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Christ Still Reigns

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Date March 20, 2007

The Saviour had been crucified. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid Him in the grave. The chief priests and Pharisees recalled that Jesus had foretold His rising from the dead on the third day. They went their unbelieving way to Pilate, claiming to be afraid that the disciples would “come by night and steal Him away”, and requesting “that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day”. Pilate told them: “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can”.

But no guard, however strong, could prevent Christ’s resurrection. Indeed there was no power in earth or in hell which could do so. Christ’s rising again had been decreed from all eternity; it was part of the divine purpose to bring about the salvation of sinners. The devil is strong, and his followers in this world may be allowed to go far in opposing God’s purposes, but they cannot ultimately prevail, for “the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever” (Psa. 33:11). In particular, it was absolutely impossible for the chief priests and Pharisees to succeed in their attempt to keep Christ’s body in the grave. The guards could not even keep calm when confronted by an angel; we are told that “there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men” (Matt. 28:2-4). They had no power to resist when a mere creature appeared, albeit a glorious and perfect creature, which indicates how pointless the attempt was to keep in the sepulchre the body of Him who is the Son of God.

Christ had Himself foretold His resurrection; He had said to His disciples: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again” (Matt. 20:18,19). Here was the Prophet; as God, He knew everything; even as man, He could not be in error. If He made known that He would rise again from the dead on the third day after His death, it was true. He had come from God, and He was God; no one – chief priest, or Pharisee, or member of the watch, or even the most ordinary person in Jerusalem – had any right to refuse His testimony.

And Christ’s resurrection was according to Old Testament prophecy. God the Father had appointed Him to be the great sacrifice for the sins of the world. But His death was not to be the end of His saving activity; He was to rise again: “When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days” (Isa. 53:10). This, in common with all other inspired prophecies, was sure.

Yet the chief priests and Pharisees were blind to the significance of all the prophecies pointing forward to the coming of the Messiah and His work; when He came to His own, they did not receive Him. They refused to recognise Him when, for instance, He pointed to Jonah as a type of Himself: “As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). The accumulated weight of Old Testament testimony was being brought to bear on them Sabbath after Sabbath in their synagogues, but they refused to recognise the fulfilment of the prophecies and of the types in Jesus of Nazareth. Yet their unbelief could not hinder that fulfilment.

Further, there must be an answer to the petitions in Christ’s intercessory prayer. He was the great Intercessor, who could in truth claim to the Father: “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do”. And on that basis He prayed, “Now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:4,5). And the first step in that glorification was His being raised from the dead.

At the moment when He breathed out His spirit into the hand of the Father, the work of atonement was complete. Yet He must lie in the grave until the third day. But, as Peter told the multitudes on the day of Pentecost, “It was not possible that He should be holden of” death” (Acts 2:24). He proved this from the fact that the words of Psalm 16 refer to Christ: “Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). Death could not hold Him who had come into the world to save sinners. In His life and sufferings He had magnified the law and made it honourable; so “the Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake” (Isa. 42:21). It was accordingly certain that God would raise His Son from the grave. No scheme of men or devils could stand in the way. Rather, the effects of the angel’s presence on the men who formed the guard at the sepulchre would show that God had supreme power there. And God’s absolute power is equally effective in every other situation.

Christ is now exalted at the right hand of God, the place of infinite power. He sits there as King, with authority over all creatures, and nothing can hinder Him in carrying out the divine purposes, no more than the guard at the tomb could hinder His resurrection. He had a right to say, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt 28:18). And how is that power exercised today? Particularly through the Word of God, as applied by the Holy Spirit. As Prophet, Christ reveals “to us, by His Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation” (The Shorter Catechism, answer 24), and He does so by divine authority and unlimited power.

In exercising that power, He uses instruments – in the first instance the disciples – whom He sent out with the words: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19,20). Their successors also have the same authority and the same encouragement – from Him who sits at the right hand of the Father. Their preaching may seem a very feeble instrument when measured against the strength of human unbelief and the fearful power of the devil, who does all he can think of to oppose the effects of the gospel. Especially in such an age as this, when the most influential streams of human thought are unbelieving, how can we expect the preaching of the gospel to have great effects? To look for great effects from ministers’ preaching today seems altogether foolish.

Yet Paul, inspired by the Spirit, makes the comment: “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). It was because Peter on the Day of Pentecost preached as an ambassador of King Jesus that multitudes who heard him “were pricked in their heart, and said … Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Evidently the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work in the 3000 souls who were added to the Church on that day. We can also see here a fulfilment of the prophetical words: “Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive: Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also” (Psa. 68:18). Christ, exalted on high, was bestowing the gift of salvation on each of these sinners, rebels though they were. And so it is today; in spite of all the resistance to gospel preaching, sinners are born again ““ because the authority of the mediatorial King cannot be resisted when He has a purpose to save.

Many voices are raised in opposition to the Church today, but none of her enemies can succeed in destroying her; the power of her King is stronger than all these voices put together. The promise to the Church still holds true: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn” (Isa. 54:17). The power of the One who rose from the grave on the third day must triumph over all the attempts of men and devils to destroy His Kingdom on earth. “He ruleth by His power for ever … let not the rebellious exalt themselves” (Psa. 66:7).

Rev Kenneth D. Macleod is minister of the Free Presbyterian Church of Leverburgh, Isle of Harris. This article is taken with permission from the February 2007 Free Presbyterian Magazine which magazine Mr Macleod edits.

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