And how did they return? What were their feelings as they rose to pursue their way? Had we not been told far otherwise, we should have imagined them to have been those of deep dejection. We should have pictured to ourselves a weary, weeping, troubled band; their countenances shaded with a sorrow too profound for words; -- the joyous melodies of that morning hour, all in sad contrast with those hearts which were bowed down with a bereavement unparalleled in its nature since a weeping world was bedewed with tears! They were going too, as "lambs in the midst of wolves," to the very city where, a few weeks before, their Lord had been crucified, -- the disciples of a hated Master, "not knowing the things that might befall them there." Could we wonder, if for the moment these aching spirits should have surrendered themselves to mingled feelings of disconsolate grief and terror. But how different! Sorrow indeed they must have had; but if so, it was counterbalanced and overborne by far other emotions; for of the sorrow, the Evangelist says nothing; the simple record of this mournful journey is in these words, "They returned to Jerusalem WITH GREAT JOY." Most wonderful, and yet most true! Never did mourner return from a funeral scene -- (from laying in the grave his nearest and dearest) -- with a heavier sense of an overwhelming loss than did that widowed orphaned band. And yet, lo! they are joyful! A sunshine is lighting up their faces. The "Sun of their souls" has set behind the world's horizon. But though vanished from the eye of sense, His glory and radiance seem still to linger on their spirits, just as the orb of day gilds the lofty mountain-peaks long after his descent. They tread the old footway with elastic step! As Gethsemane, and Kedron, and the Temple-path, are in succession skirted, while "sorrowful, they are alway REJOICING." Why is this? It was God Himself fulfilling in their experience His own promise, "As thy day is, so shall thy strength be." He metes out strength IN the day of trial, and FOR the day of trial. When we expect nothing but fainting and trembling, sadness and despondency, He whispers His own promise, and makes it good, "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
Who so faint as these disciples? Think of them in their by-past history, tossed on Gennesaret, cowering with dread in their vessel! Think of them in the Judgment-Hall of Pilate; think of them at the cross! Nothing there but pusillanimity and cowardice. Nay, when our Lord had spoken to them on a former occasion of this same departure, we read that "sorrow had filled their hearts." They could not bear the thought of so cruel a severance from all they held dear: But see them now -- when the sad hour has come -- lonely -- unbefriended -- their Lord hopelessly removed from the eye of sense; though but a few days before, they were traitors to their trust -- unfaithful in their allegiance -- bending, like bruised reeds, before the storm -- behold them now, retraversing their way to Jerusalem, not with sorrow, as we might expect, but with joy. The Evangelist even notes the extent and measure of the emotion. It was not a mere effort to overbear their sorrow -- an outward semblance of reconciliation to their hard fate -- but it was a deep fountain of real gladness, welling up from their riven spirits. They returned, he tells us, with "GREAT JOY!"
Oh! the wonders of the grace of God. What grace has done -- what grace can do! We speak not of it now under its manifold other and diversified phases, -- converting grace, and restraining grace, and sanctifying grace, and dying grace. Here we have to do only with sustaining and supporting grace. But how many Christian disciples, in their Olivets of sorrow, have been able to tell the same experience? How often, when a believer is stricken down with sore affliction -- when the hand of death enters his family -- when the treasured life of the dwelling is taken, and he feels in the anticipation of such a blow as if it would smite him, too, to the dust, and it were impossible to survive the prostration of all that links him to life -- when the tremendous blow comes, lo! sustaining grace he never could have dreamed of comes along with it. He rises above his trial. Underneath him are the Everlasting arms. "The joy of the Lord is his strength!" He treads along life's lonely way sorrowful, yet with a "song in the night." Amid earth's separations and sadness, he hears the voice of Jesus, saying, "Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
Oh, trust that Grace still! It is the secret of your spiritual strength. "Not I, not I, but the grace of God that is with me!" You may have to confront "a great fight of afflictions;" but that grace sustaining you, you will be made "more than conquerors." "All men forsook me," said the great Apostle, "nevertheless, the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me, and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." "And God is able to make all grace abound toward YOU; that ye, always having all-sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." You have found Him faithful in the past; -- trust Him in the future. Cast all your cares, and each care, as it arises, on Him, saying, in childlike faith, "Undertake Thou for me!" Then, then, in your very night-seasons, "His song will be with you." The Mount of your trial -- the mournful, desolate, solitary, rugged path you tread, will be carpeted with love, fringed with mercy, and earth's darkest future will grow bright as you listen to a voice stealing from the upper sanctuary, "I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
In this scene of the disciples returning to Jerusalem, we are presented with the last picture of the Home of BETHANY. Here the earthly vision is sealed, and we are only left to imagine Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus, when the joyous footfall that had cheered their dwelling could be heard no more, living together in sacred harmony, exulting in "the blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the Great God their Saviour."
Did they live to survive the destruction of Jerusalem? Did they live to hear the tramp of the Roman legions resounding through their quiet hamlet, and "the abomination of desolation," the imperial eagles desecrating the hallowed ridges of Olivet? Did they often repair to the meetings of the infant Church in Jerusalem, and delight to mingle with the under shepherds, when the "Chief Shepherd" had gone? Or did the venerable company of Apostles love to resort, as their Lord before them, to the old village of palm-trees, whose every memory was fragrant with their Master's name? All these, and similar questions, we cannot answer. This we know and feel assured of -- they are now gathered a holy and happy family in the true Bethany above -- there never more to listen to the voice of weeping, or hear the tread of the funeral crowd, or the wail of the Mourner!
And soon, too, shall many of us (let us trust) be there, to meet them! BETHANY, we have seen, had alike its tears and its joys; so will it be with every spot and every scene in this mingled world. But where the Family of Bethany now are, the motto is -- "NEVER sorrowful, ALWAY rejoicing!" And, better than all, while they never can be severed from one another, they never can be separated from their Lord. He is no longer now, as formerly at their earthly home, like "a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night." No Olivet now to remind of farewells. They are "with Him," "seeing Him as He is," and that "for ever and ever!"
And if, meanwhile, regarding ourselves, the journey of life has for a little still to be traversed, and the battle of life still to be fought; blessed be God, "we go not a warfare on our own charges." The same grace vouchsafed to the disciples is promised to us. That grace will enable us to rise superior to all the vicissitudes and changes of the journey. Let us rise from our Olivet-ridge and be going; and though traversing different footpaths to the same Home -- be it ours, like the disciples, to reach at last -- a holy and happy company -- the true Heavenly Jerusalem -- "WITH GREAT JOY."