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The Wanderer's Return
The question of waxing lukewarm is one which is prominent before the minds of the churches. There are none, so far as we know, who believe it is impossible for a believer to wander away from God. There are many who realize to their sorrow that a large percentage of church members have wandered away. To say that all of these are saved would certainly be wrong. To say that none are saved would be just as erroneous. Christians may, and do wander.
1. To wander from God is possible, but not necessary. The Lord Jesus Christ has made all provision for a victorious and overcoming Christian life. Temptations come to us from three viewpoints. They come from the flesh; they come from the world; they come from the devil.
If we walk in the Spirit we are told that we will not fulfill the works of the flesh. We are also told that with the shield of faith we may quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. So far as the world is concerned, the Book tells us, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
In all things we may be more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. It was Charles H. Spurgeon who said something like this: "If Jesus Christ died to save us from the penalty of sin, and then left us as dupes to the power and dominion of sin, then His was a puerile salvation."
God has told us in just so many words that "Sin shall not have dominion over you." Let the wanderer therefore cease to condone his wanderings. There are too many who excuse their sins. Some we fear are even proud of their evil ways.
2. Wandering from God is not only possible, but it is probable. It is probable because people are trying to meet the issues of life in their own strength. It is probable because sin still holds a certain sway in the unyielded life. It is probable because the world is fascinating, beautifully draped and decked, and many believers have never left its portals behind them. They are doing what Pharaoh wanted Moses and the Children of Israel to do: to serve him in his land. Or they are doing another thing Pharaoh said: "Go not too far away."
3. The heart of Jesus Christ toward the deserter. Here is a vital consideration. When a believer wanders from his Lord, does the Lord scratch his name off the Book of Life? Does He cast him off forever? Quite the contrary is true.
In the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord distinctively teaches that He is against the shepherds of Israel because His sheep wandered away from the fold and were scattered upon the face of the earth and none did seek after them.
In the case of Peter, we have a very striking message as to Christ's attitude toward one who, step by step, left Him and went away. "We trust that as the story of Peter's restoration is brought out, we will discover first of all the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ toward those who wander; and secondly, the methods of the Lord Jesus Christ in seeking to reclaim the stumbling, fallen brother. We think of Peter sometimes as a "model" deserter. If so, Christ is a model Restorer to those who fall away. There was not one moment from the time that Christ first rebuked Peter when He said, "Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny Me thrice," until Peter's restoration was fully adjusted, that the Lord did not yearn after His own.
We must remember that the love of God is an everlasting love. When Jesus Christ first called Peter He said unto him, "Thou art Simon * * thou shalt be [a rock]." The Lord spoke knowing all about the day when Peter would curse and swear. Christ thus took Peter for better, not for worse.
So does the Lord take every one of us. He says, "No man is able to pluck you out of My hand." Our Lord is able to save unto the "completion" those who come unto God by Him. That completed work of grace may demand much of chastisement, but God will bring His trusting children back again.
I. I HAVE PRAYED FOR THEE (Luke 22:31-32 )
Before Peter wandered the Lord said unto him, "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."
1. Peter's defection was foreseen by the Lord. It was for this cause that the Lord forewarned Peter. He let Peter know that Satan had been making request that he might prove him. The Lord has told us the same thing. It is written, "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."
There is not one of us who is not subject to the winds that blow, to the rains which fall, and to the floods which come. All of us are beset of the enemy of our souls. Paul wrote of Satan these words: "We are not ignorant of his devices."
2. The Lord; told Peter that He had prayed for him. Here was Peter's security. Christ prays for us; He ever liveth to make intercession for us. In this statement of our Lord He puts Himself over against the wiles of the devil. He said unto Peter: "Satan hath," then He said, "I have." He did not tell Peter what to do. He said that He was doing it. What comfort in these words! Satan is stronger than we. We dare not go forth to meet him in our own strength, but the Lord will meet him for us; we can go forth and meet him in the Name of the Lord.
3. Christ's objective in His prayer for Peter. Christ did not desire that Satan should not tempt Peter. He did, however, desire two things: (1) That Peter's faith might not fail. (2) That Peter, when converted, might strengthen his brethren. The Lord saw that Peter's sifting would prove beneficial. Peter needed just the sifting that God was permitting.
Christ said that Satan would sift him as wheat. When wheat is sifted it is the chaff that is thrown away, not the wheat. This is seen, also, in the fact that the Lord said, "When thou are converted," that is, "When thou art changed," or "When thou are sifted and hast turned, strengthen then thy brethren," How could Peter have strengthened the saints unless he himself had been sifted and purified?
II. THE LORD LOOKED ON PETER (Luke 22:61 )
It was just after Peter had cursed and sworn, saying that he knew not the man, that the Lord turned and looked on Peter. What we want to do is to consider the part which that look had in Peter's restoration.
1. The look considered. Will each of us try to imagine the scene: Peter cursing, the Lord looking. Perhaps, it would be easier for us to paint the face of Peter when he cursed and swore, than to paint the eyes and countenance of Christ as He looked on Peter.
Would you paint Christ's face with scorn upon His lips, and a frown upon His face? Do you think that the look of the Lord Jesus Christ was the look of condemnation, and criticism? Let us think of it from another viewpoint.
Was the look of the Lord Jesus a look of love? of pathos, mingled with pity? Was the look the expression of Christ's tender compassion?
2. Peter's reaction considered. Perhaps, the best way to discover the "look" which Christ gave to Peter, is to discover the response of Peter to that look. Did Peter resent what Christ had done? Certainly, if the Lord had looked upon Peter with reproach and with ironic condemnation Peter was just in the mood to resent it. Yet, Peter went out and wept bitterly. The look must have been one of love, for it is love that breaks the heart. Have we not been taught that we must overcome evil with good? Carping criticism never got us anywhere. Sarcastic looks never lifted a soul up into the light.
The church needs to learn the message of Christ's look upon Peter. When the sheep has wandered, has slipped and broken its leg, the shepherd will not cuff it; he will tenderly rescue it and bind its wounds. The man on the Jericho road did not need to be criticized; he needed some one to pour in oil and wine, some one to bind up his wounds, some one to place him on a beast, some one to take him to an inn.
III. TELL HIS DISCIPLES AND PETER (Mark 16:7 )
1. Peter's tears. Three sad and bitter days had passed upon Peter's head. After he had cursed, and the Lord had looked upon him, Christ went forth to Pilate's judgment hall, on to the whipping post, on to the hill of Calvary.
It was on the Cross that Jesus died. At the foot of that Cross, and about it, there stood many acquaintances, and many friends of our Lord. Among them was John, the beloved disciple; Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Peter.
2. Peter discomforted. Peter, still weeping, crestfallen, heartbroken, stood apart beholding the dying of the Lord. We remember how he said that he was an eye-witness of Christ's sufferings.
From that Cross Christ spoke to the thief, saying, "To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." From that Cross Christ said, John, "thy mother." "Woman, * * thy son." However, from that Cross there was not one word for Peter. When the last loud cry had come from the lips of the dying Saviour, and He had yielded up His spirit, Peter turned away without a word of consolation.
Why was this? It was because the Lord knew that Peter must suffer for his unfaithfulness. It is an evil thing, and bitter, when we forsake the Lord, our God, and turn to our own way. Christ, in justice to Peter and Peter's future, could not too rapidly pass over his sins.
3. Peter's joy. Three days followed with Peter dwelling in a total eclipse. To him those were days of self-condemnation and of deepest repentance. One of the most remarkable statements of the Bible is that which we now consider, the angel knowing both the heart of Jesus, and the sin of Peter, said, "Go * *, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him."
Did you ever dash, by train, from the darkness of a tunnel into the blazing light of the noonday sun? So did Peter dash that morning. He had thought himself excommunicated, disowned; he had felt that he had lost his bishopric. Now, with the words "and Peter" before him, new hope touched his spirit. In after years he wrote: We were "begotten * * unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
IV. THE LORD HATH APPEARED TO SIMON (Luke 24:34 )
When Peter received the message from his Lord he was indeed rejoiced. In the meanwhile he had rushed out to the tomb, and had gone in, had seen the linen clothes lying, and the napkin folded by itself at the head of the tomb. He, with John, had seen and believed. This, and the word from the angel, brought joy unspeakable and full of glory into the heart of the Apostle. He wanted to be alone, and he went off somewhere to pour out his prayer of confession, his effulgence of joy before God. It was there, when he was isolated and alone that the Lord appeared to him.
1. We have here suggested the all-seeing eye of Christ. The Lord did not make inquiry as to where He might find Peter. He simply appeared where Peter was, appeared unheralded, and unannounced. We take it, therefore, that the Lord, in His omniscience, had followed Peter every step of the way, and had read every thought of the Apostle during the three days of his sorrow.
2. It is significant that the Lord appeared to Simon. Simon was his name "in the flesh." It was to the Peter who had failed his Lord, to the one who had followed afar, who had warmed himself at the enemies' fire, cursed and swore, it was even unto him that the Lord appeared.
3. What happened there? The Bible does not tell us. The Lord let the curtain drop over that sacred scene. We can easily imagine Peter's exultant cry as he saw the Lord standing by his side. We can hear his confession as he acknowledged all that he had done, and made bare unto the Lord the agony of those three fateful days and nights. We can also imagine the words of the Master as He spoke unto Peter His forgiveness, and assured him of His love.
V. LOVEST THOU ME MORE THAN THESE? (John 21:15 )
The Lord did not need to ask Peter if he loved Him more than he loved his fish. Long since had Peter left his fish and his all to follow his Lord. When the Lord spoke to Peter and said, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?" He must have meant, "Lovest thou Me more than the other Apostles love Me?"
1. Getting back to the place from whence he had fallen. Peter's first downward step had been his boastful claim to superiority over the other disciples. Christ had said, "All ye shall be offended because of Me." Peter had replied, "Though all shall be offended, yet will not I." He had in this not only boasted of his own prowess, but he had discounted the fidelity of the others. Peter had lifted himself to a pedestal above the other Eleven. Now, after his folly had been fully revealed, and he had learned of his own weakness, the Lord quickly asked him, "Simon, lovest thou Me more than these?" "Art thou better than John, James Thomas, Bartholomew, Thaddaeus, and the rest?"
2. Demanding a public confession. In that sequestered spot where the Lord had appeared to Simon He had, beyond a doubt, forgiven him. Peter now must be restored, not only to his Lord, but to his rightful heritage among those who had followed with him during three blessed years.
We, who have sinned publicly, and in the sight of men, must confess and be restored publicly in the sight of men. Peter's response to the Lord was simple, and yet most illuminating. He said unto Him, "Yea, Lord; Thou knowest that I love Thee." He did not say, "I love Thee less than the other disciples." Neither did he say, "I love Thee more than the others." He just said, "I love Thee." Jesus had said "more than these." When we get back to God we are not after superiority over our brethren.
VI. FEED MY LAMBS (John 21:15-17 last clauses)
Peter was not only forgiven, and not only restored to his place among the Eleven, but he was given back his work. We have often heard of the story of the bird of the broken pinion, and how it never soared as high again. However, the author of that hymn has recently changed it to read, "he soared as high again."
To Peter, the one who warmed himself at the enemies' fire, Christ said, "Feed My lambs." To Peter, the one who cursed and swore, and had denied his Lord, Jesus said, "Feed My sheep."
With what power did Peter preach the Word at Pentecost, the man who had denied his Lord before a maid, as he stood, afterward, and faced the leaders of the Sanhedrin, plainly said, "Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" the Lord. When Peter and John were threatened by the council, Peter was not slow to say, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
The fearful had become the fearless; the weak had become the strong. The deserter had become the defender of the faith. The expression of our Lord, "Feed My lambs" and "Feed My sheep" placed Peter in the role of a shepherd.
The Lord seemed to be saying to Peter, "Now, that thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Three times Peter had denied his Lord; three times the Lord had laid upon him the feeding of His lambs and His sheep.
VII. FOLLOW THOU ME (John 21:22 )
After Peter was restored to the Lord, and to his work, the Lord outlined, in brief, the deeper cause of discipleship that would fall upon him.
1. He spoke of the days of Peter's youth. He said, "When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest." In these words there was a suggestion of Peter's self-asserted and headstrong impetuosity. Peter, however, now had lost that boastful spirit. He had, as it were, taken his own hands off the reins and turned himself over to Christ.
2. He spoke of the days of Peter's old age. He said, "When thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." "This spake He signifying by what death he should glorify God." Profane history tells us that Peter died by crucifixion. This is, at least, in line with what Christ said, "Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands."
3. He gave the command: "Follow Me." It was after Christ laid before Peter the cause of his obedience that He said, "Follow Me." The Lord did not suggest a rosy future, with flowery beds of ease. He plainly told Peter that sorrow, death, and martyrdom awaited him. Then He said unto him, "Follow Me."
Peter did not say, "I would pity myself, I would spare myself, Lord." He did, however, turn to John, and then he said to Jesus, "What shall this man do?" The Lord gave Peter a gentle rebuke, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou Me."
In the Christian life we must never walk by comparison. We must not do something because some one else does it. Our standard must not be what will John do, or what will anyone do. We must ask, "What does Christ tell me to do?" We thank God that from that day henceforth Peter followed his Lord. We do not assert that he did not make any mistakes. We do assert that he went the full length with Christ.
One of the Bible's most beautiful pictures is the statement that Christ made to the disciples: "Ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
Perhaps, even more beautiful than this is a statement that was revealed unto John after Peter had doubtless suffered martyrdom. The statement was, "And the walls of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb,"
Thus, through all eternity, there shall be kept before the gaze of all Heaven, the names of the men who left ail and followed Christ. It might be added that Judas lost his bishopric, but another was chosen by God to take his place.
BILLY SUNDAY'S CONVERSION
The story of "Billy" Sunday's conversion is told by him as follows, taken from one of his sermons in the "Philadelphia North American":
One time, twenty-nine years ago, I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball-players who were famous in this world, and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we 'tanked' up. We walked on down the street to a vacant lot and sat down on the curbing. Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments horns, flutes, and trombones and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa, and back in the old Methodist church where I used to go to Sunday School. And God painted on the canvas of ray recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces. I sobbed and sobbed, and a young man stepped out and said, 'We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won't you come down with us? I am sure you will enjoy it.' I arose and said, 'Good-by, boys,' and turned my back on them. Some of them laughed and some of them mocked me. * * I went to the mission, liked it, and went again and again. Then one dark and stormy night. I groped my way, out of darkness into the arms of Jesus Christ, and I fell on my knees and cried, 'God be merciful to me, a sinner!'"
Alive After His Passion
Acts 1:1-3 ; Mark 16:9-14
After the last cry which Christ uttered upon the Cross, and the commending of His Spirit unto the Father, the body of our Lord was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. After the burial was over the sepulcher was made sure by the sealing of the stone and the setting of a watch.
Three dark days followed days filled with doubts and despair. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the sepulcher, while it was yet dark, and found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher.
The first effect of the empty tomb was that of disappointment. The women thought that some one had taken away their Lord, and they knew not where they had laid Him.
To us one of the most beautiful statements of the Bible is found in the third verse of the first chapter of Acts.
"To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
Those forty days were momentous and memorable. They established the fact of the resurrection on the one hand; and they imparted to the disciples much, by way of needed instruction, on the other hand.
It was not only that the Lord was raised, but that He showed Himself alive that grips our attention. It is the purpose of this study to endeavor, step by step, to enter in to those hallowed appearances and fellowships which followed the resurrection, as time by time, the Lord manifested Himself to His people.
Let it be remembered, as we proceed, that never to the world did the Lord show Himself. He reserved the glory of His presence and the effulgence of His Person to those who knew and loved Him.
Many of the messages of Christ's public teachings during His earth life are given us in part or in full in the Gospels, but little, however, is told us of the words which He spoke unto them after His resurrection.
May our hearts burn within us by the way as we seek to enter in to those wondrous hours of personal privilege and fellowship which the Lord granted to His own.
I. HE APPEARED FIRST UNTO MARY MAGDALENE (Mark 16:9 )
Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb, along with Mary the mother of James and Salome, to carry sweet spices that they might anoint their beloved Lord. They came in the morning of that memorable first day of the week, arriving at the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.
They had been inquiring among themselves, "Who shall roll us away the stone?" When they looked, however, they saw the stone rolled away and a young man sitting on the right side thereof. This angelic personage quieted their fears by announcing that Jesus was risen.
Mary Magdalene turned back, weeping, and she saw Jesus standing; but knew not that it was Jesus, "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?"
Mary, supposing Christ to be the gardener, said unto him, "Sir, if Thou have borne Him hence, tell me where Thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." "Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father: but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God."
It will be impossible to emphasize all which is now before us. Let us therefore consider the significance of Christ's words to Mary.
1. "Woman, why weepest thou?" The Lord Jesus asked her this in view of His empty, and not His occupied tomb. The words carry much weight. We would like to ask every one why they should weep at any tomb when God, in Christ, has given us both the Resurrection and the Life.
2. "Whom seekest thou?" Mary was seeking a dead Man, not a living Master. We wonder why so many still linger around the tomb of some loved one, when that loved one is with the Lord. We know the body was endeared, and yet that body is destined to be changed into His resurrection likeness. One thing we know that we need no longer to seek Christ in the lone and far distant tomb near Jerusalem. Our Lord was dead, but is alive forevermore.
3. "Mary." Just one word did Jesus now speak, and yet a word so full of significance. The Risen Lord still knoweth His "sheep," and He calleth them by name. The Risen Lord is still speaking unto us with tenderest solicitude. The Risen Lord is still thinking of us, and is ever ready to manifest Himself unto those who are His very own.
4. "Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father." It may be that, between this moment and the few moments later, when Christ spoke to the women who had been with Mary, He did ascend to the Father presenting the Blood of a perfect offering.
5. "Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God."
These words were in fulfilment of the twenty-second Psalm, where the sobs and sighs of Calvary that had run through twenty-one verses, changed suddenly to this resurrection pledge, "I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren." It is by virtue of Christ's death and resurrection that we hold toward Him the relationship of "brethren"; and with Him, toward God, the relationship of "sons."
II. HE APPEARED ALSO TO THE OTHER WOMEN (Matthew 28:9 )
We may be surprised that the first two appearances of our Lord were to women. However, we must remember that it was the women who loved Him, and not the men who had walked with Him, who were last at the Cross and first at the tomb. Christ thus honored the faithfulness of the few who had first sought His grave.
The women had come "while it was yet dark" to the sepulcher; they had found the stone rolled back from the door. The women had seen the angels sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
It was as these women, in obedience to the command of the angels, were hastening to tell the disciples that Christ was risen from the dead, that Jesus met them. Let us now read our key verse: "And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail."
The first spoken words to the women, were but two: "All Hail," that is, "All Joy." Indeed it was joy a joy unspeakable and full of glory that Christ was risen indeed.
The angel, at the birth of Christ, announced to the shepherds, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy." The Lord Himself, following His resurrection, said to the women, "All [joy]." The message of the angels was joy to all people ; the message of Christ was all joy, to a special people.
The resurrection of Christ, to the saint, is radiant with glory and full of joy it is a resurrection which speaks to them of their own resurrection unto life.
The resurrection of Christ to the wicked is a resurrection of condemnation it speaks to them of the resurrection of their own bodies unto damnation.
Permit us to sum up the three statements of Christ in this first appearance:
1. "All [joy]."
2. "Be not afraid."
3. "Go tell My brethren * * there shall they see Me."
III. HE APPEARED UNTO TWO DISCIPLES ON THE EMMAUS ROAD (Luke 24:13-17 . Compare Mark 16:12 )
Three days after the crucifixion, two disciples were en route to Emmaus. As they went along the way they were sad. A seeming Stranger approached and journeyed with them. He asked them what manner of communications they had one with another, as they walked, and were sad. The two answered Him with astonishment, saying, "Art Thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?" Jesus said unto them, "What things?" They replied, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." Then they told their newly arrived Companion, who to them appeared a stranger, how Christ had been condemned to death, and had been crucified, and how they had thought that it would have been. He who would have redeemed Israel. They even told Him that certain women had astonished them by saying that Christ was alive.
As they walked along the way Christ said unto them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe ail that the Prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" Then, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
As they approached the village Christ made as though He would have gone further; but they constrained Him, and He went in to tarry with them. As they sat at meat, He took the bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them; even as He doubtless had done when He established the Lord's Supper. Immediately their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight.
Then said the disciples, "Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?"
IV. HE APPEARED UNTO THE ELEVEN (Mark 16:14 . Compare Luke 24:36-45 )
When Christ had disappeared from the group in Emmaus, "They rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem." There they found the Eleven gathered together, and them that were with them. As they entered, the Jerusalem group were speaking of the marvelous events of the day, particularly of the fact that the Risen Lord had appeared to Simon.
The newcomers broke in with their wonderful tale, telling what had happened on the road to Emmaus, and how Christ had made Himself known unto them in the breaking of bread. As they marveled with joy unspeakable, suddenly, "Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you." This was more than their strained nerves could stand, and they were terrified and affrighted, supposing that they had seen a spirit.
The Lord Jesus quieted their troubled thoughts, and said, "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have." Christ then showed them His hands and His feet.
The disciples could scarce believe for joy, and for wondering. Then Christ said, "Have ye here any meat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them."
Christ opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. He said, "Thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." Their minds, which had been beclouded, were now illumined. Hearts which had been grief-stricken, were now filled with joy.
V. HE APPEARED UNTO THOMAS (John 20:26-28 )
When Christ first appeared to the Eleven, we read, "But Thomas, * * was not with them when Jesus came." The disciples, however, told him that they had seen the Lord. Then said Thomas, "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails,, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe."
For eight days Thomas wandered in needless doubt and despair. He might have known, but he did not know. What a warning is given herein to each of us. After eight days, however, we read, "Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in their midst, and said, Peace be unto you."
Having thus announced His presence and granted His peace, He turned to Thomas, saying, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing."
No longer can we class Thomas as the "doubting disciple," for immediately he cried, "My Lord and my God."
How blessed and favored are we to have a living Christ who is "managing our affairs," and is a present help in time of trouble!
"Weary with toil, and care, I sat one evening musing until surrounding objects faded away, and other forms and scenes filled their place. There came one to me who gently bade me follow him. Together we moved on until we came to a long and narrow valley. In this valley were many travelers, each bearing a burden.
"'What place is this?' I asked of my guide.
"'It is the Valley of Burdens,' he said.
"We descended into the valley, and drew near to some of these travelers. I soon observed a great difference in the way these pilgrims bore their burdens. Some sighed and groaned at almost every step; others bore themselves manfully, or at least uncomplainingly. At last my eyes fell upon a burden of unusual size.
"'That man must have a hard time of it,' I said.
"'Draw nearer,' said my guide.
"I obeyed; and found that he was treading the ground with a firm and even elastic step, much as if he had no burden. He was singing a cheerful song; and his face was radiant with a tender, subdued, chastened joy. I expressed my surprise.
"'Draw nearer still,' said my guide.
"I did so, and saw that there was One, before invisible, who was walking by his side, and while the burden seemed to rest on the pilgrim's back, it was in reality borne by the strong hand of the One who was walking with him.
"'Speak to him,' said my guide.
"I went up to him, and said, 'My friend, I thought you the most heavily burdened of all; but now I see that you do not carry the burden. How is it that you are so favored?'
"'All might be equally favored if they would,' he said. 'When my burden was smaller I tried to carry it myself, and a sad time I had of it, Then the Friend who walks by my side, instead of making it lighter, added to its size and weight until I could bear it no longer, and gave it up to Him. It was in mercy and love that He made it so heavy, He would carry every burden in this valley, if those who bear them would only let Him do it.'
"After we left this man, I asked my guide if this was the gracious design of every burden.
"'It is,' he said; 'but many resist this gracious purpose. See that man yonder with a similar burden. He has fallen under it, bruised, crushed, nigh unto death.'
"'Has this man a friend by his side who is willing to take his burden?' I asked.
"'Yes; but the man will not give it up.'
'"What folly!' I exclaimed.
"My guide turned and gave me a glance which, somehow, reminded me of the words of the Prophet to David, 'Thou art the man!'
"Soon we saw another man with a very heavy burden. He seemed to be pleading with some one to bear it for him.
"'Is not that man asking his Friend to take his burden? I inquired.
"'I understand you to say that He took every burden He was asked to take.'
"'Every lawful burden; but this man has no right to his burden. Nearly all of it has been gathered up where he has no right to go. It is made up of borrowed trouble, while the Lord of the valley has said, "Take no thought for the morrow."'"
Christ's Missionary Command as Seen in the Early Church
Matthew 28:18-20 ; Mark 16:15-20 ; Luke 24:45-49
As the time came for the Lord to leave, and to return to His Father, He pressed upon the disciples the great yearning's of His soul toward a world lost in sin; and then gave command that the Gospel should be preached to all the world. Let us, for a moment, as introductory to what shall follow, study the three records where this last command was given.
1. The command as recorded by Matthew: Here three things were stressed. First, they were to go and make disciples; secondly, they were to go and baptize; and thirdly, they were to go and preach.
(1) They were to go and make disciples. Their field was to be all nations. Their objective was to be the creation of followers of the Lord.
It is not enough for missionary endeavors to be centered in the moral uplift of the people. The Church is not commissioned to teach the nations of the world how to dress, or how to farm, or how to manufacture. The mission of the Church toward the unevangelized, is not to proclaim sanitation, and the isolation of diseases. The purpose of going into the world is primarily to preach Christ as the Saviour of sinners, and to call upon all men everywhere to repent, to believe, and to follow Him.
(2) They were to go and baptize. Baptism was to be not only a symbolical ordinance, but it was to be a consecrated ordinance. It was to be the signet of a new life. It was to be the attest of discipleship, the sign that the one discipled had been called out of the world to walk in newness of life.
(3) They were to go and teach. They were to teach all things which Christ had commanded them. They were not told to teach spelling, and geography, and grammar, and reading, and writing. They were to teach the things which pertained to the Kingdom of God. They were to teach the present ministry of Christ at the Father's right hand, the place and power of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life; the Second Coming of Christ, and His glorious reign.
2. The command, as recorded in Mark. In Mark, the command emphasized the preaching of the Gospel to every creature. Not one individual in the wide world was to be left in ignorance of Christ, and of the salvation which is in Him. Until each generation preaches the Gospel to every individual living during their day, they have not fulfilled this commission.
3. The command as recorded in Luke. Luke emphasizes that which is to be preached. He wrote "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in [Christ's] Name among all nations." He said "Ye are witness of these things." In the Book of Acts, just before Christ went up, He gave the geographical order in which His commission was to be proclaimed. He said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
We are glad that we are to spend the while, today, in observing how the early Church moved out in the fulfillment of this thrice-stated commission, a commission restated in Acts 1:8 . We trust that the purpose of God toward a lost world, as they were put into operation in the first century, will inspire the saints of the twentieth century to a deeper realization of their own world-wide task.
"Telling sinners of the Saviour,
Let the light spread more and more.
Tell the whole wide world of Jesus,
Bear the news from shore to shore;
While we pray for other nations,
Send them help with willing hand;
Let us not forget the home-fields
Jesus, for our native land!"
I. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN AT PENTECOST (Acts 2:5 )
Was it not remarkable that, when the Holy Ghost came, there were at that time dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under Heaven. This fact alone is sufficient proof that the heart of God was reaching out toward men of every nation.
When the Holy Ghost came, and the saints were all filled with the Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, then, the multitude came together. The people were confounded because that every man heard them speak in his own language. Those who spoke were Galileans; those who heard were Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontius, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians.
You may wonder why we quote these varied nationalities by name. It is because their presence demonstrates to a conclusion, God's great missionary purpose and desire. The people were in doubt, saying one to another, "What meaneth this?" We know one thing that it meant. It meant that God was reaching out His hand to a lost world. In one day and in one locality, God, through His disciples, was preaching the Gospel to every nation under Heaven.
From the groups who heard, about 3,000 were saved, and baptized. It is not difficult for anyone to grasp the far-reach of that day's work. Did not many of these people return to their own land as messengers of Christ?
We remember how Peter addressed his first Epistle to the strangers scattered throughout Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. We feel certain that these "elect strangers" were, for a large part, those saved at Pentecost, or saved through the ministry of those of their nation, who were saved at Pentecost. Thank God for this first vision of missions in the early Church!
"Send the Light, oh, send it quickly
Far across the heaving main;
Speed the news of full salvation
Through a dear Redeemer's Name.
Send the Light, where souls are dying
In their darkness, gloom and night;
Haste, oh, haste! the days are fleeting,
And the hours how swift their flight!
Send the Light the Lord commands it;
To His Holy Word attend:
Go ye forth and preach My Gospel;
Lo! I'm with you to the end."
II. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN IN THE GREAT PERSECUTION (Acts 8:1 )
God had commanded the Apostles that they should go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Christ had told them they were to tarry in Jerusalem only until, but not after, the Holy Ghost came. He specified that their testimony was to pass from Jerusalem, on to Judea, and then to Samaria and then to the uttermost part of the earth. The early Church, at the first, failed God in this matter. They stayed in Jerusalem, They clung to their home base. The result was, that something startling had to happen.
As we see the great persecution against the Church at Jerusalem, we behold the saints scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Thus, the second and the third reach of Christ's command was about to be fulfilled.
We can see that the persecution itself was permitted on God's part, in- order to press the saints out of Jerusalem and on into Judea and Samaria.
When the Lord Jesus was preaching and the multitudes were thronging His ministry, He left them abruptly, saying to the disciples, "I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also."
"The other cities also," should be the battle-cry of every believer touched with the live coal from God's altar. The spirit of missions is the spirit of Christ. He who would circumscribe His testimony, or his gifts, or his prayers, to the immediate locality in which he dwells, has never caught the impact of missions, as set forth in the history of the early Church.
Paul wrote of not being content with another man's line of things made ready to his hand. We join with him in saying, that, when our faith is increased, we shall be enlarged according to Paul's rule, abundantly, to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond.
"Send abroad the Gospel heralds,
Let them take the blessed light
Into every land of darkness,
Piercing through the shades of night.
Yes, we'll send the joyful message
Over mountain, over wave,
Telling everywhere of Jesus,
And His mighty power to save."
III. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN IN GOD'S CALL TO PHILIP (Acts 8:26 )
Philip was one of the seven. He went down into the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. Great joy was caused in that city by reason of Philip's testimony, because they believed him and what he preached concerning the Kingdom of God, and the Name of Jesus Christ. Then were they baptized both men and women.
Philip went on his way preaching the Gospel in Samaria. Then it was that the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip saying, "Arise, and go toward the south, unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert."
This was a strange command indeed. Why should Philip be called upon to leave so prosperous a ministry, and why should he go in a way which was desert? The answer is not difficult to find. There was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority, under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was journeying along that desert road.
But why such a stir about one lone Ethiopian? Were not the many Samaritans, of greater value than one man from Africa? Assuredly.
We must understand that the one man took precedence over the many, because he was from a land afar, and because he was a key man, through whom many who were in darkness might see the light.
In the opening verses of Acts 8:1-40 , the Gospel was carried to the Samaritans. These Samaritans were the third group mentioned in Christ's parting order of command. In the case of this eunuch of Ethiopia, the Lord was pressing beyond Jerusalem, beyond Judea, beyond Samaria, and on toward the uttermost part of the earth.
We need to awaken to a vision of the Lord's passion toward the salvation of men. He wants us to press on until the last man has heard the Word.
If the call comes for us to go, let us, like Philip, hesitate not, but press our way quickly down the road, even though the way be desert.
"We have heard the joyful sound;
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around;
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the steeps and cross the waves;
Onward! 'tis our Lord's command:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves I
IV. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN IN PETER'S VISION (Acts 10:9-11 ; Acts 10:17-19 )
Cornelius who was a centurion of the Italian band was a devout man, one that feared God with all his house. He gave alms and prayed always. In answer to his prayer God purposed to send him a messenger. Accordingly, Cornelius saw in a vision an angel of God who told him to send to Joppa and call for Peter, that he might tell him what he should do.
On the morrow, as his servants approached Joppa, Peter was in prayer upon the housetop. As Peter prayed, he became hungry, and fell into a trance. He saw Heaven opened, and a vessel descending before him, wherein were all manner of unclean beasts, and of creeping things and of fowls. Peter heard a Voice saying, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." This, Peter refused to do. However, the Voice said, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common."
While Peter doubted as to the meaning of the vision, the men from Cornelius stood before the gate.
Do we grasp the full intent of this occurrence? Peter was prejudiced against the Gentiles. He was failing God in passing on from Jerusalem to the uttermost part of the earth. Therefore God found it necessary to teach Peter a lesson by the great sheet let down to the earth.
We wonder if it is necessary for God to do something very unusual in order to stir us up to obey His voice and to fulfill His desire toward the lost. If God has said "Go," we have no right to hesitate. If God loves the world, we have no right to circumscribe our love to some chosen few.
Once more we have seen the hand of God in the days of the early Church, pressing the claims of missions upon His people, and revealing unto us the fact that God so loved the world.
"Ye Christian heralds, go proclaim
Salvation through Immanuel's Name;
To distant climes the tidings bear,
And plant the Rose of Sharon there.
He'll shield you with a wall of fire,
With flaming zeal your heart inspire;
Bid raging winds their fury cease,
And hush the tempest into peace.
And when our labors all are o'er,
Then we shall meet to part no more,
With all the ransomed hosts to fall,
And crown our Saviour Lord of all."
V. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN IN THE CONVERSION OF SAUL (Acts 9:15 )
There was a young man who was a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin. Concerning the Law, this young man was blameless. Concerning religion, he was a thoroughly prepared zealot, having sat at the feet of one Gamaliel. He was intent, in his passion to persecute the Church.
With the letters of authority in his pocket, Saul journeyed toward Damascus, to bring the saints bound unto Jerusalem. As he journeyed, a light from Heaven shined round about him.
We know the story of Saul's change of heart; of how the Lord cried to him, and of how he replied, full of trembling and astonishment. We know that, when Saul arose from the earth, he saw no man for he was blind. We know of his tarrying in Damascus for three days, without sight and without eating, or drinking. We know how God sent Ananias to Saul.
But what was the meaning of all of this? The meaning is set forth in our key verse, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name before the Gentiles and kings and the Children of Israel."
Once more we see the hand of God reaching out toward the lost of the earth. When we link with this verse, the memory of Paul's three great missionary journeys, and of his final testimony in Rome, we begin to see the outworking of the purpose of God.
God is still calling the choicest of Christian youths, to bear His Name to the faraway lands where men lie in heathen darkness. Even now we can hear Him saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?"
"The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His Blood-red banner streams afar,
Who follows in His train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
Triumphant over pain;
Who patient bears his cross below,
He follows in His train.
A noble army men and boys,
The matron and the maid
Around the Saviour's throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of Heaven
Through peril, toil, and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train."
VI. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN IN THE ANTIOCH CONFERENCE (Acts 13:1-3 )
That must have been a blessed occasion at Antioch when such prophets and teachers as Barnabas, and Simeon, and Lucius, and Manaen, and Saul, were gathered together ministering to the Lord and tasting. We have no doubt but some marvelous revelations of truth were being given, and the saints were being edified.
However, as they ministered, the Holy Ghost said, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them."
You may cry, "It was too bad to break up so glorious a Bible conference!" Yet, without hesitancy, the saints laid their hands on these two men and sent them away. The remarkable statement, in Acts 13:4 , is most illuminating "So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia."
No one who reads this account can doubt the desire of God to preach the Gospel in the untraveled districts where men have not heard of Christ.
Out on their missionary tour they started, and the Lord was with them. There is a little verse in 2 Corinthians 13:14 , which reads, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all." These words are commonly known as the "benediction," and they are quoted, usually, at the close of each, stated church service. What do they mean? The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, is that grace, wherein He became poor that we might be made rich. The love of God, is that love which embraced the whole world, and gave His Son. The communion of the Holy Ghost, is the perfect one-ness with the Spirit in going forth with the message of truth and salvation to all men.
Can we hear the voice of God calling us to go far hence with the words of life? Perhaps, He wants us to have the grace of Christ and become impoverished that others may be rich. Perhaps, He wants us to have the love of God, that will give our sons for a lost world. Perhaps, He wants us to go forth ourselves sent by the Spirit.
Oh, help me tell the story of Christ my Lord and King;
For of His boundless mercy my soul delights to sing.
Oh, help me tell the story of Jesus' boundless love,
Till, with the Church triumphant, I sing His praise above!
He brought me out of bondage, He paid my debt of sin;
The door of life He opened, that I might enter in.
He left His home in glory, He laid His scepter down,
And on the Cross He suffered, that I might wear a crown.
Be this my one endeavor, to glorify His name;
The story of Redemption to all the world proclaim."
VII. THE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS AS SEEN IN THE MACEDONIAN CALL (Acts 16:6-9 )
When they had gone throughout Phrygia, and the region of Galatia, Paul and Silas were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to go to Asia. Then they assayed to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not.
The Holy Ghost knows where He wants the message carried, and by whom He wants it borne. In the work of missions we must never take the bit into our own teeth. When we have some personal desire or ambition, as to the location where we would like to give our testimony, we must rejoice if we are forbidden of the Holy Ghost, and suffered not to go.
After the Spirit had hindered Paul and Silas in their purpose, there appeared a vision to Paul in the night. "There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us."
The disciples quickly gathered that the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel to the Macedonians, and so they took sail immediately and came by a straight course until at last they reached Philippi.
The story of Paul's ministry in Philippi, and of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, with the subsequent conversion of the jailor, is known to us all. Truly, they saw the hand of God guiding their footsteps.
That God wants the Gospel carried to the ends of the earth, we have plainly seen. Seven different illustrations of this fact, in the life of the early Church, have been placed before us today. Is this not the present hour desire of God? Is the Spirit of God not now thrusting out men and women into the ripened harvest fields? We have one last word to say. If God calls, do not hesitate to obey. Remember there are three things you can do:
1. You can go yourself.
2. You can let go some one dear and precious to you.
3. You can help go those who have a special call.
Shall we not, each one, ask God what He wants us to do?
"Can we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
Can we to men benighted
The Lamp of Life deny?
Salvation! O salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till each remotest nation
Has learned Messiah's Name."
WHOSE BUSINESS IS IT?
They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some years ago I was speaking in the city of Minneapolis. I noticed in the audience a young lawyer. When the meeting was over I made my way to him and said: "Are you a Christian?" "Well, sir." he said, "I consider myself a Christian." I said, "Are you bringing other men to Christ?" He said, "No, I am not, that is not my business; that's your business, I am not called to da that, I am called to practice law; you are called to preach the Gospel." I said, "If you are called to be a Christian you are called to bring other men to Christ." He said, "I don't believe it." I said, "Look here," then I opened my Bible at Acts 8:4 , and asked him to read, and he read, "They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." "Oh, yes," he said, "but these were the apostles." I said, "Will you be kind enough to read the first verse of the chapter?" and he read, "They were all scattered abroad... except the apostles." He had nothing more to say. What could he say? From Dr. R. A. Torrey.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Mark 16". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25