This article first appeared as a meditation in the April 1, 1980 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.56, #13) and was penned by Rev. Cornelius Hanko.
Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw, and believed, John 20:8.
The Lord is risen!
Wondrous work of God, a recreation which brought life out of death, far more marvelous than the creation of the heavens and the earth.
The Son of GOD came in the likeness of sinful flesh, in the form of a servant, to surrender Himself throughout all His life to the wrath of God, in order to atone for the sins of His people.
The Son of MAN came as the Shepherd to lay down His life for His sheep, even when this involved separation from God in anguish of hellish torments, crying out in the amazement of His complete isolation under the righteous judgment of the God of heaven and earth.
Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, willfully submitted to the power of death; first dying our spiritual death during the three hours of darkness on the cross, and then entering into our physical death by surrendering His spirit into His Father's hand and commanding death to take His body as its prey. He took His place among the dead of all ages. He set the stage, so that He could march triumphantly before the eyes of the whole world through death into heavenly life.
As a reward on His accomplished work of the cross God raised Him up in the early hours of the third day. As the mighty Conqueror the Son of God arose from the shades of death and entered into a new, heavenly, spiritual, immortal life in His resurrection body.
He lives. We know He lives, for we have the testimony of God's infallible Word informing us of His resurrection, and we have the seal of the Holy Spirit by faith in our hearts.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, our Lord, Who . . . suffered . . . was crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. Glorious resurrection!
When we follow the movements of the followers of Jesus on the morning of the resurrection we are impressed by the total confusion that reigned among them.
A group of women, their arms laden with spices and ointments to perform their last acts of love upon Him to Whom they still clung in faith, come at the break of day to the now vacated sepulcher. They find the stone rolled away, and, looking into the tomb, they see two men clothed in white garments as guardians of the grave, who inform the women that Jesus is not here, for He is risen from the dead.
Mary Magdalene was with the women as they approached the tomb, but seeing that the stone was rolled away from the grave, she hastily concluded that someone had been here before them and had stolen the body of Jesus and buried it elsewhere. Without investigating any further she only adds to the confusion by returning to the city and informing Peter and John that the body of their Lord had been stolen. Only later would she learn about the resurrection when she met Jesus in person at the tomb.
Entirely misinformed, John and Peter rush to the grave to ascertain what might have happened to the earthly remains of Him Whom they loved. In their excitement they do not stay together, but each hastens as fast as he can, so that John is the first one to arrive at the tomb. John sees the stone rolled away, but does not enter in as yet. Looking in, John notices the linen clothes in which the Lord's body had been wrapped. Impetuous Peter arrives just a bit later, ignores his fellow disciple who is standing looking into the grave and rushes past him to investigate for himself what has happened.
God methodically works out His plan and purpose even through our disorder and confusion. He was preparing His own eye witnesses to learn about the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God directed each one in his or her own time and manner to come to the tomb to behold that which eye has never seen, human ear has never heard, and far exceeds our fondest imagination. One thing stands out very clearly, and that is that none of the early visitors to Jesus' grave expected to find a risen Savior. God leads each one step by step, preparing each of them for the moment when Jesus would appear to them personally and their faith could embrace a living, risen Savior and Lord.
John tells us in his own unique way how he learned about the resurrection. All the emphasis falls on what John saw. Three times he uses that word in this connection, yet each time with a different connotation, which is lost in our translation. Let us try to picture before our minds the entire scene as John describes it. After standing at the opening of the tomb andperceiving that the grave clothes are still lying in the very place where the body of Jesus had lain, John follows Peter into the sepulcher. Together they stand staring at the grave clothes in deep study. It was obvious to both of the disciples that Jesus' body had been embalmed in the usual manner, just as Lazarus' body had been prepared for burial. Strips of linen cloth with spices and ointments had been wrapped about the torso and about each limb separately. His head had also been wrapped in a special napkin, or covering. Peter stands gazing at the linen clothes, probably rubbing his chin and beard in rapt amazement. Along with John he notices that the linen clothes lie in the same position as when the body of Jesus was wrapped in them, but now the body is no longer there. Even the head piece lies separately, exactly as it had been wrapped about the head of the Lord. And then, as John tells us, the light dawned. John saw, that is, he knew. And he believed.
To John it was perfectly evident that Jesus could not have risen in His earthly body and returned to this life, as was the case with Lazarus. When Lazarus was raised he came forth still wearing the grave clothing. Jesus left the grave clothes behind. Moreover, it was also evident that no one could have desecrated the grave by carrying off the body of the Lord. How could anyone take the body and leave the grave clothing undisturbed? There was but one explanation, and that was that God had performed the greatest resurrection wonder here that this world can ever know. Like a tulip bulb growing out into a plant and flower, or like a moth coming forth out of its cocoon and leaving the vacated shell behind as evidence of its departure, so the Lord came forth out of His grave clothing in a new, heavenly, spiritual body. He no longer needed earthly coverings. Nor would these coverings fit that heavenly body. He entered the tomb in an earthly body, He came forth from the tomb, as it were, on the other side, the heavenly side, with a resurrection body fit for heavenly perfection and glory. No human eye could see Him in this new body. He could enter the room unseen, and He could make His presence known by taking on an appearance. He would fade away, as it were, and no one saw Him go. The only time His disciples perceived His going was when He remained visible to them as He ascended to heaven and entered the cloud of glory.
We cannot help but ask, why were the disciples so slow in understanding the resurrection of their Lord? We must bear in mind two things. First, the disciples were of the earth earthy, so that they could not understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven except these mysteries were revealed to them and they could perceive them by faith. Secondly, the disciples were still in the dispensation of shadows, lacking the full revelation of salvation as we have it today. They had to be taught by signs and wonders that accompanied the preaching of the Word. And therefore God in infinite mercy and divine understanding of our human frailties led them step by step into the unfolding of the glorious wonder of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not as if the full light of this wonder flooded their souls at once. John and Peter still needed a personal appearance of the Lord to instruct them more fully in the marvelous victory over death and the grave. Jesus had to assure them that He was not a spirit, but had a real body, even though now this body was heavenly and immortal. He also had to convince them that it was the same body, as He demonstrated with the marks of the nail holes in His hands and feet. Repeatedly Jesus appeared in various forms to unfold the mystery of the new life of the risen Lord. It was weeks later that John was still wondering about this mystery, for He knew that it was Jesus that appeared to them, yet as risen Lord they had difficulty knowing Him. Therefore John tells us, "And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord."' John 21:12. It took the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to make them fully understand.
Wonder of wonders.
Never before had anyone risen from the dead in a new, heavenly body. Enoch and Elijah had gone into heaven without passing through the anguish of death. Others had been raised from the dead to return to this life, only to be faced with that last enemy for a second time. All of these served to foreshadow the resurrection of our Lord. But the Lord Himself passed through death into everlasting life. Christ's body was sown in corruption and was raised in incorruption; it was sown in dishonor and was raised in glory; it was sown in weakness and was raised in power; it was sown a natural body and was raised a spiritual body.
The mighty Conqueror entered into the stronghold of Satan and took Satan and his whole host captive. He marched triumphantly through our physical death and the grave, arose on the third day, paused on His way for forty days, just long enough to show us the wonder of His triumph over death, and then ascended before the eyes of His disciples into the cloud of glory, where He was greeted by millions of angels who accompanied Him as the Victor to the throne of the Ancient of Days, the Eternal God, where He was given all power in heaven and on earth with a Name above all names. Daniel 7:13-14.
We now see much more than John saw in the vacated tomb, and we know far more than he knew when he saw and believed. For with an eye of faith we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor at the right hand of God in the highest heavens. Heb. 2:9.
How can the human tongue ever fully declare all that this victory over death means to us? We have a Highpriest in the heavens, Jesus Christ, the Righteous, Who intercedes for us day and night. The Father hears Him and bestows on Him every spiritual blessing, which our Lord, in turn, bestows upon us according to all our needs.
We are born again as new creatures in Christ by "a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead." Canons III, IV, 12. With the apostle Paul we confess, I live, yet no more I, Christ lives in me. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Even as Christ is risen as the Firstfruits from the dead, so also we will be raised in His likeness when He returns with the clouds to take us to Himself. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." I Cor. 15:51-52. "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ!"
Rev. Cornelius Hanko was born to Herman and Jennie (nee Burmania) Hanko on May 19, 1907 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his heartfelt desire when the Lord in His mercy took him to glory on Monday, March 14, in the year of our Lord 2005.
Rev. Hanko was baptized in the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. During the common grace controversy in the 1920s the Hanko family followed Rev. Herman Hoeksema and the majority of the consistory of Eastern Avenue in their polemic against common grace and their advocacy of one, sovereign grace of God for the elect in Christ Jesus. The Hankos thus became charter members of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan when the Eastern Avenue Protesting Christian Reformed Church, her pastor and consistory, were cast out of the CRC in 1926. Rev. Hanko, therefore, was the last of the PRC clergy (and perhaps of the entire membership of the PRC) to have had direct, personal contact with the events of 1924–1926 that led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Already in his teenage years Rev. Hanko had his eye on the ministry. His first inclination was to be a missionary. That never happened, because the Lord called him to the pastoral ministry for his entire career. Rev. Hanko began his studies for the ministry under Revs. H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema, and G. M. Ophoff. He graduated from the seminary in 1929 with five other men (four of whom left the PRC in the split of 1953 and one of whom left the PRC in the early 1960s. All five of these eventually became ministers in the CRC).
After graduation from the seminary Rev. Hanko and his bride Jennie (nee Griffioen) made their way to Hull, Iowa PRC, in which church Rev. Hanko was ordained a minister of the Word and Sacraments in the PRC. God blessed Rev. and Mrs. Hanko with four children, all of whom are members of the PRC: Rev. Herman C. (married to Wilma Knoper), Professor Emeritus of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary; Fred (married to Ruth Miersma), who gave his working life to the Protestant Reformed Christian Schools (Adams Street in Grand Rapids, where he was my ninth grade teacher, Northwest Iowa in Doon, where he taught with my wife, and Hope, Walker, Michigan); Elaine, widow of Richard Bos; and Alice, who cared for her father in his later years.
In addition to the Hull PRC, Rev. and Mrs. Hanko served in the following Protestant Reformed Churches: Oaklawn, Illinois (1935); Manhattan, Montana (1945); First, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1948); Hope, Redlands, California (1964); and Hudsonville, Michigan (1971). After becoming emeritus in 1977, Rev. Hanko remained active for a number of years, preaching and teaching in the churches and preaching two services per Sunday in Florida during the winter seasons.
His years in First Church were difficult ones for Rev. Hanko because of the controversy that resulted in the split in First and in the denomination in June of 1953. The controversy involved the doctrine of the covenant. The majority of the congregation of First and of the members and clergy of the denomination embraced the covenant view of Dr. Klaas Schilder (conceiving of the essence of the covenant as consisting of a conditional promise made by God to every baptized child). These left our churches. During these years, while never compromising the truth of an unconditional covenant of grace and friendship established unilaterally by God with His elect in Christ Jesus, Rev. Hanko never lost a certain healthy balance in his preaching and teaching in First Church. He simply did his work by the grace of God, preaching, teaching, and caring for the flock of God as best he was able.
During his years in First Church, which numbered more than five hundred families before the split in 1953 and ca. 200 families after the split, Rev. Hanko had my father as one of his co-laborers in the consistory. They became good friends. The Hankos and the Deckers regularly visited together. It was through this contact that I got to know Rev. Hanko on a personal basis. It was during Rev. Hanko’s years as pastor of First that I was a student at Calvin College, then located on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids just a short block away from the parsonage occupied by the Hankos. Not infrequently, I would walk from class at Calvin to the parsonage with my questions. Rev. Hanko patiently answered these questions from Scripture and the confessions and would then offer prayer. Rev. Hanko was used by God, together with my parents to keep me in the PRC as a member and later as one of the churches’ pastors. I also had the blessed privilege after October 1, 1965, the date of my ordination as pastor of the Doon, Iowa congregation, to labor for a few years with Rev. Hanko as a colleague. We younger pastors in Classis West leaned heavily on our older, experienced, and competent colleague, learning much from his godly example.
During his pastorate in Hudsonville, Michigan the Lord delivered his beloved Jennie from her suffering into glory. I remember sitting with Rev. Hanko in the ICU waiting-room at the hospital, when he remarked, “Part of me is dying in there.” Now Rev. Hanko, having died in the Lord, enjoys God’s fellowship in Jesus in glory as well.
We thank God for giving our churches this gifted and faithful servant and for using him for the edification of the churches for the years of his lengthy ministry among our Protestant Reformed Churches. That in the years to come these churches may follow the example of our beloved brother, Cornelius Hanko, and “…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints…” is our fervent prayer (Jude : 3b).
Soli Deo Gloria! (Written by Rev.Gise Van Baren)