any disposition of the body. They could not prove that anyone removed that body. Moreover, on the face of it, their last story is exceedingly improbable, namely, that when a special guard had been detailed for the express purpose of preventing the very thing which they now allege did take place, and when the very time had been given to them when they must be most particular in their vigils, it is unreasonable to suppose that a guard so appointed would have relaxed their vigilance.
It becomes more improbable from the death penalty assigned to a Roman sentinel who went to sleep upon the post of duty. It is still more improbable from the fact that no adequate motive can be suggested or conceived of why the disciples should want this dead body. It would be of no use to them. So that as far as this theory goes, and it is one of the only two that have ever been advanced, we may at once reject it.
Now, what is the other theory? The other theory is that Jesus himself rose from the dead: the particular point upon which human testimony is to be brought is not to show the processes by which he overcame death and brought back life to himself. No witness is introduced who alleges that he actually saw him rise from the dead. The only thing upon which they are to bear testimony is that they did see him alive after he was dead. Here we are met by a pertinent and important inquiry: Is the thing concerning which evidence is to be introduced a legitimate matter for evidence? I take it for granted that there are no other things upon which human testimony is accepted more readily than upon these two points: First, that a man is dead, and second that a man is alive. We accept evidence upon both of those points and act upon that evidence on innumerable occasions. It is oftentimes necessary to prove death. It is oftentimes necessary to prove life. In either case, it is easy to be understood what amount of testimony is sufficient to prove that death has taken place, or to prove that a man is alive.
The evidence of his death is abundant, official, and has never been denied. Therefore let us look at the evidence that Jesus showed himself alive after his death to his apostles and others. There are extant four independent histories of Jesus of Nazareth, written by contemporaries, and written while multitudes who also knew him personally were yet alive. There are extant also twenty-three other books, written by contemporaries, and written while thousands were yet alive who personally knew Jesus Christ. I refer to the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The most notable event in all of these records is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. To this fact, according to these records, hundreds and thousands of eyewitnesses bear testimony, and who counted it the chief business of their subsequent life to repeat that evidence.
In other words, henceforth their life mission was to be witnesses of the resurrection. Fifteen distinct appearances of our Lord Jesus Christ, at least, are given in the New Testament, perhaps more, including the several appearances to Paul, to Stephen and to John on the Island of Patmos. But there are ten distinct appearances mentioned in these four histories.
These appearances, many of them, are connected with the most minute details of identification of the body. Sometimes he appeared to just one, as to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to James. Sometimes he appeared to two, then again to three, then again to seven, then to ten, then to eleven and finally to five hundred at one time. These appearances covered a period of forty days. Some of them were in the morning, some of them at brightest midday, some of them at night ; some in the house, some out in the road, some in the suburbs and some in the city of Jerusalem ; some by the sea and some on the mountains of Galilee. Speaking collectively of these witnesses, they saw him often . They ate with him just as they had done before his death. They heard him often in both brief and long-sustained conversation. They witnessed closely every familiar mannerism of speech and tone and gesture. They handled him critically, touching the prints of the well-known wounds received at his crucifixion, and feeling of his flesh and of his bones, to assure themselves that a material substance was before them.
And this, too, by those who knew him most intimately in his lifetime, those who could least easily be mistaken as to the identity of his person, including his own skepticism as to his resurrection, well nigh incorrigible, and their tremendous interests at stake, required upon their part the most patient and exhaustive examination, and demanded abundant and infallible proof, not only to the bodily senses of sight, of hearing and touch, and to the keener mental tests of memory, intuition and reason, but to that more subtle and more satisfactory proof, spiritual recognition. They must not only know positively, unmistakably and absolutely that this was the very body which had died and was buried and was now alive, but also that it was reanimated by the same spirit which warmed it before death, so that in every respect, and beyond all possibility of doubt, this was the same person, the same Jesus who had been their teacher, and also that he possessed and made over to them power to do things that would make that resurrection a declaration that he was the Son of God with power.
In all the cases of the establishment of identity known to history there has never been one where the proof has been so abundant, so critical and so comprehensive, covering all departments of investigation, nor where the testimony was so unequivocal and so consistent. If these witnesses could not establish the proof that Jesus was alive, then no evidence could possibly prove any man to be alive.
So that you have before you the two theories and the evidence upon which those two theories rest; the first that the disciples stole the dead body, and next, that Jesus showed himself alive to his people after his death, not only by proofs, but many proofs, not only by many proofs, but by many infallible proofs.
I submit the following fundamental rules which govern matters of evidence: First, “In trials of fact by oral testimony the proper inquiry is, not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is sufficient probability that it is true.” Second, “A proposition of fact is proved when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence.” Third, “In the absence of circumstances which generate suspicion, every witness is to be presumed credible until the contrary is shown, the burden of impeaching his credibility lying on the objector.” Fourth, “The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability ; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.”
Now if we apply these four rules of evidence to what is said concerning the stealing of his body, that statement goes to the wall. If we apply them to the evidence that Jesus showed himself alive after death to his people, no sane man can question that the requirements of every one of them is met in every particular. The honesty of these witnesses cannot be impeached . Their ability of competency depends upon their being acquainted previously with the person of Jesus Christ, their having good sense enough to recognize one whom they had previously known, and their opportunities for seeing the one who is identified by their testimony.
There can be no question of the competency of these witnesses. There is nothing in their testimony that bears on its face suspicion. What, let me ask you, can create a suspicion against this evidence? It is consistent. What one says is consistent with what another says . Now let us look at these people who gave this evidence, and see if in all the collateral circumstances what they say is affirmed. For these men to state that Jesus was alive meant that they must take upon themselves the lifetime obligation of the publication of the fact of his resurrection; that to do this they must go counter to the world, its pleasures, its habits, its business; that they must entail upon themselves the most grievous burdens in life and the greatest hazards of death. They joyfully assume all these responsibilities. When they speak of Jesus as risen they impress every man that hears it with their sincerity. They testify it before kings, and the kings tremble as they listen. They testify it when chained to the martyr’s stake, and while the flames are burning their bodies, and with shouts and hosannas of triumph they declare in their own dying agonies that Jesus is risen. No amount of intimidation was ever able to shake their testimony. It was tried by imprisonment, tried by stripes, tried by poverty, tried by fire, tried by casting them to the ravenous, wild beasts in the Roman Amphitheater, and in every way possible to human effort; many experiments of the most excruciating kind were resorted to to shake the testimony of these men and these women.
I submit that if any man with an unbiased mind will read the Acts of the Apostles and see how that narrative glows, he will feel the power of these men giving this evidence. But we come now to another question in connection with it. Our Lord had told them in the last interview had with them there should come a confirmation that neither earth, heaven nor hell could doubt. He said, “I go to my Father, and if I go I will send upon you the Holy Spirit.” The history recites that ten days from that time a most remarkable transaction occurred openly in the city of Jerusalem. There were certain things visible in connection with it. Tongues as of fire seemed to rest upon their heads. There was the further remarkable phenomenon that these fishers of Galilee were able, under his power be stowed upon them, to speak in the languages of all of the nations of the earth, as if they had been born and reared in those tongues. It was evident that a power characterized them utterly foreign to their previous experience, and when they were called upon to explain, what was their explanation? Let me read it to you.
“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:
“Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death ; because it was not possible that he should be holden of it, and he hath shed forth this which ye see and hear.”
They gave no other account of their power. They could heal the sick. They could raise the dead. They could perform other wonders impossible to men not spirit endued. They distinctly disclaimed that the power rested in themselves, and affirmed that it came to them from the risen and ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
The next question to be determined is, what significance did they attach to this doctrine of the resurrection? How important was it in their sight? How much in their judgment was involved in that issue? I read first from the seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Paul is standing on Mars Hill, and he says: “The times of this ignorance God overlooked, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent, because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteous ness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
Is there to be a judgment, and must all men stand before that divine bar and answer for the deeds which are done in the body? The only proof that there will be a judgment is the resurrection of the dead. Is there a heaven? There is but one proof of it, that Jesus when alive said to his people, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also. In my Father’s house are many man sions.” Or let us read from the fifteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, where this doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is specifically discussed. I commence at the twelfth verse:
“Now, if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
“But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and is also your faith vain.
“Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ; whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
“For, if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
“And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
“Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
When ever before in issues made by men has there been such a readiness to stake everything upon one single fact; such an openness to concede that preaching is vain; faith is vain; forgiveness of sin is a falsehood; your fathers and mothers who died, perished; there is no judgment; there is no heaven; there is no hell; there is no hope; if there is no resurrection of the dead?
It is a matter of unspeakable sadness to me, particularly in the case of young people, to hear them speak lightly of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. And there are some who imagine that they can be skeptical upon this point and remain Christians. Is there anything left of Christianity with this surrendered? If its preaching be vain, if its faith be vain, if there be no such thing as the forgiveness of sin, if there be no such thing as the judgment, if there be no such place as hell, if all who have professed it are now utterly annihilated in their graves, what infinitesimal shred of Christianity is left?
When you say that you are only skeptical concerning the resurrection of the dead, you mean or ought to mean, that you are skeptical about the whole matter, in its height and width and length and breadth, in its center, in its solidarity and in its circumstances. You do not believe any of it. There is nothing to profess if you deny this doctrine. So far the discussion has been restricted to the resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ and necessarily has shown the relation between his resurrection and the inspiration of the Scriptures.
The two subjects cannot be considered apart. They stand or fall together. In our next sermon will be considered the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as it applies to us, and the reasons given so far as Scripture light shines upon the subject, why this particular test of all others in the world was made the proof of Christianity, and a reply submitted to objections to the doctrine based upon exegesis or upon science.