Luke 24 Expositor's Bible Commentary
Luke 24
Expositor's Bible Commentary
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.
Chapter 26

THE FIRST LORD’S DAY
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THE Sabbath came and went over the grave of its Lord, and silence reigned in Joseph’s garden, broken only by the mailed sentinels, who laughed and chatted by, the sealed sepulcher. As to the disciples, this high day is a dies non to them, for the curtain of a deep silence hides them from our view. Did they go up to the Temple to join in the Psalm, how "His mercy endureth forever?" Scarcely: their thoughts were transfixed to the cross, which haunted them like a horrid dream; its rude dark wood had stunned them for awhile, as it broke down their faith and shattered all their hopes. But if the constellation of the Apostles passes into temporary eclipse, with no beam of inspired light falling upon them, "the women" are not thus hidden, for we read "And on the Sabbath day they rested, according to the commandment." It is true it is but a negative attitude that is portrayed, but it is an exceedingly beautiful one. It is Love waiting upon Duty. The voices of their grief are not allowed to become so excessive and clamorous as to drown the Divine voice, speaking through the ages, "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day"; and even the fragrant offerings of their devotion are set aside, that they may keep inviolate the Sabbath rest.

But if the spices of the women are the spikenard and myrrh of a mingled love and grief, they are at the same time a tacit admission of their error. They prove conclusively that the women, at any rate, had no thought of a resurrection. It appears strange to us that such should be the case, after the frequent references Jesus made to His death and rising again. But evidently the disciples attached to these sayings of Jesus one of those deeper, farther-off meanings which were so characteristic of His speech, interpreting in some mysterious spiritual sense what was intended to be read in a strict literalness. At present nothing could be farther from their thoughts than a resurrection; it had not even occurred to them as a possible thing; and instead of being something to which they were ready to give a credulous assent, or a myth which came all shaped and winged out of their own heated imaginings, it was something altogether foreign to their thoughts, and which, when it did occur, only by many infallible proofs was recognized and admitted into their hearts as truth. And so the very spices the women prepare for the embalming are a silent but a fragrant testimony to the reality of the Resurrection. They show the drift of the disciples’ thought, that when the stone was rolled to the door of the sepulcher it shut in to the darkness, and buried, all their hopes. The only Easter they knew, or even dreamed of, was that first and final Easter of the last day.

As soon as the restraint of the Sabbath was over, the women turned again to their labor of love, preparing the ointment and spices for the embalming, and coming with the early dawn to the sepulcher. Though it was "yet dark," as St. John tells us, they did not anticipate any difficulty from the city gates, for these were left open both by night and day during the Passover feast; but the thought did occur to them on the way as to how they should roll back the stone, a task for which they had not prepared, and which was evidently beyond their unaided strength. Their question, however, had been answered in anticipation, for when they reached the garden the stone was rolled away, and the sepulcher all exposed. Surprised and startled by the discovery, their surprise deepened into consternation as, passing within the sepulcher, they found that the body of Jesus, on which they had come to perform the last kind offices of affection, had disappeared. And how? Could there be more than one solution of the enigma? The enemies of Jesus had surely laid violent hands upon the tomb, rifling it of the precious dust they sorrowfully had committed to its keeping, reserving it for fresh indignities. St. John supplements the narrative of our Evangelist, telling how the Magdalene, slipping out from the rest, "ran" back to the city to announce, in half-hysterical speech, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid Him"; for though St. John names but the Magdalene, the "we" implies that she was but one of a group of ministering women, a group that she had abruptly left. The rest lingered by the tomb perplexed, with reason blinded by the whirling clouds of doubt, when suddenly-the "behold" indicates a swift surprise-"two men stood by them in dazzling apparel."

In speaking of them as "two men" probably our Evangelist only intended to call attention to the humanness of their form, as in verse 23 {Luke 24:23} he speaks of the appearance as "a vision of angels." It will be observed, however, that in the New Testament the two words "men" and "angels" are used interchangeably; as in Luke 7:24, Revelation 22:8, where the "angels" are evidently men, while in Mark 16:5, and again in the verse before us, the so-called "men" are angels. But does not this interchangeable use of the words imply a close relation between the two orders of being? And is it not possible that in the eternal ripenings and evolutions of heaven a perfected humanity may pass up into the angelic ranks? At any rate, we do know that when angels have appeared on earth there has been a strange humanness about them. They have not even had the fictitious wings which poetry has woven for them; they have nearly always appeared wearing the human face Divine, and speaking with the tones and in the tongues of men, as if it were their native speech.

But if their form is earthly, their dress is heavenly. Their garments flash and glitter like the robes of the transfigured Christ; and awed by the supernatural portent, the women bow down their faces to the earth. "Why," asked the angels, "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 that the Son of man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." Even the angels are not allowed to disclose the secret of His resurrection life, or to tell where He may be found, but they announce the fact that they are not at liberty to explain. "He is not here; He is risen," is the Gospel of the angels, a Gospel whose prelude they themselves have heard, but, alas! forgotten; and since Heaven does not reveal what by searching we ourselves may find out, the angels throw them back upon their own recollections, recalling the words Jesus Himself had spoken, and which, had they been understood and remembered, would have lighted up the empty sepulcher and have solved the great mystery. And how much we lose because we do not remember, or if remembering, we do not believe! Divine words have been spoken, and spoken to us, but to our ear, dulled by unbelief, they have come as empty sound, all inarticulate, and we have said it was some thunder in the sky or the voices of a passing wind. How many promises, which, like the harps of God, would have made even our wildernesses vocal, have we hung up, sad and silent, on the willows of the "strange lands!" If we only "remembered" the words of the Lord Jesus, if they became to us real and eternally true, instead of being the unreal voices of a dream, those words would be, not "the distant lamps" of Heaven, but near at hand, lighting up all dark places, because throwing their light within, turning even the graves of our buried hopes into sanctuaries of joy and praise!

And so the women, instead of embalming their Lord, carried their spices back unused. Not unused, however, for in the spices and ointments the Living One did not need their own names were embalmed, a fragrant memory. Coming to the tomb, as they thought, to do homage to a dead Christ, the Magdalene, and Mary, and Johanna, and Salome found a Christ who had conquered death, and at the same time found an immortality for themselves; for the fragrance of their thought, which was not permitted to ripen into deeds, has filled the whole world.

Returning to the city, whither the Magdalene had outrun them, they announced to the rest, as she had done to Peter and John, the fact of the empty grave; but they completed the story with the narrative of the angelic vision and the statement that Jesus had risen. So little, however, were the disciples predisposed to receive the tidings of a resurrection, they would not admit the fact even when attested by at least four witnesses, but set it down as idle, silly talk, something which was not only void of truth, but void of sense. Only Peter and John of the Apostles, as far as we know, visited the sepulcher, and even they doubted, though they found the tomb empty and the linen clothes carefully wrapped up. They "believed" that the body had disappeared, but, as St. John tells us, "as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead"; {John 20:9} and as they leave the empty grave to return to their own home, they only "wondered at that which was come to pass." It was an enigma they could not solve; and though the Easter morning had now fully broke, the day which should light all days, as it drew to itself the honors and songs of the Sabbath, yet to the minds and hearts of the Apostles it was "yet dark"; the glory of the Lord had not yet risen upon them.

And now comes one of those beautiful pictures, peculiar to St. Luke, as he lights up the Judaean hills with a soft after-glow-an after-glow which at the same time is the aurora of a new dawn. It was in the afternoon of that first Lord’s day, when two disciples set out from Jerusalem for Emmaus, a village, probably the modern Khamasa, sixty furlongs from the city. Who the disciples were we cannot say, for one is unnamed, while the other bears a name, Cleopas, we do not meet with elsewhere, though its Greek origin would lead us to infer that he was some Gentile proselyte who had attached himself to Jesus. As to the second, we have not even the clue of an obscure name with which to identify him, and in this somewhat strange anonymity some expositors have thought they detected the shadowy of the Evangelist, Luke, himself. The supposition is not an impossible one; for though St. Luke was not an eye-witness from the beginning, he might have witnessed some of the closing scenes of the Divine life; while the very minuteness of detail which characterizes his story would almost show that if not himself a participant, he was closely related to those who were; but had St. Luke himself been the favored one, it is scarcely likely that he would have omitted this personal testimony when speaking of the "many infallible proofs" of His resurrection.

Whoever the two might be, it is certain that they enjoyed the esteem and confidence of the disciples, having free access, even at untimely hours, to the Apostolic circle, while the fact that Jesus Himself sought their company, and selected them to such honors, shows the high place which was accorded to them in the Divine regard.

We are not apprised of the object of their journey; indeed, they themselves seem to have lost sight of that in the gleams of glory which, all unexpected, fell across their path. It is not unlikely that it was connected with recent events; for now that the central Sun, around whom their lives revolved, has disappeared, will not those lives necessarily take new directions, or drift back into the old orbits? But whatever their purposes might be, their thoughts are retrospective rather than prospective; for while their faces are set towards Emmaus, and their feet are steadily measuring off the furlongs of the journey, their thoughts are lingering behind, clinging to the dark crest of Calvary, as the cloud-pennon clings to the Alpine peak. They can speak but of one theme, "these things which have happened": the One whom they took to be the Christ, to whom their hearts had been so strangely drawn; His character, miracles, and words; the ignominious Death, in which that Life, with all their hopes, was quenched; and then the strange tidings which had been brought by the women, as to how they had found the grave empty, and how they had seen a vision of angels. The word "questioned together" generally implies a difference of opinion, and refers to the cross-questioning of disputants; but in this case it probably referred only to the innumerable questions the report of the Resurrection would raise in their minds, the honest doubts and difficulties with which they felt themselves compelled to grapple.

It was while they were discussing these new problems, walking leisurely along the road-for men walk heavily when weighted at heart-a Stranger overtook and joined them, asking, after the usual salutation, which would not be omitted, "What communications are these that ye have one with another, as ye walk?" The very form of the question would help to disguise the familiar voice, while the changed "form" of which St. Mark speaks would somewhat mask the familiar features; but at the same time it would appear that there was a supernatural holding of their eyes, as if a dusky veil were wrapped about the Stranger. His question startled them, even as a voice from another world, as, indeed, it seemed; and stopping suddenly, they turned their "sad" faces to the Stranger in a momentary and silent astonishment, a silence which Cleopas broke by asking, "Dost thou alone sojourn in Jerusalem, and not know the things which are come to pass there in these days?" a double question, to which the Stranger replied with the brief interrogative, "What things?" It needed no more than that solitary word to unseal the fountain of their lips, for the clouds which had broken so wildly and darkly over Calvary had filled their hearts with an intense and bitter grief, which longed for expression, even for the poor relief of words. And so they break in together with their answer (the pronoun is changed now), "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 up to be condemned to death and crucified Him. But we hoped that it was He which should redeem Israel. Yea, and beside all this, it is now the third day since these things came to pass. Moreover certain women of our company amazed us, having been early at the tomb; 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 that were with us went to the tomb, and found it even so as the women had said: but Him they saw not."

It is the impetuous language of intense feeling, in which hope and despair strike alternate chords. In the first strain Jesus of Nazareth is lifted high; lie is a Prophet mighty in word and deed; then He is stricken down, condemned to death, and crucified. Again, hope speaks, recalling the bright dream of a redemption for Israel; but having spoken that word, Hope herself goes aside to weep by the grave where her Redeemer was hurriedly buried. Still again is the glimmer of a new light, as the women bring home the message of the angels; but still again the light sets in darkness, a gloom which neither the eyes of Reason nor of Faith could as yet pierce; for "Him they saw not" marks the totality of the eclipse, pointing to a void of darkness, a firmament without a sun or star.

But incidentally, in the swift current of their speech, we catch a reflection of the Christ as He appeared to their minds. He was indeed a Prophet, second to none, and in their hope He was more, for He was the Redeemer of Israel.

It is evident the disciples had not yet grasped the full purport of the Messianic mission. Their thought was hazy, obscure, like the vision of men walking in a mist. The Hebrew dream of a temporal sovereignty seems to have been a prevailing, perhaps the prevailing force in their minds, the attraction which drew and cheered them on. But their Redeemer was but a local, temporal one, who will restore the kingdom to Israel; He was not yet the Redeemer of the world, who should save His people from their sins.

The "regeneration," as they fondly called it, the "new creation," was purely national, when out of the chaos of Roman irruptions their Hebrew paradise will come. For one thing, the disciples were too near the Divine Life to see its just and large proportions. They must stand back from it the distance of a Pentecost; they must look on it through their lenses of flame, before they can take in the profound meaning of that Life, or the awful mystery of that Death. At present their vision is out of focus, and all they can see is the blurred and shadowy outline of the reality, the temporal rather than the spiritual, a redeemed nationality rather than a redeemed and regenerated humanity.

The risen Jesus, for such the Stranger was, though they knew it not, listened to their requiem patiently and wonderingly, glad to find within their hearts such deep and genuine love, which even the cross and the grave had not been able to extinguish. The men themselves were true, even though their views were somewhat warped-the refractions of their Hebrew atmosphere. And Jesus leads them in thought to those "shining uplands" of truth; as it were, spurring them on, by a sharp though kind rebuke, to the heights where Divine thoughts and purposes move on to their fulfillment. "O foolish men," He said, "and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?" They thought He was some stranger in Jerusalem, yet He knows their prophets better than themselves; and hark; He puts in a word they had fared to use. They only called Him "Jesus of Nazareth"; they did not give Him that higher title of "the Christ" which they had freely used before. No; for the cross had rudely shuttered and broken that golden censer, in which they had been wont to burn a royal incense. But here the Stranger recasts their broken, golden word, burning its sweet, Divine incense even in presence of the cross, calling the Crucified the "Christ!" Verily, this Stranger has more faith than they; and they still their garrulous lips, which speak so randomly, to hear the new and august Teacher, whose voice was an echo of the Truth, if not the Truth itself!

"And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." It will be observed that our Evangelist uses a peculiar word in speaking of this Divine exposition. He calls it an "interpretation," a word used in the New Testament only in the sense of translating from one language to another, from the unknown to the known tongue. And such, indeed, it was; for they had read the Scriptures but in part, and so misread them. They had thrown upon those Scriptures the projections of their own hopes and illusions; while other Scriptures, those relating to the sufferings of Christ, were set back, out of sight, or if heard at all, they were only the voice of an unknown tongue, a vox et preterea nihil. So Jesus interprets to them the voices of this unknown tongue. Beginning at Moses, He shows, from the types, the prophecies, and the Psalms, how that the Christ must suffer and die, ere the glories of His kingdom can begin; that the cross and the grave both lay in the path of the Redeemer, as the bitter and prickly calyx out of which the "glories" should unfold themselves. And thus, opening their Scriptures, putting in the crimson lens of the blood, as well as the chromatic lens of the Messianic glory, the disciples find the cross all transfigured, inwoven in God’s eternal purpose of redemption; while the sufferings of Christ, at which they had stumbled before, they now see were part of the eternal plan of mercy, a Divine "ought," a great necessity.

They had now reached Emmaus, the limit of their journey, but the two disciples cannot lose the company of One whose words have opened to them a new and a bright world; and though He was evidently going on farther, they constrained Him to abide with them, as it was towards evening and the day was far spent. And He went in to tarry with them, though not for long. Sitting down to meat, the Stranger Guest, without any apology, takes the place of the host, and blessing the bread, He breaks and gives to them. Was it the uplifted face threw them back on the old, familiar days? Or did they read the nail-mark in His hand? We do not know; but in an instant the veil in which He had enfolded Himself was withdrawn, and they knew Him; it was the Lord Himself, the risen Jesus! In a moment the hush of a great awe fell upon them, and before they had time to embrace Him whom they had loved so passionately, indeed before their lips could frame an exclamation of surprise, He had vanished; He "became invisible" to them, as it reads, passing out of their sight like a dissolving cloud. And when they did recover themselves it was not to speak His name-there was no need of that-but to say one to another, "Was not our heart burning within us while He spake to us in the way, while He opened to us the Scriptures?" It was to them a bright Apocalypse, "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," who was dead, and is alive for evermore; and all forgetful of their errand, and though it is evening, they leave Emmans at once, their winged feet not heeding the sixty furlongs now, as they haste to Jerusalem to announce to the eleven, and to the rest, that Jesus has indeed risen, and has appeared unto them.

Returning to Jerusalem, they go direct to the well-known trysting-place, where they find the Apostles ("the eleven" as the band was now called, though, as St. John informs us, Thomas was not present) and others gathered for their evening meal, and speaking of another and later appearance of Jesus to Simon, which must have occurred during their absence from the city; and they add to the growing wonder by telling of their evening adventure, and how Jesus was known of them in breaking of bread. But while they discussed the subject-for the majority were yet in doubt as to the reality of the appearances-Jesus Himself stood before them, passing through the fastened door; for the same fear that shut the door would securely lock it. Though giving to them the old-time salutation, "Peace be to you," it did not calm the unrest and agitation of their soul; the chill of a great fear fell upon them, as the spectral Shadow, as they thought it, stood before them. "Why are ye troubled?" asks Jesus, "and wherefore do reasonings arise in your hearts?" for they fairly trembled with fear, as the word would imply. "See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself: handle Me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye behold Me having." He then extended His hands, drew back His robe from His feet, and, as St. John says, uncovered His side, that they might see the wounds of the nails and the spear, and that by these visible, tangible proofs they might be convinced of the reality of His Resurrection body. It was enough; their hearts in an instant swung round from an extreme of fear to an extreme of joy, a sort of wild joy, in which Reason for the moment became confused and Faith bewildered. But whim the heavenly trance is yet upon them Jesus recalls them to earthly things, asking if they have any meat; and when they give Him a piece of a broiled fish, some of the remnants of their own repast, He takes and eats before them all; not that now He needed the sustenance of earthly food, in His resurrection life, but that by this simple act He might put another seal upon His true humanity. It was a kind of sacrament, showing forth His oneness with His own; that on the farther side of the grave, in His exaltation, as on this, in His humiliation, He was still the "Son of man," interested in all things, even the commonplaces, of humanity.

The interview was not for long, for the risen Christ dwelt apart from His disciples, coming to them at uncertain times and only for brief spaces. He lingers, however, now, to explain to the eleven, as before to the two, the great mystery of the Redemption. He opens their minds that the truth may pass within. Gathering up the lamps of prophecy suspended through the Scriptures, He turns their varying lights upon Himself, the Me of whom they testify. He shows them how it is written in their law that the Christ must suffer, the Christ must die, the Christ must rise again the third day, and "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem." And then He gave to these preachers of repentance and remission the promise of which the Book of Acts is a fulfillment and enlargement, the "promise of the Father," which is the gift of the Holy Ghost. It was the prophecy of the Pentecost, the first rustle of the mighty rushing wind, that Divine breath which comes to all who will receive it.

Our Evangelist passes in silence other appearances of the Resurrection Life, those forty days in which, by His frequent manifestations, He was training His disciples to trust in His unseen Presence. He only in a few closing words tells of the Ascension; how, near Bethany, He was parted from them, and taken up into heaven, throwing down benedictions from His uplifted hands even as He went; and how the disciples returned to Jerusalem, not sorrowing, as men bereaved, but with great joy, having learned how to endure and rejoice as seeing Him who is invisible, the unseen but ever-present Christ. That St. Luke omits the other Resurrection appearances is probably because he intended to insert them in his prelude to the Acts of the Apostles, which he does, as he joins his second treatise to the first. Nor is it altogether an incidental coincidence that as he writes his later story he begins at Jerusalem, lingering in the upper room which was the wind-rocked cradle of the Church, and inserting as key-words of the new story these four words from the old: Repentance, Remission, Promise, Power. The two books are thus one, a seamless robe, woven for the living Christ, the one giving us the Christ of the Humiliation, the other the Christ of the Exaltation, who speaks now from the upper heavens, and whose power is the power of the Holy Ghost.

And was it altogether undesigned that our Evangelist, omitting other appearances of the forty days, yet throws such a wealth of interest and of coloring into that first Easter day, filling it up from its early dawn to its late evening? We think not. He is writing to and for the Gentiles, whose Sabbaths are not on the last but on the first day of the week, and he stays to picture for us that first Lord’s day, the day chosen by the Lord of the Sabbath for this high consecration. And as the Holy Church throughout all the world keeps her Sabbaths now, her anthems and songs are a sweet incense burned by the door of the empty sepulcher; for, "The light which threw the glory of the Sabbath into the shade was the glory of the Risen Lord."

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