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 Lord appears to the apostles as they were gathered together on the evening of the first Easter Day.
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. "See," he says, inviting the terror-stricken disciples to a calm, unaffrighted contemplation—"see my hands and my feet pierced with the nails which fastened them to the cross; it is I myself. " Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have . The first words quietly told the awe-struck ones to look closely at him, and to ascertain from the dread marks he bore that what they looked upon was Jesus their Master. Then he proceeded to bid them touch him, handle him, and so assure themselves that it was no phantom, no bodiless spirit, that stood before them. These words of the Lord, and the invitation, "handle me, and see," made the deepest impression on the hearers. These, then, were proofs of the Resurrection that admitted of no shadow of doubt. These words, this sight, changed their lives. What cared they afterwards for men and men's threatenings? Death, life, to them were all one. They had seen the Lord, they had handled with their hands "that which was flora the beginning" (see 1 John 1:1 ). Browning forcibly puts this thought which so influenced the first great teachers. The dying St. John is dwelling on the thought that when he is gone there will be none left with men who saw and touched the Lord.
"If I live yet, it is for good, more love
Through me to men: be nought but ashes here
That keep awhile my semblance, who was John.
Still, when they seater, there is left on earth
No one alive who knew (consider this!),
Saw with his eyes, and handled with his hands,
That which was from the first, the Word of life.
How will it be when none more saith, 'I saw'?"
('A Death in the Desert.')
Christ and his Church.
I. THE CHURCH . It is found in miniature in the upper room—"The eleven, and them that were with them."
1 . Its separation. It is isolated from the outer world. A new bond, a new manner, of union is already realized. It is not of the world, as Christ himself was not. There is a door shut between the little flock and the Jews. A supreme attraction to him whom the world sees not, an affiance of soul of which the world knows not, unites the company, and, in thus uniting, separates it. It has a secret with which the world does not intermeddle.
2 . Its unity.
II. CHRIST . He had promised, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." Behold the fulfilment and the way of the fulfilment of this promise. Behold him present in his Church.
1 . The sovereignty of the presence. On a sudden he stands in the midst. They are not expecting him. He comes through barred doors. It is the day of his power. Christ prescribes means; he ordains channels of grace; and, where there is the obedience of faith in the use of the means, there is blessing. "Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them." But in all that speaks of spiritual life, there is the witness for a spiritual sovereignty, for reserves of power in the hands of the Lord himself. The new birth is a secret and a surprise ( John 3:7 , John 3:8 ).
2 . It is the personal Jesus who is present to bless— " Jesus himself. " (Verse 86.) Above and beyond the mere teaching and fellowship, there is the Lord. Christianity is Christ. The full blessing, that which wholly fills the soul, is himself in felt relation with each self. "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made to us Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption" ( 1 Corinthians 1:30 ).
3 . The announcement of the presence is peace. ( Luke 24:36 .) One of the last words before he suffered was "peace." It was the legacy of the dying Saviour. The salutation of the risen Saviour is, "Peace to you!"—the customary salutation transformed and glorified. His immanence in the Church is evidenced by the breathing of peace over human souls. "Peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ;" "The peace of God which passeth all understanding."
4 . The complete benediction of the presence.
Sense and spirit: the Resurrection.
The story of the Resurrection in its relation to the disciples of our Lord suggests to us thoughts concerning—
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 ( Luke 24:33 ). 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," Luke 24:39 ), 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.
Infallible proofs and inevitable partings.
The Emmaus pilgrims have hardly entered the upper room and reported their interview with Jesus, receiving the intelligence that perplexed Peter has got his perplexity resolved, when, notwithstanding that the doors are barred for fear of the Jews, the Risen One appears in the midst of them, and says, "Peace be unto you!" They are at first terrified at such an advent, seeing that it sets aside the ordinary laws of matter, and shows all precaution unavailing when Jesus is determined to get in. But he soon disabuses their minds and dismisses their troubles. Although he can get through barred doors, he is not a disembodied spirit, but a Person with flesh and bones. This he proceeds to demonstrate to their sense-perceptions. Having given them infallible proofs, he next proceeds to expound the Scriptures in detail to them, just as he had done on the way to Emmaus. On these sure foundations he bases their faith, and sends them forth, commissioned to preach repentance and remission of sins. He concludes his interview with the promise of the Father, for which they were to wait at Jerusalem after his visible ascension. And so he is carried up to heaven from Bethany, and the disciples return to wait at Jerusalem in joy until they receive power from on high. And here we have to notice—
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.