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Chapter 24. The Visit to the Sepulchre
"And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great." Mark 16:1-4.
Love in Action.
The greatest thing in the Christian Religion, at any rate on its practical side, is love. Our Lord Himself summed up all the Commandments in the commandment to love God and love one's neighbour. The Apostle Paul declared that love was the fulfilling of the Law. Now there is, as it seems to me, a theory and a practice of Christian love. When it comes to the theory, it is all set out for us in that matchless, exquisite hymn on love in 1 Cor. xiii. There is no more familiar passage in the whole of sacred writing. We are quite aware of what Christian love is like; it never fails; it hopeth, believeth, endureth all things; it rejoiceth not with iniquity but rejoiceth with the truth; it outlasts prophecy and tongues; it is greater than either faith or hope. That is the theory of Christian love. But where shall we look for illustration of the practice of it? We have all of us sadly to confess we are better at the theory than we are at the practice of love. But if I were asked to give an example of Christian love in action, I should point to these holy women who ministered to Christ in Galilee; who watched Him die upon the Cross; who followed Him to the tomb and beheld where Joseph and Nicodemus laid Him; who very early on the first day of the week came with the spices they had prepared to anoint His dead body.
The Endurance of Love.
Here, for example, is love in its patient endurance. "An angel declareth the Resurrection of Christ to three women" so the paragraph is summed up in our A.V. But as far as the women themselves are concerned, "Love never faileth," is the aptest title. "Many waters cannot quench love," says the writer of the Song of Songs, "neither can the floods drown it." No! If floods could drown it and many waters could quench it, the love of these women would have been quenched and drowned clean out of existence. For what deep waters of affliction they had been through; and what floods of sorrow had surged up against them! They had seen Christ made a gazing stock. They had seen Him branded as a criminal. They had seen Him die a slave's death. And they had hoped it was He Who should redeem Israel! They had hoped that it was He Who was to sit on David's throne! The Cross therefore shattered all their expectations. But amid the wreckage and ruin only one thing remained unshaken and unimpaired, and that was love. Faith had gone, hope had gone, but love endured. "When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices that they might come and anoint Him." They did all that for a dead Jesus, a Jesus Who by dying had falsified every hope and expectation. "Love never faileth."
Love in its Lavishness.
And here is love in its lavishness. "Love is kind," says the Apostle. A commentator suggests that the word indicates the self-abandonment of kindness. Love is always lavish, uncounting in the deeds of kindness which it does. And that characteristic of love I find illustrated in the action of these holy women. You will notice that two out of the three who are mentioned as paying this early visit to the sepulchre are also mentioned in the last verse of the preceding chapter as having beheld where Christ was laid. That is to say, they watched His burial. They were there watching and weeping when Joseph and Nicodemus paid the last tender rites of reverence and affection to His body. And therefore they must have noticed Nicodemus' lavish offering of spices. He brought, John says, a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds' weight enough, says one of the commentators, to cover the whole body and the floor of the tomb. "More," says another "than was used in the funerals of the richest men." And yet, though they had seen all that, I read here that "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices." "Bought spices!" although Nicodemus had already lavished a hundred pounds' weight upon the Lord's body. It looks a work of supererogation. Judas would have said of the action of these women, what he said of the action of Mary at the Bethany feast, "Whereunto is this waste?" But "Love is kind." Love is literally "self-abandoned" in its kindness. Love never calculates; love never economises: love never bargains. Love is open-handed, free, generous, lavish. Love never asks what other people have done; love always wants to know how much it can do itself. "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?" is its cry. And that was the kind of love these women showed when they bought spices to add to Nicodemus' bounteous provision.
Love in its Eagerness.
And here also is love in its eagerness. These women seized the first available opportunity of rendering their offices of reverent love to the body of the Lord. They were awake while the rest of the world slept. It was "very early" on the first day of the week, says St Mark, that they set out for the tomb. It was at "early dawn," says St Luke. It was "yet dark," says St John. The probability is that the first signs of the approach of the sun lit up the sky as they neared the tomb, but it was dark when they sallied forth. They could not wait for daylight to come, such was their loving haste to reach the grave. The Greeks did well to picture Love as a boy with wings. For that is the characteristic of love: it is swift, speedy, eager. Do you know what it is to have been absent for weeks and to have travelled far from your loved ones? Then you know this also, that when you have set your face homewards, ocean greyhounds and express trains do not travel swift enough for your love. Love is a winged creature swift, eager, impatient. And so it was with these women. Had they been professional anointers, had it been a mere matter of business with them, they would have waited for business hours, they would have waited till the day had fairly come. But love reckons nothing of hours. Love is always hasting. "How am I straitened," said the Lord of His work, "till it be accomplished." And the same pressure and constraint was on these women. "Very early on the first day of the week," while it was yet dark they were on the way to the tomb. It was the winged eagerness of love.
Love in its Disinterestedness. Loving Christ for Himself.
And here, too, is love in its disinterestedness. "Love," says the Apostle once more, "seeketh not its own." That is a mark of real love, it lavishes itself expecting to get nothing back. There is no such thing as a selfish love. It is a contradiction in terms. You might as well talk of a white black, or a sunny night. Love is the antithesis of selfishness. Selfishness looks in; love looks out. Selfishness thinks only of its own things; love thinks of the things of others. Selfishness asks, "What shall I get?" Love asks, "What can I give?" We talk in our familiar speech of what we call " cupboard love. " And by "cupboard love," we mean the show of affection where we stand to gain by it. Such a thing is not unknown. People will sometimes pay a great deal of attention to other people by whom they expect to profit. The fuss folk make of rich relations, for example, has passed into a proverb. But "cupboard love" is not love at all. It is selfishness masquerading as love. It is Satan appearing as an angel of light. For this is the mark of genuine love, it is disinterested, unselfish, "it seeketh not its own." Do you remember our Lord's advice as to the people to be invited to our feasts? "When thou makest a feast," said Jesus, "call the poor, the lame, the maimed, the halt, the blind." There would be genuine love and kindness in such an invitation; it would reveal a really unselfish desire to make the world a happier and brighter place, "for they cannot recompense thee." And that is the mark of love, it never expects to be paid back. We do not really love Christ until we love Him for Himself. We do not love Him until we love Him not with the thought of gaining aught, or seeking a reward. Supposing there were no heaven to gain or hell to shun, how should we feel to Christ then? Do you remember that little poem of Richard Watson Gilder, called The Song of a Heathen?
"If Jesus Christ is a Man,
And only a Man, I say
That of all mankind I will cleave to Him,
And to Him will I cleave alway.
If Jesus Christ is a God,
And the only God I swear,
I will follow Him through heaven and hell,
The earth, the sea, and the air."
Jesus Christ anyhow, anywhere, everywhere, through good report or evil report, whether for loss or gain, Jesus Christ for His own sake, that is the only real, genuine love. Now, the love of these women was exactly of that unselfish and disinterested kind. They brought the spices which they had prepared, to anoint a dead Jesus. They did this kindly service to One from Whom there could be no prospect of a return, not a word of thanks, not even a smile They did it not with the hope of reward, but just because they loved Him, with a pure devoted and unselfish love.
Self-Examination. As to Endurance in Love.
Here, I say, we get the love of that chapter, 1 Cor. xiii., in action. The beautiful theory is here reduced to still more beautiful and glorious practice. And in the light of all this, I have been putting questions to my own soul as to the nature and quality of the love which I profess to have. And as I put them to my own soul so would I also address them now to those who shall read this chapter. (1) First of all, then, as to this matter of endurance. "Love never faileth." What about my love? What about yours? Has it never failed? Is it burning as strongly and brightly as it did on the day on which its flame was first kindled? "I have this against thee," was the message of the angel to the Church at Ephesus, "that thou didst leave thy first love." "Because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of many shall wax cold," said our Lord Himself. "The love of many shall wax cold." That solemn word has been fulfilled in the experience of multitudes of people. The glow and ardour and enthusiasm of their early devotion have died down. "Demas has forsaken me." "Ye did ran well!" They had lost their first love. Disappointment, delay, hardship, difficulty had weakened it, smothered it, almost entirely destroyed it. But the mark of a real, vital, heart-felt love is this, it holds on. Through delay, difficulty, hardship, temptation, it holds on: through shame and insult and rejection, through the Cross and the Grave it holds on. Our love is often sorely tried, does it hold on? For that is the mark of a genuine love it never faileth, it hopeth, believeth, endureth all things.
As to Love's Lavishness.
(2) And then what about the matter of love's lavishness? Giving is of the very nature of love, and the giving is always without stint or measure. It scorns the love of nicely-calculated less or more. "Love is kind," it is self-abandoned in its kindness. Well, what about our love? Our love to Christ, I mean. Is it lavish? Is it without stint? Is it self-abandoned? I do not want to judge harshly or to speak unkindly, but I ask myself sometimes whether there is very much sign of an abandoned love in a fact like this, that we spend more on Christmas cards than all the Churches put together spend on the work of extending the Kingdom of Christ. That is to say, we spend more on wishing our friends the greetings of the season than we do on helping our Lord to see of the travail of His soul. And that is typical of our general attitude. We are free in spending on our own pleasures; we grudge the money we give to Christ. But money is not the only, or even the best, gift we can offer Him. What about our personal service? How much of that have we given Him? You know, when a person loves a man or a cause he never thinks any trouble too great to advance that man's or that cause's interest. Think, for example, of the zeal men will show and the labour they will undertake to win success for their candidate and party at election times! Christian folk scarcely show that kind of abandoned zeal, do they? Yet surely the cause of Christ is better worthy of labour and sacrifice than the cause of a party. Have we made sacrifices? Have we been lavish of time and money and labour in the holy cause of Christ?
As to Love in its Disinterestedness.
(3) And then what of that quality of disinterestedness? Our religion has a good deal to say about rewards and punishment. It is perfectly true that the man who in the enthusiasm of his love leaves all and follows Christ is no loser. The Christian life is not impoverishment, but enrichment. The disciple gets a hundredfold even in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. And it is perfectly true that the man who turns his back on Christ and lives for self and sin, dooms himself to eternal loss. And yet, we can scarcely call ourselves Christian at all, if we only follow Christ for the sake of avoiding punishment or winning the reward. We are only genuine Christians when we follow Christ for love. Love is never prudent, love is passionate. Love "seeketh not its own." Here is the root of all genuine discipleship and service, "The love of Christ constraineth me."
I have been inviting you to look within, to examine your own hearts to see whether this lavish, unfailing, self-sacrificing love dwells within them. The examination is bound to be a humbling one. But it is well to be humbled and ashamed, if it leads us to make this our daily and hourly prayer:
"More love, O Christ to Thee, more love to Thee,
This is the prayer I make on bended knee,
More love, O Christ, to Thee, more love to Thee."
Chapter 25. The Stone and the Grave
"And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted." Mark 16:3-5.
The Stone at the Tomb. Constraining Love.
In continuing the story of the holy women I feel almost constrained to do so in terms of love; for it is love that I still find illustrated in their conduct. When they set out in the darkness of that early morning for the tomb, all their thoughts were of their buried Lord, and the honour they meant to pay Him. But they had inadvertently left out of their calculations one most important factor. Apparently they had never heard that to make assurance doubly sure the priests had sealed the stone with the official seal, and had also set a guard to prevent any intruders from coming near. All they knew about was the great stone which they had seen Joseph and Nicodemus roll up to the entrance of the grave on the Friday. As they stole through the silent streets on their kindly and gracious errand, the remembrance of that struck a sort of chill to their souls. It seemed to doom their errand to failure; it seemed to make absolutely impossible the fulfilment of their loving purpose. For the stone was "very great," far beyond the power of a few weak women to roll away. The consternation the remembrance of this "very great" stone caused them is suggested by the form of the Greek verb. "They were saying among themselves," our R.V. translates, and that is an improvement upon the A.V. with its "they said," as it does suggest continuance. "They kept saying," would have brought out the idea which the Greek tense suggests. This one difficulty absorbed their thought. They "kept saying to one another, who shall roll us away the stone?" But though they remembered that a great stone lay across the mouth of the tomb, they never seem to have dreamed of turning back. Not one of them seems to have said, "It's of no use, we might just as well go home." They realised all about the seemingly insuperable difficulty that confronted them, they could not get that great stone out of their minds, they kept saying to one another, "Who shall roll us away the stone?" and yet, in spite of it all, they held on their way. And if you ask me why, I can only answer that love constrained them. I do not know what they expected when they got there. Possibly, as some rather prosaic commentators suggest, they thought they might find some labourers on their way to work, or Joseph's own gardener who would help them to open the tomb. Possibly, I say, but I do not know. What I do know is, that love constrained them to press on.
The Recklessness of Love.
And here I get another quality of a real and genuine love for the Lord there is an element of holy recklessness about it. "Love hopeth all things," says the Apostle. "Hopeth all things," hopes in spite of difficulties, and obstacles, and impossibilities. Hopeth all things, hopeth always, hopeth everywhere. There is a sort of reckless, and abandoned courage about love. "Magnificent," said Napoleon about a charge the British cavalry made upon the serried ranks of the French infantry, "magnificent, but not war." If I may use the illustration (though it is obviously imperfect), love flings itself in the same splendid and reckless way into what look like hopeless enterprises and impossible tasks. It never turns back in face of a difficulty; it may not see how the "great stone" confronting it is to be removed, but it marches on, it makes the attempt nevertheless. That is one of the unfailing marks of a deep and devoted love, it "hopeth all things," it makes ventures, it takes risks, it attempts the impossible, it is reckless and quixotic in the abandonment of its courage. That is how love worked in the case of these holy women. They had a mighty love for their crucified and buried Lord; and their love begat in them a mighty faith, the kind of faith that can remove mountains and laughs at impossibilities.
How Love Works.
That is how love always works. Love is always driving men to do the apparently impossible. Look at Paul, making the world his parish, laying evangelistic plans that embraced not Palestine and Syria merely, but Asia and Greece and Italy and even distant Spain. There was something reckless in the daring of it. What was the impulse that drove him to it? The love of Christ constrained him. Think of William Carey of Northamption, the "consecrated cobbler," as Sidney Smith sneeringly called him, going out to attack the hoary religion of India. It seemed an absurdly reckless enterprise upon which to embark. So indeed it was. But he went, in the holy recklessness of love. Think of Robert Morison and his mission to China. Men openly scoffed at him. They said that the idea of one man being able to affect that mighty and stolid empire was absurd. And so it was, but it was the kind of absurdity in which love ever delights. For that is the very mark of love, it never counts difficulties.
Does it Work so in Us?
This reckless and daring love, this love which issues in a faith that removes mountains, is it a characteristic of ours? Is it an outstanding quality of the Church of today? Do we astonish the world by the recklessness of our courage, by the dash and abandon with which we fling ourselves into apparently impossible enterprises? That is not my reading of the situation. There is not much recklessness about the modern Church. Her policy is a calculating, prudential kind of policy. We make sure that a job is compassable and manageable before we tackle it. We cut our coat according to our cloth. We do not say, "Here is a world to be evangelised let us go forth and evangelise it." We say rather, "Here is so much money, and here are so many men, we will confine our efforts to this little corner." You would not say there was much "recklessness," much daring about our missionary policy. We are lethargic, limited in our view, tepid in our temper. We hear of no great and daring schemes; of no mighty challenges to our faith. There is no imperious summons to attempt the seemingly impossible. We only do what we think we can easily accomplish. There is an absence of the heroic temper. And that again is the result of coldness of heart and lack of love. Religion is a propriety with us and not a passion. What men will do when a mighty passion takes hold of them!
Love in Action.
I have been reading again the story of Captain John Brown and his noble sons. John Brown had a passion for freedom. To him slavery was a ghastly and wicked crime. He did his best to stir up the conscience of the United States on the subject. But when the country seemed lethargic and indifferent, John Brown determined he would do a deed that should wake it out of its sleep, and bring home to the nation's conscience, the negro's intolerable wrong. So he and his sons and a score of other like-minded men with him, flung themselves with reckless courage against all the embattled strength of the slave-holding South. John Brown's sons were killed in the fighting; John Brown himself was shot some months or so later. "What brought you here?" asked a Southerner as he put a cup of cold water to the lips of John Brown's son, Watson, as he lay mortally wounded. "What brought you here?" And the dying man lifted up his eyes to him and answered simply, "Duty, sir,"
"Duty?" Yes, but what lay aback of "duty?" Love! a burning, passionate love of freedom, a love for the negro who suffered such dire and cruel wrong. Love lay aback of it, and the attempt of the impossible, the sacrifice of life itself, is nothing but duty to love. I ask again, how much of this reckless courage is there about us?
The Victory of Love.
Commentators find in all this a truth of great comfort, as we think of the difficulties confronting us, namely, this, that difficulties disappear if we march boldly up to them. There is an old Indian legend which tells how a traveller once came to what seemed an impassable river, and on the other side of the river, a thicket of thorns through which he could see the eyes of fierce beasts glaring at him. But when, undaunted, the traveller pressed on, the impassable river turned out to be nothing but a mirage, and he walked on solid ground; and the thorn thicket a phantom thicket, so that he passed through it without let or hindrance; and the wild beasts were mere imaginings. John Bunyan teaches much the same lesson when he says that Christian for a time was hard put to it, and dare not move because he saw fierce lions on the path. But when he plucked up heart to continue his journey, he found the lions could do him no harm for they were chained. The obstacles disappeared when boldly and courageously confronted. And while I do not wish to imply that our difficulties are shadowy and unreal, I do believe this, that if we march up to them with the courage born of a great love, we shall be able to overcome them all. The difficulty is more in our own hearts than in the tasks confronting us. We have our big problems here at home, the indifference of the masses of the people, the tremendous power of drink and lust and sin of every form; we have our vast problem abroad, with almost three-fourths of the world to win for Christ, but I believe if we had that kind of blazing love which is not afraid to tackle big tasks, and undertake mighty enterprises, we should find ourselves able to solve these problems, and overcome these colossal difficulties. Love that is adventurous and daring, soon becomes love triumphant and victorious. For when love marches up to these great stones that seem to obstruct the path of Christ, she finds that other and mightier hands than her own are busy in the work; she finds the mightiest difficulties removed, the most impossible tasks accomplished by that God Who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or even think.
The Angel in the Tomb.
"And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed." And this was why they found no "great stone" across the mouth of the tomb to bar their entrance. God had been beforehand with them. God had prepared the way for them. I turn to Matthew's account: "And, behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it" (Matthew 28:2). On their way to the tomb, they had kept saying to one another, Who shall roll us away the stone? And already God had sent one of those immortal spirits who ever do Him service to remove every difficulty out of their path, so that when they came to the grave, they found not a "great stone" but an "open door." And they were "amazed." They had never thought of the angel. They had never lifted up their eyes above the earth; they had never once thought that heaven might intervene for their help. And so when they saw this radiant being sitting there, they were "amazed."
Forgetting the Angels.
We are continually making the mistake these women made, leaving the angel out of account. We contemplate the "great stones" we have to remove, and then we reckon up our own scanty resources and we cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?" We forget that God is in the business. We forget that this world of ours is the scene of vast and incalculable spiritual ministries. We greatly err when we confine God and His holy angels to some far-off and inaccessible heaven. God is here: the angels are all about us. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and delivereth them." "Behold," was God's promise to Israel, "I send an angel before thee, to keep thee by the way and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared." And still the angels go before us and fight for us. And that is why difficulties that seemed to us so insurmountable often clean vanish from our path when we advance boldly upon them. God has been beforehand with us and His angel has rolled away the stone. It will be a great day for us when we catch the vision of the angel: when we see the mountain of the Lord full of horses and chariots of fire. The day when we get that vision will be a day of amazement, but it will also be a day when pessimism and despair will for ever flee away; we shall shrink from no task, we shall tremble before no "great stone," for the task is not ours only but God's.
Life, not Death.
No wonder they were amazed. They came expecting to find a dead body, and they found a white-robed angel. They saw an "angel" in the tomb; triumphant life in the place of death; a representative of eternity in the place of mortality; immortal youth in the place of weakness and decay. And that is what believing men and women have seen in the grave ever since that first Easter morning; they have seen the angel. Before that Easter morning men and women saw in the grave little but corruption, decay, dissolution. Even in these days people who turn their backs on Christ see little else. But we who know that Jesus died and rose again are always able to see the sheen of the angel's robe and to hear the beating of the angel's wing when we gather round the grave. And to us, about our own dear ones he says, as did this angel about the Lord, "He is not here, He is risen." And the vision of the angel in the tomb enables us to rejoice even at the grave with "joy unspeakable and full of glory," for we know now that if the earthly house of this our tabernacle be dissolved, "we have a building of God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens."
Chapter 26. The Empty Grave
"And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, Which was crucified: He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him." Mark 16:6.
The Fourfold Testimony.
We come now to the consideration of that stupendous event which created Christian faith, and which has been, ever since, the foundation stone of the Christian Church. Much has been made of the differences and inconsistencies of the various evangelists' accounts. And, for my own part, I am not in the least disposed to deny that it is very hard to fit the various details supplied to us by the four evangelists into a connected and consistent story. It was a day of confusion and excitement. And something of the excitement and subsequent confusion seems to have crept into the narrative. It is impossible, therefore, to be sure of every detail; it is impossible to be sure as to the exact order in which the events of the day occurred. But the difficulty of reconciling the various stories as to the happenings of the first Easter morning in no way affects the truth of the Resurrection. It rather helps to establish and confirm it. For the differences go to prove this, that we have in the four Gospels the stories of independent witnesses. It is not a fourfold reproduction of the same story. It is a case of four independent accounts. And while there are differences in detail (as there always are in accounts of one and the same event written from varying view-points) the significant thing about them is that they are in emphatic and complete agreement about the essential facts, that on the first Easter morning the grave was found empty, and that Jesus Himself appeared to certain of His disciples alive!
The Angel's Message.
"They entered into the tomb," the chamber quarried out of the rock, "and saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe." And they were amazed. But their astonishment was soon changed to another feeling.
"Be not amazed," said the angel to the women, "ye seek Jesus the Nazarene, Who has been crucified." Notice how careful the angel is in his identification. "Jesus the Nazarene, Who has been crucified." It was to dispel any doubt that might lurk in the women's mind, as to whether they were thinking and he was speaking of one and the same person. "He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him." He is risen! that was the tremendous announcement the angel had to make. They could see His body was not there. But the reason for its absence was not that anyone (whether friends or foe) had stolen it. He had "risen again." He had taken His body with Him. It was not a case of spiritual survival. It was a Resurrection. Christ in the totality of His personality soul and body had risen again. The women had come to anoint a corpse, and instead of that they were told of a living Christ. But when the angel uttered these three simple words, "He is risen," he set men in a larger universe, he altered the current of human history, he changed the face of the entire world. Let us consider for a moment or two some of the wealth of its significance. "He is risen." What did that imply?
The Messiahship of Jesus.
First of all, the Messiahship of Jesus. If my account of the condition of the disciples is correct, the Cross, while it had been powerless to kill their love for Jesus, had shattered their hopes. "We hoped, " said the two disciples, speaking in the past tense which as good as implies that the hope was dead and gone, "we hoped that it was He Who should redeem Israel." The Cross laid any such faith in ruins, and out of the wreck only personal affection still remained. They could not help loving Jesus, in spite of the disappointment of their expectation, but the shameful death of the Cross finally disposed of all claims to Messiahship. Friday and Saturday these people were bewailing a lost leader and a discredited cause. But this simple announcement, "He is risen," changed the entire outlook, totally altered their point of view. It was not Jesus only Who rose again from the grave. Faith, faith which had been buried in the same grave, rose again, buoyant, confident, exultant. The Jewish rulers by nailing Christ to the cursed Cross, had tried to brand Him as a slave, but by the Resurrection God proclaimed Him as His glorious Son. "He was declared to be the Son of God with power," says St Paul, "by the Resurrection from the dead." I fancy those great and splendid words of the second Psalm must have come back to the minds of the disciples when it really came home to them that Christ was alive. "The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed... He that sitteth in the heaven shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision." On the Friday Pilate and Herod and the priests had conspired against the Lord's anointed. Conspired, as it seemed, with success when Jesus hung dead upon the tree. But on the morning of the first day of the week the disciples knew they had conspired in vain. "Yet," said God, by the Resurrection of His Son, "have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion." "My King," God's Holy One, that was what Christ really was! The Resurrection was God's testimony to Jesus. The rejected of men was the accepted and the honoured of God. They knew Jesus for what He really was as the result of the Resurrection. Their faith in His Messiahship revived. They were "begotten again" as Peter puts it, "unto a living hope by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." The hope that died in the Cross and was buried with Jesus in His grave, sprang up into new and imperishable life at the Resurrection. Priests and people might heap up what scorn and contempt they pleased upon Jesus. Easter morning proved Him to be "God's King."
God's Testimony. The Sacrificial Character of the Cross.
And the second thing the Resurrection did was this, it set the Cross in an entirely new light. In the popular conception of Messiah the idea of death had no place. He was to be a conquering Prince, and the deliverance He was to effect was deliverance from political oppressors and conquerors. In that conception of Messiah's work the disciples shared, and therefore Christ's death was the death-blow to their hopes, because it seemed fatal to Christ's Messiahship. But in the light of Easter morning they felt they had to give a new interpretation of the Cross. After all, the person who died on the Cross was the Messiah, He was declared to be God's Son with power. The Resurrection showed that death was in Messiah's destiny. It was no mishap, it was no evil chance. It was part of Messiah's work. The Resurrection was God's seal of approval upon Christ's dying. It was, as someone has said, "The Amen" of the Father, to the "It is finished" of the Son. And so, not all at once, perhaps, but gradually, the disciples came to understand that the Cross was not a martyrdom but a sacrifice. They began to realise that what Messiah came to deliver people from was not the Roman yoke but sin. And He delivered them from sin, by bearing it Himself, by enduring the death which was its punishment, by exhausting all the curse of it in His Cross. And so, in course of time, the Cross, which when they saw it reared had broken their hearts, became the ground of their confidence and hope. Instead of being the disproof of Christ's Messiahship, they came to feel that it was in the Cross He fulfilled His Messianic mission. "God forbid that I should glory," cries the greatest of them all, "save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." It was the Resurrection that had transfigured it from a shame to a splendour.
Sin and Sacrifice.
And still it is only in the light of Easter morning that we can understand the Cross! The instinct for sacrifice is bedded deep in the human soul. Sin has got to be paid for, atoned for. And the payment cannot be a light one. Every sacrifice offered on Jewish or pagan altars bears witness to the sort of feeling men everywhere possess that life has to be given for life if sin is to be atoned for and forgiven. And that instinct of the soul is met and satisfied in the Cross. At the Cross men believe in the forgiveness of sin. They feel that in it atonement has been made. They actually receive the reconciliation. The Cross is to them the one full and perfect oblation and sacrifice, to which every other sacrifice in the world pointed. And what makes them believe it was a sacrifice is the glorious triumph of Easter morning. Had Jesus never risen again, men would never have triumphed in the Cross; they would never have received forgiveness and peace at the Cross; they would never have sung, "In the Cross of Christ I glory, towering o'er the wrecks of time." Had there been no Easter morning, Christ's death would have been just one more martyrdom and nothing more; and though He might have been the first and noblest of the martyrs, men would as soon have thought of looking to Socrates' hemlock cup for salvation as to the Cross of Jesus, if He was a martyr to truth and nothing beside. It is Easter that illumines Good Friday. It is the empty grave that flings back glory on the Cross. If Christ did not rise, no sacrifice has been offered; no atonement has been made; no redemption has been won we should be still in our sins. But with the empty grave before our eyes we can and do joyfully believe that He was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
The Living Christ.
And thirdly, it meant this, that Jesus was alive and with His disciples still. Now it cannot be too emphatically stated that union with the living Christ is the ultimate proof of our faith. That is how we live the Christian life, by living union with a living Lord. Christ Himself illustrated it by the figure of the vine and the branch. The branch lives only by vital union with the vine; the Christian lives only by a similar vital union with Christ. That is not only how we live the Christian life, that is the Christian life itself. "I live yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." He Himself had said, "Apart from Me, ye can do nothing." He had comforted them then by telling them He would come back again. It was the Resurrection that ratified and fulfilled that promise. The disciples knew that Jesus was alive and with them still. And in fellowship with that living Christ they found themselves able to live the life and do the work. That is the secret of the brave and heroic lives they lived, that is the secret of the work they did they were conscious of union with the living Christ.
The Message of the Empty Tomb.
That is what the empty grave does still, it assures us of the living Christ; and the living Christ is the spring both of our Christian life and service. It cannot be too often asserted, that the Christian life is not the attempt today to imitate the life of somebody who lived and worked in Palestine nineteen centuries ago. The Christian life is the life which we live as a result of our union with a living Lord. The imitatio Christi might easily degenerate into a very hard and exacting legalism; but there is nothing hard, or constrained, or legalistic about the Christian life. It is free, joyous, spontaneous, for it is just Christ living over again in us. "He was raised," says Paul, "for our justification." And that does not mean simply that only in the light of the Resurrection can we believe that His death was an atoning sacrifice which "justifies" us in the sight of God. It means that it was only the risen and living Christ Who could become the new life-principle for mankind. That is what the Resurrection has done given us not a Christ without us as an example, but a Christ within us as a power. And it is that Christ within us Who is the hope of glory.
The Source of our Power for Service.
Moreover, not only does the Resurrection give us a living Christ Who is our power for Christian life, it gives us a Christ Who is our helper in Christian service. These disciples would never have flung themselves upon a world had Jesus remained in Joseph's grave. But when they knew He was alive and with them in the fight, they felt nothing was impossible to them. There is a significant sequence at the close of this chapter. "So then the Lord Jesus was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God and they went forth and preached everywhere." The vision of the Lord, and then the missionary enterprise; the certainty that Christ was alive, and then the abolition of fears. "They went forth and preached everywhere." The world was against them! but what did that matter? A living Lord was with them! Up to Easter morning they had kept themselves locked in the Upper Room for fear. As soon as they knew Jesus was alive, they flung the doors open and preached Him without trace of apology or timidity to the men who had crucified Him. "The doors were shut for fear of the Jews" that is one picture. "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John" that is the other, and it was the living Christ Who made the difference. And He makes all the difference still. The tasks that confront us are vast, stupendous, appalling. But if we are quite sure of the living Christ we shall be strangers to fear. We shall fling ourselves with undaunted courage upon the most difficult of tasks saying with the Apostle, "We can do all things through Christ Who strengthened us."
The Victory of Right.
Finally, that empty grave means this, that Right rules. There is much that is tangled and bewildering and perplexing in the events of this world of ours. Amidst all the perplexity and bewilderment the empty grave is a mighty comfort. There in symbol and type you get the result of the conflict between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, God and the devil. On the Friday it looked as if wickedness was triumphant, as if the only right was might; for Jesus, Who did no Sin, in Whom no fault could be found, was dead, and the priests were congratulating themselves on their victory. But the empty grave put another complexion on things. Victory lay not with Pilate and the plotting priests, but with Jesus. Eight was might! Let us go back to the empty grave when we are disheartened and discouraged. Right is might! Truth shall prevail! God must reign! We may seem to be living sometimes in truth's Good Friday. But
"Truth pressed to earth shall rise again,
The eternal years of God are hers,
But Error wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among her worshippers."
Chapter 27. The Same Jesus
"But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you. And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils." Mark 16:7-9.
The Women and the Angel's Message.
It may be that, if we wanted to reproduce with exactitude the happenings at the graveside on that first Easter morning, we should have to insert asterisks at various points in the evangelic narrative. Asterisks in a narrative imply the lapse of time, and I am quite sure that such lapses took place on Easter morning. And I am doubly sure of this when I come to Mark's account, for of all the evangelists Mark is the most concise and compressed. I do not think, for example, that the angelic speech to the women went on without pause or break as Mary records it here. I believe that between Mark 16:6 and Mark 16:7 you ought to put the asterisks. "He is risen, He is not here, behold the place where they laid Him," the angel said. And then he paused. He gave the women time to take that in. He gave them time to try to realise the tremendous fact that their dead Master was alive again. It needed time, for Resurrection was not in all their thoughts. I picture these women in the moments that followed that tremendous angelic word. I picture to myself the feelings that expressed themselves on their faces. For one mood followed another as sunshine and shadow chase one another on an April day. First there was mere and sheer fright at the sight of the empty grave and the vision of the angel. And then there was wonder, incredulous wonder almost. And then as the meaning of it all began really to come home to their souls, the wonder gave place to an expression of ecstasy and rapture. And then once again the sunshine gave way to shadow, and the rapture was replaced by something like doubt and fear.
A Dawning Fear.
The fear was caused by this the women began to wonder whether the risen Jesus would be like the Jesus Who had companied with them in Galilee. Differences in rank and station have before today proved almost fatal to friendship. Here are two lads bosom friends at school. They go forth into life. One remains all his days poor and obscure. The other, blessed with more shining gifts, wins for himself name and fame and wealth. And it has happened before today that the man who has so advanced in wealth and position has forgotten his friendship for the poor man who was the school mate of his boyhood. Now the Resurrection, the women must have felt instinctively, must have made a difference to Christ. It revealed Him as a greater person than they had taken Him for. He was declared to be the Son of God with power by the Resurrection from the dead. He had lived humbly enough in the days of His flesh. Fishermen and humble women might dare to be on terms of friendship with One Who was Himself by trade a village carpenter though even during those days of His lowliness they had been surprised now and again by flashes of glory. But by the Resurrection God had highly exalted Him and given Him a name which was above every name. It was one thing being on terms of friendship with Him Who was so poor that He had not where to lay His head; it was quite another thing being on terms of friendship with One Whom God had exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour. Perhaps a cold and chilling doubt crept into the souls of these women and brought a shadow into their faces, doubt as to whether this exalted Lord would still count them His friends and show them the old affection and love.
A Fear Removed.
And it was to meet that doubt, and chase it clean away out of these women's hearts that the angel spoke as he did. I do not think he spoke it in the same breath as the previous verse. You must put asterisks between the sixth verse and this one. He made the great announcement of Christ's Resurrection to chase away the fear caused by the sight of the empty grave. He added this further word to chase away the fear that the Resurrection might have made a difference in Christ's affection and love. For this is the effect of this further word which the angel spoke, it reveals Jesus as the same Jesus. The Resurrection had revealed as by a flash His divine glory, but the Resurrection had made not a whit of difference in His feelings towards the men and women who had companied with Him, and loved Him and served Him in the days of His flesh. The Resurrection has changed His form, it had not changed His heart.
Vision and Duty.
Now, let us look at this verse which shows us that Jesus was the same Jesus. "Go your way," said the angel, "tell His disciples and Peter." A place where angels are to be seen, is the kind of place that tempts one to linger. The disciples did not want to leave the Holy Mount where they saw their Lord in His glory. "Let us make three tabernacles," they said, "one for Thee and one for Moses and one for Elijah." They would fain have lived in the enjoyment of that beatific vision. And possibly these women showed signs of remaining rooted to the spot, rapt in contemplation of the empty tomb and the living angel. Small blame to them if they did! I can understand and sympathise with them. To be able to converse with an angel, to hear the angel bear his testimony to their Master was a rare and wondrous privilege. But just exactly as our Lord brought the season on the Holy Mount to a close, and led His disciples back again to the business waiting for them in the plain below, so now it is the angel that brings the moment of vision and rapture to a close. "Go your way, tell His disciples," he said. Vision was to end in duty. Rapture was to be interrupted because there was business to be done. Away in Jerusalem, in the Upper Room, there was a little company of men plunged in a gulf of deep despair because they thought that Jesus was dead; whose hopes were all shattered, whose hearts were wellnigh broken, and whose future was all dark, because they believed that Jesus was dead. And Jesus was alive. The women were not to remain at the grave in solitary enjoyment of the gladness. They were to remember those people in the Upper Room for whom the announcement that Jesus was alive would change winter into spring. "Go your way," said the angel, "tell His disciples." Rapture was to give way to duty. Their good news was to be shared!
Good News to be Shared.
The good news about Christ is always to be shared. Here is the reason for all missionary and evangelistic work; the joy of salvation was never meant to be a selfish and solitary possession; it was meant to be diffused, spread abroad, shared. The news of God's love in Christ makes a difference. Wherever it goes, it makes a difference. It changes gloom to gladness, and fear to confidence and joy. And so long as there is in the wide world a solitary person sitting in doubt and fear, to whom the news about Christ would bring comfort and freedom and joy, we are bound to tell it to him. "Go thy way, tell!" that is the command still laid upon us. Life is not all rapture, it is service, ministry. It is not selfish enjoyment, it is a blessed sharing. The vision ends always in a duty. "We cannot at the shrine remain." When we have heard the good news about Christ, we must straightway, go our way and tell.
The Considerateness of the Lord. As at Cana.
But it is not for the light it throws upon the duty of the Christian disciple, but for the light it throws upon the risen Lord that I chiefly value this verse. The angel dispersed the fears that were beginning to arise in the hearts of the women when he gave them this message for it showed this, that despite the glory of His risen state, He was still the same Jesus. Notice, to begin with, the considerateness of Christ as illustrated in this message. That was one of His great characteristics when He was alive. He was so considerate, considerate I mean of the comfort and happiness of others. Take the marriage at Cana for illustration. Possibly, as some of the commentators suggest, it was the unexpected arrival of Jesus and His disciples that brought about the shortage of wine which threatened to bring the rejoicings to a premature conclusion. After all the addition of half-a-dozen unexpected guests is enough to upset the calculations of any housekeeper. But whether that be so or not, I am sure that when Jesus heard His mother whisper to Him, "They have no wine," He felt for the predicament in which the host and hostess found themselves. He knew the humiliation that would come upon them if their hospitality failed. And so without a word to any one as to what He was doing, He replenished the exhausted store with that water which His grace had converted into the wine of the finest vintage. None but the servants knew what had happened. The master of the feast did not know, the bride and bridegroom did not know, the assembled guests did not know. Our Lord had the fine instinct of the perfect gentleman. He spared the hosts the shame of a public announcement. He spared them even the anxiety of knowing that the supply ran short! It was all beautifully and exquisitely considerate!
And with His Own.
Or think of His treatment of the disciples themselves when they came back after their first preaching tour. They were tired from their labours, they were excited with their success. "Come ye apart by yourselves and rest awhile," He said to them. He was beautifully considerate always of their needs and welfare. Or think of His behaviour on the Holy Mount. Peter wanted to stay. Jesus Himself led the way down. The fact was, His own glory and happiness always came second to the needs and wants of others. Up on the holy hill, I think He could in His soul hear the shrieks of the demented lad, and the vain appeals of the heartbroken father; and in pure and beautiful considerateness for human need He left the scene of His glory and hurried to their help. And this verse makes it plain that that trait in the Lord's character had no whit changed. His first thought on rising again was of His troubled disciples; His first message on rising was a message which was meant to dispel their sorrow. In a sense, you may say that the whole of the post-Resurrection appearances illustrate the considerateness of Jesus. When He rose again from the dead, Heaven was open to Him. But for forty days He lingered about the familiar scenes of His earthly ministry. The fact is there were humble friends of His who needed comfort and assurance. And not until He had clean dispelled their sorrow, and filled them with triumphant hope and gladness, did Jesus finally leave them to take possession of His glory. It was ever "others first" with Jesus. He was always delicately, beautifully considerate of the needs and wants of others. And the Resurrection had not changed Him in this respect. His first thought was of the sorrow and grief of His disciples. "Go your way," was His first command after His rising, "tell His disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee."
The Forgiving Love of the Lord.
Not only was He the same in His considerateness, but this message shows this too, that He was exactly the same in His love. In a sense this is implied in what I have already said, for considerateness is one of the beautiful fruits of love. It is only the loving soul that is a really considerate soul. It was because Jesus loved His disciples so well that He was eager at the first possible moment to relieve them of their sorrow and grief. But it is not love in the general sense of a kindly and affectionate feeling that I am thinking of just now, but love in the particular sense of love that stoops, and lavishes itself on the unworthy, and forgives unto seventy times seven. Now that was a great, if not the outstanding, characteristic of Jesus in the days of His flesh. It differentiated Him from every other teacher of His time. He had a love which reached out to those who had gone farthest astray, and stooped to those who had fallen into the deepest depths. Enemies made it indeed the foundation of a slander. They called Him "the friend of publicans and sinners." They said that He found His proper company amongst the outcasts and moral derelicts of Palestine. But the slander has long since lost its sting and been converted into a glory. That is Christ's crowning grace, He was the mighty Lover of Souls. He loved not only kind and lovable people like Martha and Mary and Lazarus, but He loved a cheating publican like Zacchaeus, He loved the woman who was a sinner, He loved the dying thief. It was a love from whose blessings not even the vilest and the worst was outcast. And that was what drew the hearts of the sinful and the fallen with such passionate devotion to Christ. "The publicans and sinners drew near unto Him for to hear Him." The people of whom every one else despaired turned with eager and thankful hope to Jesus. He had a Gospel for them. He loved them out of their sin and despair into newness of life.
A Continuous Love.
But it was one thing for the Nazarene to be the "friend of publicans and sinners," it was quite another for the exalted and glorified Son of God. Did the chilling doubt invade the souls of these women as to whether His love had survived the mighty change? Did Mary Magdalene wonder whether the Mighty Prince and Saviour would give her a place in His heart? In the days of His flesh, He had stooped to her help when she was a poor demented, derelict, unclean woman; He had cast seven devils out of her; but would the risen Lord give a thought to such a poor and humble creature? Well, again, if such fears did arise, they were dispelled by the angel's message. "Go, tell His disciples and Peter." It was the special mention of Peter that removed all doubt. It was the special singling out of Peter that made them sure there was no difference in the love. It was as if Jesus said, "I want them all to come, but specially I want Peter to come." And I look back in my Gospel, and the last notice of Peter which I come across is this. "But he began to curse and to swear, I know not this man of whom ye speak." I put the two verses side by side. "But he began to curse and to swear, I know not the man." "Go, tell His disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee," and one thing becomes abundantly plain to me, and that is this, death has made no difference to the lavish, stooping love of Christ. After the Resurrection as before, it was a love that forgave until seventy times seven.
The Restoration of Peter.
It is a significant fact that it is only Mark who records the special invitation to the fallen Apostle. Now Mark was, as we know, Peter's "interpreter." He got his account of the Gospel story mainly from the Apostle's own lips. When the Gospels came to be written, Matthew had forgotten about this special mention of Peter, Luke's informants had forgotten it, indeed the Christian people as a whole had forgotten it; but Peter himself had never forgotten it. It was the turning point in his life. But for that special word "and Peter" he might have made his bed in hell. For I will believe, that the wide world contained no more unhappy man than Simon Peter during the two days that intervened between his shameful denial in the judgment hall, and the receipt of this special invitation, unless indeed it might be Judas Iscariot who had betrayed innocent blood, and who found his misery so intolerable that he went out and hanged himself. But the special invitation was like the bursting of the sun into Peter's tempest-darkened sky; it scattered his despair. It was his Lord's assurance to him that he still had a place in His heart, that his great and terrible sin had made no difference to the strength and tenderness of his Lord's love. I say this special invitation was the beginning of Peter's restoration. But its permanent significance, and its gracious assurance to you and me is this, that Resurrection has made no difference to the love of Christ. The love of the Lord is a love that survives in spite of sin. "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it," says the old Book. And we may adapt that and say, "Many sins cannot quench love, neither can our iniquities drown it." The love of the Lord is a love that persists and endures and holds on. The love that gave an invitation to the blasphemer, invites and welcomes the world. There is not one outcast from it. He can save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.
"This Same Jesus." And the Meeting-place.
"He goeth before you into Galilee," said the angel, "there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you." And this again only gives further evidence that He was still the same Jesus. For why was Galilee appointed the meeting-place? Surely to make the disciples feel that between them and their Lord there could be the old feelings of happy friendship and fellowship. I do not think that it was in our Lord's plan to appear in Jerusalem at all. If the disciples had really believed His words, and had a simple faith in Him, immediately the Crucifixion was over they would have hurried Northwards and waited there for the reappearing of their Lord. It was fear and faithlessness that chained them to Jerusalem and constrained our Lord to show Himself first to them there. But Jerusalem was a place of bitter memories and painful associations. There was everything in Jerusalem to fill the disciples with shame and humiliation. It was in Jerusalem Peter had denied Him, it was in Jerusalem they had all forsaken Him and fled. The memories of Jerusalem would impose restraints and constraints upon their fellowship. But no bitter memories attached to Galilee. That was the place of their first enthusiasm, of the rapture of their early devotion. That was the place where their companionship with Jesus had been free and happy, and altogether beautiful. And it was there Jesus would meet with them. It was like telling them that He had no place in His memory for treachery and wrong and desertion. It was inviting them to resume the old and happy relationship of their first love.
"Unwearied in forgiveness still,
His heart could only love."
The same Jesus! And what a Jesus! The hope of the world lies here, that Jesus has not changed. He is the same seeking and compassionate Lord! There is a length and breadth and height and depth in His mighty love which passeth knowledge.
Chapter 28. Love and Vision
"Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not." Mark 16:9-11.
The Last Twelve Verses.
In a commentary of this character it is not necessary for one to go into the critical questions connected with the last twelve verses of the Gospel according to St Mark. The R.V., as you know, makes a break, and interposes a space between Mark 16:8 and Mark 16:9. It explains in the following note the reason why it detaches this concluding paragraph from the main body of the Gospel: "The two oldest Greek manuscripts and some other authorities omit from Mark 16:9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel." For our present purpose it will suffice to say that, by whomsoever they were written, these verses were attached to the Gospel from its very earliest days. In the second century they were already recognised as part of the Gospel; and even if they are not Mark's own workmanship they do not on that account lose their authority and force. We may confidently accept the passage as an "exceedingly ancient and authentic record of the words and deeds narrated in it." The paragraph itself gives a kind of synopsis of Christ's post-Resurrection appearances. It would have been a truncated and woefully imperfect Gospel if it had ended simply with the vision of the empty grave, and the angelic announcement that Jesus was alive. To complete the story it was necessary to add, not simply that some of the women had seen angels, but that this one and the other, now singly and now in companies, had seen the risen Lord Himself, and that ultimately the victory of the Resurrection had been crowned by the triumph of His ascension into glory. And that is exactly what we get in these concluding verses.
The First Appearance of the Risen Lord.
First of all, notice that though our paragraph does not follow naturally and easily upon what has gone before, it does mark an advance in the story. The first eight verses of the chapter tell us of the empty tomb and the announcement of the Resurrection; these verses tell us of the actual appearances of Christ to His disciples. The first of His disciples to whom He appeared was Mary Magdalene. But once again, we are compelled to confess that it is not easy to form a clear and definite judgment as to the sequence of events on the Resurrection morning. Apparently it was something like this. Very early in the morning, while it was yet dark, the holy women came with their spices to the tomb, found the grave empty and heard the angelic announcement. Then, as is stated in Mark 16:8, they fled from the tomb, ran back to where the other disciples were gathered, and stammered out their startling news. Whereupon Peter and John ran to the tomb and found for themselves that the women's report about the grave at any rate was quite true. Peter and John had been followed by Mary Magdalene. And when they went away again, she lingered near the tomb, rooted to the spot by love and sorrow. And it was to this weeping, loving woman that Christ first revealed Himself. "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene out of whom He had cast seven devils."
Not as Man would have chosen.
Now this is not the kind of first appearance that we might have expected. The appropriate thing we might have thought would have been such an appearance as would have confounded all His foes and put them to an open shame. If we had had the arranging of Christ's Resurrection appearances, we should, as Dr Glover says, have waked all Jerusalem with a blast of the angelic trumpet, and have bidden the people, who had shouted "Crucify Him," come and look at His empty grave. Or we should have confronted Pilate and the priests and elders who had sentenced Him to death with a vision of the glorious, majestic Lord. An appearance that would have been striking, dramatic, and that should overwhelm His foes with confusion that is the kind of first appearance we should have arranged for Him. Instead of that He appeared first to Mary Magdalene from whom He had cast out seven devils. It was to this humble (and as far as the great world outside was concerned, unknown) woman that Christ first showed Himself alive after His passion.
But after our Lord's Manner.
All this is quite typical of our Lord's actions. He consistently set aside the temptation to startle men into some sort of faith in Him by spectacular displays of power. That is the real meaning of Christ's rejection of the devil's suggestion that He should cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple, and by such a display of power practically compel the people to accept Him as divine. That is why He flatly declined to give the people a sign from heaven though they repeatedly asked for it. It was faith that Christ wanted. And a compulsory belief is not faith. There is a moral element in faith. A man has to choose; he has to give his vote. But if Christ had overwhelmed men's minds with tremendous displays of power there would be no room for choice. Men would simply be constrained to believe; in which case, again, belief would be absolutely no test of character. If there is to be a real faith, it seems as if there must be room left for doubt. Men must have an option; they must be able to believe or disbelieve. So the Lord was quiet, and unostentatious, in His working. The kingdom of God, as personified in His risen self, did not come with observation.
Why Mary was chosen.
But, while Mary was not the person we should have chosen to be the happy recipient of the first revelation of the risen Lord, yet when we think a little more deeply, and look at things a little more closely, we shall see that of all people she was the most fitted to receive the first revelation. For there is always a question of fitness in this matter of seeing Christ. It is not to every one He reveals Himself. "Thus saith the Lord, to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word" (Isaiah 66:2). There must be a certain moral preparedness if the Lord is to show Himself. The pure in heart shall see God, but the evil-hearted would not recognise God even if they saw Him.
A Woman now of Faith and Love.
I notice two things about Mary, which are suggested even by the bare narrative of my text. She was a woman of persevering faith; and she was a woman of a loving heart. First of all, she was a woman of persevering faith. She had run with the other women to bring the disciples word of the empty grave and the vision of angels. But she did then what the other women apparently did not do, she returned in the wake of Peter and John to the grave. And when Peter and John had finished examining the grave, and had gone back again home, Mary still lingered in the Garden. Now why did she linger there? Possibly, as some commentators suggest, because, after her own experience of the Lord's redeeming power, she had a mightier faith in His divinity than the rest of His disciples. "She was more capable of a belief in Christ's Resurrection than even John was," says Dr Glover. That may be so. But without dogmatising on that point, one thing I know, that after Peter and John had gone home because they felt there was nothing more to be heard or seen, Mary lingered on. Perhaps it was only gratitude and love that rooted her to the spot; but anyhow she lingered on. And to this woman who lingered on, there was given first a vision of angels, and then the sight of the risen Lord Himself. All of which suggests that it is the people who hold on and persevere and endure who get the blessing. Peter and John gave up too soon. They concluded too soon there was nothing to be gained by remaining at the grave. But the woman who lingered on saw the Lord. Do you not think we often give up too soon? In the matter of prayer, for example? Are we not all too ready to say, "The heavens are as brass, there is nothing"? It is the lingerers, the people who hold on, the people who endure, who get the blessing. That is what we want in these days, "Courage to wait and watch and weep, though mercy long delay." Persevering faith is in the long run always rewarded faith. If we hold on, and do not grow faint or weary, our eyes too will be gladdened with the vision of the Lord. The first appearance to Mary implies the reward of persevering faith.
Love and Vision. The Insight of Love.
And in the second place, it was the reward of a devoted and whole-hearted love. That little touch "from whom He had cast out seven devils" explains much. It explains why Mary was foremost in the work of preparing spices; it explains why she was very early at the grave; it explains why, when the other women remained in the Upper Room, she returned to the Garden; it explains why, when Peter and John went back again home, she still lingered near the grave. The other women and Peter and John and the rest of the disciples, loved the Lord. But perhaps none loved Him as Mary did. For none had received such unspeakable blessings at His hand as she had done. She had been lifted up out of the pit of degradation and shame and despair. "To whom much is forgiven," said Jesus, "the same loveth much," and we can vary it and say, "to whom mighty blessings are given, the same loveth much." And Mary had received mighty blessings at the hand of Christ, and so she loved him best. Those are the people who see Christ still the people who love Him best and long for Him most. People say that love is blind. They never made a greater mistake. Love is vision, love is sight. There are no eyes so keen as a mother's eyes. How is it that mothers are able to detect things about their children signs of illness or mental distress, for example which had passed quite unnoticed by ordinary folk? It is simply because of the insight of love. "While he was yet a long way off, his father saw him." No one else saw him; the elder brother with his narrow and jealous spirit did not see him. But his father saw him. Love caught sight of him. And it is love that sees the Lord; not intellect, not cleverness, but love. That is Christ's own promise. "If any man love Me, I will come unto him and will manifest Myself to him." And perhaps that is our greatest need today. More even than faith we need love; more even than the illumined mind, we need the devoted heart. We are living in dull days; there is no open vision. "Return, O Lord, how long?" we cry. But the fault is not in Him, but in ourselves. Our love is so cold and poor. We have no sense of the debt we owe to Him. If only our hearts got warmed, this sentence would have to be written of us, "Then were the disciples glad because they saw the Lord."
Chapter 30. The Disciples' Unbelief
"And they, when they had heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen." Mark 16:11, Mark 16:13, Mark 16:14.
The Great News Discredited and Denied. Doubted.
There were only two things at which Christ in the days of His flesh expressed astonishment the faith of the Roman centurion and the unbelief of the Nazarenes. But of His own people after the Resurrection we read in Mark 16:14 that "He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart." And I am sure it filled the heart of the writer of this paragraph with wonder too. Notice how he recurs to it again and again. He cannot get it out of his mind. Next to the wonder of the Resurrection itself, the most wonderful thing was the stubborn and persistent refusal of the disciples to believe it had really occurred. Follow the story as he summarises it. The first to bring the disciples the good news was Mary Magdalene. She came upon them as they mourned and wept with the gladdening announcement that she had not only seen the Lord, but had spoken with Him, and was the bearer of a message from Him to them. And instead of receiving the news with joy, the disciples chilled Mary to the marrow by the blank incredulity with which they listened to her. Notice what the evangelist says. "They, when they heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved. " They disbelieved. It was not simply that they could not persuade themselves that what Mary said was true, they scornfully and contemptuously rejected her story. It was a case of positive and summary repudiation. They said that Mary's story was an idle tale. There was something almost aggressive in their attitude. It was not doubt; it was denial. Then later in the day, came the incident of the two disciples who had set out to Emmaus, but who had immediately returned to Jerusalem when they had discovered Who their wonderful Companion was. And once again instead of breaking into Thanksgivings and Hallelujahs, the disciples received the news in chilling silence. "They went away and told it unto the rest: neither believed they them." "Neither believed they them." The expression, you will notice, is not so emphatic as that which is used in Mary's case. Here it is, "they did not believe"; in Mary's case it is, "they disbelieved." They had abruptly rejected Mary's tale. But certain things had happened since then. It had been rumoured, for example, that Peter had seen the Lord. At any rate, they did not feel that they could reject the story of the two disciples off-hand. And yet they could not bring themselves to accept it as true. The stage of blank denial had passed, but they were in the stage of doubt and difficulty still; "Neither believed they them."
Doubt Passing into Faith.
And then Jesus came and stood in the midst and said, "Peace be unto you." And so obstinately unbelieving were they, that they could not believe the evidence of their own senses. They were terrified and affrighted, Luke says, and supposed that they beheld a spirit. With their Lord there before them, they debated in their hearts whether it was He or not. And not until Jesus said to them, "See My hands and My feet that it is I Myself; handle Me and see," did their stubborn unbelief give way to a timid and trembling faith. And even after that first Sabbath evening, Thomas refused to believe. It was in vain his fellow disciples told him that they had seen Him, and rehearsed to him the words which Jesus had said. Thomas, I suppose, put all his fellow-disciples in the same category with Mary. They had taken to believing and repeating idle tales; nothing they said carried weight with Thomas. He was stubbornly, obstinately unbelieving. "Except I shall see in His hands the prints of the nails," he said, "and put my finger into the print of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." "I will not believe," that was the sort of temper in which the disciples met the news of the Resurrection.
The Value of the Disciples' Unbelief.
Now, as I have already said, from the point of view of apologetics it is better that the disciples should have been thus stubbornly and obstinately incredulous. It adds enormously to the value of their testimony. It knocks the bottom out of the vision-theory which is the theory of the Resurrection most favoured by sceptic writers. These "appearances" of the Lord, they say, were all the work of the imagination of the disciples. They wanted to see Him and so they thought they saw Him. It all began with the excited imagination of Mary, and the other disciples followed suit.
The Vision Theory disproved.
But before people see visions, they must expect the vision and believe it possible. Even the advocates of the theory admit as much as that. They concede the point, when they say the disciples wanted to see, and so they saw. Visions only come where there is expectancy, anticipation, enthusiasm. Had there been amongst the disciples an exultant belief in the Resurrection, we can understand how they should have taken to seeing visions. But there was no such expectation, no such anticipation, no such enthusiasm. When the disciples saw Christ laid in Joseph's rocky tomb, they thought they had seen the last of Him. Their temper was one of desolation, dismay, despair. Anything more grotesquely unlike the facts than Renan's picture of the disciples as a group of imaginative and enthusiastic and ecstatic people, cannot well be imagined. Far from expecting the Resurrection, it required proof after proof to convince them it had taken place. They were not excited people ready to accept any story, they were sceptical, incredulous, slow to believe. Mr Lathom in his Pastor Pastorum has a very interesting passage on the character of the Apostles as witnesses. He contends that by the very nature of their upbringing, education, and occupation, they were admirably fitted to be plain, straightforward, matter of fact witnesses. Well, whatever we may think of Mr Lathom's general contention (and I for one quite agree with it), at any rate we can say that the witness of the Apostles to the Resurrection carries special weight and conviction, for it is the witness of cool, critical, and almost sceptical men.
But the Doubt Sinful.
But while from the apologetic point of view we may almost be grateful that the Apostles were thus persistently and obstinately incredulous; from the moral point of view, their doubt was unreasonable, indefensible, sinful. That was evidently how it appeared to our Lord Himself, "He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart." He reproached them with it. In our Lord's eyes, their stubborn unbelief was blameworthy. Now let me remind you once again that there was a certain kind of doubt and unbelief that our Lord treated very gently and tenderly. How gently, for example, He dealt with the doubt of that agonised father who could only cry, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief." Doubt arising from ignorance, from honest difficulty our Lord never "reproached" men for that. A bruised reed He never broke and smoking flax He never quenched. The only doubt Christ ever "reproached" was the doubt that had a moral or rather an immoral root, the doubt that had its rise, not in the perplexed intellect, but in the evil heart. And that is exactly why He upbraided these disciples of His with their unbelief. Their unbelief rooted itself in moral defect. He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart. If they had only kept their hearts open and guileless, they would have been on the lookout for the Resurrection instead of scornfully disbelieving it, even when it actually occurred. For consider how many intimations of their Lord's Resurrection had been given to them.
A Sin against Light.
First of all, there was their own Jewish Scripture. If they had only read their Scripture with open and unprejudiced minds the Cross and the Grave would not have filled them with despair. They would have known that it was through the Cross and the Grave that Messiah was to march to His triumph. "Ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God," said Jesus to those Sadducees who denied the Resurrection of man. He might have brought exactly the same charge against His own disciples. They had read the Scriptures through the spectacles of Jewish prejudice. If they had read the Scriptures with open and unprejudiced mind, they would not have despaired because of the Cross, but they would have been waiting with eager hope for the dawn of the Resurrection morning.
A Sin against Experience and Christ's Character.
Then, again, they had been privileged to come into close touch with Jesus Himself. It was this that really made their unbelief so inexcusable and blameworthy. As they had companied with the Lord, they had been privileged to see in Jesus an absolutely holy person. He was unlike every one else who ever lived in this respect. He did no sin neither was guile found in His mouth. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. These men felt that His holiness was so perfect, His purity so dazzling, that sometimes it filled them with an overwhelming sense of their own sin and shame, and they were almost ready to leave Him because that sense of shame was almost more than they could bear. Now, if they had had open and guileless hearts, it ought to have been no surprise to them that such a person should have escaped the bonds of death. One of the Psalmists ventured long before the assertion that while death might be the wages of sin, death could not conquer and overcome perfect holiness. "Thou wilt not leave Thine Holy One," he cried, "to see corruption." And Paul afterwards finds, shall I say, the key to the Resurrection in the same stupendous fact of our Lord's sinlessness. He was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the Resurrection of the dead" (Romans 1:4). They ought to have known that death and corruption could never be the portion of One Who was without spot or stain of sin. And they would have known, had it not been that their hearts were hardened.
And of His Works.
In addition to the wonder of our Lord's person, there were the wonders of His deeds. These very disciples had seen the most amazing evidences of His power. They had seen His power over disease. He had given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the leper, power to the paralysed. He had even shown Himself to be Lord over death, itself. He had summoned back the breath of the little daughter of Jairus the Ruler of the Synagogue. He had stopped a funeral procession outside the gates of Nain and restored the young man, whom they were carrying out to burial, to his weeping and brokenhearted mother. He had, most amazing wonder of all, summoned Lazarus back to life though he had been in the grave four days. He had in these wonderful ways shown Himself Lord and Master of death. And was it likely that He Who had snatched this one and the other from the jaws of death, was Himself at the last to become death's helpless victim? They might have known, they ought to have known, in face of what they had seen, that here was One Who had the keys of Death and of Hades. They would have known, had it not been that their hearts were hardened.
And Forgetfulness of His Predictions.
And then finally, there were the plain and, definite predictions of our Lord Himself. He had spoken of "His Resurrection" by symbol and parable. He had said that in three days He would build the Temple of His body up again. He had said that the only sign that would be given His generation was the sign of Jonah the Prophet. But He had also spoken of it in set terms. He had done it again and again, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests; and they shall condemn Him to death, shall deliver Him unto the Gentiles, and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall rise again." Nothing could have been more specific or definite. But the disciples took no heed. The words fell on deaf ears. They refused to believe that Jesus would die, and therefore were deaf to any speech about Resurrection.
The Results of Prejudice.
And so it came to pass that when the third day came it found them absolutely unexpectant, sceptical unbelieving. They disbelieved Mary; they did not believe Cleopas and his friend; they could scarcely believe the evidence of their own senses. And if you ask what it was that had thus made their hearts hard and impenetrable, I reply it was prejudice. They had been brought up in the Jewish conception of Messiah. They expected the conquering prince of the popular imagination. Death had no place in their ideas of God's anointed. When the Lord spoke therefore about death, He was confronted with deaf ears and absolutely impenetrable hearts. You remember what John Bunyan in his Holy War says about the defence of Ear Gate? When Immanuel set out to capture Man Soul he addressed his summons first to the Captain in charge of Ear Gate, which of course is only Bunyan's way of saying that the Gospel is announced to most men and makes its appeal to most men by means of human speech. But my Lord Willbewill, Diabolus' Commander-in-Chief, had taken precautions to meet the attack, for he had stationed one, old Mr Prejudice (an angry and ill-conditioned fellow) as Captain of the Ward at that Gate, and put under his power sixty men, called Deaf-men, men advantageous for that service, for as much as they muttered no words of the captains nor of their soldiers. And that is exactly what had taken place in the case of these disciples: they had put old Mr Prejudice in charge of Ear Gate, so that all that their Master said to them fell on deaf and unheeding ears. For when prejudice is in possession of the heart, truth finds no admission. And that is why Christ blamed and reproached His disciples for their unbelief.
Warning for us. Against Doubt. Especially Doubt when a Cloak for Sin.
Now, in all this there is a rather solemn warning for us. First of all, let us plainly recognise this, that there are certain kinds of doubt for which our Lord has not pity, but blame. I think that needs to be said, and perhaps emphatically said, in these days, for we have exalted doubt into a kind of virtue. Perhaps that hackneyed line of Tennyson's, about their being more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds, is in part responsible for it. Now there are two things we ought to be clear about and those are these. Doubt, even when honest, is a condition to be deplored. We talk in these days as if the condition of "honest doubt" was really the kind of ideal condition, and as if the "honest doubter" was a very superior person. What we have to recognise is that doubt is not a thing to be bragged about or admired, even when honest, it is to be deplored. For doubt always means weakness, indecision, misery of soul. In fact, I will go further, and say that doubt when it is really honest, is always in an agony. That is the mark of honest doubt. Like the man in the story it cries out with tears, "Help mine unbelief." Braggart doubt, flippant doubt, is by those very characteristics revealed to be not honest doubt at all. And the second thing is this; much that parades as honest doubt, is not honest doubt at all, but doubt that springs from an evil heart. Yes, I will believe that Christ will deal very gently with the honest seeker, the man who longs for the light but finds himself still in the dark; but for the parade of doubt that covers an evil heart, that is really nothing but a cloak for sin, the Lord has not pity but indignation. It is a terrible thing to say, but it is nevertheless true, many men do not believe, because they do not want to believe. There is a close and intimate connection between scepticism and moral wrong. Men reject Christ not because they have examined His claims and found them wanting, but because they love their sin. Such a doubt, it is as well to be plain, does not receive the pity of Christ, but is exposed to the wrath of the Lamb.
"He reproached them with their unbelief and hardness of heart." And do you not think our Lord has similar cause for upbraiding this generation? What multitudes of people are absolutely indifferent to Him and to all intents and purposes reject Him! And it is not for lack of evidence of His grace and power. Here in the Gospels we have the story of His life, the one perfect and sinless life; here in His Church we have the evidence of His continuous life; here in saved and regenerated lives we have the evidence of His divine power! And still men go on their way unheeding. It is unbelief for which there is no excuse. It springs from "hardness of heart." And do you not think He has ground of complaint against His Church? For we do not take Him at His word, and we are incredulous of His power, and we fail to exercise the mighty privileges that are ours in Him. Like the disciples, we are not able to cast the evil spirits of our age out and it is all because of our unbelief. And our unbelief again springs from hardness of heart. What is our great need? Simple, guileless, believing hearts; hearts freed from prejudice; hearts that will take God at His word; hearts purged of all secret reservations. "A humble, lowly, contrite heart, Believing true and clean."
Chapter 29. "In Another Form"
"After that He appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them." Mark 16:12, Mark 16:13.
In the previous chapter I said that this concluding paragraph gives a kind of synopsis of our Lord's post-Resurrection appearances.
The Appearance to the Two Disciples.
We have an illustration of what I meant in these two verses. The appearance to the two disciples as they walked on their way into the country is no doubt the appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. As Luke tells it for us it is one of the most exquisite of the Resurrection stories. How Cleopas and his unknown friend set out on that eight mile walk to Emmaus; how a stranger joined them and entered into conversation with them; how He gave them the most moving and delightful Bible lesson they had ever received in their lives, proving to them that far from making Messiahship impossible, suffering and sacrifice were its very badge and sign: how in the interest of the conversation Emmaus was reached before they were aware; how the stranger whose talk had so fascinated and warmed their hearts made as though He would go further; how the two disciples, eager to hear more of His wonderful speech, pressed Him to stay with them; how He had sat down with them at their simple meal; and how at length He was known to them in the breaking of bread, and they recognised that the marvellous stranger was none other than their beloved Lord Himself, come to life again. How all this happened Luke tells us in one of those passages to which we continually turn, finding in it a spring of inexhaustible instruction and delight. But here the story is compressed into two verses, giving us the bare fact, that Christ did so appear unto two disciples as they walked into the country. And yet even in this brief statement there are one or two arresting things, that open up great avenues for thought and speculation.
"Another Form," but the same Lord. His Compassion.
I have been struck and arrested by that phrase "in another form," "in a different form," "altered in appearance." For the phrase calls attention to one characteristic of our risen Lord. His Resurrection had made a difference to Him; He was altered in "appearance." But He had not altered a bit in spirit. His love had not altered. His exaltation did not make Him distant with His friends. This is obvious from what we are told of what He said and did after His Passion. He never could look upon distressed and sorrowing people in His days of His flesh without wishing to help them. So, when He saw Mary sobbing her heart out at the tomb, His word, "Mary," transfigured sorrow into triumph. He never could look even upon physical want in the days of His flesh without wishing to minister to it. "I have compassion on the multitude, they have been with Me three days and have nothing to eat." And so He provided for them that bountiful meal out in the wilderness. And in just the same way His heart was moved with sympathy for those men who had toiled all night and caught nothing, and who were drawing near to the shore disappointed, cold and hungry. And so when they stepped out, they found a fire of coals burning and fish laid thereon and bread. He was pitiful towards those who had sin on their souls. He was eager above all things to lift that load, to bring peace to the troubled conscience. "Son, be of good cheer, thy Sins are forgiven thee," He said to the paralytic who had been brought into His presence. To the woman who was sobbing out her shame at His feet He said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee, go in peace." And so, exactly, He was quick and eager to bring peace to the soul of that disciple who had lived in an agony of remorse and shame ever since his denial in the judgment hall. His first message was one that conveyed the assurance of pardon and abiding love, "Go, tell His disciples and Peter." There was no change in the spirit of the risen Lord. And this likeness extended even to His personal ways. I am not going to etherealise Jesus, to depersonalise Him, so to spiritualise Him as to spiritualise Him clean away. Personality abides, and Jesus is a person. Even beyond death He retained certain personal characteristics. Mary knew Him by His voice. He was known by these two disciples "in the breaking of bread."
"Altered in Appearance."
But though the same He was different; not in essential things, but in outward guise. That is as unmistakably proved by the Resurrection stories, as the other fact that He was essentially the same. There is one striking and significant feature about out Lord's various Resurrection appearances. Scarcely any of those to whom He revealed Himself recognised Him at the first. Recall what the Gospels tell us. When He appeared to Mary, Mary did not recognise Him; she supposed Him to be the gardener. When He appeared to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, they walked the whole distance to the village without even guessing Who He was. They took Him to be some pilgrim-stranger who had come to Jerusalem for the feast. When He showed Himself to the Eleven on the first Easter evening, they did not recognise Him; not until He showed them His hands and His side did they come to believe it was their Lord Himself. When He appeared to the five disciples fishing on the Lake they seem to have taken Him for a passing traveller. It was only when the nets enclosed a great multitude of fishes that the truth flashed upon John's soul, and he said to Peter, "It is the Lord." When He appeared to above five hundred brethren at once on that mountain in Galilee, the mount on which He had preached the great Sermon, and to which He was accustomed to retire and pray, He was so different that not all who saw Him believed that He was Jesus, for "some doubted."
Faith and Sight.
It needs a certain preparation of soul and spirit to be able to see Jesus. Before sight can be established, there must be not only an objective and external world to be seen, but also an eye to see it. A man may say, "I can see nothing." It does not follow that there is nothing to be seen. "I never see such sunsets," said a lady to Turner. "Don't you wish you could, madam?" was the reply. The lady wished to imply that there were no such sunsets to be seen. Turner's plain hint was that the sunsets were there, but that she had not the power to see them. And just as there are dim-sighted, short-sighted, and blind people, as far as physical vision is concerned, so there are people whose spiritual vision is defective. They are dim-sighted, short-sighted, blind souls. Because some people see no beauty in Him that they should desire Him, it does not follow that Christ is not the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely. The defect is not in Christ, but in the men who look at Him. The chief priests crucified Christ because He said He was the Son of God. They called Him a blasphemer. It does not follow that He was not the Son of God. It was the priests who were spiritually blind. "These things are spiritually discerned." You must have an eye, and the clearness of the spiritual eye depends upon the purity of the heart, That is why some people, when they heard a voice from heaven, said that it thundered; and others who came into contact with the risen Christ did not recognise their Lord.
"Another form." Has this no bearing upon our own condition in the life beyond? There are some things which death cannot change. It cannot touch character; it cannot change personality. We shall be essentially the same people the other side of the grave as we are on this. Life is continuous. We shall retain our identity; and yet we shall be "altered in appearance." Our "forms" will be changed. But it is not this gross material body that we shall possess in the life beyond. We shall possess then a body which shall be a fitting sheath for the soul; which shall be the visible expression, so to speak, of the soul. In that sense, as Paul says, "we shall all be changed." As to the nature of that heavenly "form" which we shall then wear, it is idle to speculate. We can see that our Lord's Resurrection body was not subject to the laws of time and space. It was wholly different from the "body" He wore while a workman in Nazareth, and a preacher in Galilee and Jerusalem. But wherein the difference consisted it is impossible for us to say. Let us be content with the great words of the Apostle Paul. "It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
Christ Revealing Himself to Many.
But the phrase "in another form," suggests what appears to me to be an abiding feature in the ministry of Christ. Is He not continually appearing to men in "another form"? The old Greeks had a legend about an old man of the sea called Proteus, that he had the power of appearing in many shapes and disguises. People used to wish to consult him because he was supposed to have the power of prophecy. But now Proteus would appear as a fish, and now as a horse, and so on. Those who did not know his secret were apt to miss him; but those who held on to him, no matter the guise he assumed, were always rewarded, for to them Proteus would reveal himself in his true shape, and tell them what they wanted to know. That is simply legend; but, in what the Greeks used to say of the fabled Proteus, there is a suggestion of what really occurs in the case of our Lord. He comes to men in different forms. Ho does not walk the earth today in visible presence. But nevertheless He has not left it. He is with us always to the end of the world.
In Many Ways.
He comes to us today in the person of His Spirit. The Spirit pleads with men today, by the voice of conscience, by the influence of holy parents, by the words of this old Book, by the appeals of the Christian preacher. And when conscience is thus stirred, and the heart is thus touched, Christ has come to our house as surely as He went to Zaccheus' long ago; He is calling us just as clearly as He called Matthew from his toll-booth. Looked at from another point of view, He comes to us in the varied experiences of life. He comes to us sometimes in the shape of a great joy. And He comes to us, sometimes, perhaps oftener, in the shape of a great sorrow. He comes to us, again, in the persons of His people. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me"? Saul had been haling humble men and women and casting them into prison. And all unthinking he had been doing over again what the priests and the soldiers had done to Jesus. He had been persecuting Him, scourging Him, crucifying Him afresh. "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest," said the voice to him. Jesus was on the earth, still in the person of His persecuted and suffering people. He comes in the shape of that lonely person who needs friendship, or that bereaved person who needs comfort; He comes in the shape of the sick who need healing, and the weak who need help, and the hungry who cry for bread. That is the "different form" in which Christ presents Himself to men and women today. Let us beware of missing Him.
Not in the same Form to All.
Does not the phrase also suggest this, that different ages and different people may view Christ rather differently? There is no one definite, stereotyped, unalterable conception of Christ. You cannot find it even in the New Testament. You know how varied and different are the faces of Christ which the artists put on their canvases. There are no two pictures of Christ the same. The fact is each artist depicts his own Christ, the Christ of his own imagination and affection, the Christ as He appears to him. And He appears to no two in exactly the same form. The difference in the artistic representation of Christ is but symbolic of the difference in men's thoughts about Him. There are differences, as I have already said, even in the New Testament pictures of Him. Peter's Christ, and John's Christ, and Paul's Christ, they are all at bottom the same Christ, the Christ Who loved men's souls, and died for their sins, and rose again in triumph on the third day. But in each Apostolic picture there is a difference in the point of view. He appears to James perhaps mainly as the Lord of Conduct, and to John as the Illumination of the Soul, and to Paul as the mighty Saviour from Sin. I do not think we ought to expect all men to construe the person of Christ in exactly the same way. Augustine after a life of sensuality and sin will think of Christ in one way; the great Greek father Origen will think of Him in another; a man who has been rescued from lowest depths of vice will emphasise Christ's redeeming love; a man like Emerson who kept through life an almost stainless soul, will think of Him mainly as the revelation of God's love and life. But it is the "same Jesus." Just because He is so rich and full, He appears to the infinite varieties of men in different forms, according to their several needs, and is able to satisfy the wants of all.
And as it has been with individuals, so is it with the ages. Every age needs a new Christ, and finds a new Christ. As the years pass, men grow in knowledge. And as they grow in knowledge, old intellectual statements become obsolete and impossible. And so we must expect views of Christ to alter. They have altered, but we need have no fear that Christ is going to be superseded or discarded. There is such infinite fulness in Him that every age finds its satisfaction in Him. He appears to every new age, as it is born, "in another form."
But still the same Jesus.
And yet the same Jesus. Amid the almost infinite changes, essentially the same. We have advanced far since Augustine's or Luther's or John Wesley's days. But still to us, as to them, He is the Revelation of God, our Redeemer from Sin. The divine sacrificial love of Christ, that is the central and essential thing. And that abides. It is not "another form" of Jesus we get if the Cross is neglected. It is another Jesus Who is not another. "And He showed them His hands and His side," that is how the disciples knew Jesus. "Show me the nail-print," said an old saint in the cell to a being who pretended to be the Christ. It is the infallible sign. There may be changes in men's views of Christ, changes that sometimes perplex us, but if it is the Christ with the nail-prints in His hands we see, we can be content. "It is the Lord."
Chapter 31. The Great Commission
"And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15.
The Commission: When Given.
I do not think that Christ uttered these words and laid this commission upon His disciples on the occasion of His first visit to them on the evening of Resurrection Day. It is true the verse follows immediately upon the verse which tells us of that particular appearance. But then these nine verses do not profess to be detailed history. As much as that can be inferred from the bare fact that the nine verses are made to cover ground that occupies whole chapters in the other evangels. The writer has compressed and welded a good many things together without strict regard to chronological order. He has picked out of the happenings of the forty days just enough to make it plain that Jesus had really risen, and that the missionary activity of the Church in the days in which he was writing was the result of the specific direction and plain command of the Lord Himself. So we must not conclude that, because the writer seems to attach the "Great Commission" to the first appearance, therefore it was given on that occasion. I do not think it was. I should argue for my view in the first place on general grounds.
The disciples on that first evening were not prepared to receive a command like this. They were not in a fit spiritual condition to think of missionary work. On that first evening the disciples needed to have their own faith quickened. "He upbraided them," I read above, "with their unbelief and hardness of heart." It would have been of no use giving a command like this to unbelieving or halfhearted men. Before these humble men would venture out to preach to all the world, they themselves would have to be possessed of a triumphant and enthusiastic faith. And it was to the quickening of faith in the disciples themselves that Christ devoted Himself on the first Easter evening. "He showed them His hands and His side." "Handle Me," He said, "and see that it is I Myself." And in addition he tried to bring home to them the realisation of their power. He breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Further than that our Lord did not go on that first Easter evening. His whole concern that night was with the disciples themselves. His one desire was to quicken faith in His own Resurrection, and as a result to beget within them a sense of power.
But to Men Prepared.
It was later, when doubt had clean gone, and an enthusiastic faith and the courage born of it had taken its place, that our Lord spoke the great words of my text. It was to men convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, because of the Resurrection from the dead, and ready therefore to dare anything for Him, that Christ said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." When He said it, we are not told, but probably towards the end of His earthly sojourn. They would scarcely have been prepared to hear it sooner, for these disciples had much to learn before they were ready even to understand a command like this. There is a suggestive verse in the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles which is not without its bearing on this. Luke is summing up the events and conversations of the forty days, and says: "He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the Kingdom of God." It is that last phrase which is the important and significant one. The recurring theme of conversation between the risen Master and His disciples was the Kingdom of God, the topic upon which they most needed instruction and guidance. For while they were chosen as the men through whom the Kingdom was to be established, they were in the meantime themselves ignorant of the true nature of the Kingdom. Nothing is more striking than the disciples' perverse misunderstanding of the nature of the Kingdom which Christ had come to found. They were so entirely possessed by their Jewish prejudices that the true view of Christ's Kingdom never really got a lodging in their minds.
In Understanding of His Kingdom.
For example, take these three points. First of all, their conception of a Kingdom was that of a temporal Kingdom. Messiah's Empire, as they thought of it, was a kind of counterpart of Caesar's. In the second place, they thought this Kingdom was to be established by worldly weapons. They wanted to call down fire from heaven. They wanted to smite with the sword. Their idea was that nations were to be conquered by the sword, and so vast tracts were to be added to the Kingdom at a single stroke. And thirdly, their idea of the Kingdom was not universal but national. The Kingdom they thought of was a Jewish Kingdom. It represented the triumph of the Jew. And only the Jew and those who became Jews had part or lot in it. Now on each of these three points Christ's Kingdom was diametrically opposed to their thoughts of it. The Kingdom of God which He had come to establish was a spiritual Kingdom; it was no earthly empire, it was the reign of God in the souls of men; it was to be established not by force but by love, and all men were to find a place in it, Jew and Gentile on equal terms.
The Command and the Message. A Message of Glad Tidings.
Notice the nature of the messages to be given: "Go ye into all the world," He said, "and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." What was this Gospel which they were to preach? It was the news about Himself; the story of His life and death and Resurrection. It is implied that in some way His life and death and Resurrection affected the whole world of men. The tragedy and triumph both took place in Jerusalem. But though they took place in Jerusalem, it was not Jerusalem and Palestine only that were concerned. What happened in Jerusalem in those days, had what the theologians call "a cosmic significance." Distant lands were concerned, peoples and tribes that had never heard of Jesus were concerned; generations yet unborn were concerned. What happened to Him was of infinite moment to the universe. "Go," He said, "and preach this Gospel of My dying and rising again go into all the Kosmos and preach it to the whole creation." Nor was it only that what happened to Him concerned the world, it is also implied that it would be good news to the world. It was an evangel they had to preach. The world's happiness and hope were bound up with the knowledge of what had happened to Him. In some wonderful way the story of His living, dying, and rising again would bring light and joy and comfort and peace to the manifold peoples of the earth.
The Witness of the Message.
Now if Christ said this, it demolishes the theory of those who tell us that all the emphasis laid on the person of Christ, and the mighty place assigned to Him, is the result of a process of idealisation and deification that set in after His death. For you cannot reduce the person of Christ to the dimensions of a simple, lowly Galilean teacher without tearing the Gospels to rags and tatters. The impoverished Christ of so-called liberal theology is impossible; He never had any existence. There is no escape from the supernatural Christ, unless you deny His existence altogether. See what you have here a Person Who thought so highly of Himself, that He thought Himself essential to the world, that He claimed the world as His own, that He declared Himself indispensable to the Hope and Happiness of the World. And who was this Person Who made these claims for Himself? Unless we are to be shut up to the answer that Christ was not even a good man, but was the most colossal egoist the world ever saw, we are bound to give the answer the Church has always given, "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ."
Christ's Faith in the Disciples. Their Inexperience.
Observe, now, Christ's faith in His disciples. "Go ye," He said, "into all the Kosmos and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." Christ committed His cause and Kingdom to the keeping of these disciples of His. He laid upon them the gigantic task of evangelising the world. It was a tremendous task to which He summoned them. For consider the kind of people they were for this commission was not given to the Apostles only, it was given to the whole body of His disciples. They were men and women, most of them, who had never been out of Palestine. The only little bit of experience of evangelising work they had had, had been gained within the limits of Palestine and probably of Galilee. They knew no language save their own Aramaic dialect and possibly commercial Greek. And to these people, who were all perhaps without experience of the great world outside Palestine, Christ gave this commission, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." With their meagre, and as it seemed, hopelessly inadequate equipment, they were to set about the gigantic task of evangelising the world.
Their Humble Station.
In the second place, not only were they untravelled men and women, but they were humble and socially insignificant into the bargain. There was not a wealthy man, or a man of rank or learning amongst them. "Not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty were called." But God chose the weak things, and the base things, and the despised things of the world to do His work. When during the great war we wished to set our case before our American cousins we sent our very best men Mr Balfour, the Archbishop of York, Sirach 6. A. Smith to do it. But Christ chose for His ambassadors fisher folk and publicans. To them He committed the task of preaching His Gospel. And His trust was not misplaced. These weak men went everywhere, they appeared before governors and kings, they turned the world upside down, they were able to do all things through Christ which strengthened them.
The Present Duty.
Now this was not a command laid upon the first disciples only, this is the permanent commission of the Church. Here is the great end for which she exists. There are various reasons which can be urged for zeal in missionary work. With our fathers, it was mainly concern for the future state of the unevangelised heathen. With the majority of people today it is perhaps pity for their present wretchedness and misery. The motive that inspired our fathers to such desperate earnestness in the cause of missions has lost much of its old power amongst us. But I am persuaded that the motive which we find in the thought of the present distress of the heathen is inadequate. Missions will limp and lag and fail if we depend upon that for our driving force. We must get back a mightier and more potent inspiration. And that mightier inspiration we get in the call and command of Christ. Here is the final and sufficient reason for missions. Christ commands them: "Go into all the world. " A Christian is just a man who obeys Christ. It is open to question whether a man who says he does not believe in missions and who refuses to help missions is a Christian at all.
A Duty to all the World.
"Go ye into all the world!" You notice the uncompromising demand. The news about Christ was not to be confined to Palestine in those early days; the whole world had a right to hear it. The good news is not to be confined to Europe and the West in these latter days; every nook and corner of the world has a right to hear it. We have not to pick and choose. Some lands are difficult. Mohammedanism in Africa, Hinduism in India seem to oppose almost impenetrable barriers. But the Christian Church must not neglect India and North Africa because of their difficulty. Some lands are dangerous. But danger must not daunt us. It never has daunted the Church. The Gospel has entered into possession of nearly every land by a living way. Palestine by the blood of James and Stephen; Europe by the blood of Paul and Peter; the South Seas by the blood of John Williams; Africa by the blood of Bishop Hannington; New Guinea by the blood of James Chalmers. And still we must go in spite of danger. To the barbarians of Central Africa, and the untamed savages of New Guinea we must "go and preach."
And a Duty of All.
"Go ye into all the world." This is the business not of some but of all. This was not a commission given to the Apostles but to the whole Church. We must all take our share. We must all bear a hand. It matters not how poor and insignificant we may be, we have all a part to play. By gifts and prayers, if not by personal service, we must participate in this task. The first business of the saved man is the salvation of souls, says Andrew Murray. What we need to realise is that this is our first and chief concern, the spread of the Kingdom. Behind the command there lies the faith, that the news about Christ is the news the wide world needs; that the story of Christ, living, dying, rising again is a Gospel to all who hear it. It is a faith which is confirmed by all the facts. When the Apostles first set out on their missionary journeys, it was a mighty venture of faith, it was, shall I say, an experiment. They undertook their missionary labours on the bare word of their Master. But in our case, we know by actual experience, that the news about Christ is a Gospel to all who hear it and receive it; that wherever it is proclaimed it carries with it joy and peace and freedom; that it emancipates and saves men when everything else has failed. There is a multitude which no man can number of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The world needs Christ. He meets its wants. He can save it from its sin. And no one else can. "Give us your Christ," said the people of Japan to Drummond as he sailed back to England. It is the appeal of the world. Shall it appeal in vain?
Chapter 32. Belief and Unbelief: And Their Results
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My name shall they oast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Mark 16:16-18.
The Place of Baptism.
Here, no doubt, is a resumé of the last command and commission given by Christ to His disciples. Two subjects emerge: belief and baptism. In a work of this character, I avoid here all points of contention as to the rite of baptism, and deal only with some of its main aspects. For His Church the rite of baptism is a rite of our Lord's own institution. But it was not a rite He was the first to use. It had long been familiar to the Jews, and submission to baptism was one of the demands John made of all who repented of their sins. And now, in His great commission, Christ told His disciples to baptise all those who believed through their word. The rite of baptism was to be the outward badge and sign of their discipleship. It was beautifully fitted to be the symbol of the great change, for it typified that cleansing of the entire nature which only God could impart. It was the outward sign of an inward grace; the visible expression of the cleansing by the Spirit of God of the very springs of a man's being. And to this rite men who believed the Word were requested to submit as an open confession of their faith and new allegiance.
I now ask your attention to the great antithesis of this text, "He that believeth shall be saved; he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." This is one of the most tremendous statements in the Bible. And as salvation and condemnation are in the issue, it is vital we should know exactly what the statement means. Let me take the first limb of the antithesis to begin with. "He that believeth shall be saved." Now the first question that suggests itself is this, what exactly are we to understand by believing? And whom or what are we to believe? It is obvious that what we are to believe is the Gospel referred to in the previous verse. And that Gospel centres in the proclamation of Jesus living, dying, rising again. It is in that living, dying, risen Lord that we are to believe.
By believing is meant not a mere intellectual assent to facts. We believe that two and two make four. We believe that over a hundred years ago the battle of Waterloo was fought. We believe that in the year 1832 a great Reform Bill was passed. We believe that there have been such men in existence as Simon de Montfort and Oliver Cromwell, and that they played a great part in our English life in their day. And so we may believe that nineteen hundred years ago there lived in Palestine a Man, Christ Jesus, Who went about doing good, Who was Himself a holy Person, Who was put to death on a Cross under Pontius Pilate, and Who rose again on the third day. We may believe it all as a matter of history. But that is not the belief which is here meant. In so far as belief is a mere belief in facts, the devils believe and tremble. Nor is believing to be interpreted as acceptance of a creed. To know all about the "plan of salvation," to believe in the great doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement, is not the "saving faith" of which Christ here speaks. As a matter of fact, a man may be an expert theologian without being a Christian. It was of a great statesman in the early part of Queen Victoria's reign that it was said that he combined the theological learning of a divine with the morals of a rake. In the New Testament the phrase is usually employed to describe faith in Christ; it is not, "Believe the Lord Jesus Christ," but, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." There is a great difference between the two phrases. "Believe the Lord Jesus Christ," would mean "Believe His words, believe that what He says is true." But "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," means "Trust yourself to Him, rely upon Him, surrender yourself to Him"
Trust in a Person.
That is what saving faith really is, not believing Christ's words, but so trusting Him as to be willing to commit ourselves to Him for time and eternity; is not simply belief in certain statements, but trust in a person. The man who believes to the saving of his soul is the man who trusts Christ; trusts what He has done; trusts His sacrifice; trusts His intercession; trusts in Christ and His work, in opposition to any trust in himself and his attainments; who commits himself to Christ and bases all his hopes on this great truth, "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me."
The man who so believes shall be saved! And what again do we mean by "saved"? "Saved" in the first place from the pains and penalties of sin. Saved from that "death" which is the penalty of sin; "saved" in the sense of being pardoned and justified and set right with God. It is only a vain fool like Rousseau who will frantically brag about appearing before God with the record of his life in his hands and claiming acquittal as a matter of right. Most of us know we have done wrong; most of us know that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. My hope of acceptance is that I shall be found in Christ. When I commit myself to Christ I make His life of obedience in faith and intention my own, and I am accepted in the Beloved. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.
But "saved" not only from the penalties of sin, but saved also from sin itself. When a man so believes in Christ as to commit himself to Him, new power is imparted to him; he renews or rather exchanges his strength, and he is able to fight and overcome sins that had previously been too strong for him. I have just been reading an article by William James in the very last volume of essays and addresses published after his death, in which he says this, that we habitually exert less than our maximum of power. There are stores of power available which we never use. There are higher levels of living possible to us but which we never reach. We "live at a poor dying rate," as Cowper puts it. And he illustrates what he means by the phenomenon of what is called "the second wind." In a game, at a certain stage, players get fatigued and winded, but if, instead of giving up, they keep on, all of a sudden the fatigue seems to vanish, exertion becomes easy, they seem to have tapped a new source of power, they have got their "second wind." And there are levels of moral and spiritual power waiting to be tapped, he says, but men usually need some great emotion, some mighty excitement, to make them tap them. And one of the mighty experiences that make men tap this new source of power, he says, is conversion.
Conversion and Power.
Somehow when men are in Christ they find themselves possessed of a strength undreamed of before. In the power of it old habits are broken, old sins are clean put away. Zacchaeus the miser becomes a philanthropist; the woman who was a sinner becomes a saint; John Bunyan the blasphemer becomes a writer of holy books; J. B. Gough the drunkard becomes a mighty temperance orator. When men commit themselves to Christ, they rise to new levels of living. They exchange their strength. Undreamed of drafts of power flow into them. They are clean emancipated from the bondage and lust of sin. They put away the evil uses of a life. They can do all things through Christ Who strengthens them. And all that is involved in salvation. Release from the pains and penalties of sin in and of itself would be a small thing. But victory over sin itself is a great thing. And that is what Christ does for a man. When a man commits himself to Him, He saves him, for "He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoner free."
Disbelief and Condemnation.
"He that believeth shall be saved... he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." And in turning to consider the second limb of the antithesis I want to begin by saying how inexpressibly grateful I am for the change the revisers have made in my text. The A.V. runs like this. "He that believeth not shall be damned." Now we could scarcely have had a more misleading translation. I am glad the revisers have changed "He that believeth not" into "He who disbelieveth," for the plain implication of the Greek is, that it is not every one who does not believe who is going to be condemned, but he who, having the chance of believing, deliberately refuses and rejects and repudiates the Lord. But I am gladder still they have altered that word "damned." Originally perhaps it meant pretty much what "condemned" means now, but in the course of the years certain theological ideas have become inseparably associated with the word. When we speak of the " damned " we mean "lost souls," souls for ever separated from the mercy of God. But the Greek word carries with it no such ideas. It does not say that the people of whom it speaks are hopelessly and eternally lost. What it says is serious enough, but there is no need to deepen and darken the colours. The simple, solemn statement of my text is this: "He that disbelieveth shall be condemned." It is the unbelief of one who had the chance of belief. It is the unbelief of one who has seen the good and has deliberately chosen its opposite saying, "Evil be thou my good."
A Warning to Ourselves.
It is to men and women like ourselves this solemn word addresses itself. It is impossible to take up a neutral attitude towards Christ. There is no middle course. There is no cross-bench. He is set either for our rise or fall. We must either accept Him or reject Him, we must either believe or disbelieve. The one thing we cannot do with Christ is either to neglect or ignore Him. And "He that disbelieveth shall be condemned." There is nothing said here about the character or the duration of the punishment. The reserved and reticent character of all the Bible references to the future marks this reference also. All that is said is that he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. But let not the reserve and reticence of the reference make any one think lightly of it. Its very simplicity and reserve make it all the more awe-inspiring to me. "Shall be condemned." We say little of the stern side of the Gospel in these days. We have subscribed to a rather sloppy and sentimental kind of optimism, and comfort ourselves with thinking everything is coming out all right in the end. What foundation have we for our optimism? What the Scripture says, what our Master says, is: "He that disbelieveth shall be condemned."
Not to be Neglected.
How foolish it is to shut our eyes to the austere side of the Gospel! We do not get rid of the judgments of the Lord, and the wrath of the Lamb, by refusing to think or speak of them. The man who comforts himself amid a life of folly and sin with the thought that everything will come right in the end is putting his soul to the hazard. I do not know what will happen in the end. What I do know is that Scripture is urgent, that in the making of the great decision not a day should be lost. "Now is the accepted time." The man who can wilfully reject Christ when he has seen Him, needs no Judge from a great white throne to pronounce his condemnation, he has pronounced his own. It was a curator in one of the great art galleries of Italy, where some of the masterpieces of Italian painting were preserved, who declared that it was not the spectators who criticised the pictures, it was the pictures that judged the spectators. By their appreciation or otherwise of the pictures, the spectators revealed themselves as possessed or devoid of the artistic sense. And in exactly the same way by their attitude to Christ, men reveal whether they have or have not the love of goodness in their souls. "We needs must love the highest when we see it." Yes, if we have good and honest hearts; but if we reject the highest, it is because our hearts are evil. That is why it remains eternally true, "He that disbelieveth shall be condemned." He is condemned already, he has condemned himself.
Upon the signs that should follow belief I will not dwell: let it suffice for us to think on the great alternative set before us in our Lord's commission to His people.
Chapter 33. The Ascension
"So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." Mark 16:19.
A New Title.
The Lord Jesus! Here in St Mark is a new appellation for the Master. Its occurrence here does not mean that something had happened which had "ennobled" Christ; but that something had happened which enabled the disciples to see the glory that had been His all along. That something was the Resurrection. That had opened the eyes of the disciples to the real glory of their Master; the empty grave told them Who He really was; and recognition of the Master's dignity finds expression in the new title. There is a new note of reverence and worship in their reference to Him. He was "Jesus" simply before the Cross; He was "the Lord Jesus" after the empty grave. It was not a human Jesus the early Christians preached to the world, but an exalted Lord. There never would have been a Christian Church if there had been only a human Jesus to talk of. The early disciples went everywhere because they were absolutely sure of this, that the Jesus they had companied with was the exalted Lord. So when people say, Let us get back to the plain, simple, human Jesus of the early days, I say that is not getting back to Him at all, that is getting away from Him. The Jesus of the early days and the first disciples was not a plain, simple, human Jesus, He was "the Lord Jesus." We are true to the primitive faith, to the belief of the men who saw Christ and companied with Him, only when we acknowledge His unique and solitary majesty.
The Fact of the Ascension.
Now in these concluding verses the writer seems to be rounding off his Gospel; and so, very briefly, the Ascension is recorded. The direct evidence for the event is meagre. It occupies a very small place in the Gospel records. Matthew and John give no distinct report of it; Mark and Luke are the only two who mention it directly; and in this Gospel, as you notice, it is referred to in this brief and simple way. The only circumstantial account we get of the Ascension is in Acts 1:0. But it is quite natural that we should get the most detailed account in that particular book. As Dr Salmond puts it "the Gospels report the story of our Lord's ministry on earth. The Book of the Acts reports the story of His ministry in heaven discharged through His Apostles, and it begins appropriately with the Ascension." But it would be a great mistake to think that our belief in our Lord's Ascension depends only upon the two-fold mention by Luke, and this brief reference in Mark. No one can read the Epistles without seeing that it occupies quite a prominent place in the Apostles' testimony. It is not directly proved; it is assumed, presupposed, taken for granted. It is very much with the Ascension as it is with the Incarnation. The great doctrine of the Incarnation is nowhere in the Epistles formally stated and proved. It is taken for granted; it is the background of all the Apostolic thinking. It is much like that with the Ascension. It is axiomatic in the Apostles' thinking. When they think of the Lord Jesus they think of Him as One Who has passed within the heavens. It was from heaven Christ appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus; it is from heaven, according to the same Apostle, that Christ will come to judge both the quick and dead. Peter speaks of Christ as having gone into heaven and being on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being subject unto Him. John declares that he saw in the midst of the New Jerusalem, One like unto the Son of Man Whose eyes were as a flame of fire and His voice as the sound of many waters, and Who said to him, "I am the first and the last, and the Living One, and I was dead and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." No one can read the New Testament without seeing, then, that the Ascension forms the background of the Apostolic thought. "The conviction of our Lord's Ascension," says one writer, "fills the mind of the Apostolic age."
The Completion of the Resurrection
The Ascension was the natural completion of the Resurrection. People in these days affect to find difficulties in the story on the ground of natural law. They say that a body should ascend is a contravention to the law of gravity. It is just the kind of objection one might expect from a materialistic age. For it leaves out of account the mighty power of God. I will set no limits to that power. Believe in God, and you see no difficulty whatever in believing that He exalted Jesus to His own right hand. Far indeed from seeing difficulty in the Ascension, it appears to me to be pre-eminently natural and fitting. When Jesus rose again from the dead, it was not to resume the old life, it was not to spend a few more years like those He had spent in Galilee and then again fall a victim to death. Death had no more dominion over Him. He had risen into a state over which death had no power. Earth, with mortality as its distinguishing characteristic, was no home for such a Person. He belonged to the spiritual and eternal world, and that He should pass into it is not surprising but supremely natural and fitting and indeed inevitable. The Ascension, I expect, was the completion of the Resurrection. The Lord delayed His departure for forty days in the interests of the disciples. As soon as their training and teaching was completed, He was seen no more on the ways of earth. He resumed His glory. "So then, the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven."
The Benefits of the Ascension to Men.
And the Ascension was more than the return of Christ to His glory: if this Book is to be believed it became a source of blessing to men. "He was received up into heaven." At first sight that seems to stand for loss; as a matter of fact it stands for gain. That was the first feeling of the disciples when their Lord was parted from them. The world seemed a poor place. They stood gazing up into heaven. All they had treasured and loved seemed to have vanished into the skies.
Not loss but gain.
As a matter of fact, Christ's departure meant not impoverishment but enrichment. How shall I put it? They gained their Lord by losing Him. They lost Him in visible form, to have Him with them as a Spiritual Presence for ever. "It is expedient for you that I go away," He had said. It was a hard saying at the time. I can imagine it was a hard saying to them on the day of the Ascension itself. And yet it was abundantly true. It was only by losing their Lord they could hope to keep Him. "Lo, I am with you all the days," He had said to them. And to be able to fulfil that promise, it was essential He should go away. Christ could only become the universal Christ by becoming the heavenly Christ. Supposing the disciples had been able to do what Mary in her eager but mistaken love sought to do, supposing they had been able to keep Him with them, Jesus would have become a local Presence. He would have been in Judaea, and men would have felt He was nowhere else. And then what Henry Drummond speaks of would actually have taken place, everybody who believed the Gospel would try to get within sight and touch and hearing of Jesus. Supposing He still walked in bodily form in Palestine today, we should all be making pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and so many millions of us would go that not only would the ordinary business of life be dislocated, but years and years might pass, indeed a whole lifetime might be spent without our being able to come near enough to Him to gaze upon His face or hear His voice. But He went away that He might come near to us all. There is no need to journey to Palestine or anywhere else. He is spiritually near to us always and everywhere. In the shop, in the office, in the home, in our pleasures, in our sorrows, in our temptations, the Lord is spiritually near. A localised Christ would have been to multitudes an absent Christ. But the Christ Who has passed within the heavens is by His Spirit present with us always even unto the end of the world.
"He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God." Now the "right hand of God" is in Scripture a synonym for the omnipotent energy of God. Recall such phrases as these. "The right hand of the Lord is exalted, the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly." "I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness." "He will answer Him from heaven with the saving strength of His right hand." To sit down at the right hand of God means, therefore, to be clothed with all the energy and power of omnipotence. So the Lord Jesus when He left the earth assumed the place of supreme power. He is in the place of absolute power and dominion, "He sat down at the right hand of God." The Jesus Who died on the Cross is now the Jesus Who reigns. Is there not inspiration and encouragement in that thought? In these days of anxiety and turmoil there is nothing we need more than this, to realise that Jesus is at the right hand of God. That is what we need for our comfort in the midst of the perplexities and harassments of our own time. We see various forces at work in society, forces that menace and threaten our well-being greed, hate, lust, envy. But the destinies of men are not at the mercy of these things after all. Let us comfort our hearts with this assurance Jesus has sat down at the right hand of God. And that, too, is what we need for our encouragement in our Christian work.
The Strengthening Vision.
The slow progress of the work has filled the hearts of Christian people with doubt and depression, and the doubt and depression in turn have paralysed our energies. What we want to see is Jesus at the right hand of God. That is a vision that will banish despair. Our Lord has already won His victory and taken His seat on the throne. He only waits now for the fruit of His victory to be gathered. "When He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, He sat down at the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made the footstool of His feet." No matter how discouraging the work or how slow the progress, we shall be quite sure the Kingdoms of this world are to become the Kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, for already the Lord Jesus has been received up into heaven and has sat down at the right hand of God.
Chapter 34. The Labour of the Disciples
"And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen." Mark 16:20.
The Gospel story, so far as the evangelist is concerned, really ended with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he adds these two sentences to let us know what happened to the Lord and to His disciples afterwards. What happened to the Lord was this, "He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God." What happened to the disciples was this, "They went forth and preached everywhere." But while the two sentences thus tell us the "afterwards" of our Lord and His disciples, we must not conceive of them as independent statements. They are rather two limbs of our statement. The one stands over against and balances the other. If we are to bring out the full force of the original we should have to render it something like this: "So then the Lord Jesus, on His part, was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God, and the disciples, on their part, went forth and preached everywhere." The one action balances the other, follows upon the other, is the consequence and result of the other. It is a case of action and reaction. It was because Jesus was received up into heaven that the disciples went everywhere. It was the exaltation of the Lord that kindled the missionary fervour of the disciples. As Dr Glover says, these two concluding verses tell the story of two ascensions, first the ascension of the Lord to glory, and then the ascension of the Church out of its gloom and sorrow and doubt and despair into courage and hope and triumphant zeal. And the one ascension was the consequence and result of the other. There would have been no Missionary Church, there would have been no Church at all, had it not been for this assurance in the hearts of Christian men and women, that "their Jesus had gone up on high."
The Exalted Christ and the Gospel.
Can we see why the one ascension should have issued in the other? Can we see why the fact that Jesus should have been received up into heaven inspired the disciples to go forth and preach everywhere? I think we can. I am going to suggest two reasons. First of all, it was the fact of the exaltation of Christ that gave them a Gospel to preach. I mean this, the Christ these men preached was the glorious and only Son of the Most High God. It was because He was the glorious and only Son of the Most High God, that they felt it worth their while to go everywhere and preach about Him. And it was the Resurrection and the Ascension (for the one was simply the completion of the other) which put Christ's glory and divinity beyond dispute. So that in a very deep and real sense it was the Resurrection and Ascension that gave them their Gospel to preach. We may be quite sure that, had our Lord's life ended in Joseph's rocky grave, the disciples would never have "gone forth everywhere and preached." They would have stolen away back to their Galilean homes and tried in absorption in work to forget the shattering of all their hopes in the Cross. But the Resurrection and Ascension made them quite sure their Master was the Son of God. It was in the light of the Resurrection and Ascension that they saw Jesus had a "cosmic significance." It was the exaltation of Jesus which gave them a Gospel which not only they could preach to the world, but which they felt they must preach to the world. It was the fact that Jesus was set down at the right hand of God that sent them forth everywhere.
The Apostolic Theme.
For does any one imagine that these men would have gone everywhere preaching, and suffering untold things in the process, if they had only a good and brave man to speak about? The Greeks had, from their own point of view, a great and good man in Socrates, but I never heard of the Greeks going everywhere to preach Socrates. Does any one imagine if Jesus had been only a kind of Jewish Socrates that these disciples would have gone everywhere? The mere asking of such questions demonstrates the absurdity of the assertion that if we could only get far back enough we should find just Jesus the good Man. It was not Jesus the good Man these Apostles travelled far and wide to preach, but Jesus the mighty Son of God. They travelled far and wide to preach Him because it was of vital importance everybody should know of Him, because men's redemption and eternal life depended on Him, because in Him God Himself had come down for the rescue of the world. That is why Paul travelled all the way from Antioch to Rome, because "there was no condemnation for men in Christ Jesus." That was why Peter toiled and dared and suffered because "there was no other name given under heaven amongst men wherein they must be saved." At the back of this missionary zeal of theirs was this mighty Gospel of theirs that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, demonstrated as such by this fact, that He had been received up into heaven and had sat down at the right hand of God.
The World's Hope To-day.
There is no Gospel for the world in any faith less than that. If Jesus was the divine Son, if in Him God came down to this world for the redemption and rescue of man, there is a Gospel in that worth carrying to the ends of the earth, there is a Gospel in that which men will feel they must carry to the ends of the earth. But if Jesus was only a good Man and nothing more, what is the use of troubling about missions to the heathen? There have been other good men in the world, and if Jesus was nothing but a good Man He would be on the same level with Buddha, and Socrates, and Confucius, and it would be as profitable to preach one as the other. If that is all you can say about Him there is no sense in sending people to India and China and Africa to "preach Christ." In fact when men get to that point they do not trouble to preach Christ. Unitarianism does not as a rule issue in foreign missions, it shows no enthusiasm for the evangelising of the world. Let me put it in a nutshell: you cannot impoverish your Christology without emptying your Gospel, and you cannot empty your Gospel without cutting the nerve of your foreign missionary enterprise. This is the only thing that will send men forth to preach everywhere, the belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, the only begotten Son of God, demonstrated as such by the fact that He has been received up into heaven and has sat down at the right hand of God.
The Exalted Christ and Courage to Preach.
But the fact of the exaltation of Christ not only gave the disciples a Gospel to preach, it also furnished them with the strength and courage that enabled them to preach it. Let us again try to put ourselves in these disciples' place. Look at the men and then think of the task; there seems a ridiculous disproportion between the one and the other. Apart from any opposition to be encountered, the work in mere extent appears absolutely impossible for such a handful of men. But it was not simply the extent of the work, there was also the difficulty of it. It was not simply that the world was a big place, it was a hostile place. Fancy flinging a little handful of men like this upon such a task when the wealth and learning and power of the world were all hostile to them! Fancy putting this little company of Galileans against the rulers and kings of the known world! If ever it seemed as if people had embarked upon a forlorn hope it was surely these disciples when they confronted the peoples, rulers, princes, kings of this world with their story of a crucified Christ. But they did it!
With magnificent and subduing courage they did it! And they did not think they were engaged in a hopeless enterprise either. They flung themselves into the attack with a sort of joyous zest. They knew they were bound to win. Discouragements and disappointments did not daunt them. They were imprisoned, they were tempted, they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword; they wandered about in deserts and mountains and caves and the holes of the earth, they were destitute, afflicted, evil entreated, but they never for a moment lost heart. The Jewish Sanhedrin, the mob, the Roman magistrates, great Caesar himself, stirred themselves up to oppose and destroy them, but they never flinched or faltered. They knew that the power was not in the hands of the Jewish Sanhedrin, or the Roman magistrates, or even the so-called Master of the world; they knew that the Jesus Whom they preached had been received up into heaven and had sat down at the right hand of God. They were in the service of a victorious Lord. One ascension explains the other. The Lord arose into heaven, and they at the same moment arose out of all cowardice and fear. The Lord sat at the right hand of God, and they went everywhere preaching the word.
And Courage for us.
And let me add again as I pass, it is the vision of that glorified and exalted Lord that will give us courage and strength for our task today. Stupendous tasks still confront us both at home and abroad. Think of the mighty problem of the vice and sin and religious indifference of our great cities; think of the world shaken and shattered by the war; think of the vast unevangelised lands of heathendom. If we look at the task and then simply look at our own resources we shall despair. What we need to do is to look at our exalted Lord. You remember how Dr Dale used to say that when thoughts of Christ's tenderness and love failed to bring him the comfort he wanted, the thought of Christ's Lordship steadied and strengthened him. That is the thought we need to recover, the thought of Christ's Lordship, the remembrance of His victory. He is already at the right hand of God. We see Jesus crowned. Things are in His hands. He will not faint nor be weary. He will not fail nor be discouraged. Let us think of Him. Let our eyes gaze upon Him. Let us see Him there in the place of supreme power. Then doubt will flee. If we see Jesus at the right hand of God, we too shall be ready to go everywhere, preaching the Word.
The Blessed Partnership.
"They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord (that is, Christ) working with them." Their Lord had been received up into heaven, but He had not left them to toil alone. He worked with them. They were encouraged in their toil not simply by the thought of their Lord's triumph, but by His actual presence and help. It was not a case of the Lord smiling upon them from a distance, it was a case of the Lord clasping their hands and making them sufficient for the fight. You remember what Paul says when the most critical hour of his life was come and he was set before Caesar. His friends had practically all deserted him, but he says, "The Lord stood by me and strengthened me and delivered me out of the lion's mouth." That is it, exactly, "The Lord stood by me and strengthened me." And He stood by and strengthened all His disciples. He did not leave them to toil alone. Their work was done in a blessed partnership. In and of themselves they could have accomplished little. But when you read this sentence, "the Lord working with them," it changes the entire outlook. "With five shillings Teresa can do nothing," said the great Spanish mystic when her friends smiled at her idea of building an orphanage when funds seemed to be almost wholly absent, "but with five shillings and God there is nothing Teresa cannot do." And it is so still. All Christian work is done in this happy partnership. They talk of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. But vicar means one who takes the place of another because that other is absent. But Christ needs no vicar. Because Christ is not absent. He is with us always even to the end of the world. And therein lies our sufficiency. It is not we who are engaged in the work. It is Christ and we. "The Lord working with us." We have known it sometimes. When we have been tired and dispirited we have had Paul's blessed experience, the Lord has stood by us and strengthened us. "We touch Him in life's throng and press, and we are whole again."
The Signs that Follow.
"And confirming the word by the signs that followed." Confirming the word, ratifying it, demonstrating the truth of it, by the signs that followed. The signs that followed are no doubt the signs referred to in Mark 16:17 and Mark 16:18. The world was not able to dismiss the Gospel the Christian preachers brought with a shrug of the shoulders, because of the signs that were wrought by their hands. Men felt that the mighty power of God was working through them, and that these mighty works were God's testimony that the words which they spoke were true. They were the divine seal to the message. The Lord confirmed the word by the signs that followed. But we need not, and indeed we ought not, to confine these signs to such wonders as the raising of Dorcas to life by Peter, or the healing of the lame man at Lystra by Paul, or the deliverance of the demented girl in Philippi by the same great Apostle. The conversion of evil men was a still more notable sign and that sign was continually following the word. Take what happened in Corinth as an example. Corinth was in some respects the most notorious city of the ancient world. Vice there was exalted not simply into a fashion but into a religion. These were the kind of people Paul found in Corinth, "drunkards, adulterers, fornicators, revilers, effeminate and such like." But the great miracle happened, "Ye were washed, ye were justified, ye were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God." And that was the mightiest sign that followed the word. That was what demonstrated its divinity and truth. That was what impressed the world to which it was preached. By it bad men were made good; foul men were made clean; drunken men were made sober, hard men were made kind. By it men entered into possession of the eternal life. And it was that that impressed the world. "The Lord confirmed the Word by the signs that followed."
And still Follow.
And these signs still follow. We are still privileged to behold confirmation of the Word in the transformation of human lives. We see the miracle here at home; the missionaries are privileged to see it abroad. Wherever the Gospel is preached it produces the same amazing transfiguration of human life. There are a multitude around the throne of all tribes and nations and peoples and tongues who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They are the signs that confirm the Word. There may be many things about the doctrines of our faith that puzzles us, but this thing we know, the preaching of Christ and Him crucified, changes, converts, transforms, transfigures men. It accomplishes this miracle where everything else has failed. What further need have we of witness? The best evidence of the truth of Christianity is that it is a converting religion. There is in our Christ cleansing, healing, saving power. Let us go forth and preach Him everywhere! He will work with us and confirm the Word by the signs which follow.
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Jones, J.D. "Commentary on Mark 16". Jones' Commentary on the Book of Mark. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany