Great Texts of the Bible
The Day which the Lord made
This is the day which the Lord hath made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it.—Psalm 118:24.
This is unmistakably a psalm for use in the Temple worship, and was probably meant to be sung antiphonally, on some day of national rejoicing indicated in the text. A general concurrence of opinion points to the period of the restoration from Babylon as its date, but different events connected with that restoration have been selected. The psalm implies the completion of the Temple, and therefore shuts out any point prior to that. Delitzsch fixes on the dedication of the Temple as the occasion; but the view is still more probable which supposes that it was sung on the great celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, recorded in Nehemiah 8:14-18. In later times Psalm 118:25 was the festal cry raised while the altar of burnt-offering was solemnly compassed, once on each of the first six days of the Feast of Tabernacles, and seven times on the seventh.
1. Apparently the psalm falls into two halves, of which the former half (Psalm 118:1-16) seems to have, been sung as a processional hymn while approaching the sanctuary, and the latter (Psalm 118:17-29), partly at the Temple gates, partly by a chorus of priests within, and partly by the procession when it had entered. Psalm 118:22-24 probably belong to the priestly chorus. They set forth the great truth made manifest by restored Israel’s presence in the rebuilt Temple. The metaphor is suggested by the incidents connected with the rebuilding. The “stone” is obviously Israel, weak, contemptible, but now once more laid as the very foundation stone of God’s house in the world. The broad truth taught by its history is that God lays as the basis of His building, i.e., uses for the execution of His purposes, that which the wisdom of man despises and tosses aside.
2. The general truth contained here is that of St. Paul’s great saying, “God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong.” It is a law which finds its highest exemplification in the foundation for God’s true temple, other than which can no man lay. Israel is not only a figure of Christ; there is an organic unity between Him and them. Whatever, therefore, is true of Israel in a lower sense is true in its highest sense of Christ. If Israel is the rejected stone made the head of the corner, this is far truer of Him who was indeed rejected of men, but chosen of God and precious, the corner stone of the one great living temple of the redeemed.
The text is best regarded as the continuation of the choral praise in Psalm 118:22-23. “The day” is that of the festival now in progress, the joyful culmination of God’s manifold deliverances. It is a day in which joy is duty, and no heart has a right to be too heavy to leap for gladness. Private sorrows enough many of the jubilant worshippers no doubt had, but the sight of the Stone laid as the head of the corner should bring joy even to such. If sadness was ingratitude and almost treason then, what sorrow should now be so dense that it cannot be pierced by the Light which lighteth every man?
3. In our Lord’s time the whole of this psalm was applied to the Messiah by the Jewish interpreters. Christ was the Stone, refused by the builders of Israel, but afterwards made the Head of the corner. His was the welcome, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”; to Him was addressed the prayer, “Hosanna, save, I pray,” as on Palm Sunday, by the Jewish multitude. Thus it was very natural for the Christian Church to find in the words, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it,” an application to our Lord Jesus Christ. What was the day in Christ’s life which He made His own, beyond all others? Not His birthday; for that meant His entrance on a life of sorrows. Not His ascension day; for that was the closing scene of a triumph already achieved. Not His transfiguration day; it was a momentary flash of glory in a career of pain. Not the day of His crucifixion; it was a great day for a ruined world, but for Him it marked the lowest stage of humiliation and of woe. The day of days in the life of Christ was the day of His resurrection. It reflected a new glory on the day of His birth. It witnessed a triumph of which the ascension was but a completion. It was to the transfiguration what the sunrise is to the earliest dawn. It poured a flood of light and meaning on Calvary itself; and showed that what took place there was not simply the death-scene of an innocent Sufferer, but a sacrifice which would have power with God to the end of time.
Something of this kind is what was felt by the early Christians about Easter Day; and as it was the greatest day in the life of Jesus Christ, so for them it was the greatest day in the whole year. It was the day of days; it was the Lord’s Own Day. Every Lord’s Day in the year was a weekly feast of Christ’s rising from the dead; on Easter Day, the force and meaning of all these Lord’s Days were gathered into one consummate expression of joy and praise. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
The song of the angels, the voice at the baptism, the agony in the garden, the sublime anguish of Calvary, would have been inexplicable without the light which was reflected back upon them by the angels at the open tomb on the morning of the resurrection. Such a nature and such a life were not formed and fashioned within the narrow limits of time and space; they brought infinity and immortality within the confines of the world. Alone among men, Christ has visibly put on immortality; but that sublime truth does not rest on the resurrection; it rests on the very structure of man’s nature and life. Neither is comprehensible without it; neither is ever complete in itself; both affirm its reality and predict its fuller disclosure. The risen Christ does not stand solitary in a vast circle of unopened graves; He is the visible witness to the sublime truth that the grave has no victory and death no sting; for life and immortality are one and the same.1 [Note: H. W. Mabie, The Life of the Spirit, 360.]
Oh, had I lived in that great day,
How had its glory new
Fill’d earth and heaven, and caught away
My ravish’d spirit too!
No thoughts that to the world belong
Had stood against the wave
Of love which set so deep and strong
From Christ’s then open grave.
No cloister-floor of humid stone
Had been too cold for me;
For me no Eastern desert lone
Had been too far to flee.1 [Note: Matthew Arnold, Elegiac Poems.]
A Day of Victory
The joy of Easter is inspired by the hope which the day of our Lord’s resurrection warrants and quickens. What is this hope, and how does it spring from our Saviour’s rising again from the dead? The great hope which the resurrection sets before us is the completeness of our life after death.
1. The difficulty of believing in a future life is due, not to the reason, but to the imagination as controlled by the senses. Who of us has not made this discovery, in some one of those dark hours which sooner or later visit every human life? Who of us has not stood by the open coffin, and felt himself, or marked how others feel, the terrific empire of sense in the presence of death? The form which was once full of life, quivering with expressiveness, with thought, with feeling, now lies before us cold and motionless, like a plaster cast of its former self. Perhaps the traces of what must follow are already discernible; and forthwith the imagination surrenders itself, Like a docile pupil, to the guidance of the senses, and ends by proclaiming the victory of death; a victory too clear, too complete, too unquestionable, to allow reason or revelation to raise their voices in favour of any sort of life that can possibly survive it.
2. Now it was to deal with this specific difficulty that our Lord willed to die, and then, by a literal bodily resurrection, to rise from the grave. He would grapple with the imperious urgency of the senses and the imagination on their own ground. He would beat down by an act, palpable to the senses, and attested by evidence which should warrant its reality for all time, the tyrant power which sought to shut out from man the hope of an immortal life. When the disciples saw that the Risen Being before them was their Lord; when they noted His pierced hands, His feet, His side; when they conversed with Him, ate with Him, listened to Him, followed Him much as of old; then they knew that the Master who had been killed upon the cross by a protracted agony, and committed to the grave as a bleeding and mangled corpse, had really risen from death, and had opened a new era of hope for the human race. And for us, in a distant age, this fact that Christ rose from death is not less full of precious hope and joy than for our first forefathers in the faith. For the early Christians the resurrection was practically Christianity, nay, the whole of Christianity, in so far as Christianity as a whole rested on it as the proof-fact of its having come from heaven. This is what the first Christians felt: of the truth of their faith “God had given an assurance unto all men, in that he had raised Jesus from the dead.” Therefore did the resurrection inspire them with such fervent joy.
If it belong to man to rejoice when some great General has fought his country’s enemies, and beaten them and led their chiefs captives; if on such occasions our bells ring, and our cities are decked with garlands, and flags wave, and there are feastings and banquetings,
And the tumult of their acclaim is rolled
Through the open gates of the city afar,
To the shepherd who watcheth the evening star,
if a nation joys in the return of the triumphant General, and hearts are warmed all through the length and breadth of the land at the news, as by electric sympathy, and all agree to make holiday, because now the yoke of the invader has been broken, and they feel themselves free—and hearth, and home, and wife, and child, and all that they hold dear is rescued out of peril, and the possession secured to them—how much more surely ought the Christian to be glad and rejoice on each recurrence of Easter? For it is the anniversary of the Lord’s Victory. He comes to us as the Captain of our Salvation, comes amongst us fresh from combat, “with dyed garments from Bozrah,” “treading in the greatness of his strength”; He comes, leading the Invader a prisoner, leading captivity captive.1 [Note: R. D. B. Rawnsley.]
A Day of Rejoicing
1. The joy of Easter is the joy of a great certainty. The resurrection of our Saviour is the fact which makes an intelligent Christian certain of the truth of his creed. The Apostles entered on their work with one conviction, prominent beyond all others. It was that the truth of Christianity, and its claim upon the minds and hearts of men, depended mainly upon the fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Within a few weeks of the occurrence, and amidst a population passionately interested in denying the truth of what they said, they took every opportunity of virtually saying, “Christianity is true; it is true because Christ has risen from death.” They could not have ventured to do this unless they had been sure of the fact upon which they were so ready to risk everything, even life itself; sure, with that sort of certainty which comes from actual experience.
To my mind, the spiritual miracle of the Crucifixion was an infinitely greater miracle than the physical miracle of the Resurrection—a much more impressive evidence of the actual mingling of the Divine with the human. It is strange that a world which can accept heartily the one should find it so difficult, and in some cases so impossible, to accept the other. This implies, I think, that what it does accept it accepts without any true insight into the wonder and majesty of the personal manifestation the reality of which it professes to recognize. Certainly ours is a superstitious age, though superstitious rather in the excess of its respect for the physical energies of the universe, than in the excess of its respect for the spiritual.1 [Note: R. H. Hutton, Aspects of Religious and Scientific Thought, 163.]
2. It is always very difficult to realize any great joy or great sorrow. We cannot realize it by wishing to do so. What brings joys and sorrows of this world home to us is their circumstances and accompaniments. When a friend dies, we cannot at first believe him taken from us; we cannot believe ourselves to be in any new place when we are just come to it. When we are told a thing, we assent to it, we do not doubt it, but we do not feel it to be true, we do not understand it as a fact which must take up a position or station in our thoughts, and must be acted from and acted towards, must be dealt with as existing: that is, we do not realize it. It cannot be denied that we have much to do, very much, before we rise to the understanding of our new nature and its privileges, and learn to rejoice and be glad in the day which the Lord hath made; “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.”
Unbelief once wrote at the entrance of a cemetery the word “Fuerunt,” “They have been.” Faith always writes over the gate of a churchyard, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” To unbelief the dead are but memories; memories of beings who have ceased to be. To faith the dead are living, working, praying friends, whom nothing but the dulness of sense hides from sight.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Easter in St. Paul’s, 178.]
3. The joy of Easter is the joy of a great reaction: a reaction from anxiety and sorrow. So it was at the time of Christ’s resurrection. The Apostles had been crushed by the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. They had trusted that it was “he which should have redeemed Israel.” Their disappointment, their despondency, their anguish were exactly proportioned to their earlier hopes. When He was in His grave, all seemed over; and when He appeared, first to one, and then to another, on the day of His resurrection, they could not keep their feelings of welcome and delight—traversed though these were by a sense of wondering awe—within anything like bounds. It was a change from darkness to light, from fear to hope, from death to endless life, for the world at large. Those who first felt it, and rejoiced, are long since gathered to their rest; but others came after them, to whom it was just as really a cause of joy as to the women who were early at the tomb; and to us at this present time, separated by nineteen hundred years from the Apostles and followers of the risen Son of God, His rising again is quite as much a matter to encourage us to triumphant faith, to comfort us in trouble and in death, as it was to them.
Finding that one of his children had been greatly shocked and overcome by the first sight of death, he tenderly endeavoured to remove the feeling which had been awakened, and opening a Bible, pointed to the words, “Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.” Nothing, he said, to his mind, afforded us such comfort when shrinking from the outward accompaniments of death,—the grave, the grave-clothes, the loneliness,—as the thought that all these had been around our Lord Himself, round Him who died, and is now alive for evermore.1 [Note: A. P. Stanley, Life of Thomas Arnold, D.D., i. 219.]
4. The joy of Easter is the holy joy of quiet triumph, of hymns of victory and exulting faith. The Lord is risen! What more can the glad Church of the redeemed say? She can only repeat it again and again with multiplied Alleluias. Words seem out of place, for the joy of the Church is too deep to express itself in the ordinary language of the world—and yet it is to the world that she brings the glad tidings of the victory of her Lord. No wonder then that the earth is glad and beautiful in this foregleam of the coming day, when He shall fulfil His promise, “Behold, I make all things new.” Even in the order of nature there is nothing but joy and the coming of new life in the spring-time of the world. The very air is full of the songs of the birds, and fragrant with the first fresh scents of the forests and meadows, as they clothe themselves again with foliage and verdure after the long days of wintry gloom, decay and death.
See the world’s beauty budding forth anew,
Shows with the Lord His gifts returning too!
The earth with flowers is deck’d, the sky serene;
The heavenly portals glow with brighter sheen.
The greenwood-leaves, the flowering meadows tell
Of Christ, triumphant over gloomy hell.
Hail! Festal Day! for evermore ador’d,
Wherein God conquer’d hell, and upward soar’d.
Be sure there is a unity of Law in the universe, and if in that which we call the natural world there is one consistent thought producing one consistent fact, the same thought holds good in the world of Man; and the life which we possess when we die—the life which is in thought, feeling, will, and the rest—will frame for itself, as quickly, as individually, as eagerly, a new form as the seed in spring has done when we see its twofold arrow cleave the ground. This will be the resurrection, and of the great law of which this is the outcome, the result of which we see in Nature, in all things—the result of which we do not see in Man—for its result in us is wrought after death—the resurrection of Christ is the only known result in humanity. The life in Christ took new form when His earthly body died, and the fact that it had done so was revealed to His disciples. They knew He was alive again, and had a new and living form—that on the death of His mortal body, an immortal form became His own. He was not unclothed, but clothed upon. Properly speaking, that is no miracle, if miracle be defined as the violation or transcending of law. It is, in my mind, that which always takes place in the other world when we die; shown to us in this world for once, that we might know it. It is not a reversion, it is a revelation, of law; it is not apart from our knowledge, it is the declarations that the same idea that rules the growth of life in the world of Nature rules its growth in the world of Man. The resurrection of the body is the renewing of form.1 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]
The yearly miracle of spring,
Of budding tree and blooming flower,
Which Nature’s feathered laureates sing
In my cold ear from hour to hour,
Spreads all its wonders round my feet;
And every wakeful sense is fed
On thoughts that o’er and o’er repeat,
“The Resurrection of the Dead!”
If these half vital things have force
To break the spell which winter weaves,
To wake, and clothe the wrinkled corse
In the full life of shining leaves;
Shall I sit down in vague despair,
And marvel if the nobler soul
We laid in earth shall ever dare
To wake to life, and backward roll
The sealing stone, and striding out,
Claim its eternity, and head
Creation once again, and shout,
“The Resurrection of the Dead”?1 [Note: George Henry Boker, The Book of the Dead, 147.]
A Day of Remembrance
1. Christ’s resurrection has not become less important by the passage of years; its virtue is not diminished, its grace and power are not worn out. If Christ had indeed risen this very morning, His resurrection would not be in reality of more concern to us than it is now. Christ is risen—risen never to die again, to be for ever that which He was the first moment when He conquered death. He is there above, the Saviour who could not be kept in captivity by the grave; the very same who spoke to Mary Magdalene, and reproved the doubting Thomas, and talked on the way to Emmaus, and broke bread on the sea-shore. And what was true of Him then is true now; what could be said of Him then can be said now; what He did then for those who loved Him and believed Him, He can do now; what they felt towards Him—the rejoicing and the glorying trust, and the conquering comfort and strength—it is ours to choose whether we shall not feel it too. The Light which broke on men on that third day, shines as brightly on all believing hearts now as it did on St. Peter and St. John, not a mere remembrance of past glory and gladness, but an unfailing and uninterrupted spring of present hope and strength. And it will shine long after we are gone, to cheer the hearts and raise the joy of our children, and of all the unborn generations to the end of the world.
It is the one inspiring element of Christianity that it throws us in boundless hope upon the future, and forbids us to dwell in the poisonous shadows of the past. A new and better growth is before us, a fresher, a diviner, a more enthusiastic life awaits us. We are to wake up satisfied in the likeness of Christ, the ever young Humanity. Therefore, “forgetting those things which are behind,” let us “press forward to the mark of the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.”2 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke.]
The women sought the tomb at dawn of day,
And as they went they wept and made their moan:
“His sepulchre is guarded by a stone,
And who for us shall roll the stone away?”
But lo!—an Angel, robed in white array,
Had rent the rock and sat thereon alone.
“Fear not,” said he; “the Lord hath overthrown
The power of Death: I show you where He lay.”
We echo oftentimes that cry of old:
Huge stumbling-blocks confront us whilst we wait
And wonder, weeping, who will help afford:
But as we question sorrowing, behold!
The stone is rolled away, though it is great,
And on it sits the Angel of the Lord.1 [Note: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, Verses, Wise or Otherwise, 197.]
2. The resurrection of Christ was to His early followers a call, a call louder than that of the trumpet on Mount Sinai, to newness of life and newness of hope. It called men of old when it was first preached; it calls men still, now that its remembrance never ceases among us. It calls aloud to newness of life, it calls on the sinner and the careless to arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; it cries aloud, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light,” We know how it made St. Paul cry out, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” “In that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” These were the feelings, these were the thoughts, which came into the minds of the first believers in Christ. They felt how much they had to do with the resurrection. It had weaned them from sin; it strengthened them, day by day, in all holiness and love. The resurrection had changed everything to them, and they lived as men to whom this world had become nothing except a place to live in holily, where they might love and serve their brethren, and wait patiently God’s will, till their call came to that world and home which was to be for ever. Christ’s resurrection calls us also not only to begin a new life, but to go on with it, with renewed zeal and carefulness, if by His grace we have begun it. It reminds us once more how mighty to save, how unwearied to uphold and help, is He whom we have for our Leader and Guide through life. He, if we are trusting Him, is One who has broken the bands of death, who is in truth the Watcher of our way, and the Director of our steps; He is One who has endured and conquered—endured all and conquered all—to lend us of His strength, to feed our faintness with His renewed life, to show us of that truth and light which He has won for men. We have only to go to Him for it. We have only to go straight forward in the way of obedience and holiness, and we need not fear that we shall fail.
3. There may still be for each of us many anxieties, many sorrows, many bitter disappointments and griefs in life; for God does not promise tranquillity, but quite the opposite. Yet in spite of all this there will be joy in God, and peace, and rest, through the abiding union with Him who is “our peace.” As we conquer sin we grow in likeness to Jesus Christ; and as we become like Him we share, through an ever-growing closeness of union, the joy, the peace, and the brightness of the resurrection life. “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” As children say to themselves, “This is the spring,” or “This is the sea,” trying to grasp the thought and not let it go; as travellers in a foreign land say, “This is that great city,” or “This is that famous building,” knowing it has a long history through centuries, and vexed with themselves that they know so little about it; so let us say, This is the Day of Days, the Royal Day, the Lord’s Day. This is the day on which Christ rose from the dead; the day which brought us salvation. It is a day which has made us greater than we know. It is our Day of Rest, the true Sabbath. We have had enough of weariness, and dreariness, and listlessness, and sorrow, and remorse. We have had enough of this troublesome world. We have had enough of its noise and din. Noise is its best music. But now there is a stillness that speaks. We know how strange the feeling is of perfect silence after continued sound. Such is our blessedness now. Calm and serene days have begun; and Christ is heard in them, and His still small voice, because the world speaks not. Let us only put off the world, and we put on Christ. The receding from one is an approach to the other. May we grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, season after season, year after year, till He takes to Himself, first one, then another, in the order He thinks fit, to be separated from each other for a little while, to be united together for ever, in the Kingdom of His Father and our Father, His God and our God.
When one says, “Lord, I believe,” in Jesus’ sense, he means that he trusts—a very different thing. Jesus’ physical Resurrection, in the same way, is a question that can be decided only by evidence, and is within the province of reason. His spiritual Resurrection is a drama of the soul, and a matter of faith. When I declare my belief that on the third day Jesus rose, I am really yielding to evidence. When I am crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, and rise to newness of life in Christ, I am believing after the very sense of Jesus.1 [Note: John Watson, The Mind of the Master.]
Beveridge (W.), Theological Works, iii. 418.
Blackley (T.), Practical Sermons, i. 82.
Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, ii. 142.
Cottam (S. E.), New Sermons for a New Century, 117.
Frank (M.), Sermons, ii. 112.
Fuller (M.), The Lord’s Day, 109.
Hall (R.), Works, v. 380.
Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, ii. 7.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., v. 1.
Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 169.
Maclaren (A.), The Book of Psalms (Expositor’s Bible), iii. 232.
Mills (B. R. V.), The Marks of the Church, 224.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, vi. 94.
Simcox (W. H.), The Cessation of Prophecy, 310.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxiv. (1878), No. 1420.
Strong (A. H.), Miscellanies, ii. 19.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), New Ser., xi. (1875), No. 948.
Wilkinson (J. B.), Mission Sermons, i. 176.
Christian World Pulpit, xi. 314 (R. Glover); xxxv. 276 (Canon Rowsell).