I like to think of the Easter morning about two thousand years ago. Christ, the Son of God, was buried without ostentation or pageantry, without anything but the humble worship of those who were immediately about Him. He was carried to His rest and buried in a lent tomb, a newly hewn rock sepulchre belonging to Joseph of Arimathaea, who was recognized as a follower of the Saviour.
It is interesting to remember that the day He was buried was the day fixed under Mosaic Law for the gathering of the first sheaf of the harvest. While the women who were seated near the sepulchre returned sorrowful to their homes in the darkness, for their light had gone out, another group from across the Kedron returned joyously carrying the first sheaf of the harvest. That was Friday.
Saturday, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate and petitioned, saying, We remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. (Matt. 27:63–65.)
On the morning of the resurrection—Sunday—no mortal eye, so far as I know or have read, saw Jesus emerge from the tomb. An angel came down and rolled the rock away from the door. It interests me as to why the Saviour Himself did not do it. But the record says an angel came.
Before daybreak in the morning, while it was still dark, a priest climbed to the topmost part of the great walls that enclosed the temple precincts and stood there looking southward. He stood four hundred and fifty feet above the valley floor. The priests below called out, “Is it yet light?” and then, “Is it light as far as Hebron?” And when the answer came back, “Yes,” that was the signal for the beginning of the morning sacrifice in the temple.
At that same hour a solitary woman, half-running, half-walking, went out from the narrow streets of Jerusalem across the valley to Golgotha, where on Friday they had laid away in the tomb our Lord and Saviour. She found the stone rolled back. Looking in, she perceived the body was not there. The tomb was empty. She hastened back to Peter and John, whom she had just left and told them.
To this point and for some time after, none of the apostles seemingly had understood what we understand now so clearly, that Jesus was to die and be resurrected the Christ.
Peter and John, running, John outrunning Peter for he was younger, reached the sepulchre. John looked in but did not enter. Courageous Peter strode in and saw the burial clothes lying about. The napkin was carefully folded and placed at one side. John believed. Peter seems not yet to have been convinced. They returned.
And then it would appear that Mary, coming alone, approached the tomb a second time. She stood weeping. Within the tomb she saw two angels sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body had lain. They asked why she wept. She answered that they had taken away her Lord, and she knew not where they had laid Him. They told her He had risen.
She turned about and saw someone, who she supposed was the gardener, and she said to him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
The figure spoke, calling her by name, “Mary.”
Then, as it seems to have been the case all day, something happened and she recognized the Master. She would have rushed and embraced Him, but the Saviour said, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my father: … and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (See John 20:15–17.)
Shortly after this, women came, bringing with them a hundred pounds of sweet spices to be used for the preparation of the body for final burial. They did not understand, either. The women looked in and saw the two angels there. And one of the angels said to them, Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here. … (Mark 16:6.)
From then until now, the words of the angel stand as a witness to us of the actuality of the resurrection.
Christ appeared to the women at the tomb. They saw Him. They heard His voice. They knew He was resurrected. While He forbade Mary to touch Him, He permitted the women to hold His feet. (See Matt. 28:9.)
Sometime during this first day, He showed Himself to Peter and, in the late afternoon, to two of His disciples on their way to Emmaus.
They returned to Jerusalem, met with the Twelve*, except Thomas. The doors were shut. They told of their visit with the risen Lord. Even as they spoke, Jesus stood amongst them. He reproved and calmed their fears: Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (Luke 24:39.) He asked for food. They gave Him and He ate a piece of broiled fish and honeycomb.
Eight days later, the apostles were again in a room with the doors shut. Thomas was now with them, and Jesus again suddenly stood in their midst. He bade Thomas to look at and touch His hands; to thrust his finger into the spear wound in His side, and then, said He, Be not faithless, but believing. (John 20:27.)
On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He appeared to Peter and Thomas and Nathanael of Cana, to the sons of Zebedee and two others, who had gone fishing. After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, and of James. (1 Cor. 15:6, 7.) Eleven of the disciples visited Him on a mountain in Galilee, where He had appointed them to come.
Finally, after forty days, He assembled them together in Jerusalem. Then leading them out as far as Bethany, where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived, and while they still beheld Him, a cloud received him out of their sight. Two men stood before them in white apparel, and said to them: Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (See Acts 1:9–11.)
Christ had risen. He had made the great atoning sacrifice for our sins.
How glorious is the resurrection of the Christ, which was planned from before the foundation of the world. I cannot comprehend what the resurrection did. I have read nothing that explains to my mind what the resurrection, biologically or physiologically, is. But the Lord has given us all that we need to know—that Christ is our Saviour, the Redeemer of the world.
Eternal progression is brought about through His Atonement. We may go on and on forever. This is our destiny through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.