THE RESURRECTION . All the four evangelists give an account of the Resurrection. None of the four, however, attempt to give a history of it simply from a human point of sight. Each Gospel probably reproduces the special points dwelt on in certain great centres of Christian teaching, in what we should now term different schools of thought. (Attempts have been made by theological scholars to classify these as Jewish, Gentile, Greek, Roman; but only with indifferent success).
The teaching which St. Matthew's Gospel represents, evidently in the Resurrection preaching dwelt with peculiar insistence on the great Galilaean appearance of the Risen. St. Luke confines himself exclusively to the appearance, in Judaea. St. John chooses for his Resurrection instruction scenes which had for their theatre both Galilee and Judaea. St. John, as his central or most detailed piece of teaching, dwells on a fishing scene on Gennesaret, the actors being the well-known inner circle of the apostles. While St. Luke chooses for his detailed Resurrection narrative a high-road in a Jerusalem suburb; and for actors, two devoted, but historically unknown, disciples.
Then there is no question of discrepancies in this portion of the great history. It is not easy to frame a perfectly satisfactory harmony of all the events related by the four, after the Lord had risen; for, in fact, we possess no detailed account or history of what took place in that eventful period in presence of the disciples. We simply have memoranda of eye-witnesses of certain incidents connected with the Resurrection selected by the great first teachers as specially adapted to their own preaching and instruction.
The events of the first Easter Day have Been tabulated by Professor Westcott, in what he terms a provisional arrangement, as follows:—
Very early on Sunday
The Resurrection, followed by the earthquake, the descent of the angel, the opening of the tomb ( Matthew 28:2-4 ).
Mary Magdalene, Mary the [mother] of James and Salome, probably with others, start for the sepulchre in the twilight. Mary Magdalene goes before the others, and returns at once to Peter and John ( John 20:1 , etc.),
John 5:30 a.m.
Her companions reach the sepulchre when the sun had risen ( Mark 16:2 ). A vision of an angel. Message to the disciples.
Another party, among whom is Joanna, come a little later, but still in the early morning. A vision of "two young men." Words of comfort and instruction ( Luke 24:4 , etc.).
John 6:30 a.m.
The visit of Peter and John ( John 20:3-10 ). A vision of two angels to Mary Magdalene ( John 20:11 - 13). About the same time the company of women carry their tidings to the apostles ( Luke 24:10 , etc.).
The Lord reveals himself to Mary Magdalene. Not long after he reveals him self, as it appears, to the company of women who are returning to the sepulchre. Charge to the brethren to go to Galilee ( Matthew 28:9 , etc.).
The appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus.
After 4 p.m.
An appearance to St. Peter.
The appearance to the eleven and others.
In the above table one point must be specially noticed: two companies or separate groups of women are mentioned as going to the sepulchre with the same pious object of assisting in the final embalming of the sacred body.
If this be assumed to be the fact, there will be nothing improbable in the supposition that both these groups of women, all doubtless intimate friends belonging to the little company of the Master, but living probably some distance apart in Jerusalem, came together some time on the sabbath day, and then arranged to meet early on the first day at the sepulchre. Probably the spices purchased in some haste just before the sabbath commenced were judged inadequate.
In considering the accounts of the Resurrection, the following memoranda will be found suggestive:—
(a) at different hours of the day;
(b) in different localities—in Judaea, in Galilee, in rooms of houses, in the open air.
The R esurrection. At the sepulchre.
Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them . In the foregoing general note on the Resurrection, the probability has been discussed of the holy women having been divided into two companies who separately came to the sepulchre. St. Luke's notice here refers to the party who arrived the second at the tomb.
Who are the witnesses to the Resurrection? What is the evidence on which it was believed by the first disciples?—on which it is received by all Christians still?
I. THE WITNESSES ARE THE HOLY WOMEN AND THE APOSTLES . It is ( Luke 24:1 ) the very early morning: "while it was yet dark," says St. John; "as the day began to dawn," says St. Matthew; "at the rising of the sun," says St. Mark. Then the women hasten towards the sepulchre. How many formed the company, or, as seems to be implied, the two companies, of women we know not. The names of five are given, and the rest are grouped under the phrases, the "others that were with them," and "the others from Galilee." They quickly pass through the silent streets. Jerusalem is still asleep; neither memory of what had happened, nor fear of what might happen, has disturbed its repose. They have only one care (verse 1)—the complete embalming of the body which had been hastily laid in the rock-hewn sepulchre of Joseph. There is no idea beyond this; there is no hope even against hope that, on this the third day, he would rise again. With the eagerness characteristic of woman's nature, they proceed, the question never suggesting itself until they near the tomb, "Who shall roll away the stone from the mouth of the cave?" It would seem that they did not know of the guard which had been commanded to watch or of the sealing of the stone, for that had been done on the sabbath morning; but some of them had observed the setting of the stone—a block three or four feet in height, and two or three in breadth, requiring several men to move it. "How shall it be moved? how shall we find an entrance?" is the question before them as they press towards the holy place. Now, what are the facts? In the dawn, half-clear and half-dark, as the east begins to lighten, Mary of Magdala, the foremost of the company, sees the cave standing wide open—the stone having been rolled aside. Horror-struck, she turns to her companions, and, yielding to the moment's impulse, she speeds back to the city to communicate her fears to Peter and John ( John 20:1 , John 20:2 ). In the mean time, her companions venture forward. Timidly they enter the tomb, or the vestibule of the tomb, to search for the body. Lo , there ( Matthew 28:2 , Matthew 28:3 ), on the stone which had been pushed into a corner, sits one "whose countenance is like lightning, and his raiment white as snow," and prostrate on the ground are the Roman sentries. The women start., but the assuring word, "Fear not ye," is spoken, and the invitation ( Matthew 28:6 ) is given to "come and see the place where the Lord lay." Yes, guardians, and only guardians, are these—one where the head, another where the feet, of Jesus had been—token of the complete, protecting care of his Father. And these guardians ask (verses 5-7), "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" and repeat the testimony, "He is not here: he is risen," bidding them remember his own words, and bear the news of the Resurrection to the sorrowing company. It is with fear and great joy that they depart, running to bring the disciples word. They encounter scepticism. Their hot, eager sentences (verse 11) seem to the apostles "as idle tales, and they believe them not." Peter and John, however, have already obeyed the importunate pleading of Mary. And there, to be sure, as they reach the sepulchre, is the open door. John, who is first, looks in without entering; Peter, coming up, enters at once. "John," observes Matthew Henry, "could outrun Peter, but Peter could out-dare John." Undoubtedly the tomb is empty. Examining it, they discover (verse 12) the linen clothes laid by themselves; and the napkin which had surrounded the head laid by itself. There had been no haste. Not thus would any have acted who had borne away the sacred form. Peter, after minute examination of the surroundings, "departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass." John, with the quick intuition of love, not only wondered, but believed—felt sure that these grave-clothes were the sign of a victory. Such is the account of that ever-memorable morning. The arrangement of its events may not be absolutely accurate; in the ignorance of all that occurred, it is impossible to supply every link in the chain of narrative. The evangelists are so filled with the one reality, "He is risen," that they are not careful as to the minutiae of the circumstances. On the Resurrection, as personal, as real, the structure of Christian life and doctrine is reared. By the effect of the Resurrection the apostles were transformed. The foolish and slow-hearted fishermen of the past became the princes of a new and heavenly kingdom. "With great power they gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all."
II. But WITHOUT FURTHER DWELLING ON THE EVIDENCES OF THE RESURRECTION AS AN HISTORICAL FACT , CONSIDER IT AS A MIGHTY SPIRITUAL FORCE . Consider what the apostle calls "the power of the Resurrection." What is the central truth of the forty days between the Resurrection and Ascension? Study the brief account of these forty days, and you see at once a change in the manner and conditions of the revelation of Christ. shows himself only to chosen witnesses. St. Mark says that he appeared to the disciples "in another form." The eyes of the disciples are declared to be so held (verse 16) that they do not know him. It is the same Jesus, but much is altered. "He came and he went as he pleased; material substances such as the fastened doors were no impediment to his coming; when he was present his disciples did not, as a matter of course, know him." These forty days were what the sunrise is to the day; they were the beginning of the relation in which he stands to his Church now. All his self-revelations are pictures of the way and truth of his presence as we are called to realize it. Men had seen him without knowing him; now they know him without seeing him. We behold him, as Newman has finely said, "passing from his hiding-place of sight without knowledge to that of knowledge without sight." As a transition-time, giving us intimations of the glory in which he is abiding and of the grace in which he is dealing with us, regard the period that was ushered in by the early morning of the first day of the week. It was a great day. Four appearances are noted. The first ( John 20:1-31 .), to Mary of Magdala, followed or preceded, perhaps, by an appearance to the other women ( Matthew 23:1-39 .); the second (verses 13-35), to the two brethren journeying to Emmaus; the third, to bimon Peter (verse 35); and the fourth ( John 20:19-23 ), to the disciples assembled at night when the doors were shut for fear of the Jews. Each of these appearances is significant. St, Luke relates the second. One remark only as to Mary of Magdala. Renan has asserted that the glory of the Resurrection belongs to her; that, "after Jesus, it is Mary who has done the most to the founding of Christianity." There can be nothing more contrary to the explicit statements of the evangelists than much that is contained in the brilliant French man's statement. But the message of Mary is indeed the basis of the faith of the Church, the basis of the faith of humanity. "If Christ is not risen, our hope is vain; we are yet in our sins." And the commandment which sent her to the disciples is the inspiration of all Christian hearts. "Go, tell my brethren." Tell the message of the risen Lord in the light with which the countenance is irradiated; tell it in the glad obedience by which the life is sanctified; tell it through all that you do and are; tell—let your teaching cease only with your breathing—that Christ has risen, that the imprisoning stone has been rolled away, and the kingdom of heaven is open to all believers, its gates being closed neither by day nor by night, for there is no night there.
Side-lights from the Resurrection.
The simple, unpretending story of the Resurrection, as here narrated, brings into view other truths than that great and supreme fact of the rising of our Lord. We have our attention called to—
I. THE CONSTANCY AND THE EAGERNESS OF TRUE AFFECTION , ( Luke 24:1 .) 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 (verse 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 (verses 4-7). Peter, too, found himself the subject of a great astonishment (verse 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 . (Verse 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 (verse 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.
The Resurrection discovered.
When the women and the other mourners left the Lord's tomb on the evening of the Crucifixion, it was with the intention, after the sabbath was past, of completing the embalmment. This office of love seems to have been left largely to the women; for it is they who make their way, in the early morning of the first day of the week, to the sepulchre. They seem to have had no knowledge, for they had no apprehension, of the Roman guard, which was manifestly placed at the sepulchre on the Jewish sabbath, when the disciples and the women were keeping the sad day in strictest privacy. Their one apprehension was how to roll away the stone; but, like so many apprehended difficulties, it was found to vanish away—some hands stronger than women's had been before them and had rolled away the stone, and left them no difficulty in 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 . (Verses 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 . (Verses 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 . (Verses 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 " (verse 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 , Matthew 28:10 ). 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 . (Verse 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 . (Verse 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. verse 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.