By Pastor Glenn Pease
John Scott Harrison was the only man in the history of our nation who was the son of one president and the father of another. A man of such distinction you would think would be treated with great respect in his death, but the fact was, nobody was safe in 1878 when he died. Body snatching was at a peak. The demand for bodies in medical schools was so great that men became experts in grave robbing. John and Ben were his two sons, and they were determined that their father's body would be secure.
They had his grave sealed with brick and cement, and then had large stones placed on top of it. They hired a watchman to check the grave every hour. In spite of all these precautions the body of John Harrison ended up in the Ohio medical college. The shock of this lead the Ohio General Assembly, in 1881, to pass a law permitting medical schools to use unclaimed bodies. This put an end to grave robbing.
I share this bit of history in order to point out that men have always had the power to break into the tomb. The ancient Egyptians took elaborate precautions to protect the wealth they buried with their Pharaohs in the pyramids. But to the great disappointment of archeologists, thieves found a way in and removed the treasures centuries before they found the way in. All through history man has developed the skill to get him into graves and tombs, and to take what the dead had to offer. What man lacked was the power to break out of the tomb. Getting in was not necessarily easy, but getting out was impossible. That is why Easter is the special day that it is, for Easter is the day we celebrate the discovery of the power to break out of the grip of the grave.
Many a tomb has been broken into, but the tomb of Jesus is unique in that it was a tomb broken out of. It was truly an inside job. Helen Frazee-Bower put this truth so beautifully in poetry.
One helped Him bare His cross up Calvary,
And there were those who placed Him in the tomb.
But when He burst death's bonds and came forth free
No human hands were in that narrow room.
No one but God could reach beyond the rim
Of death's confines and touch the dark unknown:
Though there were those who longed to do for Him,
When Jesus rose He did it all alone.
No one but God? Then truly He was God!
And is an will be evermore. And those
Who trust His grace sleep not beneath the sod:
They are not dead. Because the Savior rose,
These too shall rise. The tomb is open wide-
The stone was rolled away by One inside.
This makes Easter a day in which there was a display of unprecedented power. Others had been raised from the dead before, but by someone else outside the tomb. Jesus was the first and only person to rise by His own power. Jesus said in John 10:17-18, "The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again." No one ever before or since has had that kind of authority. That is why, if you want to know the power of the resurrection, you must know Jesus, for He is the only source of such power.
Paul was a man of authority. He had great credentials, and was a man of power in the Jewish community. He had the power of prestige, which comes with a great heritage, good education, and belonging to the right circles. Paul had the power to push people around and persecute them if they did not conform to the values of his heritage. He was a powerful man for he was not only a leader in Judaism, but he was also a Roman citizen. But this powerful man tells the Philippians that he did not know what power was until he met Christ. In comparison, all of his other powers became mere rubbish, and the loss of them was nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. It is in this context that Paul makes the statement in verse 10, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection." We want to focus on the three characteristics of this power that are evident in this passage.
I. A PASSIONATE POWER.
It is an emotionally compelling power. Passionate means fervent, enthusiastic, and zealous. It is an intense power that motivates and dominates. Paul is not expressing a craving for information. He knows about Jesus, and even unbelievers can know about Jesus. He longs to know the person and the power of Christ experientially. It is a passionate desire for relationship. Paul knows there is power in who you know, and the power of knowing Christ is the greatest power of all. Paul would not deny the importance of "know thyself," but his passion was to know the Savior.
We know that power corrupts and that Christians do not escape the corruption that comes with power. That is why there is a mixed feeling about Paul's passion for power, and his clear ambition to rise to higher levels of power. It can be scary when a man longs for power. Jesus warned of the danger of power. He was tempted Himself to use the power of politics, showmanship, or compromise with Satan to achieve His goals. Jesus rejected all abuse of power. He rejected force and violence, and said that we are to put up our sword, and be careful not to pull up the wheat with the tares. All forms of coercive power which do not respect the freedom of the will are inconsistent with godly power.
There is great danger in a passion for power. It costs Judas his life and his place in history among the twelve. But we need not fear Paul's passion for power, for he longs for the power of the resurrection, and this is a power distinctly different from all other powers. Resurrection power is the power to help, to hope, and to heal. Had Jesus risen from the dead and gone back to Jerusalem to wreak vengeance on the Pharisees and rulers of Israel, we could be fearful of the power of the resurrection. But Jesus came out of the tomb with a spirit of love and not of revenge. His concern was that the whole world benefit from what He had done on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He wanted His sheep fed, cared for, trained, and then empowered by the Holy Spirit to go into all the world to preach the Good News of His salvation.
The measure of a man is what he does with power, and Jesus was the most powerful person in the universe after His resurrection. We do not see Jesus spending a second in trying to get even for the hatred, rejection, and suffering He had to endure. He now had the power to go and nail Herod, Pilate, and all the Jewish leaders to crosses, but that was over and past, and what mattered to Jesus was the future. The future was to be one filled with the power to bring life out of death, and light where darkness once reigned. The future was to be filled with help, hope, and healing.
There is no need to fear a passion for resurrection power, for it will never be a power that crushes or destroys. It will always be a power to lift and love the fallen and feeble. Resurrection power is one kind of power we can afford to crave with passionate ambition. In a world where lives are continually blinded and blighted and blasted by the power of evil it is a sin not to have a passion for power to make a difference, and the only power that can make a lasting difference is the power of the resurrection.
This power made the greatest difference in history of any event. The Supreme Court of heaven on the third day reversed the decision of the lower court that sentenced Jesus to die. Never has a death sentence been reversed after it was already executed so that the condemned was restored to life. This was the most unique event in history, and the power of it was awesome, and it changes everything. Paul had a passion for this power because the power of the resurrection is the power to reverse all of the effects of sin and evil. In the power of the resurrection fear can be changed to faith; hate can be changed to love, and despair can be changed to joy.
Paul's passion for resurrection power is a passion for life. There is good reason why the rabbit is a symbol of Easter. Rabbits have a passion for life. They multiply rapidly with 5 or 6 litters a year. They also live in dark holes in the earth, and so you can see how they are a natural illustration of the resurrection. They represent the power of life to rise out of the darkness of the earth.
There are those who say that Jesus was just revived by the coolness of the tomb and never did really die. This is a very superficial view of the resurrection. I love the way Leslie Weatherhead answers this view. He writes, "Such a suggestion asks more of credulity than orthodoxy asks of faith. How could a person too weak before his crucifixion to carry his cross, who had been scourged, tortured, nailed to a cross through the hot hours of a whole day, and into whose side a spear had been thrust, drawing not only blood but the water-like serum in the pericardial sac-or else urine from the bladder-get off a stone slab in the dark, remove his own tightly wound wrappings or bandages, push back from the mouth of the cave-tomb a heavy, grindstone-shaped boulder, like a solid stone wheel, which it took several strong men to move, evade the guards, procure from some unexplained source some clothing, and then appear to his friends not as an invalid needing weeks of nursing back to health, but as a man so fit that, in spite of two terrible wounds in his feet, he could, on the same day, walk seven miles to Emmaus with two disciples, have supper with them, and then travel another seven miles to Jerusalem in time to meet the rest of his friends?" Such a view is a denial of everything we see in the Easter account, and in the experience of Paul in his encounter with the risen Christ.
Paul had a passion to see this happen in the world of darkness. He wanted to see those dead in trespasses and sin arise and live and walk in the light. Life out of death, and light out of darkness-that was his dream, and it was a dream that came true in the measure that he saw the power of the resurrection at work. In the shower there is power to bring forth the brilliant flower. Nature is full of the power of God, but in the Son who has arisen there is power to empty death's prison, and this is power not found in nature. It is only in Christ, and that is why Paul has a passion to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. All other powers fade in importance compared to the power of the resurrection.
It is exciting to see man's passion for power, for it has enabled him to exploit the power of electricity, the power of the atom, the power of gas and oil, and the power of the sun. We were impressed by the display of man's power at Epcot. It was spectacle of man's power, and it was thrilling, but all of it together cannot give a person of one second of forgiveness, or one second of hope for life that will conquer death. Man's greatest powers and wonders are only weakness compared to the power of the resurrection. Next we see it is-
II. A PROGRESSIVE POWER.
This is not Paul, the babe in Christ, who is writing. This is not Paul two days after being confronted by the risen, reigning, redeeming Christ. This is Paul, the Apostle. The mature servant of Christ who in the power of the Holy Spirit has saved multitudes, and started churches, and written New Testament theology. It is this man who says that he wants to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. This is not the longing of a new convert. This is the longing of a veteran of the faith.
He already knows Christ and the power of His resurrection. He has lived and served in this power, but he is saying that there is always more. You can never come to the place where you can say that you know Christ as well as you need to. There is no end to growing in this relationship, and in the power that can come from it. It is progressive power. It starts when we confront the reality of the risen Christ and experience the power of His forgiveness, and of His love that incorporates us into the family of God.
To think that this is the end of it is to think that because Columbus discovered America he knew all there was to know about it. Every school child knows more about America than Columbus did. He only got a taste of America and its potential and power. You do not know America just because you know how to find it in the world's geography. America had potential that Columbus could not have seen in his wildest dreams. Those who know most about this great land will say they want to know more of it and its potential. This is the spirit of all who are dealing with life's great subjects.
Michaelangelo, after 70 years of working at creating masterpieces that made him famous for all time, said, "I am learning, I am learning." Right to the end he was pressing on and saying I want to know art and the power of its potential. I just learned how to use the computer a few years ago, and I realize that I am waiting in a puddle when there is a whole vast ocean yet untouched. I can say that I know how to operate a computer, but I still want to know the computer and the power of its potential. All knowledge that deals with that which has infinite potential is progressive knowledge. That means growth is endless, and the adventure of knowing is for all time, and in some cases it is for ever.
How much more is this true of Jesus Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge? Nobody can ever know enough of the person and power of the risen Christ. Being saved is only the beginning. It is the gunshot that starts the race. It is not the finish line. There is endless potential after one is saved. It is the losing of this longing to press on and on in the progressive knowing of Christ and His power that leads the Christian life to become stagnant. We need to cease being foolish, and instead be wise like Paul. Here he is as the advance runner of the Christian race, but he is not slowing down as if the race is almost over and the goal is reached. He is dealing with an infinite Christ, and a power that knows no limit, and so he is pressing on ever growing in knowledge, wisdom, and power. A limitless Lord means a limitless life of learning.
If you have been leveling off, and even regressing in your knowledge of Christ and the power to live effectively for Him, you need to pray for forgiveness for treating Christ like finite and limited subject. Morly Shekleton wrote,
"It passeth knowledge, that dear love of thine,
My Savior, Jesus! Yet this soul of mine
Would of Thy love, in all its bredth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength,
Know more and more."
This is the spirit of Paul. He knew Christ well, and he had tremendous power, but he knew he had not yet begun to experience the full potential there is in Him who said, "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto me." The Easter message is the message of good news that in the power of the resurrection there is a never ending, exhaustless source of power to give life abundant.
Because this is so, it is nothing short of sinful if we confine the power of the resurrection to the Easter season. Because the power of the resurrection is progressive, the desire for it is to be perpetual.
There are heights of sweet communion
That are all awaiting me;
There are ocean-depths of mercy
That are flowing full and free;
There are precious pearls of promise
That can ne'er be priced in gold;
There's a fullness in my Savior
That has never yet been told.
A pastor reported that he asked a 6 year old girl what Easter meant to her, and she said that it was lots of candy and new clothes. He asked a youth of 16, and he said that it means Christ rose from the dead. Then he asked a 60 year old man, and he said it means, "I've only begun to live." That is what Easter means to those who love Jesus. We have only begun to live, for there is a perpetual progression of more and more, and endlessly more in Christ. Next we see it is-
III. A PRESENT POWER.
Paul would agree with the poet who wrote,
There are depths of love that I cannot know
Till I cross the narrow sea.
There are heights of joy that I may not reach
Till I rest in heaven with Thee.
Paul knew that the best was always yet to be, for we can never know in time what we will know and experience in eternity. Nevertheless, Paul's desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection was not just a hope, for he says I want it-I want it now. Paul says there is life after death, but there is also life before death, and I want all I can get of both. I want the eternal life that is ours in Christ, but I want the abundant life that He came to give us in time as well. Sometimes Christians think we have to choose either the good life of eternity, or the good life of time. There is no biblical basis for thinking the one eliminates the other. The wise Christian follows Paul and develops a passion for the progressive power in Christ. It is both a present power, and a power that will become even greater in the future. The resurrection is a reality. It is a part of history, and its power is available for now, even though the fullness of its effects will not be felt until eternity.
We do not take any source of power and say that I will not use it until I can have the fullness of its potential. I will not use a computer until I can do all that can be done with a computer. I will not use electric power, or solar power until I can use it in all the fullness of its potential. These would be foolish statements, for we use a source of power to the limit of our knowledge as we are growing in our ability to use it more fully. So it is with the power of the resurrection. We will never know the fullness of this power in time. We may not even be able to reach its fullness in eternity, but we can grow and know more and more of this power now. The poet expands the words of Paul and writes,
"That I may know Him." Ah, I long to know
Not just a Christ of far-gone years ago;
Nor even reigning on a heavenly throne,
Too high and distant to be really known.
I long to know Him closely; this is how,
Alive-and in this ever-pressing "now";
Communicating His all-conquering power,
A living One, within my heart this hour,
Who now no longer lives from me apart,
But shares His resurrection in my heart.
J. S. B.
The power of the resurrection is the power to do all that God wants you to do in time. Paul wrote in Phil. 4 that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him. That is why he wants to know Christ and the power of the resurrection, for in that knowledge there is present power to accomplish the will of God. With your focus on the power of the resurrection you always aim for the maximum, but when you take your eyes off Christ it is easy to aim only for the minimum.
A man rushing through the lobby of a hotel suddenly stopped a bell boy and asked, "Would you please hurry to room 1203. I think I left my briefcase there. The airport limo leaves in 6 minutes. Could you run and see if it is there?" Several minutes later the bell boy came rushing back and reported, "Yes, sir. Your briefcase is still there." That is all he was asked to do, just see if it was there. He did as he was told and no more. He could have used common sense and brought the brief case with him, but he was not asked to do that. He did just the minimum. Many times we live on that level, but Paul had a passionate longing to live on the level of the maximum, and to gain the power to do God's will as fully as possible.
We will always fall short of the glory of God and the maximum potential that is ours in Christ. But Paul says in verse 16 that we can live up to the level of what we have already attained. Even if we are not climbing but just holding our own, we can be living a life that is pleasing to God and a blessing to man. If we would just use the knowledge and power that is already ours we would be fairly effective Christians. But the better way is to crave more and more, and press on to greater and greater power.
The message of Easter is a message of power. It is the dynamo, and the powerhouse for all Christian beliefs. The birth of Christ, His teaching, and His death are all powerless events without the power of the resurrection. Paul says our faith if vain and so is our preaching if the resurrection is not a reality. If death conquers in the end, then all power is weakness in its presence. But Jesus rolled the stone away and made the grave a two way street. Now you can come, and go. Before the resurrection it was a one way street, but Jesus became our Samson. He arose and carried away the gate of Gaza leaving it a city wide open. So Jesus did to the strong hold of death. Not all the power of Judaism, nor all the legions of Rome, nor any other power on earth, or in hell, can roll that stone back. Death is conquered by life, and in the power of the resurrection Jesus captured the keys of death and hell, and is now the most powerful person in the universe.
"Who shall rebuild for the tyrant his prison?
The scepter lies broken that fell from his hands,
The stone is removed; the Lord is arisen:
The helpless are now released from their bonds."
The joy of Easter is not in the Easter parade, but in Easter power. It is the power that has the potential for blasting away the boulders of life's burdens into a pile of pieces we can handle with hope. The power of the resurrection took histories saddest event-the crucifixion, and changed it into the center of our Christian focus of joy. The cross is now history's greatest symbol of love, forgiveness, and hope. In the power of the resurrection there is power for victory over all the forces of darkness.