LOVE AND FAITH were clearly there, but as yet their faith was dull and unintelligent as to His resurrection. Even the devoted women were full of thoughts as to the embalming of His body, as the opening verses of this chapter show. But this dullness of theirs only enhances the clearness of the proofs that ultimately overwhelmed them with the conviction of His resurrection. At the rising of the sun on the first day of the week they were at the sepulchre only to find that the great stone blocking its entrance had been rolled away. They entered to find no sacred body, but an angel, in appearance like unto a young man.
Matthew and Mark speak of an angel: Luke and John speak of two. This presents no difficulty of course, since angels appear and disappear at will. The angel who appeared as "a young man . . . clothed in a long white garment" to the affrighted women had appeared a little before to the keepers as one with a countenance "like lightning, and his raiment white as snow," so that a kind of paralysis fell upon them. He was one thing to the world and quite another to disciples. He knew how to discriminate, and that these women were seeking Jesus, though they thought Him to be still in death. Ignorant they were, yet they loved Him; and that made all the difference.
The angelic testimony however did not accomplish much for the moment. It impressed the women right enough, but mainly in the way of fear and trembling and amazement. It did not produce that calm assurance of faith which opens the mouth in testimony to others. They could not yet take up the words, "I believed, therefore have I spoken" (Psalm 116: 10; 2 Corinthians 4: 13). Presently they would share in this "spirit of faith," which was possessed by both Paul and the Psalmist, but that would be when they came into touch with the risen Christ for themselves.
Scripture clearly indicates that angels have a ministry to perform on behalf of saints-as witness, Hebrews 1: 14. Their ministry to saints is infrequent, and usually alarming to those who receive it, as was the case here. However their message was very definite. "He is not here," was the negative part of it, and that the women could verify for themselves. The positive word was, "He is risen." That they could not verify, for the moment, and hence it does not seem to have very deeply impressed them.
There follows, in verses 9-14, a brief summary of the three striking appearances of the risen Lord, accounts of which in more detail are given to us in the other Gospels.
First comes that to Mary Magdalene, which is given us so fully in John's Gospel. She was the first to actually see the Lord in resurrection: Mark puts this fact beyond doubt. This is significant as showing that the Lord thought in the first place of the one whose heart was perhaps more devastated by the loss of Him than any other. In other words, love had the first claim on His attention. In result, she did indeed believe, and therefore she was able to speak in the way of testimony to others. But, even so, her words had no appreciable effect. The others did indeed love the Lord, for they mourned and wept, and the very depth of their grief rendered them proof against any testimony which fell short of an actual sight of Himself.
Second, comes His appearance to the two going into the country, which is given to us in Luke with such detail. These had not denied Him like Peter, but they had so lost heart that they were drifting aimlessly away from Jerusalem, as if wishful now to turn their backs on a place filled for them with broken hopes and a most tragic loss and disappointment. Their sight of the risen Christ reversed their footsteps and brought them back to their brethren with the glad tidings. Even that however did not overcome their unbelieving dejection. It is just as well for us that it was so. Resurrection carries us outside the present order of things, and His resurrection is a fact of such immense import, that it must indeed be established by multiplied evidence of an unimpeachable sort.
Third, His appearance to the eleven. This may possibly not be one of the occasions that are given us in more detail in Luke and John, for it says, "as they sat at meat," or, more literally, "lay at table." Take the account in Luke for instance-He would hardly have asked, "Have ye here any meat?" if they had been reclining at a meal. The presence of food would have been too obvious. It may therefore have been an occasion not noticed in the other Gospels. On this occasion He brought home to them their unbelief as a matter of reproach, and yet notwithstanding He gave them a commission.
It is remarkable how the commissions, that are recorded in the four Gospels, differ the one from the other. That which is stated in Acts 1: 3, would prepare us for this. Many times during the forty days He appeared to them, speaking of things pertaining to the kingdom of God. During this time He evidently presented to them their commission from different points of view, and Mark gives us one of them. We may well wonder that, having had to upbraid them for their unbelief, He should send them forth to preach the Gospel so that others should believe. Yet, after all, the one who through hardness of heart has been stubborn in unbelief is, when thoroughly won himself, a valuable witness to others.
The scope of this Gospel commission is the largest possible. It is "all the world," and not merely the little land of Israel. Moreover it is to be preached to "every creature," and not to the Jew only. It is, in other words, for everybody everywhere. The blessing that the Gospel conveys is spiritual in nature, for it brings salvation, when faith is present and baptism is submitted to. We must not transpose the words, baptized and saved, and make it, "He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized."
In no scripture is baptism connected with justification or reconciliation, but there are other scriptures which connect baptism with salvation. This is because salvation is a word of large content, and includes within its scope the practical deliverance of the believer from the whole world system, whether Jewish or Gentile in character, wherein once he was embedded. His links with that world system are to be cut, and baptism sets forth the cutting of those links-in one word, dissociation. He who believes the Gospel, and accepts the cutting of his links with the world that held him, is a saved man. A man may say he believes, and even do so in reality, yet if he will not submit to the cutting of the old links, he cannot be spoken of as saved. The Lord knows them that are His of course, but that is another matter.
When it is a question of "damnation," (or "condemnation"), baptism is not mentioned. This is very significant. It shows the ground on which condemnation rests. Even if a man is baptized, if he does not believe, he will be condemned. The outward ordinance is plainly prescribed by the Lord, but it can only be administered as faith is professed; and profession, as we know only too well, is not synonymous with possession. Salvation is not effective apart from faith. Peter may tell us that, "Baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3: 21), but note that it is "us," and the "us" are believers.
A good deal of controversy has raged around verses 17 and 18. The miraculous things mentioned are connected by some with the preachers of the Gospel, and it is asserted that they ought to be in full manifestation today. Two or three things may be helpfully noted.
In the first place, the things are to follow not them that preach, but them that believe.
In the second place, the Lord asserts that these signs will follow, apart from any previous conditions on the part of the preacher. There is no stipulation that he must experience a special "baptism of the Spirit," such as is often urged. If men believe, these signs shall follow; so says the Lord. All that could be deduced from their absence would be that no one has really believed.
In the third place, certain words do not appear in the statement, which some seem mentally to read into it. It does not say, that these signs will follow all that believe, in all places, and for ad time. If it did we should be shut up to the conclusion that hardly anybody today has believed the Gospel: we have not even believed it ourselves!
These words of our Lord have of course been fulfilled. We can point to four things out of the five occurring, as recorded in the Book of Acts. The fifth thing, the drinking without harm of some deadly thing, we have no record of, yet we have not a shadow of doubt that it happened. He said it would, and we believe Him. His word is enough for us. He gives the signs according to His own pleasure, and as He sees they are needed.
The two verses that close our Gospel are exceedingly beautiful. We remember that it has set before us our Lord as the great Prophet, who has brought us the full Word of God, the perfect Servant, who has fully accomplished His will. All has been related with striking brevity, as becomes such a presentation of Himself. And now at the close, with the same brevity, the end of the wonderful story is set before us. The Lord having communicated to His disciples all that He desired, "He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."
On earth He had been cast out, but He is received up into heaven. His works on earth had been refused, but now He takes His seat in a place which indicates administration and power of an irresistible sort. But it is put that He was "received up," and thus what is emphasized is, that both His reception and His session are due to an act of God. The perfect Servant may have been refused here, but by the act of God He takes the place of power, where nothing shall stay His hand carrying out the pleasure of the Lord.
The last verse indicates the direction in which His hand is moving during the present time. He is not as yet dealing with the rebel earth in righteous government: that He will do when the hour strikes for it, according to the purpose of God. Today His interests are centred in the going forth of the Gospel, as He had just indicated. His disciples did go forth, preaching without boundaries or limitations, but the power that gave efficacy to their words and labours was His, and not theirs. From His lofty seat on high He wrought with them, and gave the signs which He promised, as recorded in verses 17 and 18. He gave these signs to confirm the word, and that confirmation was specially needed at the outset of its proclamation.
Though the signs of verses 17 and 18 are but rarely seen today, signs do still follow the preaching, signs in the moral and spiritual realm-characters and lives that are wholly transformed. The perfect Servant at the right hand of God, is working still.
|« Previous chapter|