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And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices ἠγόρασαν ἀρώματα) that they might come and anoint him. A hasty but lavish embalming of our Lord's sacred body had been begun on Friday evening by Joseph and Nicodemus. They had "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight" (John 19:39). This would be a compound—the gum of the myrrh tree, and a powder of the fragrant aloe wood mixed together, with which they would completely cover the body, which was then swathed with linen cloths (ὀθόνια), also steeped in the aromatic preparation. Then the sindon would he placed over all. Compare the ἐνετύλιξεν, of St. Luke (Luke 23:53), as applying to the sindon, with the ἔδησαν of St. John (Joh 21:1-25 :40) as applying to the ὀθόνια. This verse records a further stage in the embalming. What had been done on the Friday evening had been done in haste, and yet sufficiently for the preservation of the sacred body, if that had been needful, from decay. The remaining work could be done more carefully and tenderly at the tomb. Observe the aorist in this verse (hJgo>rasan) "they bought;" not "they had bought."
And very early on the first day of the week (λιάν πρωΐ́ τῇ μιᾶ τῶν σαββάτων), they come
among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb? The usual form of tombs in Palestine was the following:—There was generally an approach to the tomb open to the sky; then a low entrance on the side of the rock, leading into a square chamber, on one side of which was a recess for the body, about three feet deep, with a low arch over it. The stone here referred to by the women would be the stone which covered the actual entrance into the vault. It would probably be not less than six feet in breadth and three in height. This great stone had been rolled By Joseph to the mouth of the tomb; and then he had departed. Now, as the women approached, "they were saying (ἔλεγον,) among themselves, Who shall roll us away (ἀποκυλίσει) the stone?" They had seen the arrangements, and had observed the size of the atone on the Friday evening. (Mark 15:47).
And looking up (ἀναβλέψασαι) they see (θεωροῦσιν) that the stone is rolled back (ἀποκεκύλισται): for it was exceeding great (μέγας σφόδρα). At this point we learn from St. John that Mary Magdalene ran away to tell Peter and John (John 20:2).
And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed. They enter the tomb, the expression "tomb" including the ante-chamber They see that the stone has been rolled back, so as to expose the entrance into the place where Jesus had lain. On that stone a young man was sitting. The angel peared in the form of a young man, because youth indicates the vigor, the beauty, and the strength of angels. The good angels always appear in beauty and comeliness of form. There will be no deformity in heaven. The angel appeared as arrayed in a white robe. This white robe, or talar indicated a heavenly spiritual being. St. Matthew (Matthew 28:3) says that "his countenance was like lightning," flashing with splendor, and his raiment was as white as snow. It may be that he appeared more terrible to the keepers (Matthew 28:4), and that he abated something of his dazzling brightness when he appeared to the women; but "they were affrighted" (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν); literally, they were amazed. Amazement was the dominant feeling, though probably not unmingled with fear.
And he saith unto them, Be not amazed—μὴ ἐκθαμβεῖσθε, the same word—ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, which hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him; that is, here is the place where they laid him (ἴδε ὁ τόπος). St. Matthew (Matthew 28:6) says, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Δεῦτε ἴδετε τὸν τόπον). This seems to imply that the women actually entered the inner chamber, and saw the very place where the Lord lay. Who does not see here how irrefragable is the evidence of his resurrection?
But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. St. Gregory ('Hom. in Evan.') says, "If the angel had not named Peter, he would not have dared to come amongst the disciples. Therefore he is specially named, lest he should despair on account of his denial." It was evidently intended as a special message of comfort to Peter. St. Luke (Luke 24:34) records the personal appearance of our Lord first to Peter. Here St. Mark, with characteristic modesty, keeps Peter in the background. In Mark 14:28 our Lord is recorded to have said, "After I am raised up, I will go before you into Galilee." He would go before them as their Shepherd, and lead them to that part of the Holy Land which, as he had honored it before his resurrection, so he would honor it again now.
And they went out—the word (ταχὺ) "quickly" is omitted—and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them (τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις)—agitation and ecstasy; they were in a state of the utmost excitement. And they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid. The vision of angels had terrified them. They were probably afraid to say anything to any one, on account of the Jews, lest it should be said that they had stolen the body of Jesus. It has been well remarked that independent accounts of events occurring a time of supreme excitement, and related by trustworthy witnesses, but from different points of view, naturally present difficulties which cannot be cleared up without a full knowledge of all the particulars. (See 'Speaker's Commentary' in Matthew 28:9)
Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven devils. St. Luke (Luke 8:2) mentions that "seven devils had gone out of her;" and St. Mark repeats it here, to show the power of love and penitence, that she was the first to be permitted to see the risen Savior. The vision of the angel had scared her, and she said nothing; but the actual sight of her risen Lord gave her confidence, and she went immediately, in obedience to his command, and told the disciples (see John 20:11-18). She had lingered about his tomb; her strong affection riveted her to the spot.
She went and told (ἐκείνη πορευθεῖσα ἀπήγγειλε) them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. The aorist here indicates immediate action. This word πορεύεσθαι occurs again in Mark 16:12 and Mark 16:15, but nowhere else in St. Mark's Gospel It is to be noticed, however, that it occurs twice in the First Epistle of St. Peter, and once in his Second Epistle. This seems to connect St. Peter with the writer of these verses.
And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved (ἠπίστησαν). They refused to believe on the bare statement of Mary Magdalene, although M. Renan says, "Sa grande affirmation de femme, 'Il est res-suscitei' a ete la base de la foi de l'humanite." They did not believe her until the risen Lord stood before them., p. 297.)
And after these things he was manifested in another form unto two of them, as they walked (πορευομένοις) on their way into the country. This appearance is doubtless the same as that which is related fully by St. Luke (Luke 24:13).
And they went away and told it unto the rest: neither believed they them. This want of faith happened by the permission and providence of God. "This their unbelief," says St. Gregory, "was not so much their infirmity as our future constancy on the faith."
And afterward (ὕστερον δὲ) he was manifested (ἐφανερώθη) unto the eleven themselves (αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἔνδεκα) as they sat at meat. There is an emphasis here on the word "themselves." The former appearances had been to persons not having any official character. But now he appears to the eleven apostles, when they were all gathered together at the close of that memorable day. "Unto the eleven." If, as seems evident, this appearance refers to the day of our Lord's resurrection, there would be only ten present; for Thomas was not then with them. Still, they might be called the eleven, because the apostolic college was reduced to eleven after the betrayal by Judas; so that they might still be called the eleven, although Thomas was absent. St. Bernard says on this, "If Christ comes and is present when we sit at meat, how much more when we kneel in prayer!" He upbraided them (ὠνείδισε). This is a strong word of rebuke. They ought to have received the testimony of competent witnesses. But their doubts were only removed by the evidence of their senses; just as afterwards in the case of Thomas. St. Mark is always careful to record the rebukes administered by our Lord to his apostles.
Mark 16:15, Mark 16:16
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation (πάσῃ τῇ κτίσει). He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. Here is a considerable interval of time, not noticed in any way by the evangelist. And he saith unto them; not on the day of his resurrection. It would seem that this charge was delivered to them in Galilee, and that it is the same as that recorded in St. Matthew (Matthew 28:19), which was again repeated immediately before his ascension from Bethany. Go ye into all the world; not into Judaea only, but everywhere. This command has expanded with the discovery in later times of new portions of the inhabited earth; and must ever be coextensive with geographic discovery. Preach the gospel to the whole creation; that is, "among all nations." Man is the noblest work of God. All the creation is gathered up in him, created after the image of the Creator. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned. These words are very important. The first clause opposes the notion that faith alone is sufficient for salvation, without those works which are the fruit of faith. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; that is, he that believeth, and as an evidence of his faith accepts Christ's baptism, and fulfils the promises and vows which he then took upon himself, working out his own salvation with fear and trembling, shall be saved. But he that disbelieveth shall be condemned (ὁ δὲ ἀπιστήσας κατακριθήσεται,). The condemnation anticipates the doom which will be incurred by continual unbelief.
Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18
And these signs shall follow them that believe. Such evidences were necessary in the first dawn of Christianity, to attract attention to the doctrine; but our Lord's words do not mean that they were to be in perpetuity, as a continually recurring evidence of the truth of Christianity. St. Gregory (on 1 Corinthians 14:22) says, "These signs were necessary in the beginning of Christianity. In order that faith might take root and increase, it must be nourished by miracle; for so even we, when we plant shrubs, only water them until we see that they are taking root, and when we see that they have rooted themselves, we cease to water them. And this is what St. Paul means where he says 'Tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to the unbelieving' (1 Corinthians 14:22)." In my name shall they cast out devils. St. Mark, of all the evangelists, dwells most perhaps on this, as characteristic of our Lord's work, and as the evidence of his supreme dominion over the spiritual world. They shall speak with new tongues. This was the first intimation of the great miracle to be inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. The gift was continued but for a very limited time. They shall take up serpents. The instance of St. Paul at Melita (Acts 28:3-5) would be familiar to St. Mark's readers. And if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them. There are some few traditionary notices of the fulfillment of this promise; as in the case of "Justus Barsabas," mentioned by Eusebius ('H.E.,' 3, 19), and of St. John, mentioned by St. Augustine. It may be observed of this passage, that no one could have interpolated it after the cessation of the signs to which it refers, which took place very early.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven. Here is another interval. The evangelist has gathered up some few of the most important words and sayings of Christ; and now he takes his reader to Bethany, the scene of our Lord's ascension. It has been well observed (see Bishop Wordsworth, in loc.) that the fact of the Ascension is gradually revealed in the Gospels. St. Matthew does not mention it at all. St. Mark refers to it in this brief and very simple manner. But St. Luke describes it with great fullness, both in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, throughout which book he leads his readers to contemplate Christ as ascended into heaven, and as sitting at God's right hand, and as ruling the Church and the world from the throne of his glory.
And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen. These words are alluded to in several passages by Justin Martyr, and, for the reasons given above, could not have been written later than the time of miracles being wrought. They form a fitting introduction to the Acts of the Apostles. Cornelius a Lapide concludes his Commentary upon St. Mark with the following beautiful apostrophe of St. Augustine:—"O kingdom of everlasting blessedness, where youth never grows old, where beauty never fades, where love never waxes cold, where health never fails, where joy never decreases, where life never ends!"
The empty sepulcher.
In this passage there is no direct narrative of the Savior's resurrection. The evangelist probably tells what, and only what, he had heard from credible and well-known witnesses. There were no such witnesses to the act of the Lord's emergence from the tomb. But the Marys and Salome had stated what they had seen and heard. They declared that, although they went early to the sepulcher, they found it both open and empty. They related their interview with the young man, the angel, who informed them that Jesus had risen. And it is upon their testimony that the evangelist bases in the first instance his gospel of the resurrection.
I. LOVE WILL FIND OCCASIONS AND WAYS OF EXPRESSING ITSELF. In our Lord's ministry, devout and attached women had often provided for his wants. When the end of that ministry arrived, these affectionate friends were found faithful to their Master; they were amongst the witnesses of his crucifixion and his death. Nor did they then withdraw, but lingered by the lifeless body until it was deposited in the new-hewn tomb. Even then their love was not satisfied; it remained for them to finish the rites which had been so hastily performed by Nicodemus and Joseph, and so abruptly suspended by the sunset which was the commencement of the Jewish sabbath. Behold them, accordingly, in the garden immediately after sunrise. On the past evening they have purchased spices; and they have now, at early morning, come, laden with the fragrant preparations, to perform the last offices to the body of him they have long honored and loved. The incident reminds us of the grateful and most graceful tribute offered to Jesus by the sister of Lazarus, who poured the costly perfume over the sacred feet of her Lord, her Benefactor. In both cases the value and the charm of the services are owing to the love by which they were inspired. Love followed Jesus, not only in the way, and into the dwelling, but to the cross and to the grave. They who truly love the Lord Christ will find opportunities in abundance of proving their affection.'
II. WE IMAGINE DIFFICULTIES WHICH GOD HAS ALREADY SOLVED FOR US. NO wonder that these feeble women questioned one with another, "Who shall roll us away the stone?" Strong men had closed the entrance to the tomb by placing this huge stone against it; how should this barrier to the carrying out of their intentions be removed? They looked up, and lo! the stone was rolled away. This had been done at daybreak by the celestial messenger. Very similar is much of Christian experience. We perplex ourselves, it may be, with speculative difficulties. Nature and revelation teem with mysteries. To our finite and untrained, inexperienced intelligence it must be so. Our penetration is too dull, our wisdom is too short-sighted; our powers, knowledge, and opportunities are all unequal to the task. But all is clear to that Being who is infinitely wise; and when we lift up our eyes we shall in due time see the resolution of our doubts. We perplex ourselves, it may be, with practical difficulties. How shall we do our work—that work being so vast, and we so hell, less? How shall we train our family, conduct our business, discharge our responsibilities? We cannot tell. But, looking unto him, we shall be lightened. He shall bring our way to pass. We perplex ourselves, 'it may be, with difficulties as to the Church and kingdom of Christ. How shall the Lord's people be awakened to zeal, or reconciled in unity, or qualified for the work assigned them in a dark and sinful world? Our mind is baffled by the problem, which we have no means of solving. Let us go on our way. When we come to our difficulty, we may perhaps find that it is gone. Let us leave the problems of the future to be solved by him with whom all is one eternal "now." Let us commit the distant in space and in time to him to whom belong alike the far-off and the near. There is no stone so exceeding great that he cannot roll it away; none that he will suffer to hinder or delay the execution of his own purposes.
III. CHRIST MAY BE SOUGHT IN THE GRAVE, BUT HE IS FOUND IN THE RISEN LIFE, THE SPIRITUAL REALM. Notwithstanding that Jesus had foretold both his death and his resurrection, the disciples were overwhelmed with astonishment at his crucifixion, and were amazed and incredulous at the tidings of his triumph over the grave. The men do not seem to have come to the tomb until they were summoned; the women came, but they came to embalm the dead, not to welcome the living—the risen, It needed that they should be assured "He is risen; he is not here]" in order that the current of their mournful thoughts should be arrested and reversed. In the tomb they did not find him, but they met him in his glorious resurrection-body. There are many who still commit the same mistake regarding our Savior. They think of his bodily and earthly life, of its outward incidents and of its tragic close. They think of him as if his ministry and his mediation came to an end on Calvary. They do not think of him as risen, as living in human society, as working in human hearts, as governing and blessing human lives. Yet, for us, what is the significance of the Redeemer's rising from the dead? Is it not just this—that the Savior's resurrection-life is his moral and spiritual sway over humanity? It is not in his body that his presence consists. It is in the penetration of the world's moral nature by his ever-present, all-pervading Spirit; it is in the transformation of the world's moral life by the power of his sacrifice, his obedience, his self-denial, his benevolence. Many a king and conqueror has died, after a life of ambition, a career of slaughter and of oppression. The death of such has been welcome, for it has put an end to a power for mischief which has cursed the world. But every teacher, every discoverer of truth, has implanted in the soul of humanity a seed which has outlived himself. How much more does the Divine Light and Life of men continue to illumine and to inspire the world, which first rejected him, and then found out his inestimable worth, his incalculable power!
IV. THE MOST WELCOME AND GLORIOUS REVELATION 1S RECEIVED AT FIRST WITH FEAR, ASTONISHMENT, AND SILENCE. Of the women we read, "They were amazed;" "trembling and astonishment came upon them;" "they were afraid;" "they said nothing to any one." It is a strange effect to follow from such a cause. Nothing could be so welcome and so joyful as the news which greeted them. But it was too startling, too surprising, too unexpected. They "departed with fear and great joy," just as the eleven afterwards "disbelieved for joy." There is news which seems too good to be true. Even so now there are doubting souls, who fain would believe in a Divine Savior, and who withhold their faith, not from unspirituality of nature and habit, but from the intensity of their appreciation of the blessing needed—the revelation of Divine favor, and the prospect of a glorious immortality. Let such raise their minds to the height of the Divine benevolence. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?" Such an interposition is surely worthy even of the Supreme! "That our faith and hope might be in God." Surely such an end may be believed to justify the most unexampled revelation and the most stupendous display of power. It is well that the tidings should be received with some sense of their amazing importance and their unique bearing upon the state and prospects of mankind.
V. THE NEWS OF THE RESURRECTION IS GOOD TIDINGS TO BE PUBLISHED ABROAD. The faithful women were directed to act as messengers. They have been called "the apostles of the apostles." They were to find Peter and the other disciples, to tell them that Jesus had risen, and to direct them where they should meet him. This they did, and in so doing they set an example to Christians in all coming time. Whatever else may be said of the resurrection of Jesus, this must be said of it first and foremost: It is good news, worthy of all acceptation. As such the apostles received it, and as such they published it. In the record of their ministry, nothing is so prominently put forward as their preaching Jesus and the Resurrection. A risen and glorified Savior was the Savior they preached—a Savior who had died, but who liveth evermore. Glad tidings to be proclaimed in every language and to all mankind!
1. Let us learn to live a life of faith in a risen, exalted, reigning Savior and Lord. Our religious life should receive its impulse and its motive from looking upwards to the Lord of life.
2. Let us regard it as our sacred ministry to publish as good tidings the truth that Christ is risen. This is the office and privilege of the Church of him who was dead and is alive again, and lives for evermore.
The day of Christ's resurrection was a day which opened in gloom and closed with gladness. In the morning our Lord's disciples and friends were mourning their Master's death, were grieving at what they deemed their forsaken and friendless lot; in the evening the same persons were rejoicing in a risen and triumphant Redeemer. They had found the key to their perplexities; they had received a new impulse and aim, the power and the promise of a new life. To what was it all due? Simply to this: they exchanged unreasonable disbelief for reasonable faith.
I. THE EVIDENCE DISBELIEVED. In some cases we are justified in refusing our assent to testimony; in others we are justified in withholding that assent until the testimony is confirmed. Such was not the case on the occasion under consideration. The evidence was that of credible persons, and of persons whom the eleven knew to be credible. Mary of Magdala, and Cleopas, and his companion were well known to the company of our Lord's friends and disciples. They were persons of unquestionable veracity. They had been themselves convinced against their own persuasions and prejudices. Mary had gone to the grave to complete the rites of burial—a proof that she was not expecting the resurrection. The two who walked to Emmaus regarded the death of Jesus as She destruction of their hopes; they were sad of countenance and slow of heart. If the testimony of Mary were rejected as that of an enthusiast, how could the testimony of the two companions be disputed? Besides, from the other Gospels we know that the other women had also borne witness to having seen Jesus, and that the Lord had appeared to Simon, who had announced the good news to the others. Testimony so varied, repeated, and credible as this deserved a better reception than was accorded to it. But whatever was said of the rising of the Lord Jesus, the disciples during that day disbelieved.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF THIS DISBELIEF. There must have been and there were reasons, or rather motives, for the attitude of the unbelieving disciples. According to this passage, grief was one explanation. The sorrow which possessed the hearts of Christ's friends, when they saw him insulted, tortured, and slain, was deep and poignant. Time had not elapsed for that grief to be allayed. They were still prostrate beneath the anguish which had crushed their hearts. They would hear of nothing that might alleviate and soothe them. And with grief was mingled disappointment. Their mounting hopes were smitten as with a bolt, and fell lifeless to the earth. They had looked for conquest, and they thought they saw defeat. They had looked for a kingdom, and lo! their King was slain. Doubtless, the sentiments of all were expressed in the pathetic lament, "We trusted this had been he who should have redeemed Israel." Such hopes, so crushed, could not easily arise again. Minds so amazed, staggered, utterly perplexed, were all unready to welcome tidings of encouragement. The storm-blast had passed over the tree and snapped the trunk in twain; the calm and the sunshine could not rear the prostrate head.
III. THE BLAMABLENESS OF THIS DISBELIEF. When the Lord himself appeared unto them he doubtless made allowance for their feelings. Yet it is here recorded, "He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen." This implies that they ought to have felt and acted otherwise.
1. And they would have done so had they cherished a juster view of the nature of the Lord himself. Had they remembered the witness borne to him by the Father, had they recalled his own lofty claims, had they pondered his wonderful works, and especially his miracles of raising the dead to life, then the tidings that he had risen would not have fallen upon unreceptive minds.
2. Further, the disciples should have remembered the Lord's promises, some of which had been given in figurative language, but some of which had been couched in the plainest terms. He had said that, after being put to death, he would rise on the third day. How is it that they had so utterly forgotten a promise so express and so surprising?
3. And they should have borne in mind the predictions of the Old Testament regarding the Messianic kingdom, which should be based upon humiliation and suffering, but should be built up in glory. Jesus himself reproached them for having missed the purport of the Messianic prophecies: "Ought not Christ to have," etc.?
IV. DISBELIEF VANQUISHED. What Christ's messengers could not do, he did himself. What could not be wrought by testimony, was wrought by evidence of eyesight and hearing. The change which came over the disciples demands attention. Their conversion from disbelief to faith was:
1. Instantaneous. For long hours they had resisted the witness of those who had seen the risen Lord; but, upon themselves seeing him, they yielded an immediate assent.
2. It was complete and joyful There was no further questioning, and no further sadness. For a moment "they believed not for joy; but "then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." Their minds went quite round; from doubt they passed to confidence, from depression to exhilaration.
3. And this conversion was enduring. Never did they hesitate in their own testimony. They thenceforth regarded themselves as witnesses of the resurrection, and spake boldly of what their eyes had seen, their ears had heard, their hands had handled, of the Word of life.
V. THE LESSONS OF THEIR DISBELIEF.
1. It makes the testimony of the disciples the more valuable. Clearly, those men were not credulous, were not disposed or prepared to believe. It must have been conclusive evidence indeed which convinced them. There can be no danger in accepting the testimony of such men as these.
2. It is a rebuke to those who, through hardness of heart, believe not in a risen Savior. With the clear, full evidence which we possess, we shall indeed be blamable if we withhold our cordial faith from him who for us died and rose again. "Blessed," says the Lord, "are they who, not having seen, yet believe."
The great commission.
Whether these words were spoken at once upon one occasion, or whether they are the summing up of many words uttered by our Lord between his resurrection and ascension, one thing is clear—they are the unburdening of his great heart of what was the load chiefly pressing upon it. Why had he condescended to live upon earth, to fulfill a ministry of humiliation, to endure unequalled woes, to die a death of ignominy and of shame? Surely not that after his departure from earth all things might be as before. But rather and only that, as the great foreseen result, of his earthly advent and ministry, a new and heavenly power might be introduced into humanity, a new spiritual kingdom might be set up in the world, and a new day might dawn upon the long, dark night of time. Hence the gospel which he caused to be proclaimed, the commission which he entrusted to his disciples and especially his apostles. Hence the authority Jesus entrusted to his servants, and the vast sphere he contemplated for their labors of witness and of work.
I. THE COMMISSION ENTRUSTED TO THE CHURCH.
1. What they were to take. "The gospel," glad tidings of salvation and eternal life through a Divine Redeemer, who died for the world's sins, and lives for the world's eternal life.
2. To whom they were to take it. "To the whole creation," i.e. to all mankind, of every race and every through them on his Name were entrusted with this great commission. "Freely," said Christ, "ye have received; freely give." No order of men, but the whole Church, receives this sacred trust.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY LAID UPON THE WORLD TO WHICH THE GOSPEL COMES. A great alternative is propounded. There is no middle course supposed. Belief and baptism are the condition of salvation; disbelief ensures condemnation. We may well admire the wisdom and the condescending compassion which determined such a condition as faith as the condition upon which the highest spiritual blessings may be enjoyed. It is possible to the youngest, to the least learned, to the feeblest of men. Yet it is a mighty principle; being able, when directed towards a Divine Savior, to secure all good which man can need and God can give, both for time and for eternity.
III. THE CREDENTIALS ACCOMPANYING THE PUBLICATION OF THE GOSPEL.
1. What they were. There are enumerated: power to exorcise demons, power to speak with tongues, immunity from harm by poison or by serpent-bite, the ministry of supernatural healing.
2. Why they were given. It was to authenticate the message and the messengers. As in Christ's ministry spiritual authority was indicated by miraculous works, so was it in the ministry of Christ's followers and apostles. As a matter of fact, attention was thus drawn to the Word of life.
3. Why they were withdrawn. When this exactly was we cannot perhaps decide; but as the purpose of their bestowal was temporary, it is evident that when this purpose was answered, and Christianity was launched upon the waters of the world, it was in accordance with Divine wisdom that miracles should cease.
Mark 16:19, Mark 16:20
Christ ascended on high. How could it be otherwise? He came into this world in a manner and with accompaniments so remarkable, he lived in this world a life so singular and unique, that it was but appropriate that he should quit this world as none other has ever done. What is meant by his being "received up"—where "heaven" is,—this we do not know; our knowledge is limited, and our power of conceiving the eternity and infinity around us is feeble. One thing we do see, and that is, that Jesus finished his work on earth and then departed; and one other thing we see, almost as clearly, viz. that the moral, spiritual work which was the object of his mission, so far from coming to an end with his bodily departure, really then commenced, and has been proceeding ever since. How he interests himself in it and carries it on, we can only tell in general and scriptural language; that he does so, is plain to every spiritually enlightened man. St. Mark, who plunged at the outset so boldly into his task of relating "the gospel of the Son of God," here, with characteristic brevity, clearness, and vigor, tells the last portion of his narrative—the ascension of the Savior into heaven, and the consequent continuation of his work on earth.
I. THE ASCENSION IS THE COMPLETION OF OUR SAVIOUR'S EARTHLY MINISTRY. To those who believe that the Lord Jesus arose from the dead, the narrative of the Ascension can present little difficulty. It is impossible to believe that he who consented to die, and who conquered death, could again enter the grave. It remained for him to quit the earth without dying; and what we read of his resurrection-body leads us to believe that this was not only possible, but natural and easy. In fact, the Ascension may be regarded, not as the consequence so much as the completion of the Resurrection; and, in apostolic language, the two events are sometimes referred to in one and the same expression. How explicitly had Jesus foretold this great event! Early in his ministry he had declared, "No man hath ascended into heaven, save he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven." Expostulating with the cavillers at Capernaum at a later period, he had asked them, "What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?" And on the day of his resurrection he had directed Mary to take to his disciples this message: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God " The foresight and authority of our Savior were proved by the correspondence between his words and the event which exactly fulfilled them. The Ascension implied that all the purposes of the incarnation and advent of the Redeemer were accomplished. What he came to do, to suffer, and to say, he had already done, suffered, and said. He did not leave the earth until on earth there was no more for him to do. In his recorded intercessory prayer, addressing his Father, he said, "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do."
II. THE ASCENSION IS THE COMMENCEMENT OF OUR SAVIOUR'S REIGN. We are too prone to think of human life as if it closes when the last breath is drawn and the heart beats no more. We forget that this is but the birth to the higher, the proper, the eternal life. Similarly with our view of the Redeemer's ministry of service, his tenure of priestly, royal office. We are too prone to regard his life as closing with the conclusion of our Gospel narratives. We follow him in thought until the cloud, descending upon Olivet, receives him out of our sight, and then we say, "It is all over! His course is run, his work is finished!" But it is not so. The very contrary of this is the case. That Christ's ascension draws a sharp line of demarcation, is true; but the one side is finite, the other is infinite. We can comprehend the one; the other baffles all our powers of penetration. The steps of Jesus through this earthly pilgrimage are steps which we can trace; but we lose sight of them, and faith alone can follow, when he ascends on high. This, however, is certain to us, that, with the ascension of Jesus, the second, the more spiritual, the more beneficent, the more enduring stage of this Divine ministry, commenced. He did much in his humiliation; he is doing more in his glory, tie came to found a kingdom; he went to administer it; and he must reign until his foes become his footstool. Contemplate the Son of man as he is here represented, no longer wearing the disguise of feebleness and submitting to the insults and the hatred of the wicked. His days of toil, of hunger, and of weariness, his nights of exposure and of mental conflict, are over. No more is he to endure the misrepresentations of the hypocritical and the malicious; no more to baffle the insidious snares of the crafty and the unscrupulous; no more to be patient under the cold mockery of the unspiritual and ungrateful. His deeds of mercy shall never again be attributed to the powers of evil; never again shall those he fain would benefit seek to cast him headlong from the precipice; nor shall he sigh because of the hardness of heart and insensibility of his foes. It is well that he has gone through it all; that he has been despised and rejected of men, that he has been overwhelmed with the baptism of suffering, that he has drunk to the dregs earth's bitter cup of woe. All this is well. But it is better that it is past and over; that he takes with him into the unseen state the memory of his humiliation, his obedience, his death; that he enters upon his purchased possession; that he sees "of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied;" that he is "received up into heaven, and sits down on the right hand of God." What are we to understand when told that Christ sat down" in heaven, and by the Father's side? The evangelist speaks here in such a way as to convey to us important religious truth· Christ's earthly ministry had been one of unrest and homelessness; from the commencement of his public labors until those labors ended on the cross, few had been the intervals of repose. With the Ascension began the period of rest. The seat upon the throne is becoming to royalty: the monarch sits whilst the courtiers, guards, and attendants stand. So the expression implies the kingly dignity of Immanuel. He has exchanged the crown of thorns for the diadem of empire. On his head are many crowns." Further, a judge sits upon the judgment-seat, whilst the criminal stands at his bar. Jesus not long before had stood, as the vilest culprit might have done, before the malignant Caiaphas, before the vacillating, unrighteous Pilate. Now, no longer the accused, he is the just, majestic, and almighty Judge, ordained by God to be the Judge of quick and dead. How bold and plain, although metaphorical, is Mark's language here! "The Lord Jesus sat down at the right hand of God." "The right hand of God" is one of those expressions, so frequent in Scripture, which are used, in condescension to our infirmities, to convey to us, in a striking and effective manner, truth otherwise not easily communicated. A courtier, when at the right hand of his sovereign, is near him, is readily addressed; is in a position either to give information or to receive instructions; can easily obtain a signature, or an authority or warrant under the sign-manual; is in a position to introduce to the king any applicant or petitioner; in brief, occupies a post of privilege, trust, influence, honor, and authority. And when our Savior is pictured as at the right hand of God, we are to understand that he is the Mediator, through whom the Divine power and guidance, favor and blessing, are bestowed upon those in whom he has shown himself interested by undergoing on their behalf the labors and the sacrifices of the earthly humiliation. No wonder, then, that the position occupied by Christians is described in language so rich, full, and inspiriting—that all things are declared to be theirs, for they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
III. THE ASCENSION WAS THE PREPARATION FOR A NEW AND SPIRITUAL ECONOMY. The bodily absence of the Redeemer was the condition of a new dispensation of spiritual power and of world-wide extent. Hitherto the evangelizing journeys of the twelve had been restricted in scope and local in range; they had gone only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and they had directed attention to the speedy approach of the kingdom. But the aim of Jesus was one of universal benevolence; other sheep, not of the Israelitish fold, were to be brought in; he was to draw all men unto himself. This was to be done by spiritual agencies, which were dependent upon the removal of the Lord to heaven. In fact, the ascension of the Lord Jesus was, in the Divine counsels, the condition and the occasion of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, in the manner and measure distinctive of the new, the Christian dispensation. He himself had put this with great plainness before his disciples' minds: "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you." This was a doctrinal statement of the nature of a revelation. What was the intelligible and manifest fact corresponding to it? Surely this—that the earthly mission of the Savior being complete, the gospel was to be preached, and should be made, by a spiritual force acting on human natures, the means of awakening men to a new conscience of sin, a new yearning for holiness, a new purpose of an unselfish and unworldly life. It is no more unreasonable to attribute the fruits of the gospel to the Spirit of God, than it is to attribute human purposes to the spirit of man. It is a spiritual universe, and things material and outward actions are nothing but the garb and utterance of what is spiritual. If there be truth declared, revealed, and if there be a nature capable of receiving, feeling, responding to truth, there is one all-sufficient explanation of this wonderful and beneficent correspondence, and that is, the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit of God. The ascension of Christ changed the life of the apostles, and through them, the history of the world.
1. Now and henceforth there was an express theme for them to publish. This was the gospel, the good tidings, which only now was complete, and so divinely perfected by all that Jesus had done and suffered, that it was adapted to fulfill the purposes of Divine wisdom. Before, the disciples had directed attention to what was to come; now, to what had occurred actually and really. Christ had died for men's sins, according to the Scriptures; he had arisen from the dead for their justification and salvation. Around the great central facts of Christ's birth, crucifixion, and resurrection gathered all the Divine truths which constituted the gospel. Accordingly, in the first place, the facts were related as facts abundantly attested, and as facts of interest and precious moment to all' mankind. And, when these facts were believed, then they were explained, and (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit given from above) the inspired apostles taught their bearing upon the position and prospects of the sinful race of man. It should never be forgotten that our religion consists in something more than laws of life, sentiments of virtue, promises of help, hopes of immortality. In accordance with the constitution of things, all these depend upon and flow from the great central facts relating to the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Besides having a theme, the apostles of our Lord now had a commission which authorized them. They did not go unbidden, without instructions, without authority, upon this errand of mercy and blessing to mankind. He who had all power in heaven and in earth had given them their commission. He had said "Go!" and they went; not in their own strength and wisdom, but in his. The same warrant and authentication abides with the Church of Christ throughout all the ages. The apostles were, as the name implies, those who were sent; in this respect, as distinguished from personal endowment and equipment, an apostolic mission is entrusted to the whole body of Christ's followers to the end of time.
3. The sphere within which this commission was to be executed was world-wide. "Go ye into all the world," Jesus had said, "and preach the gospel to the whole creation." "Make disciples of all nations." A grand and noble design, worthy of the source whence it emanated, in the heart of him who is "the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe." The habitable globe is the field in which the Christian missionary is called to work; for the human race is the object of Divine compassion, the destined participant in the bounty of the Divine beneficence. None, however large-hearted and compassionate, can complain that the operations of mercy and benevolence are restricted and restrained.
4. In fulfilling this commission, the heralds of Christ's gospel were assured that they should enjoy, not only personal assistance, but the assistance involved in undoubted credentials, by which they and their message should be commended to the attention of men.
(1) The Lord wrought with them. They were workers, but they were fellow-workers with him. What was to be done in the renewal of human hearts, and the transformation of human character, was not to be done by the exercise of merely human power. A Divine energy and operation were alone adequate to secure results so difficult, so glorious.
(2) Signs followed. Signs, i.e. of a Divine presence and energy. There were such in abundance, as is evident from the record in the Acts of the Apostles. Signs outward, manifest, obvious to every eye, as in the case of those miracles of healing which accompanied the ministrations of the first Christian preachers. Signs of a less obtrusive, but of an even more convincing character, as in the case of those Jews who were delivered from formalism, those Gentiles who were emancipated from idolatry, those flagrant transgressors of the moral law who were turned from darkness unto light, and from the service of Satan unto God.
(3) Thus the Word was confirmed. Miracles, preaching, all were means to an end, and that end the establishment and extension of a spiritual kingdom. For the Word of God was no mere instrument of music to charm the ear and captivate the imagination; it was and is "the sword of the Spirit." Its work is to conquer, to subdue, to govern; and this work it does with incomparable keenness of edge, with incomparable force and efficiency. It has been promised, "My Word shall not return unto me void." It has proved itself a Word of power, a Word of salvation, a Word of life.
1. In heart, let Christ's people ascend with their ascended Lord and Leader. "Risen with Christ," "set your affection upon things above."
2. In life, let Christians seek to execute their Master's parting commission. He has left them a trust to fulfill, a work to do; let them not be found slothful, but diligent and watchful.
3. In hope, let all who "love his appearing," look forward to his return. For in like manner shall he come again, to receive his people to himself. "Even come, Lord Jesus!"
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The last days of the manifestation of God in Christ were signalized by a great deprivation and a great recovery. A life beyond the dread confines of the grave completed the cycle of wonders associated with the earth-life of Jesus. This, although not sufficiently realized ere it actually occurred, is a part of a continuative development. It is no awkward and hasty fragment joined on to another and more legitimate narrative. To intelligent students of the life, it appears the sublimely consistent outcome of all that preceded the death. The evangelists, from the very beginning of their histories, prepare one almost unconsciously for such a denouement. It is in a sense the necessary conclusion towards which they move, and It throws into new relations and proportions all the preceding events. The earthly actions and experiences of Christ are sufficiently verified, but in describing them evangelists do not seem to think of having to furnish proof. It is only when they begin to tell us of the resurrection that all is alertness, and that conscious collation of evidence takes place. This is the arcanum of the faith which must be preserved from all uncertainty; this fact must be certified that all else may be made intelligible and morally effectual. And the moral significance of the Resurrection is even more insisted on than its physical wonder. It is the defeat of evil machinations, and a triumph over every precaution of his enemies.
I. SOME IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION, The number and variety of Christ's appearances have been noted by the evangelists. The spiritual nature perceives the supplementary effect and educative efficiency of his resurrection fellowship. There is also a marked absence of all appearance of collusion.
1. Conspirators would have striven to keep the grave sealed until its emptiness should be discovered.
2. The Roman watch was all but inviolable.
3. Those who might be expected to conspire remained at a distance, and were informed of the event.
4. Many of them at first refused to believe the news.
5. From the Emmaus and embalming incidents, we see that most of the disciples did not look for his (at all events immediate) reappearance.
II. THE NATURE OF THE RESURRECTION. The question of those who deny the physical, yet emphasize the ideal and spiritual resurrection—"What can a few pounds more or less of dust and ashes matter?"—is shallow and impertinent.
1. The senses were appealed to: sight, hearing, touch; physical results were produced; fellowship was realized with him under physical conditions (the fish and honeycomb).
2. was not recognized at first. A great change had, therefore, been produced. And such a thing might be looked for. Mary, Emmaus, Thomas and the stigmata.
3. The manner of disappearance as described is suggestive of a real body (Acts 1:9; Luke 24:50, Luke 24:51).
III. THE BEARINGS OF THIS FACT UPON CHRISTIAN FAITH AND LIFE. In considering these, we see how the foregoing question betrays an incapacity for discussing the highest practical problems.
1. Christ came to save the entire nature—body, soul, and spirit. He is, therefore, himself the Firstfruits and the Type. There is, in his resurrection state, a hint as. to the possibilities of our material nature when completely purified and redeemed.
2. The bodily resurrection of Christ is a more signal marvel than the spiritual alone would have been, and was at the same time more susceptible of sensible demonstration.
3. It was in harmony with the method of his miracles, and the grand key to them. How the moral element in this life grew and expanded into ever more powerful effects and general relations! At last, when earnestly and carefully regarded, doubt is overwhelmed by it. How it appeals to our sense of the highest fitness, and answers the unconscious longings of the spiritual life!—M.
Mark 16:3, Mark 16:4
"Who shall roll us away the stone?"
Two things occurred together in attempting the last service to the buried Christ—weak, though willing and loving instruments, and a practically insurmountable difficulty. They themselves were unable to roll away the stone which closed the sepulcher, "for it was exceeding great." This experience has often been repeated.
I. HOW FOREBODINGS OF DIFFICULTY IN CHRISTIAN SERVICE OFTEN ARISE.
1. By discounting the help of Christ. They thought him dead and helpless.
2. By calculating only one's own resources. Looking inward. The healthy outward and upward look at the indications of Providence and experience.
II. HOW THE GOOD INTENTION OF LOVING HEARTS IS REWARDED BY THE SAVIOUR.
1. By finding the difficulty which had been anticipated already removed.
2. By finding the intended service rendered unnecessary. The empty grave at first a disappointment, but afterwards a source of joy.—M.
"He is not here."
I. THE PLACE WHERE CHRIST HAS BEEN' IS NOT ALWAYS THE PLACE WHERE CHRIST IS.
II. IT IS A LIVING AND NOT A DEAD CHRIST THAT CHRISTIANS ARE TO SEEK.
III. THEY THAT TRULY SEEK CHRIST WILL, EVEN THROUGH DISAPPOINTMENT, LEARN WHERE TO FIND HIM.
IV. THE DUTIES OF SORROWING LOVE ARE DISPLACED BY THE DUTIES OF REJOICING FAITH.—M.
Mark 16:19, Mark 16:20
The gospel the Word of the ascended Lord.
These words, at the end of Mark's account, give the great sequence of our Lord's manifestation. The Ascension was the divinely necessary result of the Resurrection; the gospel is the necessary fruit on the human side of the experience produced in the hearts of the disciples by his life and work. Such a series of events could not end in silence. As in life, so in death, resurrection, and exaltation, Jesus Christ "could not be hid." The preaching of the gospel is a result, therefore, of an express command and an inward impulse. The two verses are in sequence to the preceding account, and the one to the other, logically, spiritually, and potentially. Notice in this connection—
I. THE POINT AT WHICH THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL BEGINS. At the final withdrawal and exaltation of Jesus.
1. Its subject is a completed one.
2. The various portions of it are self-evidently connected, and mutually interpret one another. The final transcendent issues of the contest of Christ with sin and death are each representative and interpretative of what preceded and led up to them. The life and its relation to the Divine purpose, prophetic anticipation, and human yearning, would be incomprehensible without this glorious trinity of consummations: death, resurrection, and ascension.
II. THE POWER IT REPRESENTS. The power of a finished work of atonement, a victory over death and hell, and an exalted, glorified humanity.
1. The highest exaltation has been reached by him of whom it speaks, He is invested with Divine power, and executive authority in the universe of God. Whether there be any such place as the "right hand of God" may be a curious question; that there is a state which such a phrase describes is a matter of spiritual revelation and experience. "All power is given," etc.
2. Its tone is therefore authoritative in the highest degree. The gospel is a throne-word. Preachers are ambassadors. The dignities and pretensions of earth are nothing to them. The Lord through them "commands all men everywhere to repent." Herod is a sad illustration of what occurs when even a king attempts to patronize the gospel.
3. This pretension is confirmed by practical proofs. The works accompanying it and resulting from it are "signs." You cannot explain them unless on the highest ground. Although physical miracles have ceased, spiritual results are still more demonstrative and glorious. In changing the heart, renewing the nature, purifying the affections, the "Word of his power" achieves what nothing else can. And such signs are to be looked for whenever and wherever it is proclaimed. "The Lord working with them"—everywhere, because ascended and glorified.
III. THE PEOPLE IT CONCERNS. "And they went forth, and preached everywhere." This was no accident or caprice of choice: he commanded it (verse 15). But it is also divinely fitting that this should be so.
1. The gospel is intended for all men.
2. It is adapted to all men.
3. The work of Christ's servants is to seek the salvation of all men.
Until all have had an opportunity we must continue to preach: that is our responsibility. It is not said that all will believe or be saved: that is the responsibility of those who hear. Only of this are we certain: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).—M.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Mark 16:3, Mark 16:4
The stone rolled away.
Day was dawning on Jerusalem when the women saw this strange sight. Day was dawning in their hearts too, for slowly and surely the darkness of doubt and grief was stealing away. And day was dawning on the whole world, and on all future ages of history, for the Sun of Righteousness had risen, bringing life and immortality to light. No three days in human history were so momentous as these of which the context speaks; for it was on them that the great conflict between death and life was fought out, and for ever won, by the Captain of our salvation. (Describe the varied feelings which swayed the minds of Christ's foes and friends after the Crucifixion, as they thought of his quiet grave in the garden.) The resurrection of Jesus Christ was put boldly in the forefront of apostolic teaching. Of all the miracles, this was the chief; of all evidences of the supernatural, this was the most important. In almost every recorded address and extant letter, this is insisted on as the cardinal fact of the Christian faith; indeed, Paul says, "If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain."
I. WE RECOGNIZE THE STONE ROLLED AWAY FROM THE SEPULCHRE AS BEING TO US A SIGN OF CHRIST'S VICTORY.
1. Accepting the fact of our Lord's resurrection, not only as proved by the credible, concurrent, and cumulative evidence of trustworthy men, but on the ground that this fact alone will rationally account for the victory of the Christian faith over men of all nations and conditions, we do not wonder at its prominence in New Testament teaching. Because Christ has risen, his death becomes more than a martyrdom for the truth; it appears as the voluntary offering of himself on the part of One who said of his life, "I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." It is the sign that God was still well pleased with the beloved Son, for it was the Divine reversal of the world's judgment upon him. It is a proof that the same Jesus who once walked this weary world still lives, with the old sympathy and power to help, fulfilling his promise, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." It is the pledge to us, the only pledge we have in history, that the splendid utterances of St. Paul about the resurrection of the saints will have their fulfillment. For the redeemed, as well as for their Lord, heavenly hands have rolled away the stone that once sealed the grave.
2. The victory of Christ on the Resurrection morning was dramatically complete in its details, and in this we see a suggestion of the absoluteness of his triumph over his foes. The Gentiles had mocked and crucified him; he passed by their strong guard without an effort. The Jews had accomplished their purpose against him; the seal of the Sanhedrim was broken. Death had seized upon him, and some had cried, "Himself he cannot save;" but, the Son of God, it was not possible that he should be holden of death. The grave had closed over him; but he passed through its portals resistlessly, as Samson came forth from Gaza, bearing on his shoulders its gates of brass and bars of iron. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet"—the pride that will not let us become as little children; the self-will that declares, "We will not have this man. to reign over us;" the lusts which, like the horses of the sun, would drag their victims to destruction; the death that strikes down all our defences, and tears away our dear ones from our embrace. Victory over these will be his, not ours. To the eye of faith the rolling away of the stone appears to be the loosening of the keystone in the great fortress of sin and death, of which at last there shall not be left one stone upon another.
II. THE STONE ROLLED AWAY MAY ALSO BE REGARDED BY US AS A REMINDER OF EXPECTED DIFFICULTIES UNEXPECTEDLY REMOVED. It was natural enough that these feeble women should say among themselves, "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?" For a moment it appeared as if all their labor of love, in the preparation of spices, would be thrown away—that the last tender ministry must be given up. But as they went forward, trembling yet hoping, they discovered that the difficulty they had dreaded was gone. God had done for them what they could not have done for themselves. Too often we discourage ourselves by thinking of future difficulties, until they loom so large in our imagination that we turn back from the path of duty.
1. It is so with our anxieties about temporal things. But whatever lies in the future, let us go on steadfastly and trustfully, and by-and-by we shall make the conquered difficulty an Ebenezer, which shall witness to others of the fact, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped me."
2. Similarly we must deal with some difficulties respecting Christian doctrine. "Whosoever shall do the will of God shall know the doctrine."
3. So let us go on also to attempt our appointed work for God; and the difficulties which are insurmountable by us will be removed by hands mightier than our own.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
In the early dawn—"at the rising of the sun" on the morning after the sabbath—that one most wondrous sabbath, the last of the old series—hasty feet were hurrying to the sepulcher. They were those of Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Love drew them thus early to the sacred tomb. But they were bringing "spices that they might come and anoint him," so far were they from expecting what had taken place. It does not appear that any of the disciples were looking for the Resurrection. As they neared the place a difficulty suggested itself to them: "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?" To their astonishment, it was rolled away. "Entering into the tomb," they found not the body as they expected; but "they saw a young man [an angel] sitting at the right side, arrayed in a white robe." Calming their affrighted spirits, he declared for the first time, "He is risen; he is not here." The few details of the excited doings of that first morning of the week—that first Lord's day—have a deep interest, which their meagreness cannot destroy, if indeed it abates it. Again and again Jesus appears to the disciples, now in smaller, now in larger companies, and gives them as true and deeply settled an assurance of his resurrection as was before given of his death. To that resurrection we turn as to the signal incident in the life of the world's Redeemer—the central fact in all human history. Nothing abates the significance of the Incarnation; but the raising up of the dead body into life is supreme in its bearing on the history of the human race.
I. The resurrection of Christ is THE CRUCIAL TEST OF THE WORLD'S REDEMPTION. "If Christ hath not been raised your faith is vain." Then the whole structure of Christianity is shaken to its foundations. It has no longer its present significance. It has wrought only imaginary changes. "Ye are yet in your sins." It has deluded its most devoted adherents. Itself aiming at truth, exalting, glorifying it, it has deceived and disappointed the hopes of its faithful ones. "They also which have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." The Christian Church has never shrunk from the alternative, exulting in its jubilant assurance, "But now hath Christ been raised from the dead." Herein the completeness of the atoning work of Christ is demonstrated, the warrant of faith in that atonement is presented, and the end of all is attained in the righteousness of men. With a divinely attested atonement, of which, to avail themselves, men are warranted in appropriating by faith the justification—the righteousness which they need. He "was delivered up for our offenses, and was raised for our justification."
II. The resurrection of Christ is THE FIRM GROUND OF HUMAN HOPE. "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Back to this event the eye of the believer has turned to see the assuring sign. Our friends lie still in the grave; but the Church has never since that early morning looked to a Christ in a tomb. It is easy to see how the horizon of the human life would be overclouded had we to think of the Redeemer as still in the grave.
III. THE BRIGHTEST ASPECT OF HUMAN LIFE is seen in the resurrection of Christ. Life with or without a future suggests the two utmost extremes. The barest glimmer of a possibility of a future life beyond the grave would be the greatest enrichment of that life had there not been a previous assurance of it. This fact added to human life transforms it at once. It is an inestimable possession. What possibilities does it not open before our eyes] What an encouragement to patience! "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward." The resurrection of Christ throws an altogether new light upon all human history; but its brightest light is thrown upon the gloom of.the future.
IV. The resurrection of Christ is THE ILLUSTRIOUS EXAMPLE OF THE UNIVERSAL RESURRECTION, "Christ the Firstfruits." The ingathering and presentation of the first-fruits must be taken as the pledge of the ingathering and presentation of the entire harvest. The inspired teaching on this lofty subject is such as to give the utmost assurance and comfort. The "weakness," the "dishonor," the "corruption," with which we are made familiar by death, stand in contrast with the "incorruption," the "glory," the "power," which we learn shall characterize the resurrection. While the casting off the "natural body," to be clothed with "a spiritual body," the exchange of "the earthy" for "the heavenly," is exemplified in the one Example which is for every believer the most comfortable assurance.
V. The resurrection of Christ is THE COMPLETE DEMONSTRATION OF TRIUMPH. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." It has ever been held that the Resurrection was the Divine seal of testimony to the perfectness and acceptability of the work of Christ. The rage of wicked men, the antagonism of error, the whole power of the enemy, triumphed in crushing the truth; but the Resurrection is a demonstration of complete superiority to all, and casts its illuminating comment upon the words, "I lay down my life, that I may take it again I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." These and many other teachings cluster around this most precious incident in the history of this typical life. He who would derive the utmost advantage therefrom must needs share the experience of the holy apostle: "I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellow- ship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:8-11).—G.
Mark 16:19, Mark 16:20
And now after "he was manifested" many times, showing "himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days," and having taught to his disciples, in the new light of his resurrection, "the things concerning the kingdom of God," he—the Lord Jesus"—"was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God," "the heaven" receiving him "until the times of restoration of all things." Now the holy, earthly life of Jesus is terminated. He has "ascended on high;" now the luminous pathway to heaven is open; now the eyes of the disciples of the Lord Jesus are ever turned upward, and their steps tend to heaven. Now the great truth is exemplified; life ends not in a grave, nor even in a resurrection from the dead, but in an ascension into heaven. This is the true goal. This the final hope. The regained Paradise is not on earth, but on high. The home of the weary is in "my Father's house." The world's rest is in heaven. Now life is a pilgrimage; men "seek a. country," "a better country, that is, a heavenly;" and "God hath prepared for them a city." The typical life is a perfect one; the cycle is complete. He "came down from heaven." He has ascended up "where he was before." So is it with the revelations of Holy Scripture. They begin in an earthly paradise; they end in a heavenly one. Such is the cherished hope of all believers. We must consider the ascension of Jesus in its bearing upon his own life, and upon the life and hope of his disciples, and upon the aspect of human life generally.
I. The Ascension into heaven is THE JUST VINDICATION OF THE LIFE AND CLAIMS OF JESUS. The position, which he assumed amongst men as the Son of God, as the Savior of the world, as the Judge of human actions; the call which he addressed to men to believe in him, to accept his teachings as of supreme authority, to trust in him for salvation and eternal life; and the great promises which he held out to men;—all needed a demonstration of their validity. To the patient reader of the Gospels this demonstration is afforded again and again "by divers portions and in divers manners." But all would lack their crowning affirmation had Jesus remained enchained by death, or had he not ascended up on high. It were impossible to believe in. such a Mediator as still in the grave. The Ascension, which is the necessary consequence of the Resurrection, is the complement of the Incarnation. Such a life and such a death as Jesus' demanded a triumph and a vindication. It was, in the absence of the Resurrection, the failure of the truth. Sin, error, the world, conquered the truth and righteousness of heaven. So for the one brief sabbath—the dead lull in the world's active history—it seemed to be; but the Resurrection, completed in the Ascension, is the effectual vindication of truth and of righteousness, as it is the vindication of the righteous One.
II. Not less is the Ascension THE VINDICATION OF THE WORLD'S FAITH IN JESUS. They who accept a teacher as authoritative, who commit great interests into his hands, who have so great faith in him as to entrust their reconciliation with God into his hands, who accept him as a mediator between themselves and God, who depend upon him for eternal life, who concentrate all their hopes of the future upon his word, must be prepared to justify their conduct. That justification is found in the Ascension. Too great a confidence cannot be placed in One concerning whom it may be said, "The third day he was raised again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God." Jesus, who vindicated himself in every step of his progress, vindicates also the daily, humble, entire faith of "them that put their trust in him."
III. There is a step further. THE CONDUCT OF THOSE WHO DEJECT CHRIST AWAITS VINDICATION. Where shall it be found? Given the facts of Jesus' life, his death, his resurrection, and ascension on high, where can any justify their repudiation of him? Precisely as faith and obedience are vindicated, so is unbelief and neglect condemned. The bearing of Christ's ascension on the universal life is of so great significance, that its rejection imposes the heaviest penalties on the disobedient. Not only is their own life debarred the beneficent influences of so great a fact, and the long train of facts of which it is the completion, but the life of others surrounding is proportionately injured. He who has faith in a great truth throws the influence of his encouragement over the faith of all amongst whom he moves, while he who abides in unbelief tends to wither the confidence of those around him. His example is contagious, and his life is impaired in its character. It cannot, therefore, exert the same beneficial influence upon others that it might do if under the control of great truths. Men must sooner or later vindicate to their fellows their conduct towards them. If it be good, the world's testimony will be joined to the Divine testimony. If evil, the world's condemnation must be added to that of the eternal Judge. Man's highest wisdom is to place himself near to great truths, that he may feel their power and elevation; and, by a thorough sympathy with them, be prepared to extend their influence far and wide. How greatly the world to-day needs men having faith! Such only can move the mountains which stand in the way of human progress and blessing. No truths have equal power for the uplifting, the ennobling, the appeasement, the satisfaction, the glorification of the human life, as have those which, beginning with the Incarnation, end with the ascension into heaven of the Lord Jesus Christ; "to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."—G.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. SELF-REWARDING LOVE. The women obey the longing to serve, though they know not how. Of love it is said, "All other pleasures are not worth its pains." In lavishing care upon the remains of one beloved, we show that the proper objects of love are persons. It is not to the love of an abstraction, but to the love of himself, that Christ calls us. The suffering in this world are to us as the body of Jesus.
II. ANGELIC MINISTRY. "Angels minister to the followers of Christ, and share their joy." The chain of sympathy is electric between earth and heaven; and all that we know in sorrow and joy has its immediate reflection and response above.
III. THE EMPTY TOMB. The contents have escaped, as some ethereal vapor eludes its bonds. He could not be holden of the tomb. It bore witness to his resurrection; and earth is no more a sepulcher, but a portico to heaven.—J.
Appearances of the risen One.
I. THEY WERE REPEATED AND VARIED,
So in the history of the Church and the world; there are epochs of the manifestation of Christ and of apparent concealment. Though history in one sense repeats itself, in another it does not. Christianity is the exhibition of the new in the old, the old in the new. And so in the individual.
II. THEY WERE MET BY PREJUDICE. New truth finds in us something ever to over-come. The victory over a prejudice gives us cause for thanks; what we really possess of truth we possess because we have resisted it. We do not understand it till we have contended against it. "We may believe more surely in the Resurrection, because they were so slow to believe."
III. THE SPIRITUAL EVIDENCE OF CHRISTIANITY IS THE REAL EVIDENCE, Unless we see that Christ's resurrection coincides with spiritual truth and needs, we shall not see it at all. Mediate knowledge can never be free from doubt; certainty lies in that which is immediate.—J.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS A GOOD MESSAGE FOR ALL MANKIND.
II. ALL WHO HAVE AFFIANCE IN CHRIST ARE MEN CONSECRATED AND SAVED.
III. IF FAITH BE POSSESSED, ALL NECESSARY CONFIRMATIONS OF FAITH WILL BE GRANTED.
IV. IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST, THE OUTWARD IS ONLY OF VALUE AS SIGNIFICANT OF THE INWARD AND SPIRITUAL.—J.
Mark 16:19, Mark 16:20
I. THE ASCENT OF CHRIST FOLLOWS FROM HIS DESCENT. His glory was conditioned and prepared for by his self-humiliation for our sakes.
II. HE IS NOW IN THE SEAT OF SPIRITUAL POWER AND GLORY. The right hand of God is a figure of omnipotence. This power is felt in and through all the thought and development of the world.
III. THIS POWER IS FELT IN HUMAN WORKS OF LOVE. Good signs ever are following the course of the good message. Faith working by love in us corresponds to power working by love in God. For us there is Divine encouragement to work for humanity in this last page—
"In dens of passion and pits of woe,
To see God's love still struggling through,
To sun the dark and solve the curse,
And beam to the bounds of the universe."
HOMILIES BY J.J. GIVEN
Parallel passages: Matthew 28:1-15; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-23.—
An eventful day.
I. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.
1. The morning of our Lord's resurrection. The first day of the week on which the events recorded in this section of the chapter took place was an eventful one. On the morning of that day we are placed side by side with some weeping women. They are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome the wife of Zebedee. They had loved their Lord in life; they had stood by him in death; they had cleaved to him on the cross; and now his lifeless corpse is to them an object of affectionate concern. In the grey dawn of the morning twilight they quit their couch, they leave their cottage, and, setting out, come to the tomb with the spices and perfumes they had carefully prepared, the sun by this time having begun to rise. But lo! in their confusion and haste and sorrow they have overlooked an important fact; they have not known, or forgotten, the efforts of his enemies to make sure the sepulcher, already secured with a great stone, sealing it with the imperial signet and setting a guard. In their hurry they have forgotten all this—the stone, the seal, the sentry. Soon as the thought occurs to them they look anxiously at each other and sorrowfully inquire," Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher?" Of the stone, at least, they were well aware.
2. The rolling away of the stone. Not pausing for an answer, they press forward to the sepulcher. On reaching the spot their fears are disappointed and their expectations exceeded. An earthquake had shaken the place, an angel had descended; and when they looked up (ἀναβλέψασαι, another graphic trait) they see that the stone is rolled away. So is it with many another stone of huge dimensions—with many a stone of difficulty and doubt and danger. So with the stone that barred the entrance of the heavenly world against the sinner; so with the stone that closes the grave's mouth where the dear dead dust of loved ones lies; so with the stone that may be laid on the spot where our own ashes shall one day repose. The rolling away of this stone from the sepulcher of the Savior involves the rolling away of all these stones.
3. The evening of the same day. In the evening of the same day two lone pilgrims are traversing the pathway between the vineyards. They are journeying to a little village embosomed in vine-clad hills, and seven miles distant from Jerusalem. They are glad to escape from town; for a heavy heart seeks solitude. Their Master had been crucified, their hopes had been dashed, and their fond anticipations disappointed. They were returning home in sadness, for what was there in the capital to interest them now? All that had been dear to them there was now gone, and to all appearance gone for ever, for their Lord and Master was no more. The lovely scene around, the bright sky above, the cheerfulness of the season, but little harmonized with their sadness of heart and sorrow of spirit.
"The spring in its beauty on Carmel was seen,
And Hermon was dress'd in its mantle of green;
While the pathway which led to Emmaus was made
All fragrant and cool by the olive trees' shade;
The dove in Jehoshaphat's valley was wailing,
The eagle round Olivet proudly was sailing:
But all was unheeded, for doubt and dismay
Were distracting those two lonely men on their way."
They walked and talked, and talked and walked, beguiling the difficulties of the way, and forgetting the lapse of time. They commune and reason together; they balance probabilities. They comment on the early visit of the women to the sepulcher, on the stone being rolled away, and the vision of the angels, and so for a moment they entertain a faint hope that their Master might have risen, and would now restore the kingdom to Israel. But that hope is like a brief glimpse of sunshine which the dark clouds soon blot again from the sky. Immediately it occurs to them that the words of the women had been treated as an idle tale. Their wish might have been father to the thought, while hope and love are proverbially quick-sighted. Why had Peter not seen the vision? Why had John not been privileged with the sight? A third traveler overtakes them. He joins their company. He asks the cause of the sadness pictured on their countenance; he inquires the subject of their communings; he converses with them cordially and confidentially; their heart was burning within them while he spake to them by the way and while he opened to them the Scriptures. These two scenes—one in the morning, the other in the evening of the same day; the former described by St. Mark and St. Matthew, the latter by St. Mark, but more fully by St. Luke (Luke 24:13-35)—occurred on the day of our Lord's resurrection from the dead.
II. A VISIT TO THE SAVIOR'S TOMB.
1. The place where they laid him. "The place where they laid him," as St. Mark terms it, or the place where the Lord lay, was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. We visit the tomb of an earthly friend; we venerate the place of our fathers' sepulchres; we gaze pensively on the green hillock that overlays the mortal remains of one we love; with willing hand we plant the shrub—the myrtle or the cypress ― which marks the place where the heart's treasure is enshrined; we snatch the early flowers of the spring and strew them on the grave of some dear one gone; carefully we wreathe the garland and place it on the spot or hang it on the shrub that points it out. Many a time have we stood in cemeteries more like a flower-garden than a garden of the dead, and admired the care, the tenderness, and the affection of surviving relatives, as evinced in the plants and wreaths and flowers which ornamented the last resting-place of the departed. "Come, see the place where the Lord lay," was the invitation of the angel to the women in the parallel record of St. Matthew. The passage of the Gospel before us is thus a visit to a tomb—to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, the tomb where Jesus lay, the tomb of the dearest Friend we ever had, the tomb of the most loving One that ever lived, the tomb of him who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister," of the good Shepherd that laid down his life for the sheep, of him in regard to whom the believer can say, "He loved me, and gave himself for me."
2. Object of our visit to the Savior's sepulcher. The followers of the false prophet Mahomet make their weary pilgrimages from year to year to that impostor's tomb. We pity their delusion, we pray for their deliverance; but we admire their devotedness. The mighty military enterprises that roused the martial spirit of European peoples during the Middle Ages, and employed the hands and hearts of bravest warriors, had for their object the rescue of the holy sepulcher from the possession of the infidel, and the protection from injury and insult of all Christian pilgrims who might please to visit that shrine. The conception was a grand one, but somewhat gross—gigantic in one sense, and yet grovelling in another. The subject of our section leads us in the same direction; but our visit is spiritual, not literal; it is not to the mere geographical position, but to the glorious Person who made a brief repose there, and accomplished a triumphant resurrection therefrom.
3. The lessons to be learnt from this visit. When we visit in this sense the place where they laid him, the first lesson we are taught by it is
(1) the lowliness of our Lord. It was wondrous condescension on his part to visit earth at all. For the Holy One to come into this sin-blighted world, for the eternal Word to be made flesh and dwell among us, for the Son of God to be made of a woman, made under the Law, for the King of saints to endure the contradiction of sinners, for the King of glory to make himself of no reputation,—in a word, for him who was in the form of God, and thought it no robbery to be equal with God, to take upon him the form of a servant, was surely most astonishing humiliation. But for that high and holy One, not only to empty himself and become obedient to death, and a death so painful and so shameful as that of the cross, but to enter the region of the dead, to be laid in the tomb, and to lie as a corpse in the cold grave where they laid him,—this may well challenge the surprise of man, as it commands the study of angels. We admire that patriot king who quitted for a time his throne and left his kingdom and traveled through the nations of Europe, visiting their dockyards, their workshops, and their manufactories, and actually working as a mechanic, in order that when he returned home and resumed the reins of government he might benefit his kingdom and improve his subjects. Still more are we astonished at Charles V., who had done daring deeds of chivalry, gained brilliant victories, achieved great successes, exhibited strokes of skillful diplomacy, and wielded a mighty power among the potentates of Europe, at length, as though wearied with royalty and fatigued with dominion and surfeited with splendor, giving up and resigning all, retiring into private life, and spending the remainder of his days in a cloister. But what was the temporary resignation of the Czar of all the Russias, or the final abdication of him who wore the imperial crown of Germany and swayed the proud scepter of Spain, compared with the King of kings and Lord of lords resigning the sovereignty of the universe for the stable of Bethlehem, the crown of glory for the cross of Calvary, the scepter of heaven for the garden sepulcher? "Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich."
(2) "Come, see the place where the Lord lay," and consider the lesson of his love, for it was his love that laid him there. It was love that made him submit to the indignities which, as we have seen, were heaped upon him—the scoffing, and scourging, and spitting, and smiting. It was love that subjected him to the insults of priests and people, to the sentence of an unjust judge, the torture of most cruel death, and the disgrace of an ignominious execution. It was love that thus nailed him to the cross and suspended him on that cursed tree, as the gazing-stock of earth and heaven. So was it love that bound him in the habiliments of death, wrapped him in the cerements, and laid him in the coldness of the tomb. Was it strange, then, that the sun suffered an obscuration when the Savior expired, that the sky put on mourning when the Lord of glory gave up the ghost, or that the frame of nature shook when the Divine Upholder of its system died? Was it strange that rocks rent as if in commiseration of what might rend even a heart of stone? Was it strange that graves opened and their ghastly occupants came forth, and with bloodless face and skeleton form entered the holy city, and moved through the streets in grand and solemn silence, or flitted as strange and fearful apparitions among the living population that passed along the thoroughfares, when he who was the living One, having all life in himself, entered the abode of death and was laid in the grave? Long before, a dead man had started into life, when he was laid in a prophet's grave and touched a prophet's bones. Was it strange if the dove cooed plaintively in the valley of the Kidron, if the vine drooped mournfully on the hillside, if the brook murmured dolefully as it rolled over its pebble bed that night? Was it strange that the disciples hung their heads in sorrow, in sadness, and in silence, when their Master was entombed? "Come, see the place where they laid him," and "where the Lord lay;" and will not love beget love? Will you not love him who thus loved you, or rather can you forbear loving him who thus loved you first of all and best of all? Who ever heard of love like this before? "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" but while we were yet sinners, and therefore enemies, "Christ died for us."
(3) "Come, see the place where the Lord lay," and reflect on a third lesson which is taught us there. This lesson respects the light that is thus shed into the gloom of the grave, and into the dreariness of that dark and narrow, house. Darkness had reigned in all deathland before, but then life and immortality were brought to light. In some places, where railways run beneath high hills, all at once you pass out of the light of day into a dark subterranean passage. In a moment or two you find that tunnel so dark as at first you thought it; the lamps on either side relieve the gloom and interrupt the darkness. By-and-by you quit the tunnel and emerge into the light of day, brighter and more beautiful, you think, than before because of the very contrast. The grave was a dark subterranean passage once; no light entered it, no ray brightened it; but now lamp after lamp is hung up in it, and on the other side the Christian finds himself in the everlasting light and unclouded brightness of heaven.
III. THE GRAVE WHENCE THE LORD ROSE: THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST.
1. Honor shown Christ in death. "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him;" and mark the honor paid him there. Even in death he was not unhonored. A few faithful females, a few devoted though dejected disciples, refused to believe that the past was only a delusion, the present merely a dream, and the future altogether darkness. They entertained an undefined expectation, and that expectation now glimmered before their mind's eye like the meteor of a moment, anon disappeared, leaving the gloom still denser. It was a dark hour with the disciples of our Lord, but it was the hour before the daybreak. These few faithful followers, however, ceased not in their attention to the body and attendance at the grave. They watched and waited, and visited the spot. The Jewish ruler Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea, a rich and honorable counsellor, as we saw in the preceding chapter, failed not in tender devotedness and affectionate dutifulness to the lifeless corpse.
2. Honor of a higher king. Greater glory awaits that body. The resurrection work of wonder takes place. Scarce had the morning of the third day arrived, scarce had the morning-star announced its early dawn, when the mediatorial reward began to be bestowed, and the faithfulness of the eternal covenant became manifest. Come once more, and see the place where the Lord lay, and as it can never be seen again. There—O wondrous sight!—lies the Prince of life; he is sleeping the sleep of death—silent and still as the grave where they laid him. Satan exults, the hosts of darkness hold jubilee, all pandemonium triumphs, hell cannot contain its satisfaction, if aught like satisfaction ever enters there. But hark! a voice from heaven echoes through that sealed sepulcher; it is the voice of God. The words "Awake, arise!" resound. In an instant the grave-clothes drop from off the body; without the help of human hand they are wrapped together and carefully laid aside; the napkin falls from the face; the stream of vital fluid circulates through the veins; the limbs that a moment before had been stiff and stark in death are in motion. The form of sinful flesh—of a servant and a sufferer—is laid aside for ever. The Savior rises; he rises in glory indescribable; he rises by his own and his Father's power; rises triumphant over death, and the Conqueror of the grave. The angels of God come down to do him honor; one of them rolls away the stone and opens the sepulcher; the keepers shake and become as dead men; earth becomes tremulous for joy under the feet of its risen King; all nature puts on its fairest spring attire and joins in celebrating the Redeemer's triumph. Thus on all sides are re-echoed the words, "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay?
3. Positive proof of his resurrection. If you have any doubt of this, you need not go further for proof, and proof to demonstration, than the lie of the adversaries. "His disciples," say they, "came by night, and stole him away while we slept." What! eleven disciples overpower a company of Roman soldiers armed to the teeth, or roll away the huge stone in silence, or enter the tomb in secrecy, or range things so securely there? Or, granting this, how could they carry the body unnoticed through the streets of Jerusalem, while thousands bivouacked in or patrolled those streets and thoroughfares at that Passover season, and while the full-orbed moon shone down upon the scene? Or, allowing this, is it likely that Roman soldiers would sleep on guard while death was the penalty, or that a whole detachment of them should all fall asleep at the same time? Or, conceding even this, suppose they slept, how could they see the purloiners of the body, or how could they say whether disciples did it or not? We need not stay to answer these questions; they sufficiently show the truth of the statement, "He is not here: for he is risen."
IV. REASONS FOR THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD.
1. It was necessary for justification. We have visited the empty tomb, and now we may inquire why he lay there and rose thence. It was in the first place for our justification. "He was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification." "By his death," says one, "he paid our debt, in his resurrection he received our acquittance." Another says, "Had no man been a sinner Jesus had not died, had he been a sinner he had never risen again." In other words, his death shows his sufferings for sin, his resurrection proves full satisfaction made by those sufferings. The meaning of his death is summed up in the words, "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh;" the meaning of his resurrection runs thus: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." His resurrection was thus his acquittal from the obligations he had come under, and our absolution through him from the debt we owed, so that, once united to him by faith, our persons are justified, our sins remitted, and our services accepted. Thus we see the meaning of that empty tomb. It is as though the voice of the Eternal proclaimed in thunder-tones through all the universe, "This is my beloved Son," in whose person and work, in whose life and death, "I am well pleased." His resurrection is the full recognition of the Redeemer's work. It is the protest of Heaven against the accusations with which he was loaded. It is the vindication of him whom Jew and Gentile condemned as deserving of death. It is the authoritative announcement that the work was finished, the debt paid, justice satisfied, the Law fulfilled, obedience rendered, punishment endured, wrath exhausted, sin put away, righteousness brought in, Satan vanquished, and God glorified. It is the consent of Heaven to the cancelling of the handwriting that testified against us. Therefore "all power is given unto him heaven and in earth." And had he not all power, as Jehovah's Fellow, from everlasting? Yes, but now he has it as our Mediator; he holds it on our behalf, and exercises it our benefit. Therefore "he received gifts." And why needed he gifts in whom all fullness dwelt, and who shared the Father's glory? As Head over all things he received them for his people's use, "even for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them." "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again." And did not God love him when he was in his bosom, before all worlds? Yes, but now he loves him as our Representative, and us in him; and consequently the apostle prays so earnestly to "be found in Christ." He is "crowned with glory and honor." And why? That he might communicate to us that glory which, as God, he had laid aside, and as Mediator resumed, and thus make his own peculiar privilege the common property of all believers.
2. It was necessary also for our sanctification. "Planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection;" "As Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so should we also walk in newness of life." To live habitually in any known sin is to deny practically that sin is death; to indulge presumptuously in sin is to ignore the fact that Christ has risen from the dead; to persevere in sin is to resist the influence of Christ's resurrection, and shut our ears to the loud call that comes from the empty tomb, saying, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." We turn to some practical illustrations of the subject of sanctification. What is a saint? He is one that is risen with Christ, and acts accordingly, seeking the things that are above. Though in this world, he is not of it; he is above it. His conversation, treasure, heart, hope, home,—all are in heaven, whence he looks for the Savior. Among the currents in the Atlantic Ocean is the great Gulf Stream; it has been called a river in the ocean. The water of this stream is on the average twenty degrees higher than the surrounding ocean; it preserves its waters distinct from those of the sea on either side, so that the eye can trace the line of contact. It retains its physical identity for thousands of miles, casting branches and fruits of tropical trees on the coast of the Hebrides and Norway. It greatly influences the Atlantic, keeping one-fourth of its waters in constant motion. The sanctified person—that is, the saint—is like that Gulf Stream; he is in the ocean of this world, but he has no affinity with it; he is not conformed to it; he has a higher temperature, for "the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him." Nevertheless, his influence is great and always for good; he keeps the dead waters from stagnation and in healthy movement.
"With Christ the Lord we died to sin,
With him to life we rise;
To life which, now begun on earth,
Is perfect in the skies."
3. The resurrection of Christ is necessary for our resurrection. "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the Firstfruits of them that slept;" "He has destroyed the last enemy, and that is death." During the reign of Augustus Caesar a reverse befell the Roman army in the densely wooded valley of the Lippe. It was led by Varus to quell an insurrection of the Germans. The legions got embarrassed amid the entanglements of the forest; they fell into disorder; a violent tempest coming on at the same time aggravated their difficulties; four and twenty thousand of them were cut to pieces, and the general fell upon his sword. Six years after succeeding legions reached the plain, where lay the bleaching bones of former comrades, strewn in disorder or piled in heaps as they had fought and fallen. Fragments of weapons, limbs of horses, heads of men stuck on trunks of trees, were to be seen on every hand. In groves hard by were the savage altars where tribunes and centurions had been victimized; while those who survived that fatal field pointed out the place where lieutenants were butchered, standards taken, Varus wounded, crosses erected for the captives, and the eagles trampled underfoot. In addition to all, in a night-vision the ill-fated Varus, smeared with blood and emerging from the fens, seemed present to the imagination of his successor, and beckoning him to a like defeat. The description of the whole scene by Tacitus, the Roman historian, is vivid and terrible in the extreme. Ever after throughout his reign the Emperor Augustus was heard at times to exclaim, "Varus, Yarns, give me back my legions!" So, when we reflect on the ruins of frail humanity—the wreck of generation after generation—we may well imagine Mother Earth appealing to Death in pitiful accents, and exclaiming, "Death, Death, give me back my sons and daughters; restore to me my children thou hast slain." That appeal shall be heeded one day, not by Death, but by him who was swallowed of Death—swallowed as a poison, and so destroyed the destroyer. Christ, by his resurrection, says to Earth, widowed and weeping over the graves of her children, "Weep not! I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death." To Death he says at the same time, "O Death, I will be thy plagues! O Grave, I will be thy destruction!" Further, he will not only raise us up, he will fashion the body of our humiliation and make it like his own glorious body, Plants and animals have their proper habitats; different species demand different situations; different vegetable tribes are allotted to different latitudes and different elevations. The palms of the torrid zone will dwindle and die in the temperate; the trees of the temperate, again, shrink into shrubs in the frigid. Such is the difference of latitude. That of elevation has a similar effect. A French traveler tells us that, in ascending Mount Ararat, he found at the foot the plants of Asia, further up those of Italy, at a higher elevation those of France, then those of Sweden, and at the top those of Lapland and the northern regions. Just so we shall be adapted to our future dwelling-place. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;" therefore the living shall be changed, the dead quickened, and all God's people, quick and dead, glorified together; "for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
V. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. Come, "behold the place where they laid him," and there see the fruits of Christ's death and the benefits of his resurrection; come, seek the pardon and peace which the justified possess; come, secure the holiness and happiness of the sanctified; come, entertain the "sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life."
2. We have considered the lowliness of Christ, and dwelt on his love, and now we may rejoice in the light he has shed on the tomb. We are hastening to that "bourn whence no traveler returns." As we advance, desire fails; a little longer, and the grasshopper will be a burden. Once we reach the summit we soon go down the hill, and it is well and wisely so arranged.
"Heaven gives our years of failing strength
And those of youth a seeming length
Proportion'd to their sweetness."
3. "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified." So, too, we seek Jesus, though condemned as a Nazarene in the spirit of the contemptuous question, "can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" We seek Christ crucified, though to the Jew a stumbling-block, and to the Greek foolishness. We are not ashamed of the offense of the cross. Nay, like Paul, we glory in that cross. The day was when Paul gloried in his pedigree, for he was an Hebrew of the Hebrews; in his sect, for he belonged to the straitest sect of the Jews' religion, being a Pharisee; in his morality, as touching the Law blameless; in his learning, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; in the seal of the Abrahamic covenant, being circumcised on the eighth day; in his Roman franchise, born free; in his citizenship, a citizen of no mean city—his native Tarsus, beautifully situated in the plain and on the banks of the Cydnus; in his persecuting zeal, haling men and women to prison. But once his eyes were opened, once his heart was renewed, once he obtained mercy, then his ground of glorying was altogether changed. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
4. We shall not see his face until either we stand on the sea of glass, or his feet stand again on Olivet; we cannot hold him as those who "met him by the way … and held him by the feet, and worshipped him;" we cannot minister to him as certain women in the days of his flesh; we cannot serve him at food like Martha, nor pour oil on his head like Mary. What, then, remains forus to do? How are we to express our love to him? We are to think of him, believe on him, pray to him, accept him for our King and submit to his laws, call on his name, take the cup of salvation and keep his memory green in our souls, show forth his death, glory in his resurrection, partake of the sacrament of the Supper—it is the memorial of his death; and delight in the sabbath—it is the monument of his resurrection.
5. "Come, see the place where the Lord lay," and let the sight encourage you. Dread not death; you believe in him that conquered it. Dread not the grave; you love him who lay in it. Dread not hell; you believe in him who rescued you from it. But dread sin and depart from it;. "go and sin no more."—J.J.G.
Mark 16:19, Mark 16:20
Parallel passages: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12.—
I. CIRCUMSTANCES IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING. Our Lord led the apostles out "as far as to Bethany," on the eastern slope of the mount of Olives, a mile, or somewhat more than a mile, below the summit of the ridge, whence they afterwards returned by the way across the mount to Jerusalem. The middle summit of Olivet, Jebel-et-Tur, is, however, the traditional place of ascent. He has led ourselves further than to Bethany, for he has led us all our life till now; while all the way by which he has led us has been strewn with blessings—blessings temporal and spiritual. When he had led them as far as to Bethany (ἕως εἰς, or ἕως πρὸς, as far as towards Bethany, or the descent that led down to the village, or over against it), he lifted up his hands and blessed them. The high priest of the Aaronic order had three things to do—offer Sacrifice, make intercessions, and bless the people in the name of the Lord. What a beautiful benediction was put into his lips and pronounced upon the people, "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace"! Better and more beautiful, if that be possible, are the blessings which our great High Priest invokes on our behalf and commands upon us. Of these we have a specimen in his intercessory prayer, as contained in the seventeenth chapter of St. John.
II. THE PARTING. "He was parted from them," or "stood apart from them (διέστη)," as it is expressed by St. Luke. Amid certain cheerful tones one sorrowful note is struck, one sad word occurs, one painful sentiment is expressed. Some find the motto of this world in the words, "Man weeps;" others write it in the words, "We part; "a yet higher and better authority has expressed" one words, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." This last combines the other to his world is a vale of weeping and a place of parting. What tongue could tell the painful partings that from time to time take place? Who could count the bitter tears that are shed? Those partings ofttimes wring the stoutest heart and wet the manliest cheek. At the railway station, or before going on board the emigrant ship, many a sorrowful separation we have all seen. The separation caused by death usually lasts the longest, and is, therefore, in proportion sorrowful. Yet it is not all pain in the parting of a Christian; this passage suggests an element of pleasure. When our Lord was parted from his disciples, he was carried up to heaven; when the Christian is parted by death from friends, loving and beloved, he sleeps by Jesus, and them that so sleep the Lord will bring with him. The day, moreover, is coming when Christian friends, parted by death, shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with one another, and with our Lord.
III. THE ASCENSION ITSELF. The expressions employed to describe our Lord's ascension are, "He was received up into heaven," St. Mark; "Carried up into heaven," St. Luke; while in Acts we read
(1) that "he was taken up," an expression similar to that of either Gospel; and again,
(2) that "he went up" or "he went" (Revised Version). Here, then, we have the power of the Father and the Son. As he rose by his own and his Father's power, he ascended by the same. Further, it may be implied that he went up with joy- fullness to those realms of glory whence he had descended while the Father welcomed him home, and took him to that paternal bosom where he had been before all worlds. It must have been a splendid sight to witness. Some time ago we stood where many thousands were assembled to see an aeronaut ascend. With gradual ascent the aerial machine rose; upward and upward it glided; higher and higher still it mounted, while majestically and magnificently it moved. At length a silvery cloud received it, and screened it from the view; again, on emerging from the cloud, it pursued its way along the sky till it dwindled to a dark spot in the distance, and then passed out. of sight. How grand, we thought, must have been the sight, apart from every other consideration, of our Lord's ascent from that spot where his feet last stood on Olivet! If, when our Lord was transfigured, his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment became white as the light—if on that occasion his face and figure assumed somewhat of heavenly splendor—equally or more resplendent and heavenly, we may well suppose, was his appearance as he rose from earth in his journey through the sky. The glory of heaven was round about him; that glorified body shot upward with wondrous buoyancy. Enoch was translated—we are not told how; Elijah was borne up amid a whirlwind by a chariot. of fire and horses of fire; Jesus, who had walked upon the waves, now mounts upon the winds, making the cloud his chariot and upborne on the wings of the wind. Glorious in his appearance, glorious in his motion, glorious in all the indescribable grandeur of his heavenward ascent, he proceeded on his way till a cloud—a bright cloud, a cloud silver-lined and beautiful—coming underneath received (ὑπέλαβεν) him as in a chariot, and hid him from their eyes.
IV. HIS ATTENDANTS. Neither went he alone; thousands of invisible beings formed his escort and carried him aloft. To this perhaps the psalmist, foreseeing it in prophetic vision, may allude when, in the sixty-eighth psalm, he says, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels." No conqueror ever enjoyed such a triumph, no monarch ever had such a train. At length they reach the high battlements of heaven; the accompanying angels demand admittance; standing without the portals, they raise the voice like the sound of many waters as they say or sing, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." The angels within respond, making inquiry," Who is this King of glory?" Then both, uniting in full chorus together, sing, "The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory." The Father everlasting takes him by the hand, and sets him at his side, and there he sits for ever at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
"Who is this King of glory—who?
The Lord, for strength renown'd;
In battle mighty, o'er his foes
Eternal Victor crown'd.
"Who is this King of glory—who?
The Lord of hosts renown'd,
Of glory he alone is King,
Who is with glory crown'd."
V. THE WITNESSES OF THE SCENE. The witnesses of the scene were men on earth and angels from the sky—the one to testify that he rose from earth, the other to bear witness that he entered heaven. The former fact may perhaps be expressed by the other by ἀνελήφθη; while his intermediate progress and journey between may be expressed by ἀνεφέρετο, imperfect, and πορευομένου, participle—both marking his gradual ascent. The human spectators, struck with the grandeur of the scene, stood as if riveted to the spot, and continued gazing up into heaven as though they would never be satisfied with seeing such a sight; or perhaps the surprise it occasioned was blended with sorrow, as if their Lord and Master had gone from them never to return. But two angels, apparelled in white, comforted them with the assurance that "this same Jesus, which is taken up from them into heaven," shall come again in like manner through the riven sky visibly and gloriously. The human witnesses of the Ascension felt personally interested in the result, the angelic looked pryingly into the things connected therewith. The sorrow of the disciples was succeeded by great joy, for though they had lost his bodily presence, his spiritual presence—nearer, closer, in every place, and at all times—is promised them instead.
VI. THE PLACE WHENCE HE ASCENDED. The place of the Ascension suggests a lesson of instruction and comfort. A garden on the western slope of Olivet had been the place of his sorest trial and the scene of his deepest tribulation prior to the Crucifixion; an upland on the eastern side, or near the summit of the same hill, was the place of his triumph. On one side was the dark enclosure, still noted for its sombre aspect and gloomy olives, where the Savior agonized, sweating great drops of blood, and praying for the bitter cup, if possible, to pass; on the other side was the spot whence he ascended. There, too, men and angels met—men asleep from sorrow and oblivious of sympathy, an angel ministering strength and succor to the suffering Son of God; hero men are rapt spectators, and angels swell his train. On one side of the mount were sorrow and suffering, on the other glory and triumph. May it not to some extent be the same with ourselves? The valley of Achor, which means "trouble," has often proved the door of hope. "We glory in tribulation also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." Humiliation goes before exaltation; the cross precedes the crown: "If we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified together;" while our trials here shall enhance our triumph hereafter.
VII. THE PURPOSES SERVED BY THE ASCENSION. One purpose was triumph over his and our enemies. Having spoiled principalities, or reft them from him, he made a show of them openly. It was a custom of antiquity for a conqueror on the day of his triumph to have captives bound to his chariot and dragged along at his chariot-wheels. So with Christ. When he led captivity captive, he bound to his chariot-wheels sin, Satan, death, and hell. Sin he buried in his own grave, having borne its penalty. As for Satan, the old serpent, he has bruised his head, destroying his works. Death he overcame by dying, and through death he has destroyed him that had the power of it; while in him and by him we can adopt the tone of triumph and say, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" Of the grave he has said, "I will be thy destruction;" and the day is hastening on apace when the earth shall cast forth her dead. Another purpose of the Ascension is the bestowal of gifts. On the day of a triumph the conqueror distributed many and costly gifts, sometimes dealing them out deliberately, and sometimes throwing them broadcast among the multitude. We read of Julius Caesar, on the occasion of a great triumph, bestowing munificent donations on his soldiery, and distributing many gifts of grain and gold to the people as they crowded around. A greater than Caesar or Solomon is here. Jesus, on the day of his triumph, having receiving gifts for triumphal distribution, "gave gifts unto men … he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Even on the rebellious he has conferred his favors," that the Lord God might dwell among them." From the day of his ascension until now he has lavished on his people, with unstinted generosity and most bountiful hand, the benefits of salvation and the results of his redemptive work.
VIII. PREPARATION ABOVE. Having made provision for us when he was here below, he is gone to prepare a place above. He ascended to provide a place for us; and, having prepared it for us, he is now preparing us for it. In his Father's house are many mansions; he is gone to prepare one of those mansions for each of his followers. A mansion! Here is a word that denotes stability and implies duration. The most solid structure that ever man reared shall yield to the tooth of time. The pyramids of Egypt shall one day, we doubt not, be levelled with the sands of the desert that blow around them. The Roman Colosseum shall perish. The Parthenon of Athens shall be left without one pillar standing. St. Peter's and St. Paul's shall become heaps of rubbish. The castles of kings, that seem to defy decay, shall moulder. Earth itself shall be removed, and its everlasting hills shaken. But all the many mansions in glory shall be durable as the throne of God himself, and stable as the pillars of the universe.
"O Lord, thy love's unbounded—
So full, so vast, so free!
Our thoughts are all confounded
Whene'er we think on thee:
For us thou cam'st from heaven,
For us to bleed and die,
That, purchased and forgiven,
We might ascend on high?
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Mark 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29