In the sequence of our meditations through these days, today we arrive at the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Last night we were occupied with His Transfiguration; it may be that some of you will think that the next eminence, the next peak, the next epoch in the course of things should be the Cross. But if you will think again, you will see that the Cross has been present in everything that we have said and has been throwing its light and meaning down the past on every part of the way. We have been moving in the light of the Cross all the time. The Cross also carries forward right on into eternity its values. You can never get away from the Cross; it stands above everything. So that we are not at the moment giving particular and exclusive consideration, we are letting the Cross direct all our thoughts in every connection.
We come to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a vast and comprehensive matter with limitless aspects. It is not our intention to try to cover or even to touch upon all that ground. In these days we have one inclusive object before us: it is to see God's Son as God's universal Horizon, range, and character for all things within which Horizon, God has concentrated His whole attention in purpose and activity: the Son of God, the 'Horizon' of the Father for all men.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus brings that Horizon very clearly into view, perhaps in a supreme way. There are three main aspects of it. One has a very clear and evident change in condition and position of Christ by resurrection. As the outcome of that, in the second place, the essential meaning and nature of the Church as the vessel of His resurrection life. And in the third place, in resurrection Jesus is the representation of man as he will be when he enters into the full meaning of that resurrection in body as well as in spirit.
A Changed Condition and Position in Christ by Resurrection
This is different from all other seeming resurrections, which were not resurrections, but resuscitations. We have those who were brought back to life from death in the Old Testament times, but theirs was not a resurrection, it was but a resuscitation. They were the same people afterward and they went back to the grave.
We have some in the New Testament who were brought back from death, like the widow's son in Cana, like Lazarus, but they were the same afterwards, the same people; and they went back to the grave eventually. That was not resurrection. Jesus is unique in this. He is not the same and yet, He is the same. There is His identity: the same. There are things about Him that can be recognized as the same Jesus; and yet, there is a difference, a very great difference in Him. He is not just a spirit, He has a body that can be touched and handled, in it are borne the marks of His death, His crucifixion, which can be seen and touched. He can eat and drink with them. These are marks of the same Jesus, and yet how different. How different! Doors may be closed and barred for fear of the Jews, and He is in the midst, suddenly. It does not seem that He appears and disappears, He is just present and absent. And so we could go on with the change, with the difference - a difference which means everything for us and for the redeemed.
Now, because our time is very limited, I want to resolve all this into one or two quite definite, clearly defined matters. They are quite obvious, things that are very apparent in the New Testament. What is this? The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is always spoken of as the supreme demonstration of Divine power. To use the words of the apostle, this is "The exceeding greatness of His power... which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead." The power which exceeds all other power. It was in the power that lay behind the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that the apostles and the Church gloried. Paul spoke of the power of His resurrection. Christ risen is therefore the embodiment of Divine power in its superlative expression.
The greatest power known in creation outside of Christ is the power of death. No one can deny it, it is there. The great battle in every realm of man, both physical, moral, and spiritual, the great battle in the creation and in nature, is always with death: to overcome death, to subject death, to hold death back. That is true, we know it. The greatest power outside of Christ is the power of death. You may labor and spend your whole life, as many of our brothers and sisters here in the medical field are doing, to stave it off, to keep it back, to postpone its triumph, to overcome it for the time being, but they all know, they all know that in the end, they are going to be defeated. It's a poor look-out for some of you doctors, you are going to be defeated men and women in your whole life work by this thing that you are fighting - death in the physical realm.
Some of you work on the land, and you know that is what you are up against all the time. Your whole life is having to be given and poured out to keep this death at bay, to keep it from gaining territory and swallowing up your life work. It is a battle, is it not, everywhere.
And we know it in our own selves, not only physically, but we know it morally, the awful conflict with some force that is seeking to bring us down morally, to crush us down, to press us down, so that our morale is broken. And as for the spiritual realm, if there is a conflict in other realms, we know it here. All the time it is this terrific force of death in this universe with which we are having to reckon, which is the realm of our encounter. And all that, as we know from the Bible, and know from our own natures, and from the deeper meaning in creation, is the fruit of sin, the fruit of evil. It is an evil thing - death - not only encountering an abstract force, we are encountering something evil, something that wants to spoil, to mar, to destroy beauty and joy and everything that is good. It is evil this death.
That is all outside of Christ, and it does give tremendous meaning and force to this: that in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, that mightiest force in this universe has been destroyed, has been nullified, has been overcome! As on the one side of human history death is the most powerful force in creation because of sin, there is another side to human history and that is the side that the New Testament describes and defines in that one simple phrase of two words "In Christ." In Christ there is a greater power through His resurrection than this terrible thing that is everywhere outside of Christ. That battle, that unceasing battle, that unrelenting battle of the ages, was entered into by Him in His Cross; and "through death He... destroyed him that had the power of death." It is resurrection that triumphed and is brought out for all believers.
The testimony of Jesus raised from the dead is that the most powerful adverse force in this universe has been destroyed in Him and by Him personally. That is why there is always such an inspiration, such an uplift, such a wonderful sense of release, when in the Spirit we dwell upon His resurrection, singing the songs of resurrection, reading the Scriptures of resurrection, speaking together of the risen Lord. It is no mere historic thing, no mere feast of the religious, the ecclesiastical calendar, no mere annual observance, but for true believers an experience. And when, in the Spirit - in the Spirit not just in the letter, not just in the history, but in the Spirit we dwell upon Christ risen, something wells up in us: a new hope! And we know exactly how Peter felt and what he meant when he said, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
And if ever there was a man on this earth who needed to know that, it was Peter. A living hope, for the last picture of him in the Gospels before the resurrection is of a man going out and weeping bitterly over the utter mess that he had made of his life. A living hope. A life completely transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a power to do that. It's a power.
And then the next thing that is so clear in this Resurrection context is that it was a mighty release and emancipation for the Lord Jesus Himself. He had said, 'How am I straitened, pent up, limited until it is accomplished.' The One Who from eternity knew that His significance was of universal virtue and value, that He was to stand related to the whole race and creation for its good and value. The One Who knew Who He Himself was in His very Person, a universal Person, comprehending heaven and earth. For He has not come into something new by His resurrection and ascension when it is said that all authority in heaven and in earth had been given to Him, that was His eternal right. That was what belonged to Him forever. He has received it through His Cross for men. For that is the range of His Person. But here He is, pent up in a few miles of a little country no larger than the country of Wales itself. Pent up to all the limitations of earthly manhood, time, distance, and so on, groaning, groaning for the day when His great world ministry could be launched, and He could be launched upon it. 'I am straightened' He said, 'I am straightened'.
Do you know anything about that in your own little way? What on earth it is to be confined and restricted to a limited sphere and line, when you have a large concern and a large heart, and yet, you are pent up? How you groan for the day to come when you may be released from all that. And some of you today are there just groaning in your limitation, and your release: sharing the sufferings of your Lord in that matter.
But His resurrection was His emancipation, His release, and what a mighty release it was! What did happen exactly? Well, of course, it was His personal release, we know that; and in those forty days of His Resurrection, we are able to discern something of what that meant. Time no longer matters. He is here, and He is there, without any time limit. It took Him days to get from one point to another before, but He is before them in Galilee after His resurrection. "I go before you," He said, "to Galilee." And you may be quite sure that those men did not lose any time in trying to get to that appointed rendezvous. No, they were making for it, just as truly as those who dragged their weary way to Emmaus after His death returned to Jerusalem as runners in a marathon. The distance became as nothing by this new heart begotten in His resurrection. Well, they were making their way to the appointed place, but He said, 'I'll be before you.' 'I go before you,' and He was waiting for them every time.
Distance is nothing and not only the mileage of a little country, but we know it to be worldwide, universal, around the earth. We know Him to be here this morning, but He is just as truly there in China, in India, and the remotest part of the earth at this very moment! He is released. Time and distance have been destroyed in the resurrection. What a blessed inheritance that is for us. We haven't to wait for Him in a certain sense. He is ever present!
But while it was His personal release, His personal physical release, it was the release of the Life that had been pent up in Him. What a mighty Life was in Him! You only have to go to your Gospels again, and you see that it does not matter how many people there are in need of Life, how many places are calling for Life, He can give it; give it with impunity, give it prodigally, give it without any sense of impoverishment. The Life that is in Him is touching death in all its forms of disease, of infirmity, even unto death itself. He is the Life-Giver!
And yet, and yet, how limited during those three years and a few months, the Lord, the Life that was in Him, so full, so strong, is released, released for all mankind, released for the whole world as a spiritual power to be received by all who will receive it. A released Life! Isn't this what He meant when He said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself, alone" and He said, "I am alone. I am alone."
There was no more lonely Person in this world than Jesus, even with thronging, throbbing crowds around Him, He was alone. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself alone." It remains alone, but if it dies, what happens? Its life is released into many another corn, to an ever-growing harvest to cover the earth. And that is what happened. The mighty Life in Him was released in resurrection and in that release the change, the wonderful change took place from the local to the universal, from time into eternity, for this is the Eternal Life, from the temporal to the spiritual. It's a great change in the resurrection, a many-sided change.
All this we are prepared to accept as true of Him and much more. And much more. We believe it concerning the Lord Jesus, but the challenge of this has got to be met by us individually and collectively. I have said that the second thing is:
The Real Vocation and Nature of the Church as His Body.
And what is the purpose of a body in any case, in any kingdom of a body? It is to contain, express, and give forth the life isn't it? The essential vocation of the Church. And when we speak of the Church we must not just lose ourselves in some visualized body of people. We must remember that we are members of His Body, according to the Scripture, individually, and what is intended to be true of the whole, is intended to be true of each member, of each individual. And this is the challenge: that there should be and there can be, if we are going to be true to all that Christ risen means, there must be about us something that corresponds to Christ risen. There must be an eternal value in our lives, not something just for an hour or for a time, or for a life here, an eternal value about us that we mean something far bigger than this life. There is something in us that is far greater than this life and time; and time has no power over that 'something.' Shall I correct that and say over that 'Someone' - Christ in us and we in Christ, moreover about us individually and collectively, and this is the test: there must be something of that great reality which is beyond the confines of our own little circle.
Any true expression of the Church, of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ, in any locality, should really have a universal significance, not living unto itself, not turned in upon itself, not just occupied with itself and its own spiritual building up and activities, but always as a channel, a vehicle of this Life beyond itself. That is a glorious possibility!
Look again at your New Testament and you will find it is like that. Churches in certain areas had a testimony and a ministry that was spoken of far afield. The apostle said, 'I have no need to speak to them about you and what is going on among you, already they know! It's got there; it's got there!' Oh, it's a glorious release this. It must be like that, friends! God save us from being less than the resurrection of the Lord Jesus would make us in Life.
I am not speaking now of any literal movement about the world, that is not possible for the majority of you, but I am saying this: that there should be something coming from all of us which is super-local, that is beyond ourselves, and beyond our little circle that is a ministry of Christ without these limitations, eternal and universal in value. It is true when you really get in a spiritual and living way onto the basis of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, it just works like that. You haven't got to advertise. You haven't got to publish. You haven't got to write it up. You haven't got to do anything by way of propaganda in the business sense. You haven't to do any organizing to get it out, making plans and launching enterprises. The New Testament knows nothing of that. It is what somebody has called the 'spontaneous expression.' And it will be like that. All that we have got to be concerned with, dear friends, is to live on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the rest will follow. The rest will follow. The report will go out: "There is Life with that one, with those people. If you want to touch Life, that is where you will touch it."
Life - risen Life is the testimony of Jesus, and that Life knows no bounds now since it had its release in His resurrection. That is, let me repeat, the supreme vocation of the Church, the churches, and its members. But it is not only the power, not only the vitality, it is the very nature of that Life. The nature of that Life.
This is a Life which has met sin and conquered it!
This is a Life which has met evil and destroyed it!
This is a Life which has met the powers of darkness and put them out!
This is a Life which has overcome iniquity in this universe!
Therefore, it is a Holy Life. And if the vocation of the Church is to minister that Life and the universality of Christ's resurrection, the nature of the Church because of that Life should be purity, holiness - a Life, that does not, in its very nature, in its very nature, not by creed or doctrine about sin and sinfulness, but in its very nature revolts against anything unholy, unclean, "That you should be holy and without blemish" the Church which is to be presented - "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing..."
Dear friends, if we really do express Christ's risen Life in any company, that ought to be noted about us: "They are a people who will not allow, will not put up with anything evil. They will not countenance sin. They will not stand for anything questionable, anything doubtful. They stand as a people holy unto the Lord."
I close by reminding you of the third thing mentioned at the beginning. This is, of course, far from being a perfect realization in our lives, it is progressive with us.
It is Progressive With Us
If you can read your own spiritual history under the hand of God, if you are having a spiritual history that is, if you really are alive to the Lord, if you can read and interpret your own spiritual history you can see this very clearly. The one thing that you are being taught by the Lord or that the Lord is trying to teach you is that there is a Life in you that is superior to your own life, and that has in it all the vitality, the energy, the potentiality of a complete transformation of you! It is very remarkable, as you look again into the New Testament and see that while this resurrection Life and power was so marvelously at work and manifested, it was always over and against a background of human frailty. God saw to that. God saw to that! Here you have no, no "big people" as the world calls them. If they had been big, they are going to be made very small when they get here. Some of them have been big. Saul of Tarsus had been big in his own realm. And others have been like that and the Lord sees to it that there are no big people with great reputations that the world is going to take any account of in this realm.
Oh, how Christendom is astray on this thing, always wanting to tack on labels of importance to its representatives, its servants, its ministers. And the more degrees that you can put behind the name: well, the better for Christendom. The more of the honors that can be associated with the person, the honors of this world in achievement and qualification, well, the better their standing. The Lord knows nothing of that, will have nothing of that. I suppose the apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus, could have graduated with the highest honors in any university because he has defeated all the intellects of the ages. And they are still trying to get the better of him, and they can't! No, but what does he, what does he think of himself, what has the Lord done with him? "I glory in infirmities. I glory in weaknesses; for when I am weak, then I am strong." What a change, it's over against the background of this Divine activity to make the vessel know its own infirmity and weakness and limitation that this power is manifested. That ought to comfort us, but there it is. There it is, so clear. It is a progressive thing. We have got to know the power of this resurrection over our physical infirmities. We have! We may be in great physical infirmity and weakness and suffering, in agonizing limitation physically and yet God by His Life can come in and carry through in complete triumph in anything that He wants to accomplish. That is the great fact about the apostles. That is the great fact about the Church in its history: a Life that is so manifestly, so obviously a Life superior to all human strength and all human weakness.
Dear friends, take this to heart, we are not just to give way and succumb to our infirmities and say that they rule and they govern and they dictate. If the Lord wants something - and maybe there are times when He doesn't and therefore Divine Life will not come to us - but if the Lord wants something, if that is in the will of God, there is Life for it when we are in utmost weakness and limitation, for us to lay hold of. I take it that Timothy was a delicate young man, Paul said, "Take a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine oft infirmity" and he was, apparently from other things, not robust, perhaps in any way, and so to him the apostle says, "Lay hold on Life" lay hold on Life - something that we must learn to do: "Lay hold on Life" over against this background of infirmity.
But this is progressive, we do not learn this all at once. We learn it through the years more and more. Perhaps our feebleness, on the one side, increases as the years go on, but it should have a corresponding or a super abundance of that Other Life. It should be like that, showing that as we grow in weakness, that that Life is quite capable of coping with all those conditions, and well able to do it.
But this progress has a glorious consummation, a glorious consummation: the resurrection of the Body. That marvelous fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, when that is reached, a great transformation of the Body takes place in the final stage of resurrection and all these infirmities go. Then, then Christ risen and all that Christ as Eternal Life, as Universal Life, as Limitless Life, will be displayed in the sequence. We are moving towards the great destiny and consummation of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in a Resurrected Race. We read again our own spiritual history and we shall see that the Lord is moving us onward, ever onward, along this line of knowing Him and the power of His resurrection with that goal ever in view of man in the full expression and enjoyment of Christ risen from the dead! The Lord keep us moving that way.