Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. The fact of the sepulchre being found empty.
2. The testimony of the angels who were seen in it.
3. The appearances of our Lord himself.
On these points we shall not now particularly dwell, but direct attention to certain side lights which the narrative affords. Thus it teaches us -
I. THAT THERE ARE SPIRITUAL BEHIND THE MECHANICAL AGENCIES IN NATURE.
1. This is evident in the angel's work.
(1) The earthquake is attributed to him. "Behold, there was an earthquake; for an angel of the Lord," etc. The rolling away of the stone, in like manner, is ascribed to him. Whatever mechanical agencies were in commission here, angelical energy was behind them.
(2) This is not the sole example of the exertion of such energy in the production of physical effects. Angels smote the Sodomites with blindness, and brought down a torrent of fire and brimstone upon the cities of the plain (see Genesis 19:11, 13). They brought the pestilence upon Israel in the days of David, by which seventy thousand were destroyed, and in the days of Hezekiah they smote a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians (see 2 Samuel 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35). An angel dissolved the chain that bound Peter in Herod's prison, and made the doors fly open before him (see Acts 12:6-11).
(3) Within narrower limits human spirits exert energy in the material world. The microcosm, the body, responds to the will. Through the medium of the body we act upon the macrocosm around. We change the course of rivers, tunnel mountains, cut waterways through continents, modify climates, alter the flora and fauna of a country, give direction and development to instincts in animals.
(4) The universe is dual, viz. spiritual and material. These complements mutually act and react. The spiritual cannot be divorced from the physical. Any system of natural philosophy that tails to recognize this is essentially deficient.
(5) One grand use of miracles is to force this truth upon our consideration. A miracle is not necessarily an inversion of the laws of nature, though to a limited knowledge such may appear to be the case. It is rather the evidence of the presence behind materialism of a superior spiritual agency. "The works which none other did" (see John 15:24).
2. In the manner in which he impressed the senses.
(1) He rendered himself visible. The watch saw him, and were in consequence stricken with terror. This terror was deepened by their having felt the earthquake and seen the rolling away of the stone. He sat upon the stone in tranquil triumph in their presence, as if defying the armies of earth and hell to repined it or to hinder the resurrection of the Redeemer. The women also saw him. His appearance generally was that of a young man (see Mark 16:15). But his countenance, or rather his whole form, was bright, "like lightning." His raiment was white as snow - whitened by the lightning brightness transmitted from his Person. This white radiance was the emblem at once of purity, joy, and triumph, and eminently suitable to the tidings he bore (cf. Acts 1:10; Acts 10:30).
(2) He rendered himself audible. He used the voice and language of humanity to give to the women comfort, instruction, and direction.
(3) Whether, however, these visual and audible impressions were made upon the physical organs of the witnesses or upon the spiritual senses in them corresponding, is not certain, though the presumption is that the physical senses were addressed, since mechanical force was undoubtedly exerted in producing the earthquake and in the removal of the stone. We should ever recognize God in nature.
II. THAT THE RESURRECTION BODY IS ENDOWED WITH ETHERIAL PROPERTIES.
1. Such was the case with the body of Jesus.
(1) His resurrection was not witnessed by the watch. They felt the earthquake; they saw the angel; they witnessed the rolling away of the stone; but Jesus they saw not. Note: He does not reveal himself to the incredulous and disobedient. He did not appear even to the women until he had first tried their faith and obedience by his ministering angel.
(2) The resurrection of Jesus appears to have taken place before the stone was rolled away. Taking the narrative as it lies before us in Matthew, the women appear to have seen the angel roll away the stone and seat himself upon it, and witnessed also the effect of the vision upon the watch. The accounts in Mark and Luke may be harmonized to this view. Then, descending from the stone, he conducted them into the tomb, where they saw a second angel, but otherwise a vacant sepulchre. "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay." The stone was not removed to let the Saviour out, but to let the witnesses in to see that he was already gone.
(3) The presumption, then, is that the body of Jesus had undergone such a change that it passed out of the sepulchre through the pores of the stone, as the electric matter freely passes through concrete substances. The following remarkable words are ascribed to the Rabbi Judah Hakkodesh: "After three days the soul of Messiah shall return to its body, and shall go out of that stone in which he shall be buried."
(4) This same etherial property was afterwards exhibited whenever Jesus vanished from the sight of those to whom he had appeared. It was likewise remarkably exhibited on those occasions in which he stood in the midst of his disciples when they were assembled with closed doors (see John 20:19-29).
2. But the body of Jesus is the pattern resurrection body.
(1) "As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (cf. Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 44, 48, 49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:11; Philippians 3:20, 21).
(2) The bodies of the saints that arose after his resurrection exhibited the same etherial qualities (see Matthew 27:53).
(3) This will let in light upon the subject of the mingling of the saints of the first resurrection with living men during that great period of the reign of Christ, which is the burden of prophetic hope (cf. Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:8-12; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6).
(4) Jesus rose the third day, not only to answer the type of the Prophet Jonah, and to verify his own words (see Matthew 12:40), but to indicate the time of the first resurrection of his saints (cf. Hosea 6:2). "A day is with the Lord as a thousand years."
III. THAT THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST BRINGS HEAVES NEARER TO BELIEVERS.
1. It brings them into communion with angels.
(1) The appearance of the angels to the women evinced that through the risen Saviour we come to a heavenly communion (see Hebrews 12:22). Angels own Jesus as their Lord as well as we. Their communication is concerning him.
(2) The women had comfortable assurance in their action. It announced to them that the Lord who had been delivered for our offences had rendered satisfaction to Divine justice, and therefore received his legal discharge from the prison.
(3) They had this also in their words.
(a) "Fear not ye." The watch were left to their fears. Not so the women. True daughters of Sarah (see 1 Peter 3:6).
(b) "For I know that ye seek Jesus, which hath been crucified." Love seeks Jesus because he hath been crucified. Those who seek the Crucified One need never fear.
(c) "He is not here: for he is risen, even as he said." Those who seek Jesus crucified will find him risen. "He is risen! ' This is joyful news, not only to the women, but to all disciples of Christ in every age. The risen Christ is our consolation. If we find him not immediately in sensible comfort, the assurance that he is risen will be followed by that comfort in good time. Henceforth let us seek Jesus as One that is risen, viz. not with carnal thoughts of him (see 2 Corinthians 5:16), but with heavenly mind and spiritual communications (cf. Romans 10:6-8; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-3).
(d) "Go quickly." Those sent on God's errands must not loiter.
(e) "Tell his disciples." The disciples of Jesus are more honoured than kings. The apostles should believe without seeing. The women are sent to testify to them, and thus to test their faith. We must not monopolize our comforts (see 2 Kings 7:9). "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
(f) "Behold, he goeth before you into Galilee." Angels are in the secret of the Lord.
2. It brings them into new relations with their Lord.
(1) He spiritually manifests himself to them. The women were highly honoured to be the first to whom the risen Lord appeared. That favour expressed the removal from the sex of its ancient reproach (cf. 1 Timothy 2:14).
(2) He speaks comfortable words to them. "All hail!" equivalent to "Rejoice ye!" Let joy triumph over fear. The risen Christ is his people's Joy. "All hail!" equivalent to "All health!" - spiritual and saving health to you!
(3) He affords sensible proofs of his love. "And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him." They were now sure it was no phantasm, but the very body of the real Jesus.
(4) He gives them his gracious commission: "Fear not; go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they see me." He went to Galilee to multiply his witnesses. The greater part of his disciples were Galilaeans. There it was probably that "he was seen of more than five hundred brethren" (cf. Acts 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:6).
(5) He calls his disciples his "brethren." Here for the first time we find him using this condescending and endearing appellation. The Resurrection, which declared him the Son of God with power, declared also all the sons of God to be his brethren. The spirit of the servant now gives place to that of the son. First we are "servants," then "friends" (see John 15:15), finally "brethren" (see Matthew 25:40; John 20:17).
(6) The Christian discipleship is now constituted into a sacred brotherhood. - J.A.M.
service. Here in our text the angel is no mere figure; he has something to do; he waits upon the rising Lord, rolls back the stone from the door, and sits upon it. Summarizing the work of the angels, it is said, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?"
I. THE RIGHEST DIGNITY IN THE OTHER WORLD. Angels are beings that belong to the other world; and if we can get to know about them, we get to know something of the occupations, interests, and sentiments of the other world. And this is the thing which the angels more especially teach us - in that other world their highest and noblest idea is "serving one another in love." There is one characteristic of the eternal state. It is even so characteristic as to seem to be the only characteristic worth mentioning - it is ministry. Heaven is heaven because every member can say, "I am among you as he that serveth." They learn this of Christ.
II. THE HIGHEST DIGNITY IN THIS WORLD. The angels illustrate it, and the Lord Jesus taught it. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant." Instances may be taken from the several ages, pre-Christian and Christian; and it may be shown that we never have an angel exhibiting himself or getting for himself; they are always doing two things - obeying and serving. Then show what an impression of the grandeur of angels we have. But what is our notion of them? Do we think of them as having extraordinary privileges? That is not their dignity. This is it - they have risen into the full joy of ministering. The circle is complete: God, Christ, the Spirit, beings of the other world, redeemed men and women in this world, are one in this - all are ministering. - R.T.
I. THERE IS A NEGATIVE AS WELL AS A POSITIVE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION. The positive evidence is in the appearance of Christ to his disciples; the negative evidence is in the empty tomb. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, men could have pointed to his sealed tomb, could even have torn it open and shown the corpse within. Why did none of the enemies of Jesus do this? No effort appears to have been made to take this simple means of confuting the preaching of the apostles. Yet it was manifestly in the interest of the Sadducean rulers of the Jews to have followed this course. But if the body of our Lord was not to be found, what had become of it? His enemies could have had no interest in hiding it - quite the contrary. M. Renan has suggested that Mary Magdalene carried the body away and hid it. Even if we can think the daring deed practically possible, psychologically it is impossible. Such an ugly fraud would certainly have been found out; for still the body would need to be disposed of. But in their despair none of the disciples were in the mood to invent a fiction of a resurrection. Their sudden transformation from despair to joy and confidence cannot be accounted for on the hypothesis of a fraud. The very lameness of this extraordinary theory, considered as the best that a great imaginative critic can devise, is a proof of the reality of the event he would fain find some means of explaining away.
II. CHRIST HAS RISEN IN THE FULNESS OF HIS POWER AND LIFE. It may seem to us of little moment that he should have brought his body out of the tomb. If he himself still lived, if his soul was still alive, could we not dispense with his body? Here we reason about a region of which we have no knowledge. We do not know how a disembodied spirit can act; we do not know what necessity there may be for some bodily instrument to enable it to communicate with other beings. It is enough to know the fact that Christ's full resurrection life was corporeal as well as spiritual. For us the important truth is that it was and is now a perfect, wakeful, and energetic life. Jesus is no dim shade flitting through the abodes of the dead; he is no sleeping soul like those of our blessed dead who, as some think, sleep in him awaiting their resurrection. He has risen into his perfect life. He is with us now, more truly living than during his earthly ministry.
III. CHRIST'S RESURRECTION IS A TYPE OF THE CHRISTIAN'S RESURRECTION. The physical circumstances must be different in the ease of other people whose bodies have long since mouldered to dust, perished by fire, melted away in the sea, or been devoured by wild beasts and cannibals. But the fact of a full and perfect life is what is alone important. Jesus, the firstfruits from the dead, is the promise of this life for his people. They who sleep in him will awake in his likeness. - W.F.A.
I. THINK OF GETHSEMANE. There is the conflict between flesh and spirit, between the shrinking from duty which involved suffering, and the obedience and trust of the Son. Just the kind of struggle carried on in our souls many a time since then. We may say, "That conflict was undertaken for me. It was a necessary part of the working out of salvation for me which the Lord Jesus undertook." But we may also say, "That conflict was mine. The fight between flesh and spirit was always ending in the mastery of the flesh, while I managed it myself. But I watch that great soul fight of Gethsemane with the holiest and intensest feeling, because it is mine. In Christ its Champion, humanity won liberty from the bondage of self, won the trust and the obedience of the Son.
II. THINK OF CALVARY. There the conflict was renewed. The first victory, which had been altogether one of the soul, of feeling, must be yet again proved in a conflict whose main clement should be bodily, physical suffering. Shame, weariness, pain, death agony, all tested the reality of the triumph that had been gained in Gethsemane. And here too we can see the representative character of our Redeemer's work. We have often thought that we had won a right state of mind and feeling; but we have gone forth to actual life and relations, and found that our soul victory failed to stand the actual testings of life. We may say, Jesus died on Calvary for me; a Sacrifice and Propitiation for my sins." We may also say, "That death on Calvary was mine. I could not make my soul victory stand the test of the worries and pains and trials of life. Jesus took up the matter for me, and on Calvary I see myself in him; my burden on him; my fight fought by him; and his victory is victory for me, - it is my victory."
III. THINK OF THE RESURRECTION. It may be said, "But Jesus died." It may seem as if his conflict ended in defeat. At Calvary we have no decided sign of victory. The disciples went away in hopelessness and tears. Can a word be spoken that shall relieve the darkness? We may find it in our text. Look at the burial place, and hear the angel say, "He is not here: for he is risen." And we may say, "That resurrection was mine. It is the seal of my triumph. I stand now in all the joy and strength of a victor. In Christ my foot is on self and sin and death. I can enter into the 'power of his resurrection.'" Are we then to expect freedom from temptation, deliverance from all the outward ills of life? Nay, not so. If I had said so, you would have smiled, as you remembered what cares worried, burdens pressed, and sins still humbled you. It is this - life, toil, suffering, look and are wholly different things when we realize Christ in us, we in Christ, and his victories involving ours in them. The resurrection of our Lord is the Divine acknowledgment of man's soul victory over sin - evil consequences; and over sin - evil power. Those who are united by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ enter daily into his triumph; it is repeated in them again and again; and day by day they are "more than conquerors through him that loved them." We often dwell on salvation from penalty. We should often realize that victory over sin and over self which is won for us by Christ. Too often we are satisfied with saying that we may have strength from Christ to wrestle with evil if we ask for it. But we ought to go on to say that we have the victory in having the risen and living Christ. Every form of evil Christ has met for us and beaten; that is, I, in Christ, have met and beaten. Sickness is a beaten foe; pain, loss, disappointment, suffering, are beaten foes; death itself is a beaten foe. And God has openly acknowledged man's soul victory in raising his Son Jesus Christ from the dead. - R.T.
1. Their forgetfulness of themselves.
2. Their reverence.
3. Their tenacity of purpose;" this is taken as being suggested by their act of holding him by the feet. Attention may also be fixed on the fact that the women were taken by surprise, and that revealed much concerning them.
I. THEIR ACT UNDER SURPRISE SHOWED THAT THEIR FEELINGS TOWARDS CHRIST WERE GENUINE. Men are constantly found out by being "taken at unawares." But a man who is thoroughly genuine never minds being "taken at unawares." These women were sincere. In an instant genuine feeling worthily responded to the Christ revelation.
II. THEIR ACT UNDER SURPRISE SHOWED THEIR EMOTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS. Notice particularly what they did under impulse. It was what women would do under such circumstances, not what men would do. Women get round to Jesus by the heart rather than by the head; but he accepts the worship of emotion as freely as the worship of intellect. Let woman serve Christ woman's way.
III. THEIR ACT UNDER SURPRISE NEEDED DIVINE CORRECTION. It was dangerously impulsive; it was unspiritual; it was a satisfaction in material presence; it lacked thought. - R.T.
I. THE WATCH WERE MOVED.
1. They were alarmed for their lives.
(1) By "the things that were come to pass." They had felt the shock of a "great earthquake." The stoutest heart will shake in the presence of a force that moves the foundations of the earth. To this terror was added the appearance of the angel whose form shone like lightning, while his raiment glittered as the snow. The effect was paralyzing. "For fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men" Who can abide amidst the wonderful visions and tremendous elemental uproar of that great day of the Lord, when in the glory of his majesty he shall arise to shake terribly the earth?
(2) By the fear of military discipline. They were responsible with their lives for the safe custody of the body of Jesus, and the security of the sealed stone. But the stone has been rolled away and the sepulchre is vacant. What are they to do? The ways of God are perplexing to the sinner.
(3) The soldiers tremble for their lives when they should have trembled for their sins. The death of the sinful is of all deaths the most terrible. Unhappily, this is too seldom and too partially seen.
2. They acted with the wisdom of the world.
(1) We have no proof that they deserted their post. Some of them went into the city to report to the elders the things that had come to pass. This probably they did by order of their captain, while the rest waited to receive their official discharge. The steady discipline of the Roman soldier has its lessons for the Christian soldier.
(2) They entered into the wicked plot of the elders. Covetousness conquered the Roman soldier. What a mass of evidence did he consent to set aside for a bribe! The mercenary tongue will sell the truth for money. Fear may have wrought with their covetousness. They might doubt whether the governor would believe the truth, or whether the rulers might not set up another plot against their fidelity. They elected to take the money and trust to the promise of the rulers to secure them against the terror of the military discipline.
(3) What a glorious opportunity did the soldiers miss of becoming honourable witnesses for Christ! But God made them his witnesses in spite of their unworthiness. He can make men efficient preachers of his gospel without giving to them a particle of the preacher's honour or reward.
II. THE ELDERS WERE MOVED.
1. The hypocrite is alarmed for his credit.
(1) The murderer would appear a saint. To free themselves of the guilt of the murder of Christ, the rulers had accused him of being a "deceiver" (see Matthew 27:63). But his resurrection from the dead is a triumphant refutation of that wicked defence.
(2) What will the elders do now that blood guiltiness is brought home to them? Will they, even at the eleventh hour, confess their hypocrisy and sue for mercy for their aggravated sin? Or will they at the peril of their damnation defend their credit and persist in their hypocrisy? How solemn are the resolutions of the will!
(3) They elect to persist in their impenitence. What a melancholy example of the power of unbelief! It often pleads want of evidence. Here is an instance of determined unbelief against admitted evidence. An evil, churlish heart will repel the clearest evidence. Note: The waywardness of unbelief prevents the Saviour from rising in our hearts.
2. But he vainly seeks to preserve it.
(1) His efforts may be desperately impudent. The elders deliberately resolved to oppose a lie to the living Truth. They give "large money" to the soldiers to encourage them to publish the lie. How deeply did they sin in thus casting a stumbling block in the way of the soldiers! They teach them to lie speciously. "By night," etc. But the war is toilsome which falsehood has to wage with truth. "If," etc. (ver. 14). Note: The "large money" is the sequel of the small money paid to Iscariot. Iniquity begets iniquity, and the descents are with an aggravating speed (see Psalm 69:27). If the wicked give "large money" to promote a lie, the good should not give small money grudgingly to propagate the saving truth.
(2) His confusion will be all the more signal.
(a) The disciples were not likely to attempt the stealing of the body. For had they thought Christ a deceiver, they would not have run any risk for him. Had they believed him the Messiah, they could have had no occasion or inducement. The pilgrimage of the women was one of devotion, to weep over the dead, and pour some fresh ointment over One whom they desired to preserve, but dreamt not of being able to restore. They were perplexed as to who should roll away the stone, being ignorant both of its being sealed and of the watch being set over it. They were not likely to be in any plot for the stealing of his body to trump up a story of his resurrection.
(b) The soldiers were not likely to have allowed the removal of the body. A watch of sixty armed men could not have been overpowered by a few terrified disciples. The whole watch could not have been asleep, and asleep so soundly as not to be awakened by the rolling away of a stone so large that a company of women despaired of moving it, and by the entrance into the sepulchre of a number of men, and their subsequent exit from it bearing the body. This is all the less likely to have occurred when it is remembered that, according to Roman military law, it was instant death that a guard should be found off their watch. And they were asleep, how did they know what happened?
(c) The elders pain fully felt the clumsiness of their story, else why did they not search the lodgings of the disciples for the body said to have been stolen by them? Were they likely to have been careful for the safety of the Roman soldiers unless they had some reason for it? Do not the words of Gamaliel (see Acts 5:38, 39) assume that the resurrection might be true? Could this argument have been pleaded in the council had the senators continued to maintain their story?
III. THE DISCIPLES WERE MOVED.
1. What is sorrow go the wicked is often joy to the good.
(1) While the soldiers went to the elders with the news of the Resurrection, to fill their faces with shame, the women went to the disciples with the same news, to fill their hearts with gladness. They were commissioned to gather the disciples to a particular mountain in Galilee, there to meet their risen Lord. The "names" in Jerusalem were "a hundred and twenty;" in Galilee the number was greater. This was probably the occasion upon which the Lord appeared to "above five hundred brethren" (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). Matthew passes by at least five different appearances of our Lord, and proceeds to speak of one which seems, from its previous appointment, to have been an occasion of peculiar solemnity and importance. His object evidently was to refute the tale respecting the stealing of the body.
(2) The fact of the Resurrection is eminently joyful, as it settles forever the Messiahship of Jesus, and with it the absolute truth of his teaching and the trustworthiness of his glorious promises.
2. Holy joy is deepened with the assurance of faith.
(1) When the disciples saw Jesus they worshipped him. Here was a recognition of his Divinity (cf. Matthew 18:26; Acts 10:28; Revelation 5; Revelation 6; Revelation 19:10). By accepting their worship Jesus acknowledged himself to be God. Christian worship is the adoration of Christ as "the true God and Eternal Life" (see 1 John 5:20, 21). To worship in truth is to serve in love.
(2) "Some doubted" They doubted that we may believe. For the disciples were the reverse of credulous men. They doubted transiently, viz. while Jesus was yet at a distance; but when he "came to them, and spake unto them," they doubted no more (cf. per. 18; Luke 24:37; John 20:24). Doubts may transiently trouble the sincere worshipper, but in due time Jesus will come nearer and blessedly manifest himself (see John 16:21). The wickedly obstinate will not believe, though they see (see John 9:41). - J.A.M.
I. THIS EXCUSE DECEIVED NOBODY.
1. It did not deceive the watchmen; they must have laughed as they looked into the anxious faces of these officials, and pocketed their hush money.
2. It did not deceive the priest party. They knew perfectly well that it was all their own invention, and never a disciple had touched the body.
3. It did not deceive Pilate, to whom the report was sure to come. He enjoyed the confusion of the men who had mastered him and compelled him to do a wrong.
4. It did not deceive the disciples. For they bad absolutely silent consciences, and the idea of stealing the body had never come to them.
5. It does not deceive us; for we can see that making such a lying excuse is just what the priest party was capable of; but stealing the body is just what the disciples were incapable of.
II. THIS EXCUSE DID NOT HELP THOSE WHO MADE IT. It did not touch the fact that the body was gone. It did not prevent the circulation of the report that Jesus was risen from the dead. These men spent their money for nothing, and only made themselves laughing stocks.
III. THIS EXCUSE DID HELP THOSE AGAINST WHOM IT WAS MADE. It drew attention to the disciples; it set men upon inquiring what had really happened; it made the fact of miraculous resurrection stand out all the more clearly. - R.T.
I. THERE MUST BE MUCH MYSTERY IN RELIGION. It reaches out beyond our everyday experience, and deals with things of God and the unseen world, and therefore we should be prepared to see the clouds gathering over many of its difficult regions. If we look for a mathematical demonstration or a scientific verification of the facts and doctrines of our faith, we shall often be disappointed. At present, in this world of partial lights, such things are not always to be had on demand. Religion belongs to the region of practical life. If we have enough evidence for a reasonable conviction, this is all that we really need. Absolute freedom from all questions we cannot have; nor do we need it; we are disciplined by our mental difficulties.
II. THERE ARE DIFFICULTIES WHICH OUR OWN IGNORANCE WILL ACCOUNT FOR. We do not know why "some doubted." Was our Lord's appearance greatly altered? We cannot for a moment imagine that some one else was personating the dead Christ. The very fact that some who saw him doubted about him shows that even the more sceptical Christians did see the risen Christ. But how mysterious are these vague Hints! They just show that we have not yet full light. In the twilight there are many obscurities.
III. IT IS OUR DUTY TO EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE OF THE RESURRECTION. Too often doubt feeds on itself. Some people devour sceptical books, but they have not patience to examine the other side. They give a large welcome to doubts of all kinds, thinking his conduct fair and generous and liberal-minded; but they are very grudging of receiving what is urged in favour of Christian truth. Then there are those who are too careless to think at all seriously. They catch the floating doubts and play with them indolently - no more. Others are earnest in the pursuit of truth. These people would to well to consider the cumulative evidence for the resurrection of Christ.
1. There is the alternative - What became of his body if he did not rise?
2. How could men who had despaired suddenly wake up to a great confidence if no resurrection had occurred to revive their faith?
3. If one or two hysterical fanatics might have fancied they had seen a flitting ghost in the twilight, is that a reason for believing that a dozen men could have had a similar hallucination - not to mention the five hundred to whom St. Paul refers - many of whom he knew to be alive in his own day? St. Paul's undoubted Epistle to the Corinthians sums up the evidence with great force.
IV. FAITH IN THE RESURRECTION IS LARGELY DEPENDENT ON OUR IDEA OF CHRIST. This is not merely a question of an historical fact. The resurrection of Christ is not to be compared with the fabled resurrection of Nero. We have first to learn who Christ was. The unique nature of Christ, seen in his earthly life, prepares us to believe in his resurrection. It is not merely a resurrection; it is the resurrection of Christ that we are to see, as the crowning of his wonderful life on earth. - W.F.A.
I. ITS SOURCE. The authority and commandment of Christ.
1. The authority of Christ. Jesus speaks these words after his resurrection. He is now to be exalted to the right hand of God. But his exaltation is not to a place of idle honours. It is to a throne of power. The authority which he has won by his triumph over sin and death he will now use in conquering the world.
(1) This is authority in heaven; therefore it will involve heavenly blessings - pardon, regeneration, eternal life.
(2) It is also on earth; therefore it will bring numberless blessings, and will help men here and now
2. The command of Christ. He uses his authority by commissioning his disciples to preach his gospel. The first claim of missionary work does not come from the misery and need of the heathen; it does not come from the blessings of the gospel, which it would be so well for all to share in; though here are two powerful motives. It springs from the direct command of Christ. The Church that neglects missions is disregarding the express orders of her Lord.
II. ITS OBJECT.
1. To go. The disciples are to become apostles; Christians are to be missionaries. When it is possible, the Church is to spread abroad. We are not to wait for the world to come to Christ; we are to go out into the world to preach Christ. Christianity must be aggressive, and Christians must be active in carrying the gospel to all who, have not yet received it.
2. To make disciples. It is not enough to live among the heat, hen. Many do this for purely selfish reasons. The gospel is spread by teaching. There is a teaching of great power in the true living of a Christian life. But we must add definite instruction in the truths of our faith. The kingdom of heaven rests on truth, it finds its way best through the making known of its facts and principles. It does not dread the light; it welcomes it and spreads it. Evangelistic appeals in which there is no teaching, unless they follow on good sober instruction, must vanish in the smoke of shapeless emotions.
3. To baptize. Not merely is the truth to be preached; Christ requires a confession of discipleship. He expects his people to be bound together in Church fellowship. The great central revelation about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is to be the foundation of our teaching and the bond of our union. This does not mean that we must comprehend the Trinity; it means that we must know the Fatherhood of God, the Divinity and saving power of Christ, and the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit.
4. To discipline. "Teaching them to observe," etc. Mission converts must be taught the will and commandments. of Christ - trained in Christian ethics.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. The living presence of Christ. We do not preach a dead or an absent Christ. We have not only to do with the Jesus of ancient history. The living Christ is with us. But that is not all. It is a mistake to detach this verse from the preceding verse, as is often the case in popular discourse. Christ is with us in our missionary work. We have no right to expect the encouragement of his presence if we do not fulfil the condition he lays down. The missionary Church is the Church that has most of Christ. The power and inspiration of missionary work is his presence in our midst.
2. The abiding presence of Christ. He is with his people in their missionary work to the end of the world.
(1) Then missionary work is to be continuous.
(2) Then Christ is with us now in this work as truly as he was with the apostles. We cannot fail with such a presence. We are to preach to all nations, and in the end all nations will be won, and "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." - W.F.A.
1 Corinthians 15:6). "Some" of this number - some of those who had not seen him, like Thomas - "doubted" of the reality of the Resurrection, until they were convinced by the evidence of sense. In the words he addressed to them we have:
1. The commission he received from God.
2. The commission he gave to his disciples.
3. The promise of his presence with them. The commission to the disciples includes three particulars:
(1) The universal publication of the gospel.
(2) The baptizing of such as should embrace it.
(3) Their instruction in its doctrines and precepts. We shall now direct particular attention to two points, viz. -
I. CONSIDER BAPTISM AS A SIGN OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. This is evinced in its history.
(1) The Israelites were recognized as disciples of Moses when they were baptized "in the cloud and in the sea" (see 1 Corinthians 1:2). From that period, amidst all their rebellions, they never called in question the Divinity of his mission. In this baptism also they were separated from the abominations of the Egyptians, and initiated into the pure precepts and blessed promises delivered to them by the hand of Moses.
(3) Jesus made disciples by baptism after John was cast into prison (see John 4:1).
(4) Baptism is clearly made a sign of Christian discipleship in the terms of the commission. The Greek term here translated "teach" differs from that afterwards rendered "teaching," and literally signifies "to disciple," and is accordingly in the margin construed "make disciples" or "Christians" of all nations (cf. Acts 11:26). "Make disciples" is the reading of our New Version in the text.
2. Persons are baptized in order to being taught.
(1) This follows from what has been advanced. A disciple is simply a learner. Men are not baptized because they are instructed, though a preliminary instruction may be necessary. The Church, to which baptism introduces us, is a school in which the sons of God are educated for heaven. This discipleship continues to the end of life.
(2) The commission sets forth the subjects of our learning. "Teaching theme" etc. (ver. 20). The teaching is doctrinal and practical also. Life lessons in all good senses.
(3) Since Christian teaching is to follow baptism rather than to precede it, and since holy teaching cannot be begun too early, there is great propriety in the baptism of infants. Preliminary confession of faith is necessary for adults who have errors to renounce, but infants are happily not in this evil case.
(4) Hence because baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of God's covenant, baptism is called "the circumcision of Christ," i.e. of Christianity (see Colossians 2:11, 12). If baptism be not regarded as taking the place of circumcision, then the covenant has now no initiatory rite. The Lord's Supper is not initiatory, but of regular habitual observance, as the Passover formerly was.
II. CONSIDER THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH OF THE BAPTIZED.
1. It is a unity.
(1) Disciples are all baptized into one faith: "Into the Name," etc. The discipleship of the faith. Whatever diversity there may be in non-essentials, there must be unity in cardinals (see Ephesians 4:5).
(2) The baptized constitute one mystical body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13; Galatians 3:27, 28; Ephesians 4:5, 6). Hence schism is represented as a setting up of human names in competition with the one great Name (see 1 Corinthians 1:12-15).
(3) Love is the badge of Christian discipleship (see John 13:34, 35).
2. It is catholic.
(1) The commission to baptize overarches ethnic distinctions. "All nations." This may have been at first understood to refer to the Jews, wherever dispersed among the nations; but it was soon taken in the wider meaning (see Galatians 3:27, 28). We are Christians first, then Britons, or Franks, or Germans.
(2) It connects heaven and earth. "All power," etc.; "therefore," etc. (see Ephesians 3:14, 15).
"One family we dwell in him, (3) It extends throughout the ages. It is not strictly correct to speak of the patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian Churches. The Church of God is one under the successive dispensations so distinguished (see Galatians 3:16, 29). We are grafted into the olive that grew in Abraham's garden. 3. It has visible and invisible parts. (1) There is no visible Catholic Church. We find no Scripture warrant for the idea. It would necessitate a division in the unity of the Church. It would introduce the monstrosity of two bodies to the one Head. (2) The major part of the one Church is the invisible part. Disembodied saints from all the ages are in it. Hence it takes its name from its headquarters in heaven (see Hebrews 12:23). The spiritual members of it here on earth are the permanent members from amongst those thai are visible (see Romans 2:28, 29). But they cannot be certainly known until the judgment. (3) The Church of the baptized is a very noble corporation. It is a great honour to be connected with it. To be permanently so connected, we must have vital union with Christ. (4) This is that Church so built by a true faith in the Son of God, that the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). For the weeding out of the tares, at death, is a benefit, not an injury to it. The dissolution of the body does not for an instant interrupt the life of faith in Christ (see John 11:26). - J.A.M.
(3) It extends throughout the ages. It is not strictly correct to speak of the patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian Churches. The Church of God is one under the successive dispensations so distinguished (see Galatians 3:16, 29). We are grafted into the olive that grew in Abraham's garden.
3. It has visible and invisible parts.
(1) There is no visible Catholic Church. We find no Scripture warrant for the idea. It would necessitate a division in the unity of the Church. It would introduce the monstrosity of two bodies to the one Head.
(2) The major part of the one Church is the invisible part. Disembodied saints from all the ages are in it. Hence it takes its name from its headquarters in heaven (see Hebrews 12:23). The spiritual members of it here on earth are the permanent members from amongst those thai are visible (see Romans 2:28, 29). But they cannot be certainly known until the judgment.
(3) The Church of the baptized is a very noble corporation. It is a great honour to be connected with it. To be permanently so connected, we must have vital union with Christ.
(4) This is that Church so built by a true faith in the Son of God, that the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). For the weeding out of the tares, at death, is a benefit, not an injury to it. The dissolution of the body does not for an instant interrupt the life of faith in Christ (see John 11:26). - J.A.M.
I. No one of us needs proofs of the fact of our Lord's resurrection from the dead. Yet that resurrection remains an unsolved mystery. No one can explain it, but we inquire concerning its significance. One point only now engages our attention. Everybody who dies lives after death. Our dead friends are not dead. We never think of them as dead. They are dead in the sense of ceasing to respond to their present environment, but they are not passed out of existence. Moses and Elias passed away from mortal scenes ages before, but they spake with Jesus in the holy mount. What is true of man is also true of the Divine Man. If never a word had been spoken about his resurrection, we should have known that Jesus lived after and beyond death. That cross could not end Jesus; it only liberated a human spirit. Have we learned the lesson which our Lord almost in vain. tried to teach Martha? She cried, in her blinding agony, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." He answered, "Thy brother shall rise again." She misunderstood his reply, and away went her thoughts, coursing down the ages, until they came up against a great resurrection and judgment day. We need not so misunderstand our Lord. He did but wrap up his meaning in the usual figurative fashion. What he said was this, "Lazarus lives; is living now. What you really want, is not requickening of life, but restored relations of the living Lazarus to the body of Lazarus."
II. There is a marked difference between our Lord's living after death, and everybody else's living after death. When a man dies his life work is done. He lives, but he cannot carry on his work. Moses dies on Mount Nebo; nay, Moses lives; but he cannot carry on his work, and lead Israel through into the Promised Land. The artist is visited by the angel of death with the half-finished picture on his easel. The artist lives, but he cannot perfect the picture. Charles Dickens died with his work 'Edwin Drood' half written, and the plot undisclosed. Sir Edgar Boehm was caught away from his studio with the part-moulded statue before him. They live, but they cannot touch and finish their incomplete work. If the dead are active in some unknown sphere, they are certainly dormant in relation to all their earth work. For them death ends all enterprise. But it was not so with Christ. Death did not end all. His redemptive mission was not closed with his death. He resumed his earth work. After death he took it up again. Call it a picture, Jesus worked again at the picture. Call it a book, Jesus wrote on at the book. Call it the redemption of man from sin. Call it the sanctification of men unto righteousness. Jesus, living after death, goes on redeeming, goes on sanctifying. And the full convincement of this fact is the real meaning and purpose of our Lord's resurrection. It was forty days of showing us that he was at work again; of helping us to realize what his work was, and what his work would be forever. Our dead Lord is not only alive, he is active in relation to his lifework. "Alive forevermore;" his power is thus symbolized, "He has the keys of hell and of death."
III. The text declares the renewal of our Lord's commission. All power is given into the hands of Christ, but the only power Christ knows of or cares for is spiritual power. What the world calls "power" was to Christ illusion, mockery, play. To be Earth-King of humanity presented no attraction to him. The power given to Christ is the spiritual power, for which alone he cared. It is power on the souls that we are, and not mere power over the bodies that we have, and the relations that our bodies can sustain.
IV. How did Jesus come to have this spiritual power? It is easy to say that God gave it to him; but there must be some good reason why God gave it to him, and to no one but him. And it seems that God's giving was really this - sealing to him the power which Jesus himself had won; and putting Jesus in the place or office where his power could have free, full exercise. Christ's life on the earth was the moral discipline, the varied testing, the range of experiences, which prepared him for the trust of power to save which he now holds. Moral forces on moral beings are gained only through moral experiences. He who would save man must be man, must know man, must go at least a representative round of human experiences. - R.T.
2 Corinthians 13:14) is in itself a proof at once of the distinctness and equality of the three Divine Persons." The apostles were to go forth, and disciple all nations, that is, bring them all into the full joy of sonship with God, into which they had themselves been brought; and they were to receive their pledge and seal their sonship by baptizing them into the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The significance of the threefold Name is seen in the light of this recovered sonship of men.
I. THE NAME OF THE FATHER, WHO CLAIMS THE SONSHIP. It is the relation to himself in which God set his creatures. They are his children. He designed to give them fatherly care; he expected from them sonlike obedience. Men are sons of God, and they ought to have lived and served like sons. Man's sin lay in refusing his sonship. But man's wilfulness could not affect God's claim. God still demands sonship of every child born in his image.
II. THE NAME OF THE SON, WHO SHOWS THE SONSHIP. In his own earth life of trust and obedience. Men who, in their wilfulness, refused their sonship, came at last to lose their sense of sonship; they needed to have the very idea recovered; they needed to see it as an actual realized fact, and that is the meaning of Christ's living through a Son's life here on earth.
III. THE NAME OF THE HOLY GHOST, WHO WORKS THE SONSHIP. For the sonship must not he a mere external fact, a formal ordering of the conduct and relations. True sonship is a cherished spirit, which finds expression in outward relations. And the Holy Ghost is God working within us, in the spheres of thought, Of motive, and of feeling. He ever freshly inspired the spirit of sonship. One Name - God who asks response in sonship. - R.T.
see him who is thus "with us always." What, then, is seeing the living Christ?
I. THE WORLD'S WAY OF SEEING CHRIST. The "world" is our Lord's term for men who are outside his special renewal, who are left to the guidance of the senses and the mind in their "feeling after God, if haply they might find him." The man in Christ is the man to whom God is the inspiration and the life. The man of the world is the man who is satisfied to be his own inspiration and his own life. The "world" represents such a seeing of Christ as is possible to the senses; and even to the senses God "manifest in the flesh" has been shown. The "world," on its own terms, and in its own ways, has seen the Christ. He has been looked upon, handled, and listened to. He has made his impressions on lawyer and Pharisee, Sadducee and scribe, priest and princely governor, as well as on the common people. The senses could see Christ, but they could not see much. And so to the "world," Christ is really lost, gone away. "He is not," says the world; "for I cannot see him." And with this it thinks to settle the question. But exactly what we have to contend with is the world's incapacity to see the unseen. It is not best to have our Lord in the sphere of our senses. Once having had, for a while, the sense manifestation of Christ, it is better, every way better, that the sense limits should be removed. Want we want now, and what we have, is an "unlocalized, invisible, spiritually present, everywhere-present Saviour."
II. THE DISCIPLES' WAY OF SEEING CHRIST. For their good, their Master often puzzled those disciples. As they sat at table with him in the upper room, they were in a most bewildered state of mind. They could not get at their Lord's meaning. He was going away. He was coming again. He was going away in order that he might come again. Others would not be able to see him, but they would be able. Perhaps they lighted on this explanation. He means that the memory of his life and character, and the influence of his wise teachings, will abide with us, and that will be, in some sense, like having him present with us. And that would be a wonderful advance on the "world's" way of seeing Christ. And yet even that way is too limited. For those first disciples it put Christ into the limits of their personal knowledge and experience of him, and that could not have been his meaning when he said, "But ye see me." For us it limits the apprehension of Christ to the Gospel records. He would have us reach something altogether higher than that. He himself is "with us all the days."
III. CHRIST'S WAY OF SHOWING HIMSELF TO US. Jesus, in the upper room, talked much to his disciples about the Spirit. They could not at first think of their Lord as Spirit, because they had him with them in the flesh. But he tried to make them feel that this Spirit would do for them permanently just what he had done for them temporarily. He would comfort them, watch over them, teach them, sanctify them. And at last he ventured to say, "When your eyes are fully opened, you will see that the Comforter, who 'abides with you alway,' will really be me come back to you again." "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." It is as if he had said," I pass from the region of bodily senses. I shall not be only a mental memory. To the opened, trusting, loving heart I shall come, to be the spirit and life of his spirit; to be a new and nobler self in him." In their measure the great apostles seem to have caught their Lord's meaning. St. Peter, standing beside the sick AEneas, spoke as if he actually saw the Lord there present, and said, "AEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole." St. John seems to be always with Christ. You never see him but you seem to see also his Master. You never listen to a word from his lips, or read a word from his pen, but you feel that, behind the words, is the inspiration of the Master himself. St. Paul seems to gain a twofold sight of the ever-present Christ. Sometimes he sees himself, as it were, ensphered in Christ: "I knew a man in Christ. Sometimes he realizes Christ as a mysterious other One, Divine One, who dwells within us. He speaks of Christ in us," and says, with the most surprising spiritual insight, "I live: yet not I; Christ liveth in me." Christ is with us all the days, and we may know that he is; we may even see him. - R.T.