William Sangster, the venerable British preacher of yesteryear, was stricken late in life by incurable muscular atrophy. As the merciless disease advanced, rendering his muscles useless and robbing him of his voice, Sangster was eventually forced to surrender his pulpit and retire his anointed pen. However, he did manage to find the strength one Easter Sunday to feebly scrawl these words in a letter to his daughter, “It is terrible,” he wrote, “to wake up on Easter Sunday and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’”
With these words Sangster underscored the dynamic of the Christian message, the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is the fulcrum upon which turns every other Christian doctrine. Without resurrection, the divinity of Jesus is in jeopardy. Without divinity, Christ sinlessness is debatable. If He is sinful, Calvary loses its atoning merit. Robbed of its atoning merit, the cross—indeed the entire gospel story—is a sham. Or, as Paul expressed it centuries ago, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).
In his book, Reality of the Resurrection, Merrill Tyney notes that many aspects of the Christian faith are echoed (if only vaguely) in non-Christian religions. For instance, some religions claim, as does Christianity, to have divinely inspired writings. Muslims boast of the Koran; the Mormons of their “Golden Tablets.” Similarly, many pagan religions offer their followers the promise of life after death. Like Christianity, philosophers and religionists of all eras have proposed various systems of ethics for the governing of the human race. However, Tyney rightly declares that the distinctive attribute of the Christian faith is its belief that “the supernatural power of the living God was manifested historically by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.”
The resurrection marks Christianity off from all other religions, past, present and future. No other faith underpins its belief system with the doctrine of a risen Saviour. It is the cardinal doctrine among cardinal doctrines. It was central to the preaching of the early church. It sustained the hopes of first-century martyrs, and it is a message that has been faithfully transmitted across the centuries and entrusted to those of us who number ourselves among the followers of Jesus today. The resurrection message is non-negotiable. It must never be surrendered or compromised.
However, the greatest danger in the Christian community may not be the temptation to erase the doctrine of the resurrection from the time-honored creeds of Christendom. In fact, any suggestion to alter this tenet would immediately be voted down in most of our conference meetings or our academic forums. Rather, the greatest danger in our circles is that of relegating this basic doctrine to the dusty archives of church history. Having been hammered out on the anvil of controversy by our forefathers, the resurrection story tends to become so commonplace that it is by sheer neglect demoted to second place in our thinking. The resurrection and its manifold implications have become supplemental themes that we take off the shelf once a year. Sadly, they seldom maintain a central place in the perennial preaching and teaching of the Church.
Sangster lamented to his daughter that he had no voice with which to shout the resurrection message. But he then added these searching words, “It would be more terrible still,” he concluded, “to have a voice and not want to shout.” Reader, have you a voice? Use it to proclaim anew the blessed anthem, “He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!”