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The Lord of life was buried on the Friday, in the evening of that day on which he was crucified, and his holy body rested in the silent grave all the next day, and some part of the day following. Thus arose he again the third day, neither sooner nor later; not sooner, lest the truth of his death should have been questioned, that he did not die at all; and not later, lest the faith of his death should failed.
Accordingly when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene getting the other women together, she and they set out before day to visit the holy sepulchre; and about sun-rising they get to it, intending with their spices and odours farther to embalm their Lord's body.
Here observe, 1. That although the hearts of these holy women did burn with an ardent zeal and affection to their crucified Lord, yet the commanded duties of the sabbath are not omitted by them; they keep close, and silently spend that holy day in a mixture of grief and hope. A good pattern of sabbath sanctification, and worthy of our Christian imitation.
Observe, 2. These holy women go, but not empty-handed, she that bestowed a costly alabaster box of ointment upon Christ whilst alive, has prepared no less precious odours for Saviour's corpse. But what need of odours to perfume a body which could not see corruption? True, his holy body did not want them, but the love and affection of his friends could not with-hold them.
Observe, 3. How great a tribute of respect and honour is due and payable to the memory of these holy women, for their great magnanimity and courage; they followed Christ when his cowardly disciples left him, they accompanied him to the cross, they followed his hearse to the grave, when his disciples durst not appear; and now, very early in the morning, they go 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 men to make them afraid.
Observe here, 1. With what pomp and triumph doth our Lord arise; an angel is sent from heaven to roll away the stone. But could not Christ have risen without the angel's help? yes, doubtless; he that raised himself, could surely have rolled away the stone; but God thinks fit to send an officer from heaven to open the prison-door of the grave, and by setting our surety at liberty, proclaims our debt to the divine justice fully satisfied. Besides, it was fit that the angels, who had been witnesses of our Saviour's passion, should also be witnesses of his resurrection.
Observe, 2. Our Lord's resurrection declared, He is risen, he is not here. Almighty God never intended that the darling of his soul should be left in an obscure sepulchre; He is not here, said the angel, where they laid him, where you left him. Death has lost its prey, and the grave has lost its prisoner.
Observe, 3. It is not said, he is not here, for he is raised, but, He is risen. The word imports the active power of Christ, or the self-quickening principle by which Christ raised himself from the dead, He shewed himself alive after his passion Acts 1:3.
Hence learn, That it was the divine nature, or godhead, of Christ, which raised the human nature from death to life; others were raised from the grave by Christ's power; but he raised himself by his own power.
Observe, 4. The testimony or witness given of our Lord's resurrection; that of an angel in human shape. A young man clothed in a long white garment. But why is an angel the first publisher of our Saviour's resurrection? Surely the dignity of our Lord's person, and the excellency of his resurrection require that it should be published. How very serviceable and officious the holy angels were in attending upon our Saviour in the days of his flesh, see in the note on Matthew 28:6-7.
Observe, 5. The persons to whom our Lord's resurrection was first declared and made known; to women, to the two Marys. But why to women? And why to these women?
Why to women? Because God will make use of weak means for producing great effects; knowing that the weakness of the instrument redounds to the greater honour of the agent. In the whole dispensation of the gospel, God intermixes divine power with human weakness. Thus the conception of Christ was by the power of the Holy Ghost, but his mother was a poor woman, a carpenter's spouse; so the crucifixion of Christ was in between two thieves. But the powers of heaven and earth trembling, the rocks rending, the graves opening, shewed a mixture of divine power. Thus here God will honour what instruments he pleases for the accomplishment of his own purposes.
But why to these women; the two Marys, is the first discovery made of our Saviour's resurrection? Possibly it was a reward for their magnanimity and masculine courage; these women cleaved to Christ when the apostles forsook him; they assisted at his cross, they attended at his funeral, they waited at his sepulchre; these women had more courage than the apostles, therefore God makes them apostles to the apostles, this was a tacit rebuke, a secret check given to the apostles, that they should be out-done by women; these holy women went before the apostles in the last services that were done for Christ, and therefore the apostles come after them in their rewards and comforts.
Observe, 6. The evidence which the angel offers to the women, to evince and prove the verity and certainty of our Saviour's resurrection, namely, by an appeal to their senses; Behold the place where they laid him; the senses, when rightly disposed, are the proper judges of all sensible objects, and accordingly Christ himself did appeal to his disciples senses concerning the truth of his own resurrection: Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
And indeed, if we must not believe our senses, we shall want the best external evidence for the proof of the certainty and truth of the Christian religion; namely, the miracles wrought by Christ and his apostles: for what assurance can we have of the reality of those miracles, but from our senses?
Therefore, says our Saviour, If you believe not me, yet believe the works that I do; that is, the miracles which I have wrought before your eyes.
Now as my senses tell me that Christ's miracles were true, so they assure me that the doctrine of transubstantiation is false.
From the whole, note, That the Lord Jesus Christ, by the omnipotent power of his godhead, revived and rose again from the dead the third day, to the terror and consternation of his enemies, and the unspeakable joy and consolation of believers.
Observe, lastly, The quick dispatch made of the joyful news of our Lord's resurrection to the sorrowful disciples: Go tell my brethren, says Christ, Matthew 28:10. Christ might have said, "Go tell those apostate apostles, that cowardly left me in my danger , that durst not own me in the high priest's hall, that durst not come within the shadow of my cross, nor within sight of my sepulchre;" not a word of this, by way of upbraiding them for their late shameful cowardice, but all words of kindness; Go tell my brethren.
Where note, That Christ calls them brethren after his resurrection and exaltation; thereby shewing that the change in 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 basement, are still so after his exaltation and advancement? God tell his disciples and Peter, says the angel.
Where note, That St. Peter is here particularly named, not because of his primacy and superiority over the rest of the apostles, as the church of Rome would have it, but because he had sorrow, and stood most in need of comfort; therefore, says Christ by the angel, speak particularly to Peter, be sure that his sad heart be comforted with his joyful news, that he may know that I am friends with him, notwithstanding his late cowardice; Tell the disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee.
But why into Galilee? because Jerusalem was now a forsaken place, and people abandoned to destruction; but Galilee was a place where Christ's ministry was more acceptable. Such places shall be most honoured with Christ's presence, where his gospel is most accepted.
An account is here given of a threefold appearance of Christ after his resurrection.
1. To Mary Magdalene, not to the virgin Mary; and it is observable, That our blessed Saviour, after his resurrection, first appeared to Mary Magdalene, a grievous sinner, for the comfort of all true penitents. Mary goes immediately to his disciples, whom she finds weeping and mourning, and tells them, She had seen the Lord; but they believed them not.
The second appearance was to the two disciples going into the country, that is, into the village of Emmaus; as they were in the way, Jesus joined himself to their company, but their eyes were holden by the power of God, that they did not discern him in his own proper shape, but apprehended him to be another person whom they conversed with.
His third appearance was to the eleven as they sat at meat, whom he upbraids with their unbelief; and, to convince them effectually that he was risen from the dead; he eats with them a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. Not that he needed it, seeing he was now become immortal, but to assure them that he had still the same body.
From the whole, note, How industriously our Lord endeavours to confirm his disciples faith in the doctrine of his resurrection; so slack and backward were they to believe that the Messiah was risen from the dead, that all the predictions of scripture, all the assurances they had received from our Saviour's mouth, yea, all the appearances of our Saviour to them, after he was actually risen from the dead, were little enough to confirm and establish them in the certain belief that he was risen from the dead.
Here our Saviour gives commission to his disciples to congregate and gather a Christian church out of all nations, to go forth and preach the gospel to every creature; that is, to all reasonable creatures that are capable of it; not to the Jews only, but to the Gentiles also, without any distinction of country, age, or sex whatsoever.
Learn hence, That the apostles and first planters of the gospel had a commission from Christ to go amongst the Pagan Gentiles, without limitation or distinction, to instruct them in the saving mysteries of the gospel.
The second branch of their commission was, to baptize.
Where observe, The encouraging promise made by Christ, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; that is, he that receiveth and embraceth the gospel preached by you, and thereupon becomes a proselyte and disciple of Christ, and receives baptism, the seal of the new covenant, shall for all his former sins receive pardon, and upon his perseverance obtain eternal life; but he that stands out obstinately and impenitently shall certainly be damned.
The two damning sins under the gospel, are infidelity and hypocrisy; not receiving Christ for their Lord and Saviour by some, or doing this feignedly by others.
Happy are they in whom the preaching of the gospel produceth such a faith as is the parent and principle of obedience; He that so believeth and is baptized, shall be saved.
Accordingly, some paraphrase the words thus: "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; that is, he shall, by virtue of the faith in baptism, be put into a state of salvation; so that if they continue in that faith, and do not wilfully recede from his baptismal covenant, he shall actually be saved."
Note farther, That they who hence conclude that infants are not capable of baptism, because they cannot believe, must also hence conclude, that they cannot be saved, because they cannot believe; for faith is more expressly required to salvation, than to baptism.
Note lastly, that though it be said, He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; it is not said, He that is not baptized, shall be damned: because it is not the want, but the contempt of baptism that damns, otherwise infants might be damned for their parents neglect.
Here we have a gracious promise of Christ, that in order to the spreading and propagating the gospel, as far as may be, the Spirit should be poured forth abundantly from on high upon the apostles, and thereby they should be enabled to work miracles, to cast out devils, to speak strange languages, which we read they did, Acts 2 .
And this power of working miracles, continued in the church an hundred years after Christ's ascension, until Christianity had taken root in the hearts of men. Iraeneus, lib. 2. chap. 58. says, that many believers, besides the apostles, had this power of working miracles; as new-set plants are watered at first, till they have taken fast rooting, so, that the Christian faith might grow the faster, God watered it with miracles at its first plantation.
Yet observe, That all the miracles which they had power to work, were healing and beneficient; not terrifying judgments, but acts of kindness and mercy. It was our Saviour's design to bring over persons to Christianity by lenity, mildness, and gentleness, not to affright them into a compliance with astonishing judgment, which might affect their fear, but little influence their faith: for the will and consent of persons to the principles of any religion, especially the Christian, is like a royal fort which must not be stormed by violence, but taken by surrender.
Here we have the grand article of our Christian faith asserted, namely, our Saviour's ascension into heaven, together with his exaltation there, expressed by his sitting at God's right hand; he ascended now to heaven in his human nature, for in his divine nture he was there already; and it was necessary that he should thus ascend, in order to his own personal exaltation and glorification.
When he was on earth, his humility, patience, and self-denial, were exercised by undergoing God's wrath, the devil's rage, and man's cruelty; now he goes to heaven, that they may be rewarded; he that is a patient sufferer upon earth, shall be a triumphant conqueror in heaven; also with respect to his church on earth, it was necessary that our Lord should ascend up into heaven, namely, to send down the Holy Spirit upon his apostles, which he did at the feast of Penticost. "If I go not away, says Christ, the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send him unto you;" and likewise to be a powerful advocate and intercessor with his Father in heaven; on the behalf of his church and children here upon earth. Christ is entered into heaven itself, there to appear in the presence of God for us Hebrews 9:24.
Finally, Christ ascended into heaven, to give us an assurance, that in due time we should ascend after him, I go to prepare a place for you John 14:2.
Hence, the apostle calls our Saviour, our forerunner Hebrews 6:20. Now if Christ in his ascension, was a forerunner, then there are some to follow after.
To the same purpose is that expression of the apostle, He hath made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Ephesians 2:6; that is, we are already sat down in him, and ere long, shall sit down by him as his members. The only way to this, namely, to ascend unto, and sit down with, Christ in heaven, is to live like him, and to live unto him, here on earth: If any man love me, he will follow me, and where I am, there shall also my servant be John 12:26.
Observe here, first, The general publication of the gospel by the apostles; they went and preached everywhere.
Secondly, the reason of the efficacy and success of it; namely, that divine and miraculous power which accompanied the preaching of it; The Lord wrought with them, and confirmed the word with signs following.
Observe, 1. The general publication of the gospel by the apostles; they went forth and preached everywhere. The industry of the holy apostles was incredibly great, yet was their success greater then their industry; even beyond all human expectation; which will evidently appear, if we consider,
1. The vast spreading of the gospel so far in so short a space of time; for in thirty years time after Christ's death, it was spread through the greatest part of the Roman empire, and reached as far as Parthia and India.
2. The wonderful power and efficacy which the gospel had upon the lives and manners of men; the generality of those that entertained the gospel were obedient to it, both in word and deed; because Christianity being an hated and persecuted profession, no man could have any inducement to embrace it, that did not resolve to practice it, and live up unto it.
3. The weakness and meanness of the instruments that were employed in propagating the gospel, shews the success of it to be very great and strange; a company of plain and illiterate men, most of them destitute of the advantages of education, and unassisted by the countenance of any authority whatsoever; yet did they in a short space, draw the world after them.
The powerful opposition which was raised against the gospel, namely, the prejudices of education, the power of in-dwelling lusts, and also the powers of the world then in being, did strongly combine against it, yet did Christianity bear up against all this opposition, and made its way through all the resistance that the lusts and prejudices of men, armed with the power and authority of the whole world, could make against it.
4. The great discouragements that men were then under to embrace the gospel and the Christian profession; all the evils of this world threatened them, mockings and scourgings, banishments and imprisonments, reproach and ruin; death, in all its fearful shapes, was presented to them, to deter them from embracing this religion.
Observe, therefore, 2. The reason of this wonderful success, The Lord wrought with them, and confirmed the word with signs following.
The Lord wrought with them; this points at the inward operation of the Holy Spirit upon the minds of men.
O! it is sweet and prosperous working in fellowship with Christ and his Holy Spirit; he directs his ministers, he assists them, he guides their lips, influences their minds, quickens their affections, sets home their instructions, and crowns all with signs; that is, confirmed their doctrine with miracles, such as healing diseases, raising the dead, casting out the devils, inflicting corporeal diseases on scandalous persons, and sometimes death itself.
From the whole, we gather the truth and divinity of the Christian religion; that it was, and is certainly, of God; and therefore never could, never can, be overthrown.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Mark 16". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent