Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CONSTANCY AND THE EAGERNESS OF TRUE AFFECTION, (Ver. 1.) No thought had these women of deserting him whom they loved but whom the world hated and had now slain. On the contrary, the enmity of those that maligned and murdered him made their affection to cleave all the more firmly to him. It attended him right up to the very last; it followed him to the grave; it came to bestow those final ministries which only devoted affection would have cared to render. And it showed itself as eager as it was constant. "Very early in the morning they came unto the sepulchre." True love to our Lord will stand these tests. It will survive the enmities and oppositions of an indifferent or a hostile society; it will be unaffected by these except, indeed, to be strengthened and deepened by them; moreover, it will show its loyalty and its fervour by the eagerness of its service, not waiting for the last hour of necessity, but availing itself of the first hour of opportunity.
II. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DIFFICULTIES AS WE GO ON OUR WAY OF FAITHFUL SERVICE. We know from Mark (Mark 16:3) that these women were full of apprehension lest they should be unable to get the stone rolled away from the door. But they went on their way to do their sacred office; and when they reached the spot they found their difficulty vanished (ver. 2). This is the common experience of the seeker after God in Christ, of the man desirous of discharging his duty in the fear of God, of the Christian worker. "Who will roll away that intervening stone?" we ask timidly and apprehensively. "How shall we get over that insurmountable barrier? How will our weakness prevail against such solid obstacles?" Let us go on our way of faith, of duty, of loving service, and we shall find that, if some angel has not been on the scene, the hindrance has disappeared, the way is open, the goal within our reach, the service within the compass of our powers.
III. THE SURPRISES THAT AWAIT US AS WE PROCEED, These women found an empty grave, visitants from the unseen world, a most unexpected though most welcome message; instead of a mournful satisfaction, they found a new hope, far too good and far too great to be held all at once within their heart (vers. 4-7). Peter, too, found himself the subject of a great astonishment (ver. 12). God has his merciful surprises for us as we proceed on our Christian path. He may surprise us with a sudden fear or a sudden sorrow; but he also surprises us with an unanticipated peace; with an unlooked-for joy; with a new, strange hope; before long he will introduce us to the blessed surprise of the heavenly realities.
IV. THE NEARNESS OF THE HEAVENLY TO THE EARTHLY SPHERE. (Ver. 4.) Angels were always at hand to render service in the great redemptive work. Why should we think of heaven as "beyond the stars"? Why should we not think of it as encompassing us on every side, only separated from us by a thin veil, through which our mortal senses cannot pass to its glorious spectacles and its blessed harmonies?
V. THAT GOD HAS MUCH BETTER THINGS IN STORE FOR US THAN WE THINK POSSIBLE. Neither the wondering women nor the incredulous apostles could believe in such a happy issue as they were assured of, though they had been carefully prepared to expect it (ver. 11). In the feebleness of our faith we say to ourselves, "Surely God is not going to give me that, to place me there, to bestow on me such a heritage as this!" But why not? For him to make all grace, all power, all life, to abound, is for him to do what he has promised, and what he has been doing since he first opened his hand to create and to bestow. - C.
discovering an empty tomb. The narrative of John about Mary Magdalene's visit is quite consistent with Luke's narrative; for, as Gilbert West has pointed out in his admirable analysis of the Resurrection-history, Mary rushes off alone to tell the disciples, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" - implying that others had been with her at the tomb. Without any misgivings, therefore, about the reliable character of the history, let us point out the instructive steps in the discovery of our Lord's resurrection.
I. THE WOMEN WITH THE SPICES DISCOVER AN EMPTY TOMB. (Vers. 1-3.) They had employed the evening after the sabbath was past in preparing all that was needful for embalming thoroughly and finally the Saviour's body. It was with this fragrant burden they made their way in the twilight towards the tomb, to find their fears groundless and the stone already removed. But a new fear now laid hold on them. There is no body in the tomb; it is empty. They do not appear to have taken in the significance of the grave-clothes carefully put aside because never to be needed more, as John did at his subsequent visit; their whole anxiety was about what had become of the dear body which they had come to embalm. The empty tomb was a discovery. The first impression, as indicated by Mary's message (John 20:2), was that their enemies had seized the body and disposed of it to defeat all their ideas of embalming. One thing is certain from the history, that neither the women nor the disciples could have been parties to the removal of the body.
II. THE WOMEN THAT WAITED GOT EXPLANATIONS FROM THE ANGELS. (Vers. 4-7.) Mary Magdalene, acting on impulse, seems to have hurried off to tell Peter and John about the discovery of the empty tomb, while her companions wait longer to get some explanation, if possible, regarding it. And the waiting women are not disappointed. Angels appear in shining garments, and, as the women sink before them in terror, they proceed to reassure them with the glad tidings, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man mast be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." It was the angels that reminded them of the promise of resurrection, and how it was now fulfilled. This is the second stage, therefore, in the discovery of the Resurrection. The fear of the women had been that the Jews had got the body. But there could have been no such plot carried out, for the very simple reason that, if they had got the body and it had not risen, they could have produced such evidence at the Pentecost as would have overturned the apostolic testimony, and prevented the inauguration of the Christian society. The angelic explanation, based as it was on our Lord's previous promises, was the only satisfactory one. The Resurrection was the fulfilment of Christ's deliberate plan.
III. THE REPORT OF THE WOMEN TO THE ELEVEN AND THE REST. (Vers. 8-11.) It is quite reasonable to suppose that Mary Magdalene was the forerunner of the rest, and through her report induced Peter and John to start at once for the sepulchre, while the main body of the women, consisting of Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others, returned more leisurely to make their report. At all events, the narrative of Luke implies all that is given by Matthew and by John. For the disciples who went to Emmaus distinctly say that certain of the disciples "went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said; but him they saw not (ver. 24) - implying that the women, in their report, had spoken of having seen the Master. The testimony of the women was based upon a threefold foundation - first, the assurance of the angels; secondly, the promise of resurrection given in Galilee by the Lord; thirdly, according to Matthew's account, an interview with the risen Lord himself (Matthew 28:9, 10). It was a remarkable testimony certainly, but at the same time it had ample warrant.
IV. THE BEST-ATTESTED FACTS MAY SEEM, TO DAZED MINDS, THE IDLEST FANCIES. (Ver. 11.) The poor disciples are, however, so overpowered with grief and disappointment that they are utterly unprepared for the announcement of the Resurrection. Here the suppler mind of woman is revealed in contrast to the more plodding, sifting, logic-demanding mind of man. The women enjoy the consolations of the Resurrection much sooner than the men. They take in the evidence at a glance. They do not question. They simply accept. But the disciples will not believe in a hurry. And so the messengers of the best tidings ever related unto men are at first in the position of the Master ..... himself, and constrained to cry, Who hath believed our report?" And the unbehevmg criticism of to-day is more unreasonable than the disciples were before the women. Because the resurrection of Christ may break in upon the ideas of nature's absolute uniformity which the critics have adopted, the whole evidence of resurrection-power continued through the ages is to be treated as an idle tale! Minds may be so dazed with grief or with success on certain lines as to discredit the completest evidence ever offered to the world. Before prejudice, the strongest facts get resolved into the idlest fancies. We should earnestly seek an impartial mind.
V. PETER'S FIRST ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THE EVIDENCE OF THE RESURRECTION. (Ver. 12.) Peter, as we learn from John's account, accompanied by John, rushes off to see the sepulchre. He reaches it after John, but pushes past him, and goes into the sepulchre. There he sees the linen clothes laid by themselves, yet departs without reaching anything but perplexity. To John's keener intellect the grave-clothes, so neatly deposited and the napkin laid in a place by itself, show that Jesus had risen, and laid aside his sleeping-clothes, as we do our night-dresses in the morning, because he had entered on the day of resurrection. John becomes a believer in the Resurrection on circumstantial evidence. Peter, it would seem, cannot make it out, and has to get a personal interview somewhat later on that day (cf. ver. 34), before he can take it in. It thus appears that one mind may handle the Resurrection evidence successfully, while another may only stumble through it into deeper perplexity. But when a soul like Peter is in earnest, the Lord will not leave him in the darkness, but will grant such further light as will dispel the gloom and dissipate all perplexity. Meanwhile the discovery of Christ's resurrection is but the interesting first stage in the remarkable evidence to part of which we have yet to proceed. - R.M.E.
I. THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD. This was:
1. Here attested by the angels. It was, at the same time, indicated by the empty tomb. The latter, of course, would not of itself prove such a fact; but it strongly sustained the word of the heavenly visitants. But beyond this, weightier than this, was:
2. The repeated and unmistakable evidence of the apostles and the women. Ten several times, at least, the risen Saviour was seen by those who knew him best. These were so thoroughly assured of the fact of his rising again, that they not only testified it, but risked and even sacrificed their lives to propagate a faith of which it was the corner-stone. And they not only undoubtedly believed it themselves, but they spoke as men who could be and who were credited by those who heard them. Then we have here:
3. The twofold buttress of a Divine promise and of human incredulity. Jesus "spake, saying,... the third day he should rise again." This was the fulfilment of the promise of One who gave such convincing proof that he could do what he willed. Moreover, it was believed in spite of the strongest incredulity. The apostles ought to have expected it, but they did not; we might almost say that it was the last thing they were looking for. They had given up their Lord and their cause as utterly lost; and when the tidings came, they refused to believe (ver. 11). So far from the Resurrection being the figment of a diseased expectation, it was a fact forced upon minds strongly predisposed to discredit it. The second clause of the angels' sentence was as true as the first: he was not there; he had risen. He had kept his word; he who had commanded the winds and the waves, and who showed himself Master of the elements of nature, now proved that the keys of death were in his royal hand, and proved himself to be the Son of God, the Lord of life. And with his "glorious resurrection" comes the fact of -
II. OUR OWN IMMORTALITY. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the sure sign, proof, forerunner, of our own life beyond the grave. Without that supreme and crowning fact, we could have had no certain hope, no assurance; without that he could not have been to us "the Resurrection and the Life." With that he can be and is. Now we have in him a living Lord, who can carry cut his kindest promises and be to us all that, during his ministry, he undertook to be. Wherefore let us:
1. Seek and find spiritual life in the once-crucified and ever-living Saviour, "He that believeth in him, though he were [spiritually] dead, yet shall he live," live in very deed and truth, i.e. live before God, unto God, and in God - partake of the life which is spiritual and Divine.
2. Be assured, then, of a blessed immortality; for "whoso liveth [in him] and believeth in him shall never die." His outward, bodily dissolution will be a mere incident in his career; so far from its being a termination of it, it will prove to be the starting-point of another and nobler life than the present, one nearer to God and far fuller of power, of usefulness, of blessedness.
3. Realize this truth concerning the departed. We may go to the grave and weep there like the sorrowing sisters of Bethany; we may tend their tomb with the carefulness which is the simple prompting of pure and deep affection; but let us learn to dissociate our thoughts of our departed friends from the grave. They are not there; let us not be seeking the living among the dead. There rest their mortal remains, but they themselves are with God, with the Saviour whose presence and friendship are exceeding gladness, with the holy and the true who have passed into the skies. They are in the light and the love and the joy of home. Let us dwell on this, and comfort ourselves and comfort one another with these thoughts. - C.
I. OUR LORD'S ELECTIVE LOVE. It was a very great favour he granted to these two men. Why, we ask, was it rendered to them? Of one we do not even know his name, and of the other nothing but his name. Why was so rare and high a privilege accorded to these obscure disciples, and not rather to those more prominent and active? In truth, we find ourselves quite unable to decide who are the fittest to receive special favours from the hand of God, or on what grounds he wills to manifest his presence and his power. His selections, we are sure, cannot be arbitrary or irrational. God must have not only a reason, but the best reason, for everything he does. But into the reasons for his choice we often may not enter; they lie beyond our reach. It is not to the acknowledged leaders of the Church that God often chooses to manifest especial privilege, but to those who are simple, unexpectant, unknown. He grants illuminations of his Spirit, peculiar joy and gladness of heart in him, remarkable success in the utterance of his truth, anticipatory glimpses of heavenly glory, to whom he will. And these are quite likely to be found amongst the humbler members of his Church. If there is any law which will guide our judgment it is this - that it is to the "pure in heart," to those who have most perfectly conquered the fleshly passions and are most freed from worldly ambitions and anxieties, who have the simplest and purest hope in him and desire toward him, that he vouchsafes his presence and grants the teaching and inspiration of his Spirit. But Christ's elective love is fully as much of a fact as it is of a doctrine.
II. UNCONSCIOUS COMPANIONSHIP WITH CHRIST. These two men were walking and talking with Christ, receiving his truth and responding to his appeal, their hearts "burning within them" as they held sweet and sacred intercourse with him; yet they did not recognize him; they had no idea that they were having fellowship with the Lord. There is much unconscious companionship with Jesus Christ now. Men are led into belief of the truth, are impressed with the sovereign claims of God upon their service, and of Jesus Christ upon their love; they ask, they inquire, they come to the feet of Christ to learn of him; they come to the cross of Christ to trust in him; they shun what they believe to be offensive, and pursue what they think is right and pleasing in his sight; and yet they are not at rest. They think they may be in a good way or in a fair way to find life; but they do not realize that they are in the right way. The fact is ofttimes that they are walking in the path of life with Christ, but "their eyes are holden that they do not know him." A Divine One has joined himself to them, as familiarly and unpretendingly as to these two disciples, ingratiating himself into their favour, wooing and winning their trust and their love; but because there has been no period of welt-recognized revolution, no sudden remarkable convulsion, they have failed to perceive that the work wrought within them has been that of his own kind and holy hand. Such souls need to learn that oftenest it is not in the wind, or in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in the still small voice of familiar truth and gracious influence, that Christ comes to the soul in renewing power. If it is in Christ we are trusting, if it is in his service we are most willing to live, if it is his will we are most concerned to do, then it is he himself by whose side we are walking day by day.
III. THE STRANGE INCREDULITY OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP. Our Master, who was so gentle and so considerate, here employs a very strong expression (ver. 25). This is the language of serious reproach; it is a weighty rebuke. The disciples of Christ ought to have read their Scriptures better, and they ought to have heeded the reiterated warning and promise he had himself given them of his death and his rising again. But while we wonder at what seems to us their slowness to learn and to believe, are we not as obtuse and as incredulous as they were? Do we not fail to grasp the promises of God as they are written in his Word, as they were spoken by his Son our Saviour? When those things happen which we should expect to happen in connection with the teaching of Divine truth; when the Spirit of God works mightily and mercifully in the souls of men; when hard hearts are broken and stubborn wills are subdued to the obedience of Christ; when wrong and shameful lives are changed into pure and holy ones; when the kingdom of God comes amongst us; - are we not surprised, incredulous? Are we not tempted to ascribe these issues to other than heavenly sources? And yet ought not this very result to happen? Is it not precisely what we should have been looking for, and wondering that it did not occur? We shall probably find abundant illustrations of Christian incredulity to match anything of which we read in our New Testament. "Slow of heart" are we to believe all that the Master has said of the presence and the power and the promises of God. - C.
I. THE THREAD OF TRIAL WHICH RUNS THROUGH THE FABRIC OF OUR LIFE. On one occasion our Lord asked a question of one of his disciples, and of that question it is said, "This he said to prove him" (John 6:6). There were other occasions, e.g. that of the blind beggars by the wayside, and that of the Syro-phoenician woman, when Jesus said things to prove or to try those who came to him. We have the same thing here. He drew near to these two disciples in the guise of a stranger; he chose to remain unknown to them; he drew them out as if he were one unacquainted with the events which were filling their minds and hearts; he induced them to discover themselves freely and fully both to his own eyes and to theirs; moreover, he was in the act of passing on, and would have gone beyond Emmaus if they had not availed themselves of the opportunity of persuading him to remain. And thus he tried them. The "trial of our faith," and of our love and loyalty, forms a great part of our Master's dealing with ourselves. It explains many otherwise inexplicable things in our life. God appears to us other than the kind, gracious, pitiful, considerate Father that he is. Christ seems to be other than the present, strong, faith-rewarding Master that he is. Why does God let such things happen to us? Why does not Christ bring to pass that for which we labour and pray so earnestly? It may be that, in these cases, he is trying us; proving the sincerity and deepening the roots of our faith and love and zeal. We shall be the stronger, and our lives will be the more fruitful, for his action or his lingering, a little further on.
II. THE TRUE WAY TO MAKE THE SABBATH A DELIGHT. It was fitting that on the first sabbath of the Christian era there should be recorded an instance in which the day was spent as Christ would have it be. What a pleasant picture this of communion with Christ, of searching the Scriptures, of sitting down at the same table with him! We have here:
1. Communion with our Lord. About one-fourth of the whole day these favoured men were conversing with Christ, opening their minds and outpouring their hearts to him, telling him their hopes and their fears, and receiving kind and illuminating responses from his lips. So should our "fellowship be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ," on the "day of the Lord." And as we may be sure that the way to Emmaus was marvellously shortened that afternoon, and the village houses showed themselves long before they were looked for, so will earnest and loving communion with our living Lord, so will our walking with Christ, make the hours go swiftly by on the wings of holy and elevated joy, and we shall "call the sabbath a delight."
2. Sacred study. (Vers. 27, 32.) How wonderful these Scriptures which contain the record of Divine revelation! So short as to be capable of being committed to the memory, and yet so full as to contain all that is needful for our enlightenment and enrichment, for guidance to God and heaven; so dull to the unquickened conscience, and so delightful to the awakened and renewed; holding mysteries insoluble to human learning, and yet intelligible and instructive from Genesis to Revelation to the earnest inquirer after truth and life; valueless in the market, and yet precious beyond all price to all who want to know how to live and how to die. As Christ and the two learners walked and talked, new light shone on the old passages, and the way was too short and the time too soon gone for their interest and their eagerness to be expended.
3. Meeting the living Lord at his table. (Ver. 30.) This was not, strictly speaking, a "sacramental" meal to which they sat down. It was not the "Lord's Supper" of which they partook. But there was about it so much of reverence, of religious earnestness, of holy communion, of sacred joy, that it may well suggest to us that most excellent way of spending some part of "the Lord's day."
III. THE WORTH OF ALL TRUE CHRISTIAN LABOUR. Possibly those who teach may sometimes ask themselves whether it is worth their while to conduct so small a class, to preach to so poor a congregation. Here is the answer to that questioning. If the risen Lord of glory thought it worth his while to walk seven miles and spend two hours in enlightening the minds and comforting the hearts of two humble and obscure disciples; if he was content to spend a good part of his first sabbath in taking a class of two, and pouring from the rich treasury of his truth into their minds, we may not think it unworthy of us to spend time in enlightening or comforting one human heart that craves the succour it is in our power to give. The disciple is not above his Master.
IV. THE SECRET OF SPIRITUAL INTEREST, Do we devoutly wish that we knew more of that sacred gladness of which these disciples were so happily conscious as he "talked with them by the way, and opened to them the Scriptures" (ver. 32)? Then:
1. Let us see that we are, as they were, earnestly desirous of knowing more of Jesus Christ. Let us go to our Bible and go up to the house of the Lord with that end distinctly and prominently in view.
2. Let us seek and gain the same Divine illumination. It is still to be had, though that voice is not now heard in our ear. The "Spirit of truth" is with us still, waiting to illumine and to enlarge our hearts; if we seek his aid and open our minds to his entrance, he will "guide us into all the truth" (John 16:13). - C.
I. JESUS MAKES HIS ADVENT TO US WHEN OUR SOULS ARE SAD. This is the very spirit of the dispensation. Thus he cried, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). And as the risen Saviour he prefers, we may well believe, the house of mourning to the house of mirth. Not only so, but when souls are in sad perplexity, when they are "unwilling sceptics" it is his delight to come and be their Escort along life's way, and lead them out of gloom and difficulty into real peace and joy. Now, when we know how accessible he is through prayer, we should never undertake any pilgrimage without securing the companionship of Jesus.
II. WE LEARN THAT JESUS IS OFTEN WITH US WHILE WE KNOW IT NOT. Here was he with these two pilgrims, taking step by step with them to Emmaus, and yet their eyes were so holden that they did not know him. He was near them, but they did not know him. Is not this the case with all of us? He is at our side, he takes every step with us, but we are so blinded with care and preoccupation that we fail to see him or enjoy his society as we should. The omnipresence of Jesus should be the believer's constant consolation.
III. JESUS IS HIMSELF AT ONCE THE GREAT SUBJECT AND THE GREAT EXPOSITOR OF SCRIPTURE. Here we find him, after listening so sympathetically to all the difficulties of the disciples, proceeding to expound to them, "in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself." "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." And here it is well to notice what is the substance of the whole revelation. It is put in these words of the risen Saviour, "Ought not Messiah to have suffered these things, and to have entered (εἰσελθεῖν) into his glory?" The Authorized and Revised Versions have alike failed to give the proper rendering here. Our Lord declares that he has entered already into his glory, just as he has already passed through his sufferings. We believe it can be made out from this and other passages that our Lord ascended - of course invisibly - without disciples as spectators, to heaven, and reported himself on high immediately after telling Mary, "I ascend [not 'will ascend'] unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17; cf. also Bush on ' The Resurrection.') This supposition of an ascension on the very day of the Resurrection enables us to understand his movements during the rest of the day, and his bestowal of the Spirit, which was conditioned on his glorification, in the evening (John 20:22; cf. John 7:39). It also enables us to regard heaven as his head-quarters during the forty days before his visible ascension from Olivet. Upon this interesting subject we cannot now dwell, however; but we content ourselves by pointing it out, and emphasizing the fact of Jesus as the suffering and glorified Messiah being the Hero, the Substance, and the great Expositor of revelation. It is when we look for him in the Word that it becomes luminous and delightful.
IV. THE ENTERTAINMENT OF JESUS IS SURE TO LEAD TO SPECIAL BLESSING. These two men insisted on Jesus sojourning with them, because it was towards evening and the day was far spent. And as he sojourned, he was transmuted from Guest to Host, and gave them a sacramental instead of common feast. It is when devoutly asking a blessing on the bread that he is recognized, only, however, to vanish like a vision from their sight. Now we may pass through an analogous experience. Is not this what is meant by the Master when he says, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20)? If we are open-hearted, and welcome Jesus, he will enter our hearts and sup with us, taking whatever we have to give him, and delighting in it, and enable us to sup with him. He will change into a Host from being our Guest. It was thus he acted at the marriage of Cana; it was thus he acted at Emmaus; it was thus he acted on the Shore of the Galilaean lake. He may be Guest, but he will soon show himself to be our Host, and give us a feast of fat things.
V. LIFE IS LARGELY A LIVING UPON HAPPY MEMORIES. AS soon as the Risen One had vanished, they began to compare notes about the burning heart, and all the happy memories of their journey from Jerusalem. And as they plodded in that night through the dark to report their great discovery, they lived upon the happy memory. But, had they only known it, the risen Jesus was in some way making that return journey to Jerusalem too, making for the same upper room, to reveal himself to the disciples, and their fellowship with him might have been repeated. At all events, we need not live on happy memories, but may enjoy Christ's spiritual presence and his escort all through the pilgrimage of life. It is this which will make the present life a heaven, not by anticipation merely, but in actual enjoyment; for fellowship with Christ, even though he be unseen, is the chief element of heaven. May we have the great Escort with us all the way! - R.M.E.
I. ITS SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY. We look to advanced religious experience to set us a particularly blameless example, to show us most clearly the spirit and the complexion of a distinctly Christian life, to lead us in the direction of spirituality and purity. For this high service the near presence of the Saviour is needed, and the constant exercise of his gracious power.
II. ITS SPECIAL TEMPTATION. The temptation of age is to querulousness, to an illiberal criticism of the present and to an undue and partial preference of the past, to an unjust and unwise severity in judging the eccentricities and irregularities of the young, to a dissatisfaction with the comparative obscurity to which it is itself descending. To prevail against this temptation, and to preserve equanimity, sweetness, cheerfulness of spirit and hopefulness of heart, age has urgent need of a constant renewal from above.
III. ITS SPECIAL PRIVATIONS. There are a few who live to a "good old age" without any or without much consciousness of loss. But these are only a few. With old age usually comes privation. In respect of sight, of hearing, of power of locomotion, of facility in speaking, of memory, of intellectual grasp, the aged are painfully conscious that "they are not what they were; they speak with diminished fire, they act with a lessened force." Their life is lower, is narrowed; they are less to their contemporaries than they used to be. They need comfort under the sense of loss; they need another source of satisfaction and of joy. In whom, in what, shall they find it, but in the Person and the presence of the Divine Friend and Saviour?
IV. ITS SPECIAL LONELINESS, Age is often lonely. It misses the companions of its youth and its prime. Most of these, perhaps nearly all, have fallen, and they are as the last leaf upon the wintry bough. "They are all gone, the old familiar faces," is the plaintive strain of their discourse; and some who still live have drifted away from them in space or in spirit. There is no one left who can go back with them in thought and sympathy to the old times, the memory of which is so pleasant, and which they would fain revisit with the friends of youth and childhood. Age is apt to be very lonely, and it has great need of a Divine Companion who does not pass away, who "abides," who is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever."
V. ITS SPECIAL LIMITATION. We all know that there may not be many days left in which we can bear witness for our Lord and his gospel. But the aged know that there can not be many more left to them. So much the more, therefore, as they see the night approaching when they can work no more for their Master, may they well desire to be and to do all that still lies in their power. Every hour is golden to him to whom but few remain. And because the opportunities of serving men here on earth are narrowing perceptibly day by day, the aged may earnestly entreat their Lord to be near to them, and to let his grace rest upon them, that their last days may be full of fruitfulness as well as of peace and hope.
VI. ITS NEARNESS TO DEATH. We wish not only to "live unto the Lord," but also to "die unto the Lord;" to honour him in the manner of our death as well as by the spirit of our life. They who feel that the evening shadows are gathering, and that the night of death is near, may well wish for the near presence of the upholding Saviour, with whom they will go tranquilly and hopefully through the last darkness. "Abide with us," they say; "be with us as we take the last steps of our earthly journey, go down with us into the deep waters, attend us till we reach the heavenly shore."
"Oh, meet us in the valley,
When faith shall turn to gladness,
I. THE TRIUMPH OF THE SPIRIT OVER THE FLESH. These two disciples who had walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and who persuaded the mysterious Stranger to remain because the day was far gone, and subsequently spent some time in earnest converse with him, now hastened back to Jerusalem (ver. 33). This was quite contrary to their intention when they set out from the city; it was not in the natural order of things to start out again on a long two-hours' walk after the fatigues of that eventful day. But their minds were so enlarged, their hearts so filled with joy, their souls so stirred with animating and vivifying hope, that they could not remain where they were; they must impart the transporting and transforming tidings to the crushed and sorrowing brethren they had left behind them that afternoon. It was late and dark, and (when they thought of it) they were tired. But what were these considerations? They were things not to be entertained for a moment, they were a mere feather's weight in the scale; and we may be certain that they set off to Jerusalem with a much lighter step in the evening, and far more alacrity of spirit, than they left that city in the afternoon of the day. In one sense "we are but dust and ashes," but "animated clay;" our soul is subject to certain limitations from its close connection with the body. Yet can the spirit triumph nobly over the flesh. Let but the kindling truth come down from heaven, let the Divine hand but touch the secret springs of the soul, and all our bodily sensations and our lower instincts go down and disappear. Fatigue, loss, danger, death itself, is nothing to a soul alight with the celestial fire. A new hope, a new faith, a new purpose, can carry the weary frame along the dusty road of duty, or up the steep ascent of arduous or dangerous achievement, better than angels' wings. Our true self is not the tabernacle of the flesh, but the indwelling and victorious spirit.
II. THE ESSENTIAL SERVICE WHICH THE FLESH RENDERS TO THE SPIRIT. Christianity is essentially spiritual. It makes its appeal to the spiritual nature; its aim is spiritual; and the weapons of its warfare are also spiritual - the efforts of the spirit of man and the energies of the Spirit of God. But it rests largely on a basis of facts attested by our senses - the fact of the Incarnation, "God manifested in the flesh," the "Word made flesh;" the fact of the miracles of Christ, miracles wrought before the eyes of men, and assured by their sensible observation of them; the fact of a blameless life lived in the bodily presence of eye-witnesses; the fact of the death at Calvary, borne witness to by those who actually beheld it; and the great crowning fact of the Resurrection, the return of Jesus Christ in the flesh to his disciples. The entire fabric of our religion rests upon the history of the Man Christ Jesus; and the acceptance of him as a Divine Teacher, whose word can be trusted and whose character can be honoured, stands or falls with the truth of the Resurrection. For if he did not rise again, he certainly was not the One he claimed to be. Of what service to us, then, these physical facts here recorded - his eating with the two at Emmaus; the sound of the familiar voice in many words of intercourse; the sight of his hands and feet with the imprint of the cruel nails; the sight and feeling of the "flesh and bones," which a spirit has not but which they found he had; and the act of sitting down at the table and eating of the fish and honeycomb before their eyes? The sight of his face, the sound of his voice, the style of his speech, the handling of his limbs ("handle me, and see," ver. 39), supplemented by his eating and drinking before them, - all this at length convinced their incredulity that it was indeed the risen Lord himself, returned according to his word. And all this accumulated evidence of all the senses is as good for us as it was for them. We are thankful for this multiplication of the material evidence, for, taken with other considerations, it substantiates the great fact of facts, and gives to us not only a marvellously original Thinker, but an unmistaken and faultless Exemplar, a Divine Lord and Master. The human senses never rendered to the human soul so great a service as when they attested the supreme fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But they still do render very valuable service in every Christian life.
1. The control and regulation of our senses for Christ's sake and in obedience to his word is a continual tribute to the power of his truth.
2. Our feet can carry us forth on errands of Christian charity.
3. Our hands can be put daily to deeds of righteousness, of justice, of excellency.
4. Our lips can sing the praises of our Lord, and can speak words of kindness to the young, of sympathy to the suffering and sorrowing, of hope to the dying.
5. Our eye can read, our ears can heal the truths which impart or which sustain the inner life of the spirit. Through our bodily senses God's own living truth, and with his truth himself also, comes continually into our soul; and through these same senses there go forth from us all healing, all helpful, all saving influences to the world; and thus we enrich and are enriched. - C.
John 20:21), and having in mind the way in which he made these words his own, and gave to them not merely a formal but a profound significance (John 14:27), we may find much meaning in them. We recognize the fact that they were -
I. SPECIALLY APPROPRIATE TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES. The minds of his apostles had passed through the deepest distress. They had lost their Lord and their Friend; and with him they had lost, as they thought, their cause and their hopes; they were, therefore, afflicted with an overwhelming grief. And now they were filled with the liveliest agitation. They were in a mental state in which blighted hopes were struggling with darkest fears; their soul was stirred to its very depths; and what, above all things, they needed was One that could come and say, "Peace be unto you!" It was the very word that was wanted to be breathed into their ear, to be spoken to their heart.
II. ADMIRABLY DESCRIPTIVE OF HIS ABIDING MISSION. It is true that Jesus once said, "I came not to send peace, but a sword." But it will be found, on referring, that then he simply meant to say that division and strife would be an inevitable incident of the course of his gospel; he did not mean that this was its deep purpose or its long and last result. It was the back-water, and not the main current, of the truth he preached. Christ came to give peace to a world profoundly disturbed and disquieted by sin. "Come unto me," he said," and I will give you rest." Not as the world gives rest or peace does he give.
(1) Not mere comfort or gratification that is very short-lived;
(2) nor satisfaction that is based on ignorance of ourselves, and must before long be exposed;
(3) nor the quiet of indifference or unbelief that must soon be broken up. Not of this order is the peace of Christ. It is:
1. Rest to the burdened conscience. lie shows us our sin and makes us ashamed of it; he fills our heart with a true and righteous sorrow for it; he awakes within us a just and honourable concern for the consequences of it. And then he offers himself as the One who bore the burden upon himself, through whom we may find forgiveness and acceptance. And "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
2. Abiding gladness to the hungering heart. "In the world" is unsatisfiedness of soul, emptiness and heartache; a sense of disappointment. But in him is a true and lasting satisfaction. "How happily the days in his blest service fly!" To live heartily and wholly unto him who loved us and gave himself for us, to expend our powers in his praise and in his service, - this is the secret of lifelong peace. All the lower springs will fail, but this never. To "lose our life" unto him is to "find it" and to keep it for ever.
3. Comfort to the troubled spirit. When darkness falls upon the path, when losses come, when bereavement makes a gap in the home and in the heart, when some heavy disappointment blights the prospect, - then the felt presence, the realized sympathy, and the unfailing succour of that Divine Friend give a peace which is deeper than our disturbance, a thrice-blessed calm to the tempest-tossed soul.
4. Peace in death. For many centuries the dying have departed in peace because they have hoped for everything through the Divine Saviour; they have calmly "slept in Jesus;" and those who now look forward to death as a passage through which they will be passing can find no better wish or prayer than that "the music of his Name" may "refresh their soul in death." - C.
I. THE MESSAGE OF THE RISEN SAVIOUR TO DISTRACTED SOULS IS PEACE. The salutation of the East received new depth and meaning when employed by the risen Saviour, when for the first time he appeared among his assembled disciples. He only could pacify them. He is the same "Peacemaker" still. It is his advent which drives away distractions, and secures a peace which passeth all understanding.
II. THE RISEN JESUS SUPPLIES INFALLIBLE PROOFS OF HIS RESURRECTION TO THE PACIFIED DISCIPLES. When pacified by him, they were then fitted for judgment. To place the proofs before worldly, distracted souls would have been throwing pearls before swine, It is before the disciples whose fears have been dispelled that he places the proofs. He urges calm investigation. Here are his hands and feet and side. Handle him, use sense-perception to the utmost. Make out that he has a body, and the same one which was crucified. Their joy at the proofs overpowered them for the moment, so that they could hardly credit it. Then he asked them for meat, and was content to eat before them a piece of a broiled fish. The honeycomb addition is not supported by the best manuscripts, and has been omitted in the Revised Version. The last doubt must depart before such proofs. It is the same Saviour who had been crucified, and he is among them in a body, able to partake of food, and perform all the functions assigned to a body dominated by a healthy spirit. Now, although we cannot see or handle the Risen One, we have yet the evidence of his Resurrection so set before us that only criminal partiality can resist it. Dr. Arnold, so accomplished an historian, declares that there is no fact of history sustained by better evidence. If we made sure of impartial and fearful minds to begin with, the infallible proofs would be recognized in their full power.
III. THE RISEN SAVIOUR HELPS HIS SERVANTS TO UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES. We learn from John's account that "he breathed on them," and so conveyed to them the Holy Ghost. Along with the outward exposition, therefore, of the Scripture references to himself, there is given the inward inspiration. It is this which made these men such masters of the sacred oracles so far as they indicate Christ's mission. With opened understandings, with inspired hearts, the once sealed book became an open secret, and the fountain-head of missionary enterprise. And the witnesses need similar enlightenment still. By waiting on the Master prayerfully and studiously we shall obtain the key to interpretation, and have the fairy palaces unlocked for us.
IV. A GOSPEL OF REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS OF A UNIVERSAL CHARACTER IS TO BE PREACHED IN HIS NAME. For Christ comes to make men sorry for their sins, while at the same time they enjoy the sense of their pardon. As risen Saviour, he is the outward Guarantee of our justification from all things from which we could not be justified by the Law of Moses. He was "delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25). And to these benefits all nations are to have access. The proofs of resurrection, the understanding of the Scriptures, and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, were with a view to a practical issue in the publication of glad tidings to all nations.
V. POWER IS GUARANTEED IF THEY WAIT PRAYERFULLY AT JERUSALEM. They had got the Spirit as zephyr-breath. They had still to get him in Pentecostal and fiery power. Hence they are encouraged by the Lord to wait for this at Jerusalem, for work without spiritual power would be useless. And they waited, and were made world-conquerors by the gift of power. So ought the Lord's people to wait for power still.
VI. THE ASCENSION WAS THE NECESSARY COMPLEMENT OF RESURRECTION, AND THE GUARANTEE OF ULTIMATE VICTORY. We have already seen reason for believing that, on the day of resurrection, Jesus privately ascended to the Father, reported himself there, and made heaven his head-quarters during "the great forty days." But a public ascension before the assembled disciples was necessary to establish their faith and joy. And so they were permitted to see their beloved Lord ascending, in spite of gravitation, up into the blue heavens, and speeding towards the centre of the universe at the right hand of God. Yet the inevitable separation did not prevent them from returning to Jerusalem with great joy, and continuing there until the Pentecost. They divided their time between the upper room and the temple. They waited in joyful anticipation of the promised power, and they got it in due season. And the Ascension ought to be to all believers a matter of definite experience. It is to this St. Paul refers when he speaks, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, of being "raised up together with Christ, anti made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." There is an ascension-experience as well as a resurrection-experience - an experience in which we feel that we have risen superior to all earthly attractions, and that we, setting our affections, indeed, on things above, are sitting by faith among them with our Lord. It is this ecstatic state which heralds the advent of spiritual power. May it belong to all of us! - R.M.E.
I. THE DIVINE ENDOWMENT WITH WHICH HE STARTS US ON OUR COURSE. We receive from his creative hand a kind and a measure of intellectual power which may be said to valor with each individual of the human race. To one he giveth five talents, to another two, to another one. And it is not only difference in measure, but also in kind. The human spirit has many faculties, and one man has a large share of one and another a goodly share of another, "as it pleaseth him." Most happily for us, there is every possible variety of human understanding resulting from the different capacities and dispositions with which our Creator endows us,
II. THE BENEFICENT LAW OF EXPANSION HE HAS ORDAINED FOR US. The law under which we live, and under which our understanding grows, is this - "to him that hath is given." We observe, we hear and read, we reflect, we reason, we construct and produce; and as we do this, we grow - our intelligence is opened and enlarged. Thus by the operation of one of his wise and kind laws God is "opening our understanding" every day, but more particularly in the earlier days of curiosity and of study. Youth has but to do its rightful and proper work, and God will do his gracious, enlarging work; and thus he will "build up" a mind, well stored with knowledge and wisdom, capable of great and noble service.
III. THE SPECIAL ILLUMINATIONS HE HAS GRANTED AND IS WILLING TO IMPART.
1. God has given to members of our race illumination or expansion of mind which we pronounce miraculous, i.e. not in accordance with known laws. Such was the inspiration he gave to Moses when he inspired him to write his books; or that he gave to Samuel, to Elijah, to Isaiah, to Zechariah, when he moved these prophets to remonstrate with or to exhort their contemporaries, or to write words that should live for all time on the sacred page; or that he gave to these two disciples when he opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures as they had never understood them before; or that he gave to the Apostles Peter and Paul and John when he prompted them to speak as they spoke and to write as they wrote. Here was an altogether unusual and supernatural enlightenment and enlargement of mind granted for the special purpose of making known his mind and will to the race of man.
2. God still imparts special illumination to us according to our need and in response to our prayer. The "age of miracles" may be past, but assuredly the age of Divine illumination is not passed. God remains, and will remain, in constant communication with his human children; he has, and ever will have, access to their understanding; he can touch and quicken us, can enlarge and equip our minds for special service in his Name and cause, can make clear to our minds those things which have been obscure, whether in his Word or in his providence, so that we can "understand the Scriptures," and also interpret his dealing with ourselves and his fashioning of our lives. Three things become us.
(1) A sense of our own insufficiency - insufficiency both for comprehending what we are called upon both to consider and (as far as may be) to understand, and for doing the work of explanation and enforcement which is required of us.
(2) Faith in God - in his observation of us; in his interest in our humble endeavours to take our part and do our work; in his power over us to "open our understanding" as well as to "open our heart" (Acts 16:44; see Ephesians 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:7).
(3) -Prayer for Divine illumination. Lacking wisdom, let us ask of God, "who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not (James 1:5; see Colossians 1:9; Ephesians 1:16, 17). Whenever we read the Scriptures that we may learn the "mind of Christ," whenever we stand up to speak in his Name, when ever we set ourselves to any effort that requires spiritual wisdom, we do well to pray in the spirit, if not in the language, of our great poet -
"Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
1. They must have been greatly impressed by its extreme seriousness; they were to preach repentance and remission of sin "among all nations. And although they did not know as we do what that meant, and how wide was the range of the Saviour's purpose, they could realize as we cannot how deep and bitter would be the enmity which a gospel of the crucified Nazarene would encounter, more especially in Jerusalem.
2. But they may have been powerfully sustained by the presence of the Lord himself. The power or' his resurrection" was then upon their souls; they were to go forth in his Name, who had just triumphed over man's last and greatest enemy - death. What could they not do through him? If we ask what was the message, in its fulness, which they were charged to deliver, we reply -
I. REPENTANCE AS CHRIST HAD PREACHED IT. They were to preach repentance in his Name. Therefore of the kind which he demanded. And this was no mere outward amendment; it was not found in the external habits of devotion; no amount of almsgiving, fasting, prayers, would constitute it. It meant:
1. Self-condemnation. Not necessarily the exhibition of overwhelming emotion, but the decided and deep conviction of our own unworthiness, and real regret for wrong done and for service withheld in the past.
2. The return of the heart to God. The coming back from the far country of estrangement, or forgetfulness, or denial and open enmity, and the seeking anew the Father's face and favour.
3. The outcasting from the soul of all tolerance of evil, so that sin is not only shunned but hated.
4. The pursuit of all moral excellency; to be attained by the study and the love of the great Exemplar himself. And this repentance, real and thorough, was to be immediate. There was to be no guilty and dangerous postponement; as soon as the soul recognized its duty it was to start on the true and right course.
II. REMISSION AS CHRIST OFFERED IT. And this was:
1. Full. It was a forgiveness without reserve. The son (of the parable, ch. 15.) was not relegated to the servants' hall, though he had thought of asking for no more than that. He was admitted to the full honour of sonship; he was to wear the best robe and the ring, and he was to sit down to the table which was loaded in his honour. The mercy we receive through Christ, and which is to be offered "in his Name," is no imperfect thing; it is full, entire, complete. All past transgressions are absolutely forgiven, so that they will never be alleged against us or stand between us and the love of God. We ourselves are taken into the gracious favour of our heavenly Father, admitted to his family, counted among his own children, constituted his heirs, having freest access to his presence, welcome to call him by the most endearing name.
2. Immediate. There is no probation or apprenticeship to be served; we have not to wait to approve ourselves; we are not sentenced to any form of expiation by menial service before we gain our childhood. At once, so soon as we return in spirit unto God, that moment we are welcomed to the side and to the home of our Father.
3. In faith. We are to seek and to find forgiveness "in Christ's Name," i.e. in the exercise of a simple but living faith in him as in our Divine Saviour. So the apostles evidently understood their Master (see Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38, 39; 1 Peter 1:8, 9; 1 John 2:12). Thus the ascended Saviour instructed the "abortive-born apostle" (Acts 26:18), and thus that faithful witness continually taught (see Acts 20:21). Those who speak for Christ are to invite all sinful men to put their trust in him, the Saviour of mankind, the "Propitiation for the sins of the world," and, accepting him as such, to take the full, free mercy of God unto eternal life. Such was the message which the apostles were solemnly charged to deliver. There was in this great instruction:
1. One charge which they were more particularly to observe - they were to begin at Jerusalem. It was right they should begin there, for it was there that all "these things" (ver. 48) were known and could be attested; and, beginning there, the grace and the magnanimity of the Crucified One would be more abundantly manifested.
2. Another, which more particularly affects ourselves - this message of mercy is to be carried to "all nations." It is "the common salvation," needed by all and fitted for all, to work out and send forth which the Lord Jesus lived and died. - C.
I. THE UNIQUE SERVICE RENDERED BY THE APOSTLES. They were witnesses of "those things," the greatest things that were ever seen and ever attested in the history of mankind; things they were on the full and true statement of which, on the cordial and practical acceptance of which, depended the life and the hope of the world. They could face all with whom they came in contact, and declare that they saw with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, witnessed in their own persons:
1. A perfectly beautiful, a spotless human life, in which, though they saw it under all possible circumstances and when under least constraint or reserve, they could find no flaw at all (1 Peter 2:22).
2. Works of power, which were invariably works of pity and of kindness, of such a nature that there was no possibility of mistake.
3. Words of truth and grace such as mortal lips had never spoken, and such as met the deepest wants of man's hungering heart, of his yearning and aspiring soul.
4. Sufferings and sorrows beyond what others knew, borne with a patience that was sublime.
5. A death undergone in shame and pain, amid natural wonders and with more than human nobility.
6. A glorious resurrection from the grave.
7. A message of mercy and hope to be delivered to all mankind in the name of this great Teacher, Healer, Sufferer, Conqueror.
II. THE VALUABLE SERVICE WHICH IS OPEN TO US ALL.
1. We also can testify, in word, to "these things." We leave, and are content to leave, some mysteries which belong to the Christian faith; we do not try, as we need not try, either to explain or to understand them. But "these things," which the world needs to know for its inward peace and its true prosperity, we can speak. We are familiar with the holy and beautiful life of Jesus Christ. We know the thought, we "have the mind of Christ" on all the deepest and highest subjects with which our character and our destiny are bound up. We are conversant with the sufferings and the sorrows of the Saviour; for the story of his Passion is better known by us than any other history whatsoever - it is not only in our memory, it is in our heart. We can speak of his death and of his triumph over the grave. We know well what is the message of truth and grace he desires to be declared to the whole world. We can speak of him and for him.
2. And we can find an audience. There are many who will not listen to us, but there are those who will. The young, who have a spirit of docility and inquiry; the sick and the sad, to whom "the consolation which is in Christ" is the one thing that heals and calms; the poor, to whom the pearl of great price is welcome, and who are willing to be made "rich toward God;" the disappointed and the weary, who are glad to know of One who can give "rest unto the soul;" - these will receive our testimony.
3. We can bear the best and truest witness of the life. What men want to be convinced of is that Christianity is a living power; that it not only has very fine sentiments to teach - these can be found elsewhere - but that it is a moral and spiritual power that can save the lost, can cleanse the foul, can soften the hard-hearted, can humble the proud, can arouse the indifferent and obtuse, can infuse cheerfulness and joy into the heart of the poor and lowly, can give rest of spirit to those who are encompassed by the cares of time, can fill the soul with tender sympathy and prompt to generous and self-denying succour, can substitute a forgiving for a vindictive spirit in the wronged, can enable its possessors to gain a victory over themselves and over the world and to crown a victorious life by a death of calm tranquillity and joyful hope. Here is scope for witness-bearing; and, as every Christian man has the truth of Christ on which to feed, the example of Christ to follow, and the Holy Spirit of Christ to whom to look for his indwelling power, it is open to every disciple to be a witness, whose testimony shall be valuable on earth and acceptable in heaven. - C.
so soon after they manifested such weakness as they did? We consider -
I. THEIR INSUFFICIENCY UP TO THE TIME OF THE ASCENSION. They had been receiving for many months the inestimable advantage of Christ's own teaching for their mental enlightenment, and his own influence for their spiritual ennoblement. And this teaching and training cannot have been - we may confidently say was not - without very great value throughout their subsequent course. Yet they undoubtedly lacked something which would complete them for the great task before them. They showed but scant determination (Matthew 26:41, 43), but feeble courage (Matthew 26:56), but little understanding of their Master's aim (Acts 1:6); and this, too, at the very close of his ministry, when their great and special privilege was expiring. Something more they sadly needed to prepare them for their work.
II. THE PROMISED POWER.
1. Its announcement and its confirmation. It was first predicted by the prophets who preceded our Lord (Isaiah 44:3); and more particularly Joel (Joel 2:28, 29). It was renewed and confirmed, at first more indefinitely, and here more definitely, by our Lord (John 14:16, 26; John 15:26, 27; John 16:7; text).
2. Its historical fulfilment (Acts 2:1-11).
3. Its permanent results. These men, whose character and whose fitness for their grand and lofty mission left much to be desired, "endued with power from on high," became wonderfully equipped for and admirably adapted to the noble mission to which Christ appointed them. They became strong
(1) to stand in the evil hour of temptation, defying the authority of Jewish council and the sword of Roman ruler; they became strong
(2) to suffer, rejoicing that they were "counted worthy to suffer shame" for the Master's sake and Name; they became strong
(3) to testify, "with great power" giving witness to the Resurrection, and great grace being on them all; they became strong
(4) to grasp the great central and saving truths of the gospel, making known to their own compeers by their speech, and to all time by their letters, the "mystery which was hidden from the generations," the great and gracious purpose of God to the whole race of men; they became strong
(5) to build and work, to lay the foundation-stone of the gospel of Christ (Ephesians 2:26), of that Church of the future which has already endured for eighteen centuries, and is more than ever bent on the conversion and conquest of the world. We know what made these weak men strong, these failing men to triumph. It was the power of the Holy Ghost resting upon them, opening their eyes that they might see, quickening their souls that they might feel, nerving their hearts that they might stand, strengthening their hands that they might labour and achieve.
III. ITS LASTING LESSON. It is this which, if anything does, will make us strong also. What the Christian workman wants is the power which comes immediately from God, the inspiration of the Divine Spirit; in truth, the same bestowal as that which the apostles were now promised and afterwards received. The miraculous endowments which accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost were but the accidents of the bestowal. The power to heal without failure or to speak without error was nothing to the power to testify without fear and to live without reproach.
"Though on our heads no tongues of fire (1) purity of heart and aim; (2) earnest and believing prayer. - C,
(1) purity of heart and aim;
(2) earnest and believing prayer. - C,
I. THE FITNESS OF THE PLACE WHENCE JESUS ASCENDED. Not, indeed, that Jerusalem could claim to be worthy of such an honour - Jerusalem that had but lately dyed its hands in the blood of its Messiah. But as the ancient dwelling-place of God, as the seat and source of heavenly truth, as the metropolis of religion upon the earth, as the place that furnishes the name and type of the city of our hope, as the joyous gathering-place of the good, - it was well that, from without its walls, he whose presence makes the home and the joy and the glory of his people should pass to his throne. For from that moment "Jerusalem" meant another thing to mankind, Christ took up its meaning as he rose. All the associations of love and hope, of grandeur and gladness, which had belonged to the earthly are transferred to the heavenly city, where he dwells in glory, where he reigns in power. There is a transference, not formal but actual, of the centre and metropolis of religious thought from the Jerusalem below to the Jerusalem above.
II. THE NATURE OF THE LAST SCENE. "They climb the hillside; they cross its summit; they are approaching Bethany. He stops; they gather round. He looks upon them; he lifts his hands; he begins to bless them. What love unutterable in that parting look! What untold riches in that blessing! His hands are uplifted, his lips engaged in blessing, when slowly he begins to rise. Earth has lost her power to keep him; the waiting up-drawing heavens claim him as their own. He rises, but still, as he floats upward through the yielding air, his eyes are bent on those uplooking men; his arms are stretched over them in the attitude of benediction, his voice is heard dying away in blessings as he ascends. Awe-struck, in silence they follow him with straining eyes as his body lessens to sight, till the commissioned cloud enfolds, cuts off all further vision, and closes the earthly and sensible communion between Jesus and his disciples" (Dr. Hanna).
III. THE RECEPTION THE SAVIOUR HAD IN HEAVEN. There have been "triumphant entries" in this little world of ours, and in the history of our human race, the pouring forth in loud acclaim of the pride and joy of many thousands of hearts. But to what a vanishing point do they sink when placed by the side of this entry of the conquering Saviour into heaven! Though unable to form any conception that can approach the glorious reality, yet we may well love to linger in imagination over that blessed scene. His struggle over, his sorrows borne, his temptations met and mastered, his work finished, his great battle fought and his victory won, - the victorious Lord passes through all the ranks of the angelic host, amid their reverent worship and adoring acclamations, to his throne of power and glory.
"Look, ye saints I the sight is glorious: IV. THE EFFECT IMMEDIATELY PRODUCED ON THE MINDS OF THE DISCIPLES. Blank dismay, inconsolable sorrow, should we think? So thinking, we should be wrong. They "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Yet their Master was gone from them to return no more till that uncertain and distant day of which the angels spoke (Acts 1:11). How do we account for this? The explanation is found here - they were now perfectly assured of the Divine mission of Jesus Christ. His death had cast a dark shadow of doubt and dread over their hearts. His resurrection had revived their confidence and their hope. But this final manifestation, this "sign in the heavens," this act of being taken up, like Elijah, into heaven, swept away the last fragment of doubt that may have been left behind; they were now absolutely sure, without any reserve or qualification whatever, that the Master they had loved and served was indeed their true Messiah, the Sent of God, worthy of their deepest veneration and their strongest attachment; so they "worshipped him" reverently, and went back to Jerusalem with the joy of faith and love filling their souls. There is no misery so unendurable as doubt, and there is no blessedness so sweet as rest of heart after spiritual disquietude. V. ITS PERMANENT EFFECT ON THE APOSTLES' MINDS. This was unreservedly good. It was "expedient for them that he should go away." His bodily absence changed the complexion of their dependence upon him. It had been that of childhood; it was now to be that of manhood. With him by their side, as he had been, they would not have become the "men in him" they did become after he left them. The deeper and fuller knowledge of him they gained by his departure led to an enlargement of faith and to a deepening of love, and also to that fulness of attachment and consecration we recognize and rejoice in during their later life. They came to know him and love him and serve him as the Divine Saviour of mankind, and this made them worthier men and truer servants of their Lord. All earthly ambitions respecting the right and left hand of the throne were transformed into a noble consecration to the invisible Lord. VI. ITS PRICELESS VALUE TO OURSELVES. 1. Christ is accessible to us all. Had he lived and reigned at Jerusalem, or some other sacred metropolis, he would only have been accessible to those who dwelt or journeyed there. But now he is "with us all." For heaven is everywhere; the throne of grace is within the reach of the faintest whisper that comes from every burdened heart, from every seeking soul, wheresoever it may be breathed. A living faith can now realize the constant nearness of its living Lord; it has not to take even a sabbath day's journey to find itself in his presence and to make known its request. 2. He is seated on the throne of power. To him who has passed into the heavens we can realize that "all power is given" (Matthew 28:18). We can well believe that our Master in heaven can do for us what we ask of him; that his arm is one of glorious might; that his hand has plenteousness of bounty and of blessing. And in all our time of need we can go to him, with holy confidence, to ask of him the help, the guidance, the blessing, we require. 3. He has all rightful authority. If he still dwelt on earth, we might be dubious of this; but to the heavenly Saviour we unanimously and cordially ascribe all headship; to him we yield our willing and unquestioning obedience; and we rejoice to believe that he is ruling and governing the affairs of his Church, and reigning in the interests of the whole human race; that it is his hand that is at the helm, and that will safely guide the tempest-ridden vessel to the harbour. 4. He is our constant and ever-living Lord. With all that is earthly we associate change and death; with the heavenly we connect the thought of continuance and life. Of our heavenly Lord we can think, and we delight to think, that whoever changes he is evermore the same, "yesterday, and to-day, and for ever;" that while human ministers "are not suffered to continue by reason of death," he hath "an unchangeable priesthood," and is able to save evermore ("to the uttermost") all those "that come unto God by him." And as we look forward to the future, and realize our own mortality, we cherish the joyous thought that, if we do but "abide in him" until the evening shadows gather and "life's long day" passes into the darkness of death, we shall, in heaven's eternal morning, open our eyes to see the "King in his beauty," to "behold his glory," and shall "sit down with him on his throne," sharing for ever his own and his saints' everlasting rest. - C.
IV. THE EFFECT IMMEDIATELY PRODUCED ON THE MINDS OF THE DISCIPLES. Blank dismay, inconsolable sorrow, should we think? So thinking, we should be wrong. They "returned to Jerusalem with great joy." Yet their Master was gone from them to return no more till that uncertain and distant day of which the angels spoke (Acts 1:11). How do we account for this? The explanation is found here - they were now perfectly assured of the Divine mission of Jesus Christ. His death had cast a dark shadow of doubt and dread over their hearts. His resurrection had revived their confidence and their hope. But this final manifestation, this "sign in the heavens," this act of being taken up, like Elijah, into heaven, swept away the last fragment of doubt that may have been left behind; they were now absolutely sure, without any reserve or qualification whatever, that the Master they had loved and served was indeed their true Messiah, the Sent of God, worthy of their deepest veneration and their strongest attachment; so they "worshipped him" reverently, and went back to Jerusalem with the joy of faith and love filling their souls. There is no misery so unendurable as doubt, and there is no blessedness so sweet as rest of heart after spiritual disquietude.
V. ITS PERMANENT EFFECT ON THE APOSTLES' MINDS. This was unreservedly good. It was "expedient for them that he should go away." His bodily absence changed the complexion of their dependence upon him. It had been that of childhood; it was now to be that of manhood. With him by their side, as he had been, they would not have become the "men in him" they did become after he left them. The deeper and fuller knowledge of him they gained by his departure led to an enlargement of faith and to a deepening of love, and also to that fulness of attachment and consecration we recognize and rejoice in during their later life. They came to know him and love him and serve him as the Divine Saviour of mankind, and this made them worthier men and truer servants of their Lord. All earthly ambitions respecting the right and left hand of the throne were transformed into a noble consecration to the invisible Lord.
VI. ITS PRICELESS VALUE TO OURSELVES.
1. Christ is accessible to us all. Had he lived and reigned at Jerusalem, or some other sacred metropolis, he would only have been accessible to those who dwelt or journeyed there. But now he is "with us all." For heaven is everywhere; the throne of grace is within the reach of the faintest whisper that comes from every burdened heart, from every seeking soul, wheresoever it may be breathed. A living faith can now realize the constant nearness of its living Lord; it has not to take even a sabbath day's journey to find itself in his presence and to make known its request.
2. He is seated on the throne of power. To him who has passed into the heavens we can realize that "all power is given" (Matthew 28:18). We can well believe that our Master in heaven can do for us what we ask of him; that his arm is one of glorious might; that his hand has plenteousness of bounty and of blessing. And in all our time of need we can go to him, with holy confidence, to ask of him the help, the guidance, the blessing, we require.
3. He has all rightful authority. If he still dwelt on earth, we might be dubious of this; but to the heavenly Saviour we unanimously and cordially ascribe all headship; to him we yield our willing and unquestioning obedience; and we rejoice to believe that he is ruling and governing the affairs of his Church, and reigning in the interests of the whole human race; that it is his hand that is at the helm, and that will safely guide the tempest-ridden vessel to the harbour.
4. He is our constant and ever-living Lord. With all that is earthly we associate change and death; with the heavenly we connect the thought of continuance and life. Of our heavenly Lord we can think, and we delight to think, that whoever changes he is evermore the same, "yesterday, and to-day, and for ever;" that while human ministers "are not suffered to continue by reason of death," he hath "an unchangeable priesthood," and is able to save evermore ("to the uttermost") all those "that come unto God by him." And as we look forward to the future, and realize our own mortality, we cherish the joyous thought that, if we do but "abide in him" until the evening shadows gather and "life's long day" passes into the darkness of death, we shall, in heaven's eternal morning, open our eyes to see the "King in his beauty," to "behold his glory," and shall "sit down with him on his throne," sharing for ever his own and his saints' everlasting rest. - C.