The Cross of Christ Part 2
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To many a Christian, Jesus is still but a dead Christ or at least an historic Christ, but not a living and present reality. The meaning of Easter is that Jesus is alive and is the Living Head of Christianity and the personal and intimate Friend of every true disciple, to whom He becomes revealed as his indwelling life and the source of all his strength and victory.
Dear reader, do you know Him as the Living One? If you do not, Easter comes to you in vain with the sad cry of Mary: "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him."
You will observe in the story of the walk to Emmaus that Jesus Christ was not recognized by the two disciples until they received Him into their house and sat down to eat and drink with Him. It was then that He was manifested to them and "they know him; and he vanished out of their sight." While He merely walked with them by the way, they did not know Him, but when they took Him into the intimacy of their heart and home, then He was revealed to them as the Living One who had died upon the cross and had risen from the dead. And so, as you open the door of your heart and take Him as your guest and as your life, you too will so know Him; the supreme epoch of every Christian life will have come in your experience, the great transition from the earthly to the heavenly, from the human to the divine, from the struggles and failures of man's finite strength to the infinite possibilities of G.o.d's best.
A Dead Christianity The question of our text may be addressed to those who are following a dead Christianity, for a dead Christ brings a dead Christianity. Coleridge's dream of the Ancient Mariner, in which a phantom s.h.i.+p floats upon the silent ocean with a dead man at the helm, a dead man on the bridge and dead men standing at their posts as if frozen by one fatal breath into ice or marble, is only too real a picture of many a church with a dead man in the pulpit and dead men in the pews and the entire ritual that of a solemn funeral. The tasks and fasts and penances and ceremonial rites which const.i.tute the religion of many people are but the cerements of the dead, the grave clothes which the Master threw away that morning when He rose. This is not Christianity. The true religion of Jesus robes itself in garments of love and liberty and joy and goes forth to live for others and to bless the world. It is remarkable that no mention is made of the Lord's apparel after His resurrection. We read of His seamless robe left behind Him when they nailed Him to the cross, and of the linen which they wrapped about Him at His burial and which they found, after His resurrection, neatly folded and laid away in the tomb; but nothing is said about His raiment as He appeared again and again to them. It is not probably true that the robes He wore were part of His very flesh, a living drapery that grew as naturally as the flowers of Spring and the tints of the rainbow our of the glorified life that was springing within Him? These will be no doubt the garments our resurrection bodies will take on as part of our very organism, the beauty and glory of our inner life, and, like the sunlit clouds of heaven, will change every moment with new attractions and splendors. So true Christianity does not need to be dressed in the cowl of the monk and the vestments of the choir and the elaborate ceremonial of Ritualism and Romanism. Its appropriate dress is the garment of praise, the mantle of love and the girdle of service as it goes forth in the glory of resurrection life and heavenly love to represent the Master in this world of sin and sorrow, and stands like the ancient vision of Solomon, bright "as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." G.o.d give us this true Christian adorning and heavenly vestments compared with which our Easter fas.h.i.+ons are but as "filthy rags."
Dead Souls The question of our text might be asked of those who are seeking for spiritual life among the dry bones of our fallen human nature. Oh, ye that are trying to improve yourselves, to reform your lives, to build up your characters and to cultivate the fruits and grace of higher ethics and calling this religion, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Human nature is dead and beyond the power of self-improvement. G.o.d has simply provided for its burial and its resurrection life through the risen Christ. That is the meaning of this Easter day: the sentence of death has pa.s.sed upon all man's best endeavors and the only hope of our fallen race is the new birth and the resurrection life through Jesus Christ. It is interesting to trace through the Scriptures the manifest truth that the first generation has always been a failure, and that it is the second birth that triumphs and remains. The first Adam fell, the second Adam achieved the destiny of humanity. The first Eden was lost forever, but the new heavens and the new earth shall bring back paradise restored. Eve's first son cruelly disappointed her; the second born and the third became the seed of promise. The old world pa.s.sed out in the flood and the new world emerged under the arch of the rainbow on Mt. Ararat as a type of the great resurrection which Christ was to bring. Abraham's first born, Ishmael, had to be cast out and in Isaac, his second born, his seed was called. Esau, the elder, gave place to Jacob, the younger; David, the younger son of Jesse, was exalted above all his brethren as the Lord's anointed. In their journey to the Land of Promise, Israel's first generation failed; the second generation. consisting of their little children, was chosen to enter in while the bones of their fathers were buried in the sands of the desert.
Even nature itself teaches us that a transformation must take place before the crawling worm can emerge from the chrysalis and become a soaring b.u.t.terfly, and the seed has to die and rot in the ground and from its bosom comes forth the new germ that will bud and blossom and fill the earth with fruit. The tree that has but a natural birth must be grafted and cut down and wedded to a new branch before it can bear the best fruit. All nature is a parable of this mystery of mysteries. If we look at the lives of some of the typical characters of the Bible, we shall see the same principle running through them. Jacob had to pa.s.s through the narrow gates of his great conflict at Peniel in order to come forth a new man with a new name, Israel, a prince with G.o.d. Job had to find out that all his natural goodness was insufficient and, in the keen light of G.o.d's revealing, cry, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," before there came to him a new life and righteousness and blessing. Isaiah had to see himself as all unclean and then receive the cleansing coal of fire which sent him forth empowered for his great prophetic ministry. Simon Peter had to fall so far that he broke his own proud neck in the fall and then came forth from the wreck and the shame with a new and divine strength which enabled him to die at last with downward head on his Master's cross. Paul had to find our that all his righteousness was as dross and had to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone and make this his watchword: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This is the meaning of Easter. Have you entered into it and come forth with that death-born life?
A Dead Humanity The question of our text might be asked of the people that are teaching in our day the sufficiency of earthly culture, education, fine art humanitarianism to lift the race to its true plane and educate it out of its depravity and degeneracy. The world needs no sadder commentary on this stupendous folly than the late messages of poor Herbert Spencer to the world before he died, telling men of the best light that had come to him from the researches of eighty years and then adding that the outlook for him, as he faced the great crisis of life, was dark and depressing indeed. The world has tried it many times. Culture can never do more for humanity than it did for ancient Egypt, Greece and Babylonia or for modern Italy in the brightest hour of art. But alas, alas, these were the darkest hours in the records of human crime! "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Humanity is like the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision, a moral cemetery, and nothing can lift it but the Omnipotent touch of a divine resurrection.
A Lifeless World The question of our text might be addressed to the people that are looking for happiness in this doomed world and trying to find their true life among the dead ashes of earthly pleasure. G.o.d says of such a person, "He feedeth on ashes." Ashes are just the wreckage of organic matter that has been consumed and the substance burned our of it. The world has nothing to give you but ashes. The world's heart has gone out since G.o.d has gone out, and righteousness is lost. Will love make earth a heaven?
Read the records of modern divorce. Will fame last forever? Look at the overturning of all the tables of human ambition. Is wealth an antidote for every human ill? Look at the story of the colossal fortunes of our day and the disappointment, the oppression, the countless calamities that follow in their train. The story has not only been told, but lived ten thousand times, and to the end of the chapter the conclusion will still be the same. Expressed in the language of human philosophy and experience, it is found in the last words of one of earth's most successful men, "I have been everything and everything is nothing." Expressed in the language of the Bible and the testimony of the prince of earthly pleasure, power and even wisdom, it is "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit."
Oh, turn from the ash heaps of this desert of spiritual desolation and in yonder garden by the open grave learn the secret of a joy that will never fade. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).
Dead Hopes The question of our text speaks to the souls that are sitting in despair amid the dead hopes of their failures and disappointments. Rise up, despairing ones, bury your past in yonder grave, begin anew with Easter's dawning and know that the resurrection means for every discouraged man that G.o.d has established a great bankrupt court, where all the debts and losses of the past can be consigned to eternal oblivion and you can start anew with a heart as fresh and a hope as bright as if your life had this moment dropped from heaven and you were not and never would be again the same man as he who wrought the sin, the shame, the failure and the wreck that lies behind you. Leave it at the cross and rise up and take the fortune that He has purchased for you and is waiting to give you as the gift of His free and sovereign grace. Someone tells of an old man that was riding through a country district when he was accosted by a native who asked him for a ride. He soon began to talk to the man and found that he was not saved. The native asked him after a while what his business was in those parts. He said, "I represent a very large estate that has just been divided by the will of the testator and some of the heirs live around here, and I am looking for them. Their family name begins with the letter 'S,' and they are a very large family." Immediately the man became greatly interested.
"Why," he said, "I know some of them; they are the Smith's, are they not?"
"No," said the man, as he looked him earnestly in the face. "Their name is 'Sinner,'
and I think you are one of them, and I have come to bring you a fortune." Dear friend, that is the meaning of this bright Easter morning. The Friend who loved you before you were born, has paid all your debts, has discharged your liabilities, has blotted out your past, and He brings you an inheritance of love and hope and everlasting joy which you may freely have by accepting His grace and giving yourself to Him in loving return.
Our Holy Dead Finally, the angels bear this message to some who are living among the tombs of their earthly bereavements and thinking of their loved ones as dead. They are not hear; "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" The pathetic story is told of two little children who, after the death of their mother, were digging a hole in the garden with their feeble hands. When asked why, they explained that they were digging a way to heaven to find mother. Someone had told them, when they saw her body lowered into the dark, cold ground, that she had gone to heaven, and they thought that heaven was somewhere in the ground. Alas, how many hearts are buried there. This is the very opposite of what G.o.d has intended. He has taken your loved ones to lift your hearts to that heavenly home where they are risen and rejoicing now, and to help us to realize that world which is the true goal of all our hopes and the only changeless home where parted friends shall meet again. "Why seek ye the living among the dead?" Arise and live with Him in the things above.
And so we might apply at greater length this searching question to all the things that we are vainly searching for below the skies. Lift up your eyes, lift up your hearts, look forward and remember that "the times of rest.i.tution of all things" are to come not hear but by and by when Jesus comes. Even much that we have prayed for, believed for and spiritually attained in part only, is waiting for us yonder. Then shall come back to us all we have sacrificed and surrendered hear. And this universe itself shall complete the mystery of the resurrection by pa.s.sing through the ordeal of the last conflagration and shall come forth with the same mark of resurrection upon it that G.o.d is putting upon each of us now. Then, indeed, it shall be true that He that sits upon the throne shall say, "Behold, I make all things new."
Dear friend, are you living in this new world and for this coming age? There are two races crossing the narrow path of time. One is the Adam race, the other is the Christ race; one is the earthly race, the other is the heavenly people; one is doomed to remain among the dead, the other is pressing on to immortality and glory. "As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:48,49). Beloved, come from among the dead and live forevermore.
Chapter 9: The Power of the Resurrection.
"To whom also he showed himself alive after his pa.s.sion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of G.o.d" (Acts 1:3).
Our Lord's earthly life may be divided into three sections: before His pa.s.sion, during His pa.s.sion, and the forty-day interval between His resurrection and ascension. Like the afterglow in an Oriental sky still s.h.i.+ning long after the sun has disappeared, or like the Indian summer with its soft light and lingering suns.h.i.+ne, these days seem to have about them a mystic glory half way between the earthly and the heavenly. His feet still touched the earth, but His head was in the heavens. The story of those days is but partly told, but we know enough to afford us seven distinct messages from the departing Master.
The Reality and Significance of the Resurrection Strange it is that this should need to be demonstrated to Christian disciples, but it is the church of Christ that today is beginning to discredit the physical reality of the Lord's resurrection. Therefore, G.o.d had made it a demonstrable fact supported by "many infallible proofs." The Roman guards who were stationed around the tomb and whose silly lie about the stealing of His body was the very best proof that that body had gone; the angel messengers who repeatedly announced that He was risen indeed; His repeated appearings to His disciples and the testimony of Thomas in spite of his own skepticism --these form but a little part of the chain of evidence that so acute a mind as Paul's considered unanswerable and that the profoundest judicial minds today have declared to be absolutely conclusive.
The nature of Christ's resurrection is as clear as the fact is certain. The picture given by the evangelists leaves no doubt of the absolute ident.i.ty of the Christ of Easter with the Crucified of Calvary and the Man of Galilee. The very marks of the thorns and the spear were visible and tangible. So real was His humanity that they could handle Him and know by the evidence of their senses that He had actual flesh and bones and that He could eat the broiled fish they set before Him and distinguish the taste of the honeycomb as well. But so transcendently more mighty was His resurrection state than even His former physical life that His body could pa.s.s through the closed door and the stone that sealed the sepulchre without hindrance, and could rise and ascend to heaven in defiance of the law of gravitation without the faintest effort. The significance of His resurrection is impossible to exaggerate. It is the fundamental proof of His Messiahs.h.i.+p and of the truth of Christianity. It is the evidence of our justification. It is the source of our sanctification. It is the guarantee of our future resurrection. It is the pledge of all power that we can ever need in this present life, and is the pattern according to which faith may claim the "exceeding greatness of his power ... according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead."
The Abiding Presence of Our Risen Lord This is a.s.sured by His own announcement, every word of which is weighted with such force and suggestiveness, "Lo, I am with you alway," or literally, "all the days, even unto the end of the world (age)." The importance of the announcement is attested by the first word, "Lo," which calls attention to its extraordinary significance. The ident.i.ty of His presence with His life on earth is emphasized by the present tense of the verb, "I am with you." It was not a promise of some future visitation, but a presence that never should be withdrawn. And the beautiful translation, "all the days," makes that presence as perpetual and as new as the dawn of each succeeding day. He is present throughout all vicissitudes of life's changes and trials. The promise is not "all the years," but "all the days" --every day and every sort of day: the cloudy days as well as the sunny ones; the days of trouble as well as the days of blessing; the lonely days, the days of weakness and even failure, "all the days, even unto the end of the age."
And as if this announcement were not sufficient, He ill.u.s.trated it by several manifestations which seem to be prophetic of the way He might still be expected to show Himself to His earthly followers. How unspeakably precious is the picture of His walk to Emmaus with the two disciples! How simple, how natural, how almost playful was the way in which the Master dropped in upon them! How touching is the delicacy with which He acted as though He would have gone farther, and waited to be pressed to tarry in their home! How gladly He accepted the pressing invitation! How gloriously He manifested Himself in the breaking of the bread, and then how tactfully He vanished when the vision would have disturbed them from their simple life of faith if it had been further prolonged. So still He meets us along life's pathway. So still He sometimes unveils His glorious face. So still He quickly lets fall the curtain and leaves us to walk by faith and not by sight. How full of pathos is His message immediately after His resurrection: "Go, tell (My) disciples and Peter." So still He singles out the timid, the discouraged and the fallen. How full of comfort is that early morning visitation on the sh.o.r.e of the Galilean sea when the disciples had toiled all night and caught nothing, and the gray dawn found the Master there to supply their physical necessity and help them in their temporal distress, and then to lead them on to the higher lessons of suffering and service. It is in the light of these object lessons that we are ever to interpret that s.h.i.+ning and everlasting promise, "Lo, I am with you all the days."
The Importance of His Word as the Vehicle of His Presence It was as He talked with the disciples by the way and opened the Scriptures that their hearts first began to burn within them. He impressed upon them the prophetic word of which His sufferings and glory were the one continual burden. It is in His Word that we shall always find the Master near us. The warning of the beloved John concerning them that seduce us is that we are to continue in the Word which we have heard from the beginning. Spiritual manifestations are not always divine visitations. The test of every experience and of every spirit is the Word of Jesus Christ.
The Promise and the Presence of the Holy Ghost How often this promise was repeated during the forty days. How imperatively they were bidden to tarry for His power. And yet the Lord began His ascension to antic.i.p.ate the coming Pentecost, and as He breathed upon them, He commanded them to "receive ... the Holy Ghost." So still the Holy Spirit is a present fact and no believer need wait a single day for His coming, but the fullness of the Spirit is a larger promise and experience. As we wait for His infilling, there are heights and depths of power and blessing which are but as the pebbles on the sh.o.r.e compared with the mighty deep which lies beyond.
These after-Easter days should be for each of us days of the Holy Ghost, days of waiting for a deeper filling, a mightier baptism, a larger room for His incoming and a larger work for His outgoing through our lips and hands and feet and lives. Shall we take this blessed promise in its forcible, literal phrasing and prove it in both its meanings, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye ... until ye be endued with power from on high." The sending has already begun. The receiving is already in process. The ending is on its way. But the largeness of the blessing demands more than a pa.s.sing moment, more than a formal prayer, more than a hurried meal at a quick lunch counter; it demands even days of waiting on the Lord, nights of intense communion, and all the days and all the years of our earthly lives to give sufficient room and time for us to take in the whole significance of that mighty promise "that ye might be filled with all the fulness of G.o.d."
The Call to Service: the Great Commission The Master's parting messages justified no dream of selfish spiritual enjoyment, but called for the most strenuous service for the souls of men and the kingdom of G.o.d. Here are some flash lights upon the life of service as the Lord has outlined it: "Feed my lambs," "Feed my sheep," "Shepherd my feeble sheep." And again, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." We are sent ones, we are apostles, we are amba.s.sadors. We are not here because of our earthly citizens.h.i.+p. But because we have come, like our Lord, from heaven where our spirits were born to witness for Him on earth. And pre-eminent above all other ministries is the Great Commission for the evangelization of the heathen world. The command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" requires a personal ministry from man to man and for every man beneath the sky. The command to begin "at Jerusalem" pa.s.ses on to us the great trust for the chosen people. "Go ye ... and disciple all nations" raises the commission to a n.o.bler plane and makes us amba.s.sadors for the King of kings and trustees of the Gospel for every kindred and tribe and tongue. The command, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" lifts the outlook beyond any section of humanity, any circle of selfish patriotism, any form of religious selfishness, and makes the work of evangelization the one supreme ministry of the church of Christ and the one paramount responsibility of every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. You certainly have not come into close touch with the risen Christ or caught the spirit of those last momentous days on earth if you are still inactive, indifferent or even neutral in this mighty enterprise which is the emergency work of our times and which is the one great business for which G.o.d has called and blessed us.
The Meaning of the Ascension At length the forty days were ended, and in the simple story we are told that He led them out as far as Bethany and lifted up His hands and blessed them. "and it came to pa.s.s, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." It is sweet to remember that the last att.i.tude of the Lord Jesus on earth was that of stretching out His pierced hands in loving benediction. As He rose higher and higher in silent majesty, their last remembrance of Him would be that s.h.i.+ning face and those outstretched and gracious hands.
It was necessary that He should pa.s.s from the earthly scene and return to His native heaven. The disciples must know, the world must know, the ages to come must know that this little planet is not all of G.o.d's great universe. Away beyond the blue dome of heaven, beyond the circling horizon, beyond the rising and the setting sun, beyond the stars of light, beyond the last gasp of dying agony, the mouldering grave and the mourner's tear, there is another realm, there is a greater and a better world, there is a home above, there is a heavenly land, the home of G.o.d and the great metropolis of His mighty universe. And when He had pa.s.sed through every stage of earthly experience from the cradle to the grave, He pa.s.sed on and took His place at the right hand of G.o.d amid glorious angels and ransomed men. It was necessary that the children of G.o.d should realize through the ascension of their living Head that this old earth is not their home, but, like their Master's, their citizens.h.i.+p too is in heaven. The ascension of Jesus Christ s.h.i.+fts our center of gravity, our meridian of lat.i.tude and longitude, our pole star of hope and expectation from earth to heaven. But Christ's ascension meant much more for Him and us. It meant a new and higher ministry for Him and us. It meant a new and higher ministry for Him. It meant His heavenly priesthood as our Representative and Intercessor before the throne, presenting our worthless names with acceptance to His Father, presenting our imperfect prayers with the incense of His merits and saving us by His life as He had already saved us by His death. It meant His glorious kings.h.i.+p as Head over all things for His body, the Church. There He sits enthroned above all princ.i.p.ality and power and every name that is named, ruling and overruling, conquering and to conquer, King of kings and Lord of lords, completing His Church and preparing for His coming. Christ's ascension and ministry on high was just as necessary as His life on earth, His death on Calvary and His resurrection on Easter morning.
Where high the heavenly temple stands, A house of G.o.d not made with hands, A great High Priest our nature wears, The Guardian of mankind appears.
He who for men their surety stood, And poured on earth His precious blood , Pursues in heaven the mighty plan, The Saviour and the Friend of man.
The Hope of His Coming The Master Himself had pa.s.sed from view and the last echoes of His voice in benediction had died away, when suddenly another voice fell upon their ears, the voice of two celestial angels. Up yonder a chariot cloud had received the ascending Lord, perhaps a cloud of innumerable angels, so high above the earth that their forms could not be distinguished and they appeared to mortal vision like a distant veil of mist. But for a moment the Saviour lingered behind that cloud and sent from the heavenly retinue that had come to attend Him home two special messengers to bear His postscript to His loved disciples. And it was this. "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
Having sailed once from New York harbor for an absence of many months, the writer well remembers that just as the boat was about to leave the harbor, a messenger came to take ash.o.r.e the last greetings of the pa.s.sengers. There was only time for just a word, but that word from most of us was "Back soon." And that sweet hope cheered through the long months of parting the waiting hearts at home. This was the Master's thought as He left the harbor on time, on that old spring noontide on the hillside of Bethany: I have left you for a little while, but I will see you again and your hearts shall rejoice. Beloved, that is the goal, that is the outlook, that is the perspective of faith and hope --not the cross, not even the resurrection, not the work of missions, not even the blessed presence of the Master and the power of the Holy Ghost. All these only lead up to that transcendent and eternal hope, That one far-off divine event To which the whole creation moves.
Dear friend, is that the goal to which you are moving? Have you inscribed on every friends.h.i.+p, every investment, every undertaking, every work, every joy and every sorrow, "Unto the coming of the Lord"?
Chapter 10: After-Easter-Days.
"He showed himself alive after his pa.s.sion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of G.o.d"
Easter morning is the beginning of a unique and most tenderly interesting portion of our blessed Saviour's life. It is the transition period between His earthly ministry and His heavenly exaltation. Like the Indian summer of the year, there is a tender veil of loveliness and mystery about it which links it with both worlds, and makes it a peculiarly appropriate pattern of a life hid with Christ in G.o.d, in which we may walk with Him all our days with our heads in heaven while our feet still tread the earth below. May the Holy Spirit vividly reveal to us such glimpses of this blessed life as will enable us to reproduce it in our own experience and to walk with Him with a new sense of His abiding presence and glorious reality!
A Living Christ This glad resurrection morning dispels from the religion of Jesus all the shadows of the sepulchre and all the morbid atmosphere of sorrow, depression and death. The Christ of true Christianity is not a bleeding, thorn-crowned Ecce h.o.m.o Ecce h.o.m.o, but a glad and radiant face, bright as the springtide morning and radiant with immortal life. "I am he that liveth, and was dead," is His message, and "Behold! I am alive for evermore." Oh, may this day impress upon our hearts the reality of a Risen and Living Christ, until He shall be more actual to us than any other personality and we shall know what it means to be not only "reconciled to G.o.d by the death of His Son" but "much more we shall be saved by his life"!
A Victorious Christ What a picture of easy and uttermost triumph is that resurrection scene! Satan had done his utmost; men had done their best to hold the Captive of the tomb. But without an effort the Mighty Sleeper calmly rose before the Easter dawn, deliberately laying off the grave clothes and wrapping up the napkin and putting all in place as naturally as any of us this morning arranged our toilet; and then through that colossal stone that closed His tomb, He pa.s.sed without even rolling it aside or breaking the seal, and before the guards could know that He was risen, He was standing calmly in the garden, talking with Mary as though nothing had happened. The infinite facility with which He put His feet on every foe and rose above every obstacle is, perhaps, the most overwhelming impression we have received from all the incidents of His resurrection.
So, too, we see the same victorious power expressed in the att.i.tude of the angel who followed Him, and with a single touch rolled away the stone from the sepulchre and cooly sat down upon it, and then looked in the faces of the keepers till they grew pale with terror and flew in horror and dismay without a struggle. Such is our Risen Christ still, the Mighty Victor over all His foes and ours. Could we see Him now, we would behold Him sitting on His Father's throne, undismayed by all the powers of darkness, and "from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool." Oh, how it cheers our timid hearts to behold our glorious and victorious Captain, and to hear Him say of every adversary and every difficulty, "I have overcome for you." G.o.d help us to see the Captain as Joshua beheld Him, and before Him the walls of every Jericho will fall and the legions of every opposing force shall melt away!
How natural, how easy, how artless His manifestations were through those blessed forty days! How quietly He dropped down among them, unheralded, una.s.suming, unattended by angelic guards, and sometimes undistinguished from themselves in His simple presence! Look at Him as He meets with Mary in that first morning interview, standing like an ordinary stranger in the garden, speaking to her in easy conversation, "Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" And then, when the moment for recognition comes, He speaks to her heart in the one artless word of personal and unutterable love which disarmed all her amazement and fear, and brought back all the old recollections and affections of her throbbing heart! See Him again on the way to Emmaus! How naturally He drops in upon the little company as they walk! How unaffectedly He talks with them! How easily He turns the conversation to heavenly themes, and yet how free from strain His every att.i.tude and word! All they are conscious of, is a strange burning in their hearts and a kindling warmth of love. At length they constrain Him and He allows Himself to be pressed to enter in. He sits down by their table, He eats bread, as if He had been another disciple like themselves; and only then, as He vanishes quietly from their sight, do they realize that it is the Lord.
And yet again, on the sh.o.r.es of Tiberias, how exquisite is His approach! How natural His greeting; how easy the mighty miracle of the draught of fishes; how calm and unaffected are the meeting as they reach the sh.o.r.e and the simple breakfast in which He Himself takes part. How exquisite the interview with Simon Peter, the delicacy and tenderness of which no word can ever express! On, what a picture of that Blessed One who still lives to be our constant Visitor, our ceaseless Companion and Friend; Who meets us like Mary in our hours of sorrow; Who walks with us, as with them, often unrecognized at first; Who greets us in the cold, sad morning after our long hours of waiting and toil and failure with His marvelous deliverance and yet more gracious words of love and instruction. So near is He that not even our nearest friends can come so close! So simple is He that His messages come as the intuition of our own hearts; and yet He is the wonderful Counsellor and the mighty G.o.d for all our perplexities and all our hard places. Blessed Christ of the Forty Days, oh, help us, with a faith more simple and a love more childlike to walk with Thee!
The Mighty Christ It is hard for us to realize the Presence that comes with such gentle footsteps and undemonstrative simplicity; but back of that gentle form and those noiseless steps is the Omnipotence that could say, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." All power is His in heaven All power is His in heaven. He is the Lamb in the midst of the Throne, that holds in His hand the seven seals and unrolls the scroll of destiny and providence for all worlds and beings and events. All the mighty acts of G.o.d recorded in the Old Testament were but manifestations of His power. All the mighty movements which began with His ascension are the workings of His hands. All the movements of Divine providence are subject to His command. All the mighty angels of heaven's myriad hosts are subject to His bidding. All the powers of h.e.l.l tremble at His name! All the promises of G.o.d are fulfilled with His endors.e.m.e.nt. All the laws of nature are subject to His mandates. And all power on earth is subordinate to His power And all power on earth is subordinate to His power. Not a wind can blow without His permission, not a disease can strike but as He allows, not a human hand can hurt us while He s.h.i.+elds us with His presence. The circ.u.mstances of life, the enemies of our souls and the infirmities of our bodies are subject to His Word. The very thrones of earth are subordinate to His authority. He can make a Cyrus send back the tribes of Israel by a national decree. He can make a Constantine behold the flaming Cross upon the sky and become a follower of the Heavenly Standard. He can open nations and kingdoms to the Gospel, and so He bids us go forth and disciple all the nations because of His Almighty power in our behalf! Ho mighty was the power of the resurrection! It surmounted the power of death and the grave; it pa.s.sed through the solid stone; it defied the stamp of the Roman government and the sentinels of the Roman army. It could pa.s.s through the closed doors without rending them asunder. It could bring the miraculous draught of fishes to the apostle's net with a single word of command. It could rise without an effort in the chariot of His ascension. It could anoint those weak and timid men with the power that shook the world and laid the foundations of the Church. Oh, that our eyes were but opened that we might behold "the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints," and "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward 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, far above all princ.i.p.ality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body" (Eph. 1:18-23). Why is it that we do not receive and realize more of this Almighty Christ? Alas! because we cannot understand or stand the fullness of His power. G.o.d is ready to work through us the triumphs of His omnipotence, but we must be fitted vessels, open to His touch and able to stand His power. The ordinance that has to bear a mighty charge of powder must be heavy enough to stand the charge without explosion. And so hearts that are to know the power of Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, must be "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man," so that "Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." To think of what Christ is ready and willing to do in us and for us would frighten some of us into apoplexy, and actually to realize it would snap the frail thread of life itself. Christ's heart is bursting with resources that the world needs and that He is ready to use if only He could find vessels ready and willing to use them. Oh, that we had the courage to see the power which He is waiting to place at the service of all who are consecrated enough to use it for His glory and close enough to receive the heavenly baptism! He has for us the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, the power that will conquer circ.u.mstances and control all events for His will, and the power that will make us the trophies of His grace and the monuments of His indwelling presence and victory. We shall find this power as we go forth to use it according to His own commission, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." Nothing but a work as wide as the world can ever make room for the power which Christ is waiting to bestow.
A Loving Christ How unavailing all His power would be if we were not sure that it is available for us, and that His heart as tenderly loves us as His mighty hand can help us. How tender and loving the Christ of the Forty Days! See Him in the garden as He speaks to Mary with tender sympathy: "Women, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" He asks, and then calls her by her name in tones which must have expressed more than words could tell. What mourner can doubt henceforth His sympathy and love? What heart can hesitate to accept His friends.h.i.+p which still speaks to each of us with as direct and personal a call, and gives to each a name of special and affectionate regard?
Or look again at Him as He meets with Thomas, the doubting one, the willful disciple that petulantly demanded that the Lord should meet him with an evidence that He had given to none other, and that no human heart had a right imperiously to claim. But how tenderly the Lord concedes even his demand, until Thomas is ashamed to accept it and, more amazed at his Lord's magnanimity and omniscience than the evidence of His wounds, he cries, "My Lord and my G.o.d." Who that is hara.s.sed with doubts and difficulties need fear again to bring them to His presence, Who with such condescending love is ready to meet them all, and to make our hearts know by the deeper evidence of His own great love and the revealing of Himself that He is indeed the Son of G.o.d?
And look at His interview with Simon Peter! What backslider need ever doubt again the Saviour's forgiving love, or fear to come and know that he will be welcomed to a nearer place in His heart and a higher service in His kingdom if only he can say as Simon said, "Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." So tender, so forgiving, so full of love He comes to us, to dry our tears, to satisfy our doubts, to forgive our failures, to restore our souls, and then to use us for a higher service, just because we have learned through our own infirmities the depths of His great love. The secret of walking closely with Christ and working successfully for Him, is to fully realize that we are His beloved. Let us but feel that He has set His heart upon us, that He is watching us from those heavens with the same tender interest that He felt for Simon and Mary, that He is working out the mystery of our lives with the same solicitude and fondness, that He is following us day by day as any mother follows her babe in his first attempt to walk alone, that He has set His love upon us, and, in spite of ourselves, is working out for us His highest will and blessing, as far as we will let Him; and then nothing can discourage us. Our hearts will glow with responsive love. Our faith will spring to meet His mighty promises, and our sacrifices shall become the very luxuries of love for one so dear. This was the secret of John's spirit. "We have known and believed the love that G.o.d hath to us." And the heart that has fully learned this has found the secret of unbounded faith and enthusiastic service.
The Physical Christ He that came forth from Joseph's tomb came forth in the flesh, with a material body and the same form that He had laid down in death and the grave. He made this most emphatic in His interview with His disciples after His resurrection. He wished them to be thoroughly a.s.sured that there was no illusion about His body. "Handle me, and see," was His emphatic word, "for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."
Indeed, His spiritual consciousness had not died; it was only His body that tasted death, and it was His body therefore that was raised from death. The resurrection of Christ, then, is a physical fact, and the physical meaning of the resurrection must be of surpa.s.sing importance. It means no less than this, that He has come forth to be the physical life of His people now, and in a little while the Fountain of their immortality and the Head of their resurrection bodies.
What a source of strength and inspiration it is for us to know that our blessed Lord has still the same physical organization that we possess, and is willing and able to share with these mortal frames His infinite and quickening life! He is our living Bread, and as He lived by the Father, so we may live by Him, and not only is He the source of health and strength to our material life, but He cares for the wants of the body. Hungry and cold were the disciples from their fruitless fis.h.i.+ng that Galilean morning; He saw their need and tenderly asked them, "Children, have ye any meat?" and then, filling their empty nets and spreading the table on the sh.o.r.e, He said, "Come and dine." So still He thinks of the poor and the struggling, the hungry and the helpless ones, and stands beside them in their need, ready and able, by a word, to provide immediate and abundant supply.
Are we today in any place of need? The Christ of the Forty Days is nearer than we think, able to be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and ready to give us the greatest help in time of need. Like the fishers of that Galilean sea, our empty nets can be filled at His bidding; the perplexed workman can be directed to the very thing to do; the wretched failure can be all corrected. There is no need that He cannot supply, no counsel that He is not able to give, no regions where His power does not penetrate, no disciple that He does not love to help in every time of need. Oh, let us trust Him more with all our circ.u.mstances and sorrows, and our utmost need will only prove the more infinite resources of His love and grace.
The Ever-Present Christ The Christ of the Forty Days is not a transient vision that has pa.s.sed away forever, but the Christ of all the ages. Standing at the close of those blessed days midway between earth and heaven, He said, "Lo! I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the world." That blessed present tense has bridged the past and the present, and has prolonged those heavenly days after the resurrection through all the days since then, It is not "I will be," as one who has to go away and come back again; but "I am," as a presence that is never to be withdrawn, He is unseen, it is true, but is as real as any friend is real in his absence as well as presence. For in the spiritual world distance and time are eliminated; just as the telescope can bring the distant object near the eye, and the telephone can present the voice that is hundreds of miles away to the listening and attentive ear, so there is a spiritual mechanism that can make Christ as immediate to the heart as though He were still visibly by our side. Had we but another sense, all heavenly beings and realities would be directly present to our perception. The promise of this beautiful pa.s.sage is not only fulfilled in the presence of Christ in the heart of the believer, which is a literal and glorious truth, but it is a presence with with us us. It is more than the spiritual consciousness of the Lord's indwelling. It is His direct personality and constant companions.h.i.+p with all our life and His omnipotent cooperation in all our needs. It is the presence of One who has all power in heaven and in earth, and whose presence means the defeat of every adversary, the solution of every difficulty, the supply of every need. Oh, it does seem, in these days, as though we could almost see Him moving in the midst of His people, here and there, in His mighty working, on the mission field with the lone worker in the midst of dangers and foes, in the busy streets of the crowded city, in the mingled incidents of business life, in the whirl and confusion of our intense life today, in every department of human society --touching with His hands all the chords of influence and power, moving the wheels of Providence, and working out His purpose for His people and the redemption of the world. Oh, that we might see Him as Joshua saw the Captain when He entered Canaan and camped around Jericho; as Stephen saw Him when he faced the crowd of wolfish foes that thirsted for his blood; as Paul saw Him amid the tempests of the Adriatic and the lions of the Coliseum; as John saw Him in the midst of the Throne, holding in His hand the seven stars and walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and then standing before the Throne with all the seals of human destiny in His own right hand! Then, indeed, no trail could discourage us, no foe intimidate us, no fear dismay us, no work overwhelm us; for above every voice of peril or of hostile power, we would hear His gentle whisper, "Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the age."
The promise is better translated "all the days," rather than "alway." He comes to you each day with a new blessing. Every morning, day by day, He walks with us, with a love that never tires and a blessing that never grows old. And He is with us "all the days"; it is a ceaseless abiding. There is no day so dark, so commonplace, so uninteresting, but you find Him there. Often, no doubt, He is unrecognized, as He was on the way to Emmaus, until you realize how your heart has been warmed, your love stirred and your Bible so strangely vivified that every promise seems to speak to you with heavenly reality and power. It was the Lord! G.o.d grant that His living presence may be made more and more real to us all henceforth, and whether we have the consciousness and evidence, as they had a few glorious times those forty days, or whether we go forth into the coming days, as they did most of their days, to walk by simple faith and in simple duty, let us know, at least, that the fact is true forevermore, that He is with us He is with us, a presence all unseen but real, and ready if we need Him any moment to manifest Himself for our relief.
There is a beautiful incident related of the mother of an English schoolboy whom, when he was a lad, she sent to a boarding school, some distance from her home, where the rules of the school only permitted her to visit once a fortnight. But this was more than her mother heart could stand, and so, all unknown to her boy or his teachers, she rented a little attic overlooking the school, and often, when he little dreamed, she would sit in that upper room with her eyes on her darling boy as he played in that yard below or studied in the schoolroom. He could not see her, nor did he dream that she was there, but had he cried or called her name or needed her for a moment, he was within her reach.
The is a little parable of the sleepless love and the ceaseless oversight which our saviour exercises towards His beloved ones, for He has His eye upon us by day and by night; and although we do not see His face and hands and form as He moves through our pathway, dissipating our foes and clearing our way, yet He is there, ever there "all the days, even unto the end." Let us believe His promise, let us a.s.sume the reality of His presence, let us recognize Him as ever near, let us speak to Him as one ever by our side, and He shall ever answer us, either by the whispers of His love or by the workings of His hand.
Thus shall we never be alone, thus shall we never be defenseless, thus shall we never be defeated, thus need we never fear. And even should the lonely vale itself open to us, it shall be but the opening vista of a larger vision and a closer and nearer presence, as we find that neither "death, nor life, nor angels, nor princ.i.p.alities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of G.o.d, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38, 39).
The Cross of Christ Part 2
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The Cross of Christ Part 2 summary
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