The young man and his friends were excited. There was a new teacher at the school. The new professor was not much older than them, only thirty-two years old. Finally there was some fresh, young blood at the school, some fresh thinking. His name was Professor Rauwenhoff, a professor of church history.
One of his first lectures dealt with the resurrection of Christ. The young man listened intently. Professor Rauwenhoff pointed out that the Bible spoke very clearly about the resurrection. However, he said, we have to be careful because the Bible often uses symbolic language that is not meant to be taken literally. After all, the Bible is not a textbook for science or history. Moreover, no rational modern man could actually believe that Christ’s body was raised from the dead at certain place at a certain point in real history. That would be against all the laws of nature and everybody knows that those laws simply can’t be broken. Jesus rose from the dead, yes, but not in history. He rose in the hearts of his disciples. His body remained in the tomb.
As the professor reached his conclusion, the young man and his friends leapt from their seats and started clapping. They were applauding a professor who finally understood. Finally they had a teacher who was with the times. The young man, twenty-three years old, was thrilled with a prof who had the courage to say what everybody else was thinking.
That’s a true story and it took place in 1860 in the Netherlands at the University of Leiden. The students were all men studying to become Reformed ministers. The young man was Abraham Kuyper. Now eventually, God would grab hold of Kuyper and convert him and he would become a mighty tool in God’s hands to bring Reformation to the Netherlands. He had his weaknesses and shortcomings – no man is perfect – but many of our families trace their roots back to the Reformation led by Kuyper, the Doleantie. Later in life, Kuyper confessed that he was still haunted by what happened in that classroom in 1860. He had applauded the denial of Christ’s resurrection. With his denial, he had grieved his Lord and Saviour and this bothered him immensely.
For the first eighteen centuries of church history, the resurrection of Christ was nearly universally accepted as a fact of history. It was recognized as one of the most well-attested events of the ancient world. The Heidelberg Catechism emerges from that context and so it doesn’t even have to spend any time on the historical nature of the resurrection. The Apostles’ Creed says that Christ rose from the dead on the third day and this is what the Christian church has always believed and so we believe it too. This is certainly the way the Bible is meant to be read. In fact, the Apostle Paul makes an air-tight case in 1 Corinthians 15 that if the resurrection is not an historical fact, then our faith is useless and we are still in our sins. For a believer, that has to settle the issue. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day and this was a real, historical happening.
From there we can move on to consider the meaning of the resurrection. The Catechism does that by asking the question of how this historical event benefits us. The answer has everything to do with victory – Christ’s victory over sin and death is at the heart of the meaning of the resurrection and its benefits for believers. Again, this is something that Christians must believe, this is something that is promised us in the gospel.