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Communion (1995 Series)

Proof of the Resurrection

Scheduled for July 27

We owe the clearest formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity to a man named Athanasius.  His master work was a small book titled The Incarnation of the Word of God.  This book was written early in the fourth century.  That century saw the Diocletian persecution, the most terrible persecution the church has ever known.  Many scholars identify that persecution with the “Great Tribulation” of the Book of Revelation.  Athanasius uses this persecution, and the behavior of Christians as they met their deaths, as a proof of the Resurrection!  Here’s what he wrote:


A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this.  All the disciples of Christ despise death, they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as something dead.  Before the divine advent of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish.  But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.  But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead.  There is proof of this too;  for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior's resurrection from it.  Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it.  So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing, robbed of all its strength.  Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch;  bound hand and foot as he now is, the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him.  So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross.  It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, "O Death, where is thy victory?  O Grave, where is thy sting?"

(Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, V-27)


You see the point, I trust.  His argument is simply that “everybody knows” with what good cheer Christians went to meet the most horrible of deaths.  It was a common thing;  all had seen it.  Yet, argues Athanasius, anyone but the Christian fears death greatly.  This cannot be possible -- unless the Christian knows that death itself has been defeated at Calvary. 

I must ask you, therefore, to examine your attitude towards death.  Are you afraid of it?  Is it “the end?”  Or do you see it as they did, as something to be despised and jeered at -- conquered by your Lord and King?  I’m afraid we do not set so good an example here.  It is no good arguing that they were closer in time to Jesus;  as much time separated them from Jesus’ earthly ministry as separates us from George Washington.  We need a change of heart in this.

It begins at the Lord’s Supper, for there we are reminded of the Cross.  We are to remember the suffering, yes;  but let us also remember the triumph and proclaim with those saints of old, "O Death, where is thy victory?  O Grave, where is thy sting?"

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