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In this verse is recorded how Mary Magdalene came early to the sepulchre, on the first day of the week, to anoint the dead body of our Lord Jesus.
Where note, that though her heart did burn with an ardent zeal and affection to her crucified Lord, yet the commanded duties of the sabbath were not omitted by her; she kept close, and silently spent that holy day in a mixture of grief and hope. Her example is a good pattern of sabbath sanctification, and worthy of our Christian imitation.
Note, 2. What magnanimity and courage is found in this weak woman; she followed Christ courageously, when his disciples left him cowardly; she accompanied him to his cross, she followed his hearse to the grave, when his disciples durst not appear; and now very early in the morning she goes to visit his sepulchre, fearing neither the darkness of the night, nor the presence of the watchmen.
Learn hence, that courage is the special gift of God, and if he gives it to the feebler sex, even to timorous and fearful women, it is not in the power of man to make them afraid.
It was a great honour that God put upon this poor woman, Mary Magdalene, that she has the first notice of our Saviour's resurrection, and is the first that discovers it to the apostles.
But why had not the Virgin Mary, his disconsolate mother, this privilege conferred on her, rather than Mary Magdalene, who had been a grievous sinner?
Doubtless this was for the comfort of all true penitents, and administers great consolation to them; as the angels in heaven rejoice, much more doth Christ joy in the recovery of one repenting sinner than in multitudes of holy and just persons, (such was the blessed Virgin,) who need no repentance.
Here observe, 1. How Peter and John, moved with Mary Magdalene's words, They have taken away the Lord, &c. do run to the sepulchre to satisfy themselves in the truth of it. Such as sincerely love Christ upon the least intimation that he is missing, bestir themselves with great activity and diligence, that they may see him, or hear of him: Peter and John run to the sepulchre, to see what was become of their holy Master.
Observe, 2. That there was such a clear evidence about Christ's grave, as made it apparent that he was indeed risen from the dead, and not conveyed away either by friends or foes; it cannot be supposed that any of his friends (could they have come at it) would have so handled his holy body, as to carry it away naked; and as for his foes, had they stole away the body, they would never have left the fine linen behind them.
Observe, 3. That when Christ arose from the grave, he left his grave-clothes behind him; whereas when Lazarus arose, he came forth with his grave-clothes about him.
It teaches us, that Christ rose never to die more, but to live and reign for ever; therefore he left his grave-clothes in the grave, as never to make use of them more. But Lazarus was to die again, death once more was to have dominion over him; he therefore came forth with his grave-clothes about him.
Observe lastly, how ignorant the apostles were of the doctrine of Christ's resurrection and of the holy scriptures, which declared he was to rise again from the dead: They knew not the scriptures: that is, they did not heed and regard them, ponder them in their hearts, and feed upon them by faith.
Here we have a description of the great love of Mary Magdalene, which she expressed towards Christ, after his resurrection; she went to his sepulchre early, when it was yet dark; she hastily calls the disciples Peter and John, to the sepulchre; and she stays behind weeping at the sepulchre when they were gone away to their own home. And as Mary first sought him, and longest sought him, so she first found him.
Here note, 1. Mary's carriage and behaviour towards her Saviour: that is discovered by her patient attendance, She stood without at the sepulchre; by her passionate mourning, she stood at the sepulchre weeping; by her unwearied diligence, She stooped down and looked into the sepulchre. Here was great love indeed in this poor woman; a love stronger than death; a love which did outstrip and go beyond the greatest apostles.
Learn thence, 1. That true love to Christ suffers not itself to be stinted or limited, no not by the greatest examples; the weakest woman that truly loves Christ, may piously strive with the greatest apostle in this point; though he be learneder, wiser, more useful, and more eminent than any of us, yet it is holy and wise not to suffer ourselves to be exceeded by any in our love to Christ' every Christian may strive to exceed any one in grace, and to attain the highest place in the kingdom of heaven.
Learn, 2. That strong love is valient and undaunted, it will grapple and encounter with the stongest opposition; Mary fears nothing in seeking of her Lord, neither the darkness of the night, nor the terror of the soldiers, nor the malice of the Jews; love is as strong as death, and the flames thereof are vehement.
Note farther, the success of Mary Magdalene's love to Christ, and unwearied attendance on his sepulchre; she found not the dead body of Christ, and it is well she did not; for if death could have held him, it would not have let him go.
But though she found not her Lord in the grave, she found two of his servants there, two angels. Of all things in the world, one would have least expected to find an angel in the grave, spirits in the place of dead bodies, and immortality in the place of corruption.
But from hence we learn, that such as sincerely seek the Lord, shall certainly find, if not the very thing which they seek, yet that which is much fitter and better for them; Mary did not find Christ's dead body, but she finds that which is more comfortable for her to find, namely, two angels, to testify that he was risen.
Where note, the posture of these angels described; the one sitting at the head, the other at the feet. It is a matter of comfort to the members of Christ, that angels do not wait upon the head only; but upon the feet also; and it ought to be matter of imitation also.
Let us imitate our blessed Saviour in having an angel not at our head only, but at our feet also. Many have an ambition to have an angel at their head, a great measure of light and knowledge there, but they care not for an angel at their feet, they delight not to walk answerably to their light and knowledge, they have an angelical understanding and a diabolical conversation; it is sad for a man to have all his religion in his brain and tongue, and nothing in his heart and life.
Observe here, 1. That the best company in the world will not satisfy or content such as are seeking for Jesus Christ, when they find not him whom their souls seek: Mary now enjoyed the presence and company of two angels, but this did not satisfy her in the absence of Christ himself.
Observe, 2. How passionately did Mary mourn for the loss and want of Christ's bodily presence, thereby giving testimony of her great affection towards him; but truly our love to Christ is best shown, not by our passionate desires for his bodily presence, but by our holy longings after his spiritual presence in his word and ordinances here on earth, and his blessed and immediate presence in heaven.
Observe, 3. How Christ may be present with, and very near unto, his people, and yet not be presently discerned by them: Jesus stood by Mary, and she knew not that it was Jesus. Her not expecting a living Christ, was one cause why she did not discern him.
Observe, 4. How exceedingly Mary's thoughts were taken up with Christ. She saith to the gardener, If thou have borne him hence.
What him? She doth not say whom, but her heart was so taken up with Christ, and her mind so full of him, that she concluded every body would understand whom she meant, though she did not say whom she meant.
Hence note, that the soul of a sincere believer is full of earnest and longing desires after Jesus Christ.
2. That such a soul is yet sometimes at a loss for Christ, and cannot tell where to find him.
3. That whilst the soul is at a loss for Christ, its desires are often quicker and more stirring after Christ. This was the case of Mary here; with the spouse by night on her bed, and early in the morning, she sought him whom her soul loved.
In the former of these verses, Christ makes himself known to Mary, and calleth her by name. In the latter he gives her a prohibition and injunction.
Observe, 1. The prohibition, Touch me not; together with the reason of it, For I am not yet ascended to my Father. It is concluded by interpreters, that Mary Magdalene was now fallen at Christ's feet, and embraced them; that having found him whom her soul loved, she hugs him now, and hangs about him; but Christ forbids any farther embracing, and rejects such testimonies of her love: as if he had said, although I will allow you as much familiarity as shall satisfactorily convince you of the verity of my resurrection, yet you must not expect to converse with me in the bodily manner which you did before my death; for I am ascending to my Father, and must be enjoyed no longer after a corporeal, but spiritual manner.
Learn hence, that our love to Christ is best shown, not by our human passionate affections to his bodily presence, but by our spiritual communion with him by faith here on earth, in order to an immediate communion with him face to face in heaven. Christ now after his resurrection was advanced to a more spiritual condition, therefore refuses at Mary's hand the offices of human conversation, but expects of her the duties and services of spiritual devotion.
Observe, 2. Christ's injuction: But go to my brethren, and say, I ascend to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.
Where note, the endearing title given to the disciples, my brethren. He had before his death called them his servants, his friends, his children; but now, after his resurrection, he calls them his brethren: he became our brother by assuming our nature in his incarnation, he continues our brother by resuming that nature at his resurrection.
Note farther, that Christ calls his disciples, brethren after his exaltation and resurrection; thereby showing, that the change of his condition had wrought no change in his affection towards his poor disciples; but those that were his brethren before, in the time of his humiliation and abasement, are so still, after his exaltation and advancement: Go to my brethren and say, &c. Humility doth not only go before honour, but dwells with honour, and doth evermore accompany it.
Observe, lastly, the good news or message of joy which Christ sends by Mary to his dear disciples; Say, I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God; as if nature and adoption gave the same interest. Christ calls God his God, and his disciples' God, his Father and their Father; first his and then theirs, and therefore theirs because his.
Learn hence, that God for Christ's sake hath dignified believers with that near and dear relation of his being a Father to them in and through his Son; so that as they ought to carry it towards him like children by obedience, subjection, and resignation, so they may expect that he will retain a fatherly affection towards them, and they may expect from him fatherly compassion, provision, protection, correction, and all things needful.
Lastly, remark from Christ's saying, I go to my God and your God, the false inferences of the Socinians, viz. That because Christ styled God his God, hence, say they, it is evident that Christ is not God: but from these words it only follows, that he was not God according to that nature which ascended. Thus Psalms 45:7 it is said of Christ, God even thy God hath anointed thee: and yet he adds of the same person, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.
Our blessed Saviour's first appearing after his resurrection having been to Mary Magdalene, as the former verses acquainted us, the same day at evening, when the doors were shut for fear of the Jews, Jesus miraculously, and, as to the disciples, insensibly opens the door, and stands in the midst of them, and says, Peace be unto you: and shows them his hands and his side.
Where not, 1. That it has been no strange thing in the church, that the best members of it have been put to frequent their assemblies with great fear, and been forced to meet in the night with great caution, because of the fury of the persecutors: here Christ's own disciples were forced to meet together in the night the doors kept shut, for fear of the Jews.
Note, 2. Let Christ's disciples meet together never so privately, and with never so much hazard and jeopardy, they shall have Christ's company with them; neither bolts, nor locks, nor fastened doors, shall hold Christ from them; When the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them.
Observe lastly, the evidence which our Saviour offers to evince and prove the certainty of his resurrection: He shewed his disciples his hands and side. Christ appealed to, and admitted of, the judgment of their senses, to assure them that was the real body. And if we must not be allowed to believe our senses, (as the Romish synagogue would persuade us,) we shall want the best external evidence we can have to prove the truth of the Christian religion; namely the miracles of our Saviour; for how can we be assured those miracles were true, but by the judgment of our senses? Now as our senses tell us that Christ's miracles were true, so they assure us that the popish doctrine of transubstantiation is false.
Observe here, 1. The repetition of our Saviour's endearing salutation to his desciples, Peace be unto you, peace be unto you. This was no more than might be needful, to signify his firm reconciliation to them, notwithstanding their late cowardice in forsaking of him, and flying from him, when the storm fell upon him.
Observe, 2. How Christ doth renew his disciples' commission for the work of the ministry, who possibly were much discouraged with the remembrance of their faint-heartedness in the time of his sufferings. He doth therefore anew commissionate them, and sends them forth in these words, As my Father hath sent me; that is, to preach, plant, and propagate the gospel; so send I you. By the same authority, and for the same ends, in part, for which I was sent by my Father, do I send you; namely, to gather, to govern, and instruct my church.
Learn hence, that when Christ left the world, he did not leave the church destitute of a gospel ministry, which shall continue to the end of the world. As Christ was sent by the Father, so are his ministers sent by him: and they may expect, he having the same authority and commission, the same success and blessing; and the contempt cast upon them and their message, ultimately reflects upon God and Christ, whose messengers they are.
Observe, 3. How Christ that sends them forth, doth furnish them with the gifts of the Spirit for their office: He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; that is, the gift of the Holy Ghost. They had received the Holy Spirit before as a spirit of sanctification: here they receive it in his extraordinary gifts to fit them for their office. And Christ's conferring the Holy Ghost, by breathing upon them, shews that the Holy Spirit proceeds as well from the Son as from the Father. And as by God's breathing the first man was made a living soul; so by Christ's breathing upon the apostles they were quickened and extraordinarily enabled for the service they were called to.
Learn hence, that when Christ sends forth and about his work, he will furnish them with endowments answerable to their vast employment; and the best furniture they can have, is the Holy Spirit in his gifts and qualifications suitable to their work: He breathed on them, and said, received ye the Holy Ghost.
Observe, 4. How Christ asserts their authority in the discharge of their commission, and declares, that what they act ministerially according to their commission here on earth, is ratified in heaven: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted.
Where note, that there is a two-fold power of remitting or forgiving sins; the one magisterial and authoritative, (this belongs to Christ alone;) the other ministerial and declarative, (this belongs to Christ's ambassadors, who have a power in his name to bind and loose.) It is a pious not of St. Austin upon this place, that Christ first conferred the Holy Ghost upon his apostles, and then said, Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted. Thereby intimating, that it is not they, but the Holy Ghost by them, that puts away sin: For who can forgive sin but God only? The power of forgiving sin, that man hath, is only to declare, that if men be truly and really penitent, their sins are forgiven them for the sake of Christ's satisfaction.
What the cause of Thomas's absence was is not declared; it is evident that he was not with the rest of the disciples when Christ appeared to them; and his absence had like to have cost him dear, even the loss of his faith; and he might have had cause for ever to have bewailed his absence from that meeting of the disciples, had not Christ been more merciful.
Learn hence, that the letting slip of one holy opportunity, may prove exceedingly prejudicial to the soul's advantage: it is wise and safe to lay hold upon every opportunity for enjoying communion with God, and fellowship with his saints. Thomas's absence deprived him not only of the good news which Mary brought of Christ's being risen, but also of the sight of him, which the other disciples got by assembling together: and for want thereof Thomas is left under many doubts and fears.
Verily, we know not what we lose, when we absent ourselves from the assembly of God's people. Such views of a crucified raised Jesus may be communicated to others whilst we are absent, as would have confirmed our faith, and established our joy, had we been present.
Observe farther, what a strange declaration Thomas makes of his obstinate unbelief; Except I see the print of the nails, and put my finger into his side, I will not believe.
Where note, how strangely rooted unbelief is in the hearts of holy men, insomuch that they desire that the objects of faith should fall under the view of their senses. Thomas carries his faith at his fingers' ends; he will believe no more than he can see or feel; whereas faith is the evidence of things not seen.
O! Thomas, how deplorable had been thy case, if Christ had never given thee that proof, which was very unreasonable for thee to expect! But Christ takes compassion on him, and appears to him, and cures his obstinate unbelief, which he might have justly punished, as appears by the following verses.
Observe here, 1. Our Saviour's appearing again to his disciples after his resurrection; it was eight days after he first arose, which was the first day of the week.
Here note, that Christ's rising the first day of the week, and appearing on the next first day of the week after to the disciples, and the observing that day for their solemn assemblies, and St. Paul administering on that day the Lord's supper, Acts 20:7-1 Kings : and commanding on that day collections for the poor, 1 Corinthians 16:2 and St. John calling it the Lord's day Revelation 1:10. From these authorities, and the primitive practice, we derive our Christian sabbath; for we do not find in all the scripture, one instance of any one congregation of Christians only assembling upon the Jewish sabbath, but on the first day of the week; on which we ground our observation of that day.
Observe, 2. The wonderful condescension of Christ to the weakness of Thomas's faith: he bids him reach forth his hand, and thrust it into his side. Not that Christ was pleased with, but only pitiful towards, Thomas's infirmities; and it ought to be no encouragement to any person to follow his example, in seeking or expecting the like signs of their own prescribing for helping of their faith.
Observe, 3. How mercifully Christ overruled Thomas's unbelief, for the confirmation of our faith. His doubting, proved a means for establishing his own and our faith; Therefore says Gregory will, Plus mihi profuit dubitatio Thomas Quam credulitas Mariae; "Had not Thomas doubted, we had not been so fully assured, that it was the same Christ that was crucified who rose again."
These words may be considered two ways.
1. As an abrupt speech, importing a vehement admiration of Christ's mercy towards him, and of his own stupidity and dullness to believe.
Learn hence, that the convincing condescension of Christ turns unbelief into a rapture of holy admiration and humble adoration.
2. This expression of Thomas, My Lord and my God, contain a short, but absolute, confession of faith. Thomas rightly collects from this resurrection, that he was Lord, God blessed for evermore, the true Messias, the expected Redeemer, and accordingly with an explicit faith he now professes his interest in him, saying, My Lord and my God.
Yet note, that this resurrection could not make him God, and render him then the object of divine worship, if he had been only a creature before.
And farther observe, that Christ doth not reprove Thomas for owning him as God, which shows that Thomas did not mistake in owning the divinity of Christ.
Here we have Christ's reprehension of Thomas for not believing without such sensible evidence as he desired. He believed now that Christ was risen from the dead, but it was upon the testimony of his senses only. Therefore Christ tells him, that his faith would have been more excellent and more eminently rewardable, if he had believed without such demonstrative evidence: Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Therefore to give credit to a thing upon the evidence of a sense, is not properly believing.
Observe farther, how Christ pronounces them blessed, who should hereafter believe on him through the preaching of the gospel, though they did not see him as Thomas did, nor handle him as he might. this is a sure rule, that by how much our faith stands in less need of the external evidence of sense, the stronger our faith is, and the more acceptable it is, provided what we believe be revealed in the word of God: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Observe here, 1. The true end for which the miracles of Christ were so carefully recorded; namely, that we might believe. By believing that Christ is the Son of God, we have life; and by the evidence of his miracles, we know and believe him to have been the Son of God. The miracles which Christ wrought, were the best external evidence of his mission.
Observe, 2. That all Christ's miracles, both before his passion and after his resurrection, were not recorded by the evangelists.
Observe, 3. The great point concerning Christ to be known and believed from the scriptures, is this, that Jesus, the Son of the virgin, is the promised Messiah, the anointed of the Father, he is whom all the types and shadows of the law are accomplished; and that this Jesus is for nature co-essential, for dignity co-equal, and for duration co-eternal with the Father; one in essence, equal in power and glory.
Thus believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and accompanying that belief with a holy life, if we believe well, and live well, we shall have life through his name.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 20". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17