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"Why seek ye the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5).
A Dead Christ
These women were looking for a dead Christ and of course they could not find Him, for He was living. How often since have men sought for Christ where He could not be found! How sad is the long vigil of Israel's sons and daughters for the Messiah that does not come and never will come as they are looking for Him! Some day they will behold Him as the Living One and weep and wonder because so long they vainly sought Him in a false ideal among the dead hopes of their earthly national ambitions. So also Romish superstition paints the Christ with all the hideous and ghastly accompaniments of the crown of thorns, the pallid brow of death and the cerements of the tomb. There is no such Christ; "He is not here, but is risen." The crucifix is not the true symbol of redemption. That is the cross with the suffering Christ upon it; that is past and gone forever. Rather, the cross shining in the halo of the glory beyond and the crown above is the true symbol of Christianity.
Thorwaldsen, the great Norwegian sculptor, has cut in marble a group known as "The Cross and the Vine," in which the outlines of the cross are covered and almost lost in the luxuriant foliage and hanging clusters of a splendid vine that grows from the foot of the cross. The vine represents the living Christ and the fruits of His resurrection and life, obliterating almost the figure of the cross from whose roots all these blessings spring.
To many a Christian, Jesus is still but a dead Christ or at least an historic Christ, but not a living and present reality. The meaning of Easter is that Jesus is alive and is the Living Head of Christianity and the personal and intimate Friend of every true disciple, to whom He becomes revealed as his indwelling life and the source of all his strength and victory.
Dear reader, do you know Him as the Living One? If you do not, Easter comes to you in vain with the sad cry of Mary: "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him."
You will observe in the story of the walk to Emmaus that Jesus Christ was not recognized by the two disciples until they received Him into their house and sat down to eat and drink with Him. It was then that He was manifested to them and "they know him; and he vanished out of their sight." While He merely walked with them by the way, they did not know Him, but when they took Him into the intimacy of their heart and home, then He was revealed to them as the Living One who had died upon the cross and had risen from the dead. And so, as you open the door of your heart and take Him as your guest and as your life, you too will so know Him; the supreme epoch of every Christian life will have come in your experience, the great transition from the earthly to the heavenly, from the human to the divine, from the struggles and failures of man's finite strength to the infinite possibilities of God's best.
A Dead Christianity
The question of our text may be addressed to those who are following a dead Christianity, for a dead Christ brings a dead Christianity. Coleridge's dream of the Ancient Mariner, in which a phantom ship floats upon the silent ocean with a dead man at the helm, a dead man on the bridge and dead men standing at their posts as if frozen by one fatal breath into ice or marble, is only too real a picture of many a church with a dead man in the pulpit and dead men in the pews and the entire ritual that of a solemn funeral. The tasks and fasts and penances and ceremonial rites which constitute the religion of many people are but the cerements of the dead, the grave clothes which the Master threw away that morning when He rose. This is not Christianity. The true religion of Jesus robes itself in garments of love and liberty and joy and goes forth to live for others and to bless the world.
It is remarkable that no mention is made of the Lord's apparel after His resurrection. We read of His seamless robe left behind Him when they nailed Him to the cross, and of the linen which they wrapped about Him at His burial and which they found, after His resurrection, neatly folded and laid away in the tomb; but nothing is said about His raiment as He appeared again and again to them. It is not probably true that the robes He wore were part of His very flesh, a living drapery that grew as naturally as the flowers of Spring and the tints of the rainbow our of the glorified life that was springing within Him? These will be no doubt the garments our resurrection bodies will take on as part of our very organism, the beauty and glory of our inner life, and, like the sunlit clouds of heaven, will change every moment with new attractions and splendors. So true Christianity does not need to be dressed in the cowl of the monk and the vestments of the choir and the elaborate ceremonial of Ritualism and Romanism. Its appropriate dress is the garment of praise, the mantle of love and the girdle of service as it goes forth in the glory of resurrection life and heavenly love to represent the Master in this world of sin and sorrow, and stands like the ancient vision of Solomon, bright "as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." God give us this true Christian adorning and heavenly vestments compared with which our Easter fashions are but as "filthy rags."
The question of our text might be asked of those who are seeking for spiritual life among the dry bones of our fallen human nature. Oh, ye that are trying to improve yourselves, to reform your lives, to build up your characters and to cultivate the fruits and grace of higher ethics and calling this religion, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Human nature is dead and beyond the power of self-improvement. God has simply provided for its burial and its resurrection life through the risen Christ. That is the meaning of this Easter day: the sentence of death has passed upon all man's best endeavors and the only hope of our fallen race is the new birth and the resurrection life through Jesus Christ. It is interesting to trace through the Scriptures the manifest truth that the first generation has always been a failure, and that it is the second birth that triumphs and remains. The first Adam fell, the second Adam achieved the destiny of humanity. The first Eden was lost forever, but the new heavens and the new earth shall bring back paradise restored. Eve's first son cruelly disappointed her; the second born and the third became the seed of promise. The old world passed out in the flood and the new world emerged under the arch of the rainbow on Mt. Ararat as a type of the great resurrection which Christ was to bring. Abraham's first born, Ishmael, had to be cast out and in Isaac, his second born, his seed was called. Esau, the elder, gave place to Jacob, the younger; David, the younger son of Jesse, was exalted above all his brethren as the Lord's anointed. In their journey to the Land of Promise, Israel's first generation failed; the second generation. consisting of their little children, was chosen to enter in while the bones of their fathers were buried in the sands of the desert.
Even nature itself teaches us that a transformation must take place before the crawling worm can emerge from the chrysalis and become a soaring butterfly, and the seed has to die and rot in the ground and from its bosom comes forth the new germ that will bud and blossom and fill the earth with fruit. The tree that has but a natural birth must be grafted and cut down and wedded to a new branch before it can bear the best fruit. All nature is a parable of this mystery of mysteries. If we look at the lives of some of the typical characters of the Bible, we shall see the same principle running through them. Jacob had to pass through the narrow gates of his great conflict at Peniel in order to come forth a new man with a new name, Israel, a prince with God. Job had to find out that all his natural goodness was insufficient and, in the keen light of God's revealing, cry, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," before there came to him a new life and righteousness and blessing. Isaiah had to see himself as all unclean and then receive the cleansing coal of fire which sent him forth empowered for his great prophetic ministry. Simon Peter had to fall so far that he broke his own proud neck in the fall and then came forth from the wreck and the shame with a new and divine strength which enabled him to die at last with downward head on his Master's cross. Paul had to find our that all his righteousness was as dross and had to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone and make this his watchword: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This is the meaning of Easter. Have you entered into it and come forth with that death born life?
A Dead Humanity
The question of our text might be asked of the people that are teaching in our day the sufficiency of earthly culture, education, fine art humanitarianism to lift the race to its true plane and educate it out of its depravity and degeneracy. The world needs no sadder commentary on this stupendous folly than the late messages of poor Herbert Spencer to the world before he died, telling men of the best light that had come to him from the researches of eighty years and then adding that the outlook for him, as he faced the great crisis of life, was dark and depressing indeed.
The world has tried it many times. Culture can never do more for humanity than it did for ancient Egypt, Greece and Babylonia or for modern Italy in the brightest hour of art. But alas, alas, these were the darkest hours in the records of human crime! "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Humanity is like the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision, a moral cemetery, and nothing can lift it but the Omnipotent touch of a divine resurrection.
A Lifeless World
The question of our text might be addressed to the people that are looking for happiness in this doomed world and trying to find their true life among the dead ashes of earthly pleasure. God says of such a person, "He feedeth on ashes." Ashes are just the wreckage of organic matter that has been consumed and the substance burned our of it. The world has nothing to give you but ashes. The world's heart has gone out since God has gone out, and righteousness is lost. Will love make earth a heaven? Read the records of modern divorce. Will fame last forever? Look at the overturning of all the tables of human ambition. Is wealth an antidote for every human ill? Look at the story of the colossal fortunes of our day and the disappointment, the oppression, the countless calamities that follow in their train. The story has not only been told, but lived ten thousand times, and to the end of the chapter the conclusion will still be the same. Expressed in the language of human philosophy and experience, it is found in the last words of one of earth's most successful men, "I have been everything and everything is nothing." Expressed in the language of the Bible and the testimony of the prince of earthly pleasure, power and even wisdom, it is "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit."
Oh, turn from the ash heaps of this desert of spiritual desolation and in yonder garden by the open grave learn the secret of a joy that will never fade. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).
The question of our text speaks to the souls that are sitting in despair amid the dead hopes of their failures and disappointments. Rise up, despairing ones, bury your past in yonder grave, begin anew with Easter's dawning and know that the resurrection means for every discouraged man that God has established a great bankrupt court, where all the debts and losses of the past can be consigned to eternal oblivion and you can start anew with a heart as fresh and a hope as bright as if your life had this moment dropped from heaven and you were not and never would be again the same man as he who wrought the sin, the shame, the failure and the wreck that lies behind you. Leave it at the cross and rise up and take the fortune that He has purchased for you and is waiting to give you as the gift of His free and sovereign grace.
Someone tells of an old man that was riding through a country district when he was accosted by a native who asked him for a ride. He soon began to talk to the man and found that he was not saved. The native asked him after a while what his business was in those parts. He said,
"I represent a very large estate that has just been divided by the will of the testator and some of the heirs live around here, and I am looking for them. Their family name begins with the letter 'S,' and they are a very large family." Immediately the man became greatly interested.
"Why," he said, "I know some of them; they are the Smith's, are they not?"
"No," said the man, as he looked him earnestly in the face. "Their name is 'Sinner,' and I think you are one of them, and I have come to bring you a fortune."
Dear friend, that is the meaning of this bright Easter morning. The Friend who loved you before you were born, has paid all your debts, has discharged your liabilities, has blotted out your past, and He brings you an inheritance of love and hope and everlasting joy which you may freely have by accepting His grace and giving yourself to Him in loving return.
Our Holy Dead
Finally, the angels bear this message to some who are living among the tombs of their earthly bereavements and thinking of their loved ones as dead. They are not hear; "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" The pathetic story is told of two little children who, after the death of their mother, were digging a hole in the garden with their feeble hands. When asked why, they explained that they were digging a way to heaven to find mother. Someone had told them, when they saw her body lowered into the dark, cold ground, that she had gone to heaven, and they thought that heaven was somewhere in the ground. Alas, how many hearts are buried there. This is the very opposite of what God has intended. He has taken your loved ones to lift your hearts to that heavenly home where they are risen and rejoicing now, and to help us to realize that world which is the true goal of all our hopes and the only changeless home where parted friends shall meet again. "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Arise and live with Him in the things above.
And so we might apply at greater length this searching question to all the things that we are vainly searching for below the skies. Lift up your eyes, lift up your hearts, look forward and remember that "the times of restitution of all things" are to come not hear but by and by when Jesus comes. Even much that we have prayed for, believed for and spiritually attained in part only, is waiting for us yonder. Then shall come back to us all we have sacrificed and surrendered hear. And this universe itself shall complete the mystery of the resurrection by passing through the ordeal of the last conflagration and shall come forth with the same mark of resurrection upon it that God is putting upon each of us now. Then, indeed, it shall be true that He that sits upon the throne shall say, "Behold, I make all things new."
Dear friend, are you living in this new world and for this coming age? There are two races crossing the narrow path of time. One is the Adam race, the other is the Christ race; one is the earthly race, the other is the heavenly people; one is doomed to remain among the dead, the other is pressing on to immortality and glory. "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:48,49). Beloved, come from among the dead and live forevermore.