Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
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.The Easter Message
Luke 24:2 (with Mark 16:3-4)
Very remarkable that none of the Evangelists attempt to describe the Resurrection itself. They tell us all the details on either side of the stupendous fact—but it they leave all untold. Just where you might have expected mythical books to have gone off into rhapsodical accounts they are utterly silent. He rose in the early dawn of that morning, but when or how is all untold. Certainly if they are legend writers they are the strangest legend writers the world ever saw. Such a subject would have been too tempting for anybody who was not an honest historian.
The accumulated details of that early morning are very striking and helpful. They are exactly what we might expect of eye-witnesses. Even their apparent discrepancies are proofs of their truthfulness. These circumstantial details not only ring honest but they are of immense service in taking that wonderful fact out of the region of mist into which we are too apt to fling it, and in bringing it home to our apprehensions as a thing that once verily happened on this earth. There are mainly three in reference to the story of the grave—that the stone was rolled away, that angels were visible and audible within its shut darkness, and that the grave-clothes were folded up and the napkin laid aside in a place by itself. These three seem to us of widely different importance. The disciples who saw them did not seem to think so. They tell about the folded grave-clothes with as much fullness of detail as about the white-robed forms that sat within the tomb. They tell about these angel visitants in exactly the same level tone of simple narration as they do about the napkin and the swathing clothes. And perhaps this is not a confusion of the relative importance of the natural and supernatural but a very clear discernment of the true importance of each. Let us see whether that which the disciples beheld on that Easter morning before they saw the risen Lord may not do for us what it did for them. We take them in the order in which they stand:—
I. The Significance of the Sealed Stone Rolled Away.—How natural the story is of the women preparing their spices and resolving to come and anoint Him without ever thinking of the difficulty till they came near to the grave. How natural the startling question that occurs to them all as they come nearer the place and begin to realise in more detail what they were to do, 'Who shall roll us away the stone?' And how one feels with them the thrill of surprise with which as they looked from afar through the very early morning as it began to dawn they could see that the great stone was rolled away. They knew that there had been a guard set. They knew that the authoritative seal of the officials had been placed on the stone. They could not suppose that it had been broken without the connivance of those who had made it as sure as they could. They never thought of His having burst the bands of death. And so the first thing that occurs to them is that the rulers have persecuted even after they have killed the body and have taken it to bury it as malefactors should have been buried.
Afterwards they learned to think more truly of the meaning of that stone rolled away. It was the first witness of His Resurrection. It was a symbol for us all of what the grave is now to us since Christ has risen.
The women's words a type of the cry of all mankind.
The longing for some one to roll away the stone.
The sense of impotence.
The idea of death as an eternal condition.
It seems the end as far as sense can see.
It seems to separate for ever us and them.
No more offices of love.
We may stand with our spices and our tearful faces and our heavy hearts, but there is the great stone, and they that are within cannot hear us.
II. The World has no Answer to the Question.—Apart from the Gospel no clear confidence in Immortality and no notion at all of Resurrection. They may hope that on the other side the grave opens into a brighter place, but they have no idea of a backward passage of that which once has been laid there. Like some door that swings only one way and can be opened from only one side; like Ginevra in her chest. Looking to His grave, we see it rolled away.
III. Christ has Rolled it Away for Us All.—Not by telling it only, but by doing it. Not only as being example, but as being power.
References.—XXIV. 2.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 322. XXIV. 3-5.—Ibid. p. 247. XXIV. 5.—H. R. Gamble, The Ten Virgins, p. 129.
Christ, a Quickening Spirit (For Easter Sunday)
O blessed day of the Resurrection, which of old time was called the Queen of Festivals, and raised among Christians an anxious, nay contentious diligence duly to honour it! Blessed day, once only passed in sorrow, when the Lord actually rose, and the disciples believed not; but ever since a day of joy to the faith and love of the Church! In ancient times Christians all over the world began it with a morning salutation. Each man said to his neighbour, 'Christ is risen'; and his neighbour answered him, 'Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon'. Even to Simon, the coward disciple who denied Him thrice, Christ is risen; even to us, who long ago vowed to obey Him, and have yet so often denied Him before men, so often taken part with sin, and followed the world, when Christ called us another way.
—J. H. Newman.
References.—XXIV. 5, 6.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 74. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1106. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 323. XXIV. 6, 35.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 147. XXIV. 8.—J. C. M. Bellow, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 220. XXIV. 11.—H. Alford, Easter-tide Sermons, p. 1. XXIV. 12.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 520. XXIV. 12-35.—Ibid. vol. vi. p. 97.
My friend, Sir William Russell, was distantly related to a very accomplished man, who, though he never believed the Gospel, admired the Scriptures as the sublimest compositions in the world, and read them often. I have been intimate myself with a man of fine taste who has confessed to me that, though he could not subscribe to the truth of Christianity itself, yet he never could read St. Luke's account of our Saviour's appearance to the two disciples going to Emmanus without being wonderfully affected by it; and he thought that if the stamp of divinity was anywhere to be found in Scripture, it was strongly marked and visibly impressed upon that passage.
References.—XXIV. 13-22.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 145. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 335. XXIV. 13-25.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. pp. 108, 114. XXIV. 13-36.—W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p. 95.
That is a very old metaphor which likens life to a journey. Old as it is, we all feel how true it is—the constant change, the continuous effort, the new faces, and scenes, and the end.
I. The Companion of our journey is Christ Himself. We believe in a Living Christ and in a Divine Christ, and consequently we believe that His real presence is granted to every soul that seeks it.
II. Christ is often unrecognised. How little we see Him in our daily providences! How much joy and strength we lose for want of the open eye!
III. Note the sympathy of the Companion.
IV. Note the apparent purpose of His departure.
'He made as though He would have gone farther.' The disciples constrained Him to remain. We keep Him by our desire, and need never be alone if we do not send Him away.
V. Note the Companionship in repose. (1) Christ accepts our poor offerings. (2) His presence at the humble meal and lowly home is a type of the blessed fact that His presence is possible for us in hours of repose as in hours of labour. (3) Where He comes as guest He becomes host.
References.—XXIV. 16.—A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 28. XXIV. 16,16.—F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 236.
We may profitably consider what it is to have our eyes holden, what a blessing it is, what a source of strength it is not to see things, not to know things, not to hear things, not to have any senses at all. There is a blessing on the negative side of the hedge; there is much profitableness in the impenetrable gloom. Not to see may be a privilege; not to know may be a science.
I. How true it is that our eyes are holden so that we may not see the perils of life by which we are constantly surrounded! We walk in danger; the air is full of arrows and sharp darts and poisoned elements. Some things we could not enjoy if there were not an element of poison in them. The honey would soon be no honey, the man of science tells us, if there was not inserted by the sting of the bee just one little drop of poison. There is honey that has no keeping in it because it has no poison in it; so the man of science tells us. On the whole, it is better for us not to be analytical chemists; it ministers much to the comfort of the house not to know the chemical constituents of what we are eating and drinking. There are few things more troublesome than to be on intimate terms with an analytical chemist who lives next door to you. The air is full of danger; every step you take is a step along the edge of your grave. All the darkness has uncounted imps in it; the east wind brings them from no man knows where in countless millions. We do not know how near our death we were this morning; by a hair's breadth we escaped a so-called accident that would have dashed us into eternity. Our eyes were holden. It is well we did not know.
II. Our eyes are holden that we may not see our own spiritual surroundings. It is a mercy that we cannot see God. Yet we rave about it as if He had inflicted an injury upon us because He will not show His face. We thus reject our greatest blessing. It is a mercy for us also that we cannot see our spiritual enemy the devil. If we could see him who could live? There is a ministry of evil in the universe. The Bible does not conceal that fact; the Bible reveals it and magnifies it and puts us on our guard against it; but mercifully our eyes are holden that we should not see the evil power that would devour our very soul.
III. A great mercy it is also that we cannot see death—grim, gruesome, horrible death. Yet he is always looking at us; he seems to be saying in that interrogatory look, Whom shall I strike next?
IV. And a great blessing it is that we do not see the future. We cannot see tomorrow. Whether you mean the future by day or month or year, we cannot see it; it is veiled from us, or our eyes are holden that they may not see it; and herein is a gracious, tender mercy.
If we could have foreseen some days we could not have lived! I know I may die to-night, I feel I may live a year or years. God says to me, Poor child of mortality, it is infinitely better that thou shouldst not know anything about it; go on steadily, loyally, hopefully, with thy work, and when it is time for thee to leave the plough, though it be left in mid-furrow, and another man shall complete that furrow, I will come for thee. Till I come, occupy!
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 33.
References.—XXIV. 16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1180. G. C. Lorimer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 83.
The Sadness of the Disciples
May we not learn from this incident of the walk to Emmaus that today there are not a few of the disciples of Christ who are downcast and sad? To them the risen Lord appears in His Church, in His Scriptures, or in His Sacraments.
I. The Sadness of Mental Perplexity.—It is our risen Lord Who offers the true solution of all mental perplexities. He can speak with authority.
II. The Sadness of Conscience.—It is our risen Lord Who reveals Himself to those who are weighed down by sin as pardoning it and blotting it out. What is it that gives His death this power? It is His Resurrection from the dead.
III. The Sadness of Soul.—This so often arises from the want of an object in life to be grasped by the affections, to be aimed at by the will. To such our risen Lord appears, to teach them that there is something worth living for—the known will of the Eternal God.
References.—XXIV. 17.—S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 10. F. Ferguson, Peace with God, p. 107. XXIV. 18.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 230. XXIV. 19.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 361.
Under whatever form this hope encounters us, from the wild excesses of the Fifth-Monarchy Men and Munster Anabaptists, to the simple expectation of the Dorsetshire peasant, who in Monmouth's rebellion talked about 'King Jesus,' there is always something affecting in its expression; and the more so, because the foreseen sadness of its disappointment is one which connects itself with the natural experience of Christian life.
References.—XXIV. 21.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 186; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 426. XXIV. 22.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 363. XXIV. 25.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1980. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 126; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 232. XXIV. 26, 26.—Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 269. XXIV. 26-27.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 280.
The Sufferings of Christ
Why were the sufferings of Christ necessary? There seem to me to be at least four reasons.
I. We have the reason to which Christ Himself pointed in the passage before us. His sufferings were necessary that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. It was trusting to their own interpretation of the Scriptures that the two disciples had turned away from a crucified Jesus. They had thought that they pointed only to a glorious and triumphant King, but now Jesus, 'beginning at Moses and all the prophets... expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. The whole Old Testament, Jesus would show, was Messianic; and the whole Old Testament exhibited to those who read it aright, a suffering, as well as a triumphant Messiah—a Messiah passing through suffering and death to glory and life.
II. But we must look deeper than the letter of Scripture if we would understand aright the cause of the sufferings of Christ. We must look at the purpose, the work He came to accomplish. What was that work? Not, as the Jews fondly imagined, to make of them a great nation, and raise them to the chief place among the nations of the world; but to save the Jews, and with them to save the world. If men had remained in the state in which God had first created them, if there had been no Fall, the work of Jesus would have been easy. But instead He came, to whom? To men sinful and disobedient, who had passed under the power of evil, and were subject to death. The cross shows us what God thinks of sin.
III. The Christ ought to have suffered these things that He might be 'a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.... For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted' (Hebrews 2:17-18). The Christ by His sufferings made Himself one with the whole human race, able to enter into every sorrow, and to strengthen in every temptation or trial. In the presence of great want or great sorrow, I say nothing now of great sin, we must often have felt how vain and presumptuous our attempts at sympathy were. But one thing we could do. We could point to One, Himself the Son of man as well as the Son of God, who, while He lived upon our earth was homeless, friendless, forsaken, 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief'.
IV. Once more the Christ ought to have suffered these things 'leaving as an example, that we should follow His steps'. It must ever be in suffering, in fear and trembling, that sinful men 'work out' the salvation which God is working in them, therefore 'it became Him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing more sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings' (Hebrews 2:10). As the good Duke said when they would have crowned him King of Jerusalem: 'No, by no means. I will not wear a crown of gold where Jesus was crowned with thorns'.
—G. Milligan, Eden and Gethsemane, p. 137.
References.—XXIV. 25-27.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 53. XXIV. 26.—W. B. Selbie, The Servant of God, p. 135. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 313; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iv. pp. 72, 389; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 451. XXIV. 26, 21.—Ibid. vol. xii. p. 237. XXIV. 26-28.—Ibid. vol. ix. p. 121.
The Personality of the Word of God
A modern novelist has described the presence of a Greek Testament in the room of a man tempted to his undoing. How often does the mere presence of the Divine Word make itself felt till the Book becomes no more a Thing but a Person! A glance at it, and though time and custom and sin have checked the old feelings, they are at once unsealed. The volume is not dumb. It speaks, appeals, warns, solicits, in the voice that floated along our dreams in childhood. It takes on an aspect sometimes terrible, as when it gleams like the flashing of a shield, sometimes tender as if it carried in it all the loving remonstrance of the past The tendency to pass into personality characterises things that greatly command us. Wordsworth tells us that on his first visit to Switzerland, as he was hurried down the southern slope of the Alps, the woods, 'decaying never to be decayed,' the drizzling crags, the cataracts, and the clouds appeared to him no longer material things, but characters in an Apocalypse. It was by the force of this feeling that Wordsworth seemed able ultimately to transfigure and unsubstantialise the whole mass of earth. The blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus cried in the ears of God.
I. The New Testament is not a mere book, not a mere thing. It is the Word of God, and to the Word of God there are attributed in Scripture the most tremendous energies of personality. Let us take them as they are given in the Book of Revelation. 'And I saw heaven opened, and beheld a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war.'
The Word of God is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. Is it not so with the New Testament? Wherever you place it, in whatever company, it is always judging and making war. We may neglect its warning and be deaf to its appeal, but it will not leave us alone. In righteousness it doth judge and make war, and it will go on judging and warning till we yield it the obedience it demands. How wonderful and thrilling must that moment have been when the angels of the Seven Churches each opened his epistle! Each knew that the epistle contained a judgment from which there was no appeal. Each had confronted the various criticisms of the Church and the world. Each had probably judged himself very leniently. We all of us find our comfort in the conflicts of criticism, and are encouraged by those that take side with us to think we are right. The judgment came that was unerring and complete. What a moment it must have been when the thunderbolt burst upon Sardis! 'These things saith He that hath the seven spirits of God and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead.' The Church that had lived in the atmosphere of flattery suddenly knew that it had sunk out of life!
II. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood. Always this is the clothing of the New Testament, no matter how it may be bound. It is clothed in a vesture dipped with blood, and if it were not, it would not be worth the lifting by hands that have been cut and wearied in their conflict with a world like this. Whatever is true about the New Testament, it is true that if you take from it the message of atonement, of the garden where Love once lay bleeding, of the cross on which the Eternal was crucified, nothing is left. The cross is not only its heart and groundwork, but it meets you, however carelessly you look at it, even with the first sight. It is with it as with the Word Himself, there is no Christ recognisable but the Christ Who has been crucified for us.
III. The Word of God goes forth to His triumph, conquering and to conquer. It makes war in righteousness and for victories, and its sword will at last smite the nations that would not be won. The triumph of God's Word is sure. Whatever appearances may be from time to time, its 'liquid texture can receive no mortal wound'. The Church has often erred in not putting the Divine in the text and the human in the margin. What is human is perishable, but in the text all is Divine and all must endure. The war is a long war, and it will have its vicissitudes; but at the worst the gates of hell, through which pour the legions of our spiritual foes, shall not prevail against it. We may have missed much of the meaning of the Divine, but there has been nothing to justify alarm as for the imperilled sovereignty of the Book. The new theory of the solar system did not dethrone the sun, did not rescatter the stars over the abyss of heaven. So to the end generation after generation will ponder over His Book, generation after generation will watch by His cross. So it must be. He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet, and His thoughts must reign till all rebellious thoughts are subdued and disappear. There have been times, and the times may come again, when only His hidden ones will feed upon His truth; but in the coldest, darkest hour the buried fire will rise up out of the soil in the midst of a frozen world that thought itself done with the conquering Word of God.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 323.
Reference.—XXIV. 27-—Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 285.
He Would Have Gone Further
The life of the believer in this world is a walk with Christ in the twilight, and so it is no wonder that the story of the journey to Emmaus still fascinates us.
I. In the light of this story, let us ask the meaning of the words: He made as though He would have gone further. Some interpreters say that He was testing them. He was set upon discovering whether the new light had come into their souls, whether they were content to let the unknown Teacher pass on and see no more of Him. A modern preacher who has written with some beauty and insight on this story, says that Christ would not embarrass them, would not force an invitation. He never goes anywhere unasked. He recognises the sanctity of the humblest home. He would delicately relieve them of any obligation to offer their hospitality. He was indeed 'the first true gentleman that ever breathed'. Is there not something that jars in such readings of Him Who was the Truth indeed? Is it not better to take the words as they stand and give them the obvious meaning? He made as though He would have gone further just because He would have gone further. We have before us a shrine of innermost mystery when we seek to understand the whole history of the great Forty Days. Whither did He go, when we fail to trace Him? Did He speed home to the bosom of God? He did not need now to pass the nights in prayer on stormy hills and headlands. His oblation had been rendered. His warfare was accomplished. Did He go, as some have fancied, preaching the glad tidings to the Church of the Old Covenant, to set their hearts on fire with the wonder of fulfilled prophecy? Did He, as some of the Fathers dreamed, work unrecorded miracles among the sick of Judea and even in far countries? We do not know. What we know is that He went further, that His heart was drawn beyond these two whose cravings He had answered, and that even while He sat with them in the shadows, He was constrained and would have gone further.
II. May we not take these words as summing up the whole story of His life? He would have gone further. Great as were His words, mighty as were His deeds, the sense of restraint, of limitation, is ever present in the Gospel story. He could not do many mighty works because of their unbelief. There was something that seemed to hem in even His omnipotence. When He wept at the grave of Lazarus, it was as if the whole flood of earthly sorrows poured over His mind at once, as if He felt how little He had done to relieve them—of how little He was to do even in calling Lazarus back. He would have gone further, and dried all tears, and righted all wrongs, and made an end of all sins and of all pains. And yet may we not reverently say that of Him it was true, even as it was of His servants, that as His day so was His strength? The strength was equal to the day, but no more. It seemed as if the Holy Spirit had to come before the full meaning of His redeeming grace could be told. He would have gone further, doubtless, and spoken words far greater, more meaningful, even than the deepest words of His Spirit through the Apostles, but something hindered. And we know the judgment which He passed on the results of His own work. The hosannahs of the shouting multitude told Him that He had failed. His vision was unfulfilled. He had striven to make manifest the spiritual kingdom, and even the Apostles beside Him did not understand. They planned how they might sit, one on His right hand and the other on His left He knew that the crowd that cried Hosannah would cry Crucify Him, that His own mouth would speak the sentences of mortal weakness, that all would forsake Him and flee. He would have gone further into those blinded, or at best half-blinded natures. He knew what it had all come to, but He did not delay His resolute march to the cross.
III. May we not say it about all Christian work and warfare, about the long weary toil and strife of the Church of God? Disciples are meeting just now to go over the result of their labours, and whatever cheer is given to any, all must say, He would have gone further. Yes, He would have gone further, and our comfort in days of weary, unappreciated labour is that He is living, and that He would go further now. We shall see greater things even upon earth if we tarry in Jerusalem, offering up our broken prayer and praise, and waiting for the promise of the Father.
IV. He would have gone further is true, also, in the individual Christian life. We have been faint and weak and weary, even when we have most desired to be true-hearted. Those who have chosen the steepest path and the highest aim feel the lameness of their natures. How often has it seemed that our whole Christian life has halted, or even gone back. He would have gone further.
He would go further. May it not be that the last word He says on earth to the nearest and dearest of all His redeemed is: Behold, I stand at the door and knock?
—W. Robertson Nicoli., Sunday Evening, p. 155.
Who can imagine the infinite ardour, and yet delicacy of Divine Love! The-urgency, and yet the non-intrusiveness, of the Holy Presence! He made as though He would have gone further; and at the same time longed to be received. Indeed, He would have gone on, had not the two travellers set the highest value on His continuance and friendship. Had they not entreated Him, pressed Him, to tarry with them, He would have withdrawn from them in favour of more eager souls With the lukewarm He never rests. The heart must-wait upon Him, watch for Him, long after Him, and abandon herself to His love. Love can only dwell with love. But where love is, there Love hastens to be. Love cannot resist love. The traveller loved Him, dreaded his departure, cherished His presence, constrained Him, saying, Abide with us. Love had found his own. He went in to tarry with them.
—Dr. John Pulsford.
References.—XXIV. 28, 29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1665. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 342. XXIV. 28-31.—S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 14.
The Risen Lord
As we read the story it carries with it conviction of its truth. Nobody could have possibly invented it. How unimportant, too, were the men to whom this appearance was given—only one of them whose name, even, is known to us; the other we do not know by name. Two plain, simple, common men, as we are wont to say; but therefore all the more in keeping with His wont. How sad these men are, as they walk and talk together. It is because they are sad that Jesus draws near to them. Death and the Resurrection have not changed Him in this, though they have changed Him in many respects. The sadness of men still attracts Him. But their sadness is not only the sadness of parting; it is also the sadness of doubt. He leads them kindly; He teaches them patiently. They do not recognise Him at first, and He is content to remain unknown—a stranger to them. He makes Himself known to them in the humble meal at which they are seated.
I. How beautiful is this revelation of the risen Jesus! It sparkles with light, does it not? Let us learn from it of Him, for what He was that day He is still. He has not changed; Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. What shall we learn, then, from it? Realise the presence of the living Jesus in our daily life. Look for Him as He comes to us in the daytime of our work. Seek Him in the everyday actions, in the daily round, in the common task. Find Him in the most commonplace things. Remember Jesus is essentially human, whilst He is truly Divine, very Man as well as very God. Nothing that has to do with our humanity is foreign to Him. Bear in mind that He is never nearer to us than when we are sad. He has so much in common with sorrow, for He was the very Man of Sorrows Himself. As it has been beautifully said, He consecrates our saddest walks, our hardest roads, our longest journeys. Learn how to deal with doubt—our own, or the doubts of other people. Jesus bids us be patient with doubt; patient with ourselves, with others. He tells us how He ever manifests Himself to the honest doubter. He promises us that He will be with us in our doubt, although we may not recognise Him; though not perhaps until the evening overtakes us, as darkness and the night of death come over us, we shall know that He has been with us all the time.
II. Only one more thought. He was known unto them in the breaking of bread. What does it mean?
Was it in Holy Communion? Surely not, though this act of His was sacramental, as all the actions of Jesus must have been. But to us it does come true in the Blessed Sacrament of love, in the quiet of Holy Communion. Where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is in the midst of them. And then, as we recognise His Presence, as we realise that in the Holy Ordinance, in a special sense, we dwell in Him and He dwells in us, no better prayer than that of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus can come from the hearts and lips of those who have known Him in the breaking of bread—'Lord, abide with us'.
It is by aspiration that we are worth considering; a soul is measured by the amount of its desire, as one judges in advance of a cathedral by the height of its spire.
Reference.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 140.
The Supper At Emmaus
Let us meditate upon that Sunday afternoon walk to Emmaus with the wondrous supper-time which followed, and, if we take it as a sort of acting parable of disciple-life, shadowing, not obscurely, to the spiritual reader, the conditions under which you and I have to pursue our earthly walk in the absence of our dear Lord, and also the forms and occasions under which His spiritual presence with us reveals itself from time to time.
I. Are not these two men a type, to begin with, of many an ill-instructed and despondent Christian? Their sadness sprang from ignorance, ignorance of the Bible, and want of that spiritual insight to take in the joyous meaning of all God's words and works which we call faith. Is not that exactly the reason why so many of us go on our way with depressed spirits? The roots, I take it, of four-fifths of a Christian's sadness lie in blameable ignorance or misunderstanding of God. When if we would but throw upon it the light of the Divine Word, revealing the Divine purpose, revealing, at all events, the Divine love, all would grow hopeful at least, if not plain, a Divine needs-be would become apparent for every trial, and a Divine issue of glory to cover it.
II. I notice next that to such sad disciples Jesus, though in disguise, is always near. Sadness draws Him near: sadness, especially in hearts that love Him most of all when the cause of the sadness is His own absence. But it is not in His own person that He makes Himself known, at least at the first. For that a long preparation is needful. The presence of Jesus in His Church, like His presence on the way to Emmaus, is constant; but it is by the ministry of His Word. It is a sort of disguise, and yet one so thin that the spiritual eye ought to pierce it if only our eyes were not 'holden'.
III. May I carry this parable with you just a step farther, as to disciples who listen aright to the teaching voice of the Master? There do come moments—rare and brief, perhaps—when a clear manifestation of Jesus is made to the soul and a more immediate and more intimate fellowship with Jesus is enjoyed. No tabernacle can Peter build that will detain the glory: the Presence, scarcely seen, seems on the instant to vanish again. Indeed it must. Common day, common life resume their sway all too soon. Yet these moments do not leave the favoured disciple just what he was before, for when once the soul has beheld the face of Jesus and tasted the mysterious joy of knowing Him to be its own Saviour and its own life, ah! then it carries back into the world a lofty, sacred, awe-struck joy that adorns and fills the days to come, a secret joy that is all its own.
—J. Oswald Dykes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. p. 296.
References.—XXIV. 30, 31.—F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 33. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 348. XXIV. 31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 681.
Texts Explained By Affliction
There are texts we can only read when we are in the valley: there are stars we can see only in the darkness. We think we know the texts, but we do not; we think we are looking at a common stranger when we are looking at the Divine Lord; we suppose that we are eating supper-bread when in reality we are in symbol and in faith eating the flesh of Christ. So with many a text; the grammarian cannot explain it, the theologian is utterly tost in its unfathomable depths; experience can read the text, tears can see the stars, broken hearts can feel the nearness of God.
I. Take an example. 'I will send another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever.' Permanence is, so to say, the characteristic of this Paraclete. So we read in the Gospel of John xiv. 16. 'I am the Paraclete,' Christ might have said, 'but I will send another Paraclete, another Comforter, and the distinction between Me and Him or between Him and Me is that He will abide with you—never, never go away.' You know what it is to have comfort melting away from you in human circumstances. At first all your friends are round about you in a kind of festival of joy and benediction; they empty their hearts upon you, they offer everything that is in the sanctuary of their love, and you say, 'The loss in almost made up'. But presently one must go to his merchandise, another to his family, and another to fulfil some impending or inevitable responsibility, and another is struck down by sickness, and the thick walls that were built around you are crumbling away, and the loss comes darker and bigger than ever. None can abide but God. He is there amid the broken, shattered ruins night and day, always there. If He were in the broken heart but for one uncertain moment, how terrible would the agony be, but He abides like a long summer, He never needs to be awakened, His energy never fails. He is the abiding-Paraclete, not the visitor, not the guest, not some one who works up to an occasion and is fully equal to the necessity of the case for the time being: He stops.
II. Take another passage. 'I am alone, yet not alone.' Can the literal man understand that? Very lamely and darkly; only the spiritual man can discern the spiritual genius of that paradox. I am alone, yet I do not feel lonely; I am alone, and yet a thousand distinct voices can be heard in my soul, not in confusion, but in individual articulateness, each having a song, a psalm, a prophecy, a dream, a cheer from heaven. You are alone? Yes, but not alone. Who is with you? The abiding Comforter, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. There are some things which only the lonely soul can do. The soul that dwells in noise has no message to its age and no message worth hearing to its own family. It is in lonesomeness that we hear the footfall or the going of the eternal Jehovah; it is then we are called upon to interpret the inarticulate and to give as it were shape and form to that which is shapeless, formless. It is even so with man as with water that cannot rise above its own level; so he must shape Jehovah. It is a wondrous process conducted within the sanctuary of the soul. To be alone and yet not alone you will never understand until your whole life has been emptied of everything it rested on and looked to and was sure of.
III. Take a third instance, from Mark xv. 34: 'My God, My God 1 why hast Thou forsaken Me?' I am glad Jesus Christ said that, because I wanted to say it and dare not unless somebody had said it first There we some things we dare not say as it were originally, that is to say, on the motion of our own soul, but when some other spirit or personality speaks, then we exclaim as if in gratitude, That is what my own soul has been longing to say; if I were to say it it would be blasphemy, but Jesus Christ said it and made that forsakenness a kind of sacrament. Jesus was our exemplar and forerunner down to the very last extremity of things.
IV. The Apostle Paul helps us also to understand the true meaning of death. He said in one of his epistles, 'To die is gain'. No man ever interpreted death in that fashion before; that is a new lexicography. That is the way to get at the meaning of words—to live them! When the hot ploughshare rips your heart you will know the meaning of fire, and not until then. 'To die is gain'—to the individual? Yes, certainly, and necessarily, but that is not the meaning of this expression of the Apostle in its entirety. 'For me to live is Christ,' is doctrine, is preaching, is obedience to the Lord, is the exemplification of all the mystery of Calvary, so far as that mystery can be exemplified in human life. To die is gain—to Paul? That would be unworthy of Paul to mix himself up with the affair at all. Rather he says, No matter what it is to me, I will take God at His word, it will be all right with His saints whom He takes to Himself in sorrow or in sleep, in agony or in the peacefulness of a dream; I am not thinking about myself: to die is gain—to the cause! I am better away; it is expedient for you that I should go away, said Christ, and it is expedient for every great cause that its heroes should vanish, die out of sight and into life. I cannot have it that Paul thought about himself and his personal comforts and his great delight in getting away from the crowd and from the stress, from the storm and the sea, and from the loneliness of the desert; all that is included, but there is an infinitely further and higher truth. To live is Christ, to die is gain to the cause of Christ.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. i. p. 59.
The Burning Heart
I. It has been one of the distinctive marks of Christianity that it has caused this burning of the heart. We see this distinctive feature of the Gospel very clearly in its earliest days. What most impresses us in the Acts is not the heroism nor the resource of the first preachers. It is the extraordinary way in which the Gospel reached to the very centre of men's lives, and filled them, sometimes in an instant, with a glowing ardour that was rich in promise. It has been noted by Professor Lecky in his work on the 'History of European Morals,' that one great change has come over the moral temper of Europe. That change may be summed up in a word by saying that the emotions and the affections—in a word the heart—have won a recognition for themselves in modern life which they never gained in the life of the old world. To-day to be tender-hearted is a noble thing; but then to be tender was to be reckoned weak. I think, too, that in this burning of the heart lies the great secret of Christian progress. A Gospel that carries this power in its message has little need of any other aid. When a man is faced by any great endeavour, it is not more light he wants, it is more heat.
II. The Gospel ever makes the heart burn as Christ did here. (1) The hearts of these two men began to burn, not so much by learning what was new, as by a new interpretation of the old. Does not our Saviour always act like that when He begins to make our heart burn? He does not startle us with unexpected novelties; He touches with glory what is quite familiar. (2) But after all what set their heart a-burning was not the mere word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the Christ who was behind the word. The ardour of Christendom, its life and its enthusiasm, its countless efforts, its unwearied service—all that is rooted, not in any creed, but in the immediate presence of a living Christ.
—G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 133.
References.—XXIV. 32.—J. C. Lambert, Christian World Pulpit, vol. W. p. 100. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 26. XXIV. 32-34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2408. XXIV. 34.—A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 15. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 70. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 94. W. C. E. Newbolt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 245. Scottish Review, vol. li. p. 439. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 70; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 513. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture.—St. Luke, p. 362. A. T. Robertson, Epochs in the Life of Jesus, p. 169. Robert J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 103. XXIV. 35.—J. W. Boulding, Sermons, p. 109. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vi. p. 253; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 61.
The Realised Presence (for the First Sunday After Easter)
Our text places before us one of the appearances of our Lord after His Resurrection—one of these appearances, of which there are three, which are given, perhaps, in much greater detail than others. The first of those three was the appearance to Mary in the garden; the second, to the two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the afternoon, and the third, the one that is here brought before us, in the upper room at Jerusalem on the evening of the first Easter Day. If our Lord's life and death is full of wonder for us, so is our Lord's sojourn, His stay upon earth after His Resurrection.
I. This Tarrying of the Lord upon Earth was to Prepare His Disciples, and through them the whole Church for the manner of His after-presence with them even to the end. As our Lord had intimated to them that He would not abide with them as He had done, so in all His appearances now, and in His intercourse with them, He teaches them and leads them farther on in the same lesson. The uncertainty of His presence and of His departures; His appearing to them in another form so that they knew Him not, as to the disciples travelling that day to Emmaus; His being seen now in the garden by Mary alone, then by the other women; His standing amongst them when the door of the upper room was closed—all this, as well as the irregularity as to the time of His absence from them, sometimes appearing often in one day, sometimes being absent a whole week unseen, was evidently teaching the same lesson—the new manner of His presence with them. It was imprinting on their minds that, although He had been taken from them, He had been more than given back to them, that now He was ever to be present with them. They felt, indeed, that He was ever near, though they did not always, nor were always able to see Him. They were now learning that He was ever with them, that He was not, as before, present with those who were in one place only, and, therefore, absent from those who were in another. And all this gave a sense of reality to their lives. They were learning the great law of His spiritual presence, for all they did was done now, and they were conscious of it, in His sight. He was, though He might be unseen to them, a witness of all their actions.
II. He was Present with them also Individually.—Yes, the same Jesus, His words to them were, 'It is I Myself. How much is conveyed to them, and surely to us, in that word, 'Myself,' the' Myself of the Resurrection. This chapter, after we have read it carefully for ourselves, must leave this one thought with us, and that in a very marked way, that it was the same Jesus Who was risen from the dead. This thought is brought out in the narrative in the same chapter of the two friends on their way home from Jerusalem in the afternoon. It was Jesus Himself as He walked and talked with the two disciples, as He had previously revived the broken heart of Mary; and last, as the narrative from which our text is taken tells, He came and stood in their midst and breathed His word of peace, His word of assurance, 'It is I Myself—Peace be unto you'. Thus He taught them to know that they were each one singly before Him, that in their fears, their sorrows, their difficulties and dangers, they were indeed with Him and He with them.
III. For us the Lesson is the same.—Though ascended, yet He is here, and He will manifest Himself to us, the same risen Lord. In times of sorrow, in times of difficulty, in the quiet hour of prayer, when we seek to open our hearts before Him, He, Jesus Himself, will come and talk with us. He will, if we will invite Him, walk with us along the path of life. Our hearts, too, shall burn as He speaks with us, as He opens to us the Scriptures, and for us, as for them, His presence shall be our strength, it shall be our life. His own disciples at one time had forsaken Him and had fled, and yet He comes to them, and so He will come to us if we long for His peace, if we long for His rest. Then we must seek and look upon Him, knowing Him more and more as our Saviour.
References.—XXIV. 36.—T. J. Lawrence, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 292. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 164. E. A. Askew, The Service of Perfect Freedom, p. 116. E. H. Bickersteth, Thoughts in Past Years, p. 303. XXIV. 36-43.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 100. XXIV. 36-44.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1958. XXIV. 36-53.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 372. XXIV. 37, 38.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 248. XXIV. 38.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2408. XXIV. 38, 39.—F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 241.
What are these hands? What do they signify?
I. Behold His hands, for they are hands of brotherhood. When Jesus came into Peter's house, we read, He saw his wife's mother laid and sick of a fever. And what did He do? He put out His hand and touched her, and she arose and ministered to them all. In this case, and in a hundred others, what men recognised in the touch was brotherhood. And always, where the Gospel is at work, it stretches out its hands in the same way.
II. Again, Behold His hands, for they are hands of power. When Jesus went back the second time to Nazareth, do you remember what the villagers said about Him? 'What wisdom is this that is given Him,' they said, 'that even such mighty works are wrought by His hands.' And then turn to the Gospel of St. John, where our Saviour Himself is speaking of His sheep, and He says: 'I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand'. There have never been hands on earth like those of Jesus, so mighty in action and in guardianship.
III. Behold His hands, for they are hands of tenderness. Can you tell me why the Gospel is so precious when the chair is empty and the grave is full? It is not only because the hand of Jesus is powerful to console and to assuage; it is because when every other touch would pain, the touch of Jesus is exquisitely tender. Why are our Christian homes so full of gentle love, so different from the stern spirit of antiquity? There is only one answer, it is 'Behold His hands': it is the touch of Christ which has achieved it.
IV. Behold His hands, for they were once disfigured. It is the hands which were pierced that have been the mightiest power in human history. Not the hands laid upon the blind man's eyes, nor the hands laid upon the children's head, have been so mighty in the world's redemption as the hands that were marred and wounded on the cross.
V. Lastly, Behold His hands, for they are hands of reassurance. When we are tempted to doubt if He still lives and reigns, to us as to Thomas He says, 'Behold My hands'. In a thousand deeds and in a thousand lives there is the unmistakable touch of the Redeemer. Does not that reassure us and kindle our faith again? It is the risen Saviour saying, 'Behold My hands': it is our answering cry 'My Lord and my God'.
—G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 216.
References.—XXIV. 39.—W. H. Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 117. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 411.
The Hands of Jesus
We are to contemplate the hands of Jesus. The lessons they teach are plain and simple, and for practical uses.
I. Observe, first—They were a Man's hands. He was, on earth, a veritable man. He took our nature—not the nature of angels, but of men. He was flesh of our flesh, our real kinsman, being in all points such as we are, only without sin. And so He remains for ever. The incarnation was not a temporary expedient. When He came from heaven to earth He did not empty Himself of His Godhood: nor when He returned from earth to heaven did He lay aside His manhood. Here is infinite comfort; He remains the first-born among many brethren, the Elder Brother of us all.
II. They were pure hands. Jesus claimed an absolute sinlessness. Of all the accusations brought against Him, not one impeached the spotless purity of His character and life. And His claim was strangely conceded. In Christ alone the claim and the testimony are united.
III. They were callous hands. It is written of Buddha that, at the beginning of his ministry he left his palace and took his place under the sacred Bo-tree to meditate. On the contrary, Jesus entered a carpenter's shop, and became the brother of all who give themselves to labour as the fulfilment of the primal law. Our Lord in heaven is as truly the sympathetic Friend of working men as when He made ploughs for the farmers of Galilee, and mended the furniture of the people of Nazareth.
IV. They were strong hands. Not strong with a mere knotted muscularity, like those of an athlete, disciplined to strike a blow; but hands that spoke of courage and authority, of a perfect, physical and moral symmetry. (1) The right hand of Jesus is the hand of judgment (2) This right hand is the hand of a King. (3) This right hand of Jesus is the hand of salvation.
V. They were friendly hands, the kindest and most helpful. They were ever employed in doing good.
VI. They were wounded hands. They have a wonderful story to tell.
VII. They were uplifted hands. They are uplifted in intercession for us.
VIII. They are outstretched hands. He stands in an attitude of invitation. O infinite patience!
—D. J. Burrell, The Gospel of Certainty, p. 121.
References.—XXIV. 40.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, pp. 249 and 255. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 254. XXIV. 41.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 425. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 117. XXIV. 41-43.—Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 350. XXIV. 41-45.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2279. XXIV. 42.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 118. XXIV. 44.—J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, p. 1. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 452; ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 265. XXIV. 45-46.—H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 369. XXIV. 46, 47.—Bishop Moule, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 291. XXIV. 46-49.—W. J. Henderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 352. XXIV. 47.—C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 213. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 75. F. W. Symes, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 511. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 329, and vol. xxix. No. 1729. T. T. Lynch, Sermons for my Curates, p. 215. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 277; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 80.
Witnesses for Christ
I. How can we become witnesses? (1) We can be witnesses by remembering what it is to be a member of a witnessing Church. (2) We can be witnesses among our friends—not canting, not necessarily preaching at them, but letting them take the knowledge that we have been with Jesus. (3) To pray is to witness. (4) The fourth way of bearing witness is to take the right side and never listen to the devil's lie, which tells you that what you know is wrong is manly.
II. What is it which prevents us being faithful witnesses? (1) Moral cowardice. (2) Doubt (3)
Want of prayer. (4) Want of interest.
—Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 92.
References.—XXIV. 48.—Bishop Jacob, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 308. XXIV. 48, 49.—C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p. 116. G. Campbell Morgan, The Missionary Manifesto, p. 85. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 379.
The mystery of the ten days of waiting to which this command of Christ committed His followers is the mystery of all the daily experience of delay between our apprehension of the glorified Lord and our realisation of the glorifying power which He bestows. It in no sense signifies unwillingness on the part of God to fulfil His Word, or to co-operate with the desires of His people, but rather emphasises the fact that our greatest need is to know ourselves and to have our personal lives dealt with as only God can deal with them, before we are fit for His service. We must stand before Him before we can stand before men, and must ourselves be right before we can be sent out to right the lives of others. It is said of Michael Angelo, the famous painter, that he always made his own brushes; and, if this be true, it is but an illustration of the Divine Workman who is at pains to fashion the lives of His people as instruments by which He designs to effect His will.
I. It is full of interest to us to seek rightly to understand the need for this tarrying, which the Saviour unmistakably proclaims as the condition of enduement; and in this we are guided alike by a consideration of the Word and of our own hearts. We need, first of all, in our truest spiritual desires a discipline of our impulse, and the testing of our enthusiasm, for nothing is so unstable as spiritual emotion. There lies before us a long race, and we need to take breath. There lies ahead of us a fierce fight, and we need to gird ourselves for the conflict. Success is not to be achieved, and victory is not to be won, by anything less than a complete control of the whole man by the Lord Whom he serves. And this can only be realised as we tarry in His presence.
II. We need also to tarry in order to recover a true sense of proportion. It is in the upper room alone that we learn what is supreme and what is merely secondary, what is fundamental and what is but incidental. We are so apt to exaggerate trifles, and at the same time to lose the importance of that which is vital, that nothing but the quiet of the Presence-chamber can give us that adjustment of vision and appreciation of relative values which makes for strength of life and service.
III. We need, like the early disciples, a tarrying-time also to study the problems which discipleship involves; to look out on the throng amid which we must live, and learn how they are to be reached with our message and for our Lord. It has been said that one of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is that of becoming superficially omniscient; and from this nothing but time spent in the secret place will deliver us.
IV. And again, we need constantly to tarry in His presence to be saved, as nothing but the lessons of such tarrying-time will save us from the pride which any sudden access of power is bound to promote. The preparation of the vessel is as important as the preparation of the content. For since the power of the Spirit is only given for the glory of the Lord, self-glory will entirely thwart its purpose.
—J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 155.
The Holy Spirit and the Church
The Lord speaks in the words of our text of the promise. There probably is in the Christian experience of each one of us one promise more blessed and precious than any other—a promise which shines out in such brilliance that we feel that to be the promise. And to God there is also a promise which He calls the promise. Under the Old Testament dispensation that promise was Christ, under the New Testament dispensation that promise is the Blessed Spirit.
Let us think of some of the Spirit's special work in the Church of Christ
I. Where He is He Teaches.—He takes the Bible and explains it. For instance, how often it happens that even a true Christian has no happy spiritual experience; even a real and true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ has no assurance of His own salvation, no sense of acceptance with God. 'Miserere' is all his prayer. He can never get beyond it. There is no clear reading of his title to mansions in the skies, and yet these great possibilities of the Christian life have been put before him again and again with the greatest clearness. He has never experimentally got hold of them himself, till one day it all breaks in upon him in a minute. He reads his title there: he knows that he is accepted in the Beloved. He rejoices. He has got away from the 'Miserere'. What is the difference? The Holy Spirit has just been throwing the light into his soul and opening his eyes. The Holy Spirit has been doing what no other ministry can do, and that is taking the things of Christ and showing them to the sinner.
II. Where the Holy Spirit is, He is Present also as a Remembrancer.—'He shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.' The power of sanctified memory is, I believe, in many cases a special gift of the Holy Ghost. He brings to our recollection with freshness the forgotten truths which perhaps we learnt as children. And it has been well said that though the gift of memory is one of the greatest, yet there is another gift of the Spirit as great, namely, the gift of forgetfulness. We do not want to remember some sins in our lives, and if you are looking for the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ you need not remember them. He says, 'Your sins and your iniquities I will remember no more'. And what is the use of our torturing our hearts with remembering what is past when our Lord says to the true believer, 'I throw your sins into the bottom of the sea, and they shall never be remembered any more'.
III. The Holy Spirit is Present with Sanctified Grace.—The office of the Holy Spirit is not only to begin the spiritual life but, in the advancement and sanctification of the believer, His office is to further and complete it.
IV. Where the Holy Spirit is, He is Present with Wonderful Power.—'You shall receive power from on high.' And it is just this power that Christian Churches and Christian believers want today.
Expectation (For the Sunday after Ascension Day)
To-day invites us to revisualise by this optic-glass of imaginative sympathy an experience of the first men of Christ which is intermediate between the great events, and is not much dwelt upon. A group of men and women, who tarried in the city of Jerusalem until the feast of Pentecost arrived, celebrated an occasion which we might correctly name a Sunday after Ascension Day. It was not merely that this day of the year, the seventh day before the Jewish festival of First-fruits, and forty-fourth after the Passover, came round to them. It was already a Sunday to them, a Lord's Day, the weekly return of the day of the Resurrection and of the second appearance to the eleven in this upper chamber, where they met today. This was then the Lord's Day after the Ascension and that assurance last on His lips of a Coming, not now of Himself, but of the promise of the Father, 'not many days hence'. Might not the next Resurrection Day, the day of the Coming Back, be the date intended by the 'not many days hence,' the day therefore of the promise of the Father? If they thought so, with what an awed sense of fate must these men have wakened that morning, with what a silence of repressed emotion have greeted each other on the threshold of the chamber, with what unconfessed tremor of excitement have conducted their service of Jewish prayer to a Jehovah Who was now His Father and their Father. Yet the prayer passed, and there was no Coming. The day passed, and lo! it was not His day: His hour was not yet come. 'Tarry ye, tarry in the city of Jerusalem'—wait for the promise of the Father, wait—was still the watchword for the sentinels of Salvation: He, the Captain of them, had not changed the signal yet.
I. Expectancy is of worth, because in spiritual growth as in bodily and mental, time is an element. The thought of the discoverer must tarry while the blood pursues its chemic labour and the brain remoulds its tissue by the unimaginable touch of time; and even so the hero's passion of resolve is bred in the soul by a birthday travail of the spirit in which time must pass. It was a discovery and it was a resolve which was demanded from these waiting disciples. The promise of the Father was to be gained by no mere passive reception, but by an active response of their wills to a Divine approach: that the Comforter might come, they must come forward to meet Him; their receptivity must be, what receptivity was called by a modern writer, a strong and massive quality like fortitude. But this needed time, mere time. Slowly, slowly did the stuff of which souls are made ripen in them; slowly the brooding of the mind was transmuted into the readiness which is all; slowly the tension of the will towards God and His purpose, the wrestling of the arms of desire importuning a blessing, was hardened into the energy which as a prince hath power with God and hath prevailed.
II. The worth and greatness of this tarriance! We know it and acknowledge. It is the will which grows to pith and might by the soul's tarriance in the city of Jerusalem. Secretly, drop by drop, the vessel of the man's force is stored and brimmed, as he waits for a promise of the Father: day after patient day, the sinew of the will piles and weaves and crosses and closes tight the web of its tissue, until the faith is knit whose victory can overcome the world.
—J. Huntley Skrine, Sermons to Pastors and Masters, p. 188.
While our own piety is so weak and worthless that we are always in trouble about our own salvation, of course little can be done. Free, hearty, and earnest work for Christ is simply impossible while this state of things continues. Napoleon would never have swept the kings of Europe from their thrones if he had been the general of an army of invalids; and the great battle of Truth and Holiness will never be won till there is a manliness, a courage, and a freedom about us, that at present we have little enough of.
—R. W. Dale.
References.—XXIV. 49.—H. Howard, The Raiment of the Soul, p. 249. Bishop Percival, Sermons at Rugby, p. 179. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 302. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 141. XXIV. 50.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iii. p. 6. XXIV. 50, 51.—H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 39. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 114. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 263. W. F. Shaw, Sermon-Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 69. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 105. E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 388. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen Minute Sermons for the People, p. 180. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 116. Ibid. Expositions of Holy Scripture—St. Luke, p. 388. XXIV. 50-53.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2949. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 80. T. H. Martin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 250.
The Great Transition
Luke 24:51I. The transition to a higher life for Him. The Resurrection and Ascension have to be taken together as parts of one great whole
II. The transition to a higher form of activity for us.
III. Transition to a higher form of our relations to Him. How much we have gained by losing Christ!
1. We have now a clearer knowledge of what He was.
2. We have now a strong attraction to the life beyond.
It is a glorious truth that we commemorate at this time the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have thought of the Incarnate Babe of Bethlehem, of the blessed life of Jesus Christ, of the dying Victim, of the risen Lord, and now we think of the ascended Lord in all His fullness. May our hearts and minds be open to receive and understand all that our glorious Jesus is made unto us. He meets every need of every soul.
I. The Witness of the Ascension.—It is interesting to notice that St. Matthew and St. John give us no account of the Ascension, but they do allude indirectly to the fact. St. Peter and St. Paul in their Epistles both mention the fact of the Ascension. And this leads us to this question; witnesses were not necessary to the act of Resurrection, but they were necessary to the Act of Ascension. Why? Because, though there were no human witnesses to the act of Resurrection, there were many witnesses who saw Him after He had risen from the dead. Suppose there had been no witnesses to the act of Ascension, we might have supposed Him to be still on earth. Who were the privileged ones to see Him go? His own beloved people. The Master did not show Himself at all after His Resurrection to His enemies, but to His own dear friends. In addition to this earthly witness, there were witnesses from the home to which He has gone. Let us thank God that we have such a twofold witness to the Ascension of our Lord.
II. Details of the Ascension.—I like to think that the Ascension was very near that house, that loved house at Bethany. Why He selected that spot we do not know, but it was near Bethany. We are told further that it was from the Mount of Olivet; and I think a contrast suggests itself here, a contrast between the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus as King of the Jews into the city of Jerusalem and this triumphal entry of the King of kings and Lord of lords into His glory. There is a further beautiful contrast between the song of praise which at least some gave when He entered Jerusalem, and the triumphal song of praise when He entered the kingdom of God. In one case we have 'Hosanna to the Son of David' from some true hearts, but who was it sang when the Master entered into the home above? The 24th Psalm seems to answer the question: 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in'. Then we glance at the Ascension itself. We read that His last act was blessing: He lifted up His hands and blessed them, and as He blessed them He departed from them. His last words read, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature'. If the Master's last words were 'Go and preach the Gospel,' how we ought to do it! And if the last act was that of blessing, ought we not to be assured that in seeking to obey His parting word we shall have the blessing upon us and upon our work?
III. Lessons of the Ascension.—Let us just draw two or three lessons from this great fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is ascended into glory. First there is this, the faith of each humble believer may be gloriously strengthened as he or she thinks of the ascended Jesus. If a soul doubts his own acceptance with God let him think that Jesus who died for him is welcomed back to glory because the work is done. May not also our faith penetrate the clouds and say, My Jesus has gone to prepare a home for me? May we not by faith see that home? Let our faith be so strong that it will look right through the cloud and say, My Jesus is there. Then if it be true that the Ascension of Jesus may and ought to strengthen the faith of every believer, surely it is bound, as we believe in that ascension, to quicken our hope. You remember, for example, the truths stated in connection with this subject in Hebrews vi., where the writer speaks about the Forerunner entering for us within the veil, and giving us this blessed thought, that the fact that the great Forerunner had gone in, was a kind of anchor of hope to our souls. Surely it means that if the Forerunner had entered in, His followers should enter in too. So this thought quickens our hope. And then, if faith be strengthened by the fact of the Ascension, and hope quickened, what about love? What was the prayer we prayed just now in the Collect for Ascension Day, that like as we do believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and in mind thither ascend, and with Him continually dwell. In other words, Ascension seems to say if the Head is in glory, set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth; live as those who long for Him, live as pilgrims and strangers here upon the earth, as mere travellers and passengers, those who are going home.
'Late found, early lost. This, perhaps, was the Apostles' first feeling on His parting from them. And the like often happens here below. We understand our blessings just when about to forfeit them; prospects are most hopeful just when they are about to be hopelessly clouded. Years upon years we have had great privileges, the light of truth, the presence of holy men, opportunities of religious improvement, kind and tender parents. Yet we knew not, or thought not of our happiness; we valued not our gift; and then it is taken away, just when we have begun to value it.' But, as Newman continues, other feelings were uppermost with the disciples, joy and gratitude. 'May we venture to surmise that this rejoicing was the high temper of the brave and noble-minded, who have faced danger in idea and are prepared for it? They rejoiced not that their Lord had gone, but that their hearts had gone with Him.'
Reference.—XXIV. 53.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 390.
And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.
And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, 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 must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
And they remembered his words,
And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.
And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.
Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.
And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.
And they talked together of all these things which had happened.
And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.
But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.
And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?
And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?
And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:
And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.
But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.
Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre;
And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.
And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.
But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,
Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
And he took it, and did eat before them.
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,
And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
And ye are witnesses of these things.
And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.
And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.
And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:
And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.