Then returned they to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.…
Then returned they unto Jerusalem... the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. We have here -
I. THE RECORD OF ANOTHER PERIOD OF WAITING, CHARGED WITH THRILLING EXPECTATION. It may be held that a period of just six weeks had elapsed since the very same persons as are here spoken of had passed through a much briefer interval than the ten days they are now passing through, marked, however, very largely by the same characteristic of thrilling expectation. Perhaps we may say, in the light of such language as that of our Lord himself (Luke 24:25, 26), that it was entirely to be set down to the fault of these disciples and women that on that occasion their experience was not altogether one of expectation, instead of being so dreadfully dashed by gloom, by fear, sometimes by a very near approach to despair. That interval of a very short three days may probably have dragged its hours along with fearful slowness. It was, however, the time, if faith had apprehended it, which should have been brilliant with the light and hope of a rising, and therefore finally vindicated and manifestly triumphant, Master - of One who had long time patiently stooped to suffering, humiliation, insult, it is true, and who had at last bowed his head to death, but whose task and subjection were now done, and come the time of "rest from his labors," and of glory in his victory. But we know credibly that the interval was not thus brightened. Memory was faint, and faith faint-hearted. And the impressions of sense that came of Gethsemane, and of the brutal scenes of the judgment hall, and of the fierce sufferings of the cross, and the darkness of death, overmastered the pleading suggestings of faith, and overruled the whispering memories of the vanished Friend's own words. It was natural, indeed, because to be wrong is, alas! the very thing that is so natural with us all; but we may say that never were three days so wrested of their rights. For confident, joyful, ardent expectation were substituted fear, gloom, and only the timidest of hopes. And yet there can be no doubt that the beating pulse of expectation, though the low-beating, would be our correctest diagnosis of that period. And it was now a pulse of expectation, too, but a healthier one by far. Faith had had a little rest, a little occasional change to sight these forty days past, and was the better, stronger, more willing for it. What an inversion had mercifully occurred to them of their ignorance, doubt, fear, in certain cardinal directions - of their estimates of impossibility, or at least incredibility! So, after a few enchanting visions and audiences of their great Lord, they find themselves "left" again! But they are not left "comfortless." They do remember now his words. They return to Jerusalem; they wait. They learn a fresh lesson in waiting. Their waiting rests on memories that now glow with glory, on a few words of direct command, on other few words of express promise, and on one incomparable fact - the Ascension. Things noteworthy in the nature of this period of expectation are as follows: -
1. It was waiting for their life work, which they are implicitly forbidden to anticipate. Yet who could call it wasted waiting? The hasty, the uncertain, and those who may have other motive inferior to the most real motive, sometimes decry a delay, in which they ought to recognize a great meaning and a positive use.
2. It was waiting for even liberty to leave a certain place or separate from a certain circle of companions or associates. The final reason of this became apparent. The startling developments of Pentecost would have been shorn of half their intended value, apart from the solidarity of the apostles and disciples. The conditions of our earthly life, and our sphere of Christian ministry and service, often seem both tieing and trying. Yet there must be valuable consideration for these, and sometimes time does at last surprisingly justify them.
3. It was waiting for a promised marvelous endowment, not of anything so vulgar as outward wealth, not of anything so enviable but dangerous as mere intellectual superhuman illumination, but of the undefined, the mysterious, the awful power of the Holy Ghost. With what anxious outlook we do sometimes wait! With what mistaken, ill-judged longings! Nay, but sometimes past these, with what pardonably trembling, shrinking, fainting, hovering fancy we wait! But oh, if these disciples and women could have gauged beforehand something of that awful gift of the Holy Ghost, what of character, quality, color, would it not have given to their expectation! So men have now and again trembled before the mystery of their own conversion - before some deep change in their spiritual self, and before that supreme exchange of grace and trial here for glory and perpetual security above. And so also, for infinite reason, God veils just a while light, beauty, the blaze of knowledge, even the finish of holiness, from his own.
II. A PERIOD OF WAITING AND OF RICH EXPECTATION, UNDEFINED AS TO ITS DURATION. The tension of the disciples on the occasion of the Crucifixion and entombment was relieved, and might have been much more relieved for them. They had been not only expressly forewarned of what was to be, but of the time also. And Old Testament type and temple parable had offered to deepen the impression on the minds of the disciples, of the women, and of the mother herself. Jonah's "three days and three nights," and the "three days" rebuilding of the demolished temple, spoke the duration of the trial, darkness, sorrow. But now all that is known, all that has been said, is, "not many days hence." And to this, no doubt, the quickened intelligence of the apostles and their associates would have most naturally argued that the delay could not be really long. Christ would never, in the nature of things, keep his disciples long in an inactivity that might degenerate, if prolonged, into indifference or idleness. This exact crisis abounds in aspects and questions of interest. That the apostles should at all be relegated to a period of this kind at such a moment inspiring above all others; that the interval should need to be one of some ten days; that this length of time was not specified to them; and what the ascended Lord's transactions were in that interval above, - are suggestions of questions to which none but conjectural and alternative response can be offered. But these things may be said about them:
1. They bring events and experiences of our own individual life, of our combined religious work, of our own entrance and of the Church's entrance upon the fruition of the immortal hope, into close and grateful analogy with things that passed and that were ordained directly under the eye of our Founder and Lord himself.
2. They are in manifest consonance with the objects and moral advantages of very much of our appointed waiting. Once ascertain and announce time, and it is manifest that a whole range of moral advantage in our education would be swept away, and a vast range of disaster would tyrannously usurp its sacred place.
3. They help comfort every reverent mind, every humble heart, that instead of its first impression being true, that arbitrariness is the hard bondage under which we live, this is the very last thing that can be true. And they help to convince of the greatness of him who, with all the deep counsel of his own purposes, neither forgets nor is baffled in securing the advantage of his own children.
III. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE PERIOD OF WAITING.
1. It is spent "in prayer." Not in an ill-concealed, graceless return to ordinary work, and which might at any other time have possibly been sacred duty, but which was not so now. Times, the honest work of which is prayer, may well belong to every good life. That of Jesus owned to them. And this was just such a time.
2. It is spent in united prayer. "With one accord." Persons, voices, hearts, hopes, - all were accordant. What an augury, what an example, what a type!
3. It is spent in persevering, united prayer. They "continued." No sense of weariness crept over them; no dullness, no monotony, struck them in this their worship and liturgy.
4. To the company and unanimity of the apostles were added "the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brethren."
(1) There is no priesthood here, nor any proxy of Divine worship and service. Round the apostles are gathered various others, whose worship, prayer, and thoughts are all the same.
(2) There is here no exaltation of man and depreciation of woman. Twas a happy augury, this little early incident before Christianity was fully planted, of the place that it would give woman; and a happy earnest of the fact that nowhere does woman rank so high as where Christ and his pure truth have the fairer sway at all events, if not yet the perfect sway.
(3) Mary, the genuine mother of Jesus, acknowledges his Deity. She joins "in prayer;" and "his brethren" do the same. What quiet telling witness to Jesus, and to our "faith and hope toward" him, this may justly be felt!
(4) As Jesus began his earthly career from the stable, so the compacted body of his Church begin theirs from the upper room. It is not the temple, it is not even the tabernacle, it is not a consecrated place heretofore. The company, the prayer, the o'er hovering Spirit, "waiting" to alight, - these consecrate. The grandness and sacredness of temple and of church all had and have their meaning and their use. But there is truth of so much greater and deeper force in Christ and his people, that wherever they are, that is "the house of God and the gate of heaven," that is the really grand temple, that the sacred Church. Happy, threefold happy, this early picture of Christ's "little flock." "Who shall harm them? What shall move?" And though but some six weeks had passed since they were seen plunged in the faithless gloom of the three days, this has traveled far into the past. It is no wonder. A little time suffices for dawn to drive away the darkness. How differently this present interval of ten days is passing! So when darkness, storm, and fear are vanishing, all is hushed in peaceful prayer, and the Church "waits" with a just and blissful expectancy! - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey.