In January 1935, J. Gresham Machen gave a series of radio messages “on the deity of Christ.” This was only a month after the New York Times reported that his church trial (not criminal) would begin in the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church, USA). He was put on trial for taking a stand against taking the church's money to fund missionaries like Pearl S. Buck, who didn't believe in the virgin birth or the deity of Christ and didn't feel such issues should be part of the gospel message on the mission field. In February of 1935, Machen would lose his ordination credentials. Yet, it was a sham. Machen would then found the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. To indicate what a different day that was, the NYT published a dozen articles on the trial. When the church trial was simply announced they ran a front-page story.
As we mentioned in Sunday's sermon, that same winter he gave these radio messages on the deity of Christ. This is about 7 years before C.S. Lewis gave his famous war-time series that became Mere Christianity. In some ways they were covering similar terrain. Machen wanted his listeners to believe in Christ and therefore addressed some of the common attacks against Christianity.
In this excerpt, he speaks forcefully on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus:
Nineteen hundred years ago there lived in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire one who would have seemed to a superficial observer to be a remarkable man. He engaged in a career of religious teaching accompanied by a ministry of healing. At first He had the favor of the crowd, but since He would not be the kind of leader the people demanded He soon fell victim to the jealousy of the rulers of His people and to the cowardice of the Roman governor. He died the death of criminals of that day, on the cross.
At His death, His followers were discouraged. They had evidently been far inferior to Him in discernment and in courage, and now what little courage they may have had was gone. His death meant the destruction of all their hopes. Never, one might have said, was a movement more completely dead than the movement which had been begun by Jesus of Nazareth.
Then, however, the surprising thing happened. It is a fact of history, which no real historian denies, that those same weak discouraged men, the followers of Jesus, began, within a very short time after the shameful death of their Leader, in Jerusalem, the scene of their cowardly flight, the most remarkable religious movement that the world has ever known, the movement commonly called the Christian Church.
At first, that movement was obscure. But it spread like wildfire. In a few decades at the most it was firmly planted in the chief cities of the civilized world and in Rome itself. After a lapse of less than three centuries it conquered the Roman Empire. Incalculable has been its influence upon the whole history of the world.
What caused that remarkable change in those followers of Jesus? What caused those weak and cowardly men suddenly to become the spiritual conquerors of the world?
At that point the difference of opinion arises. Yet even with regard to that point there is a certain measure of agreement. It is now admitted by historians both Christian and non-Christian that those followers of Jesus became the founders of what is commonly known as the Christian Church because they became honestly convinced that Jesus was risen from the dead.
But what in turn produced that conviction? What produced the belief of the first disciples in the resurrection of Christ? There is where the difference of opinion comes in.
The New Testament, of course, has a perfectly clear answer to the question. The belief of the disciples in the resurrection, according to the New Testament, was due simply to the fact of the resurrection. Those disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead for the simple reason that Jesus had risen from the dead. He had risen from the dead; and they had not only seen His tomb empty but had seen Him Himself alive after His death on the cross.
J. Gresham Machen, On the Deity of Christ