An Easter Message by General Paul A. Rader
Death is final. Beyond it, hope is futile–or so we assume it to be. Who has ever gone beyond the limits of life into the domain of death, to return with word of what lies beyond? Jesus did! Of course, there have been others who testify to out-of-body experiences when they wavered somewhere between life and death in a kind of levitating limbo, looking down on their lifeless bodies and grieving loved ones, until suddenly they seem to have been granted a second chance on life.
Jesus died. There can be no question about that, in spite of current attempts to concoct tales of his swooning so convincingly as to persuade his practiced executioners that he was truly dead. The centurion detailed to hasten his death on the cross by breaking his limbs certified his decease. His side was pierced to produce a tell-tale stream of blood and water. The greater miracle would have been the possibility that he might have still survived under such conditions. But it was not so. He died. The executioners knew it. His mother knew it. His beloved friend and disciple John knew it. Joseph of Arimathea, member of the Sanhedrin, the high court of Judaism, knew it, for it was he who laid his lifeless body in his own tomb. And for three days his corpse lay there, sealed under guard, lest friends, thinking him less than dead, should try to revive him or even to steal away his body in order to proclaim him yet alive.
And being plainly dead, what chance could there be that he would live again? “Impossible!” They said it then. And it is said even now. Even after 2,000 years of radiant witness to the reality of his “resurrection, life and power” by millions of Christian believers across the years and around the world, in virtually every nation of earth.
Still, how can reasonable people conceive of the possibility of the dead coming to life again? Unless, of course, Jesus knew what he was saying when he declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Unless he had the Father’s authority to proclaim, “I lay down my life for the sheep…I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:15,18). Could it be true? Was Jesus who he claimed to be? Or was he a clever impostor seeking to dupe the masses into allegiance?
Look closely at the man: his miraculous birth, the precise correlation of ancient prophecy with the unfolding drama of his life. Follow his ministry of compassion and moral courage. Listen closely to his words of grace and truth, of hope and salvation. See him touch the leper, welcome the children and companion women to new self-worth and dignity. Hear the note of authority in his voice as it grips the hearts of his hearers. Watch him tread the waves and still the storm, release the possessed, heal the sick, feed the hungry. Stand with the cynical crowd and see him call his friend Lazarus to life, still bound in grave clothes, stumbling into the sunlight out of the maw of death itself. And then watch this Jesus witness to truth, endure with dignity rejection, humiliation and suffering. Move closer and hear from his lips tortured with suffering as he hangs upon a Roman cross, whispered words of forgiveness for his tormentors: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing!” This is the Jesus who says, “I lay down my life–only to take it up again. I have authority to take it up again.”
It is impossible that Jesus should have been raised to life after rigor mortis had stiffened his cold form and the natural processes of decay had set in. Impossible, unless, of course, as the Apostle Peter averred after Jesus’ resurrection, it was the very “Author of Life” who had been disowned by his own people and cruelly done to death on the cross (Acts 3:15). It was impossible, unless those who knew him best, and claimed to have met him after his resurrection, told the truth when they declared that God himself raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:10 and more). Again and again, often at the risk of imprisonment and their own lives, they said it: God raised him from the dead. And in raising him, he released liberating, life-giving, sin-lifting, hope-bringing resurrection power into the life of our jaded and cheerless world. More, the great Apostle Paul affirmed that all that Jesus said and did was in a significant way validated by his resurrection, for “through the Spirit of Holiness [he] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:4). And later he said, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9-10). It is a powerful word. It is either true or not true.
Salvationists join with Christian believers everywhere in declaring it is true–gloriously, certainly, savingly true. The living Christ changes lives. He strikes off the chains of addiction. He binds up the wounds of the abused and lightens the darkness of the despairing. He drains away the poisons of anger and pours through the channels of the unloving heart a creative compassion for the needy of earth. He forgives the sinner and restores us to fellowship with the welcoming Father. These things he does. And to this very day, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” On the truth of that promise we are daily staking our lives. Because, if Jesus is not alive, then all that we say and do in his name, all that we preach and proffer so boldly, is errant nonsense. But because it is true, “We are not ashamed of the Gospel.” For we are daily demonstrating that this Gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes!” (Romans 1:16).
Impossible? “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 1:24). That is what was impossible!
Death could not keep his prey,
Jesus, my Savior;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord.
Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives for ever with his saints to reign.
He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Because it was impossible for death to hold the Author of Life, he is able to share that life with you and me. And with it, the possibility of a new and abundant life of fellowship with God, a life of freedom and fulfillment. “The promise is for you!” (Acts 2:39).