A Sad Interior and a Cheery Messenger
“And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.” — Mark xvi. 10.
SOME of you, dear friends, have seen those small pictures by famous Dutch artists where, with many little touches — very lifelike, very suggestive, very homely, — they depict an interior. Now, Mark is that kind of painter; he delights to give us interiors. He is best pleased when he can record something which nobody else seems to have described, or when lie can take a description by somebody else, and fill in the details, the finishing touches that have been omitted. I do not remember that we are told by Matthew, or Luke, or John, how the disciples behaved themselves while their Lord was in the grave. It is left to us to imagine their feelings, with this exception, — that Mark tells us that “they mourned and wept.”
Remember, this was on the morning of the third day after our Lord’s death. They had had the Jewish Sabbath for quiet reflection, and, no doubt, for lamentation and mourning; but this is the morning of our own Lord’s-day, the first day of the week; and when Mary Magdalene comes into the room, she tells them that she has seen the risen Lord. And what is the scene which is presented to her eye? In two or three words, Mark just stipples it in thus, “as they mourned and wept.” They were mainly men, I suppose. If Mary came only to the eleven, they were all men; yet this is how they are occupied: “They mourned and wept.” We know most of them: we have read so much of them, and they stand out in such clear light, — these early leaders of the Church of Christ, these first few chosen men, — that I seem to be almost able to see them all in my imagination now, not grouped around a table as they are in that celebrated picture of the last supper, but sitting together in the room, and not able to restrain their emotions. They are all mourning, and most of them are expressing those emotions in a way not usual to men: “They mourned and wept.” There were sighs, and cries, and salt tears. It was a scene of sad sorrow which Mary came in upon; you can almost picture her as she stands at the door with her hand upon the latch. She pauses a moment before she can communicate the news; they are so unhappy, they are so broken down, it is such a funeral gathering, that she can scarcely find her tongue. At last she breaks out, “Christ has risen! I have seen him. He has risen from the dead! Cease your mourning. An angel has descended from heaven, and has spoken to me, and said, ‘He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.’” After she has delivered her message, she stands still, almost petrified, because she finds herself not believed. Perhaps nobody speaks; it may be, no one says, “Mary Magdalene, you are mad; we do not believe you;” but they weep on. They look around as much as to ask one another, “Do you believe it?” And each one seems to say, “I do not believe it myself;” and their eyes give themselves again to their copious weeping, and their hearts yield themselves still to their perpetual mourning. “She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.”
I want, at this time, first to speak about the sorrowing assembly, — that mourning and weeping band of disciples to whom Mary came. Then I will say something about the consoling messenger whose message ought to have transformed that mourning and weeping into the opposite, namely, into joy and gladness; and, in the last place, I will tell you of the reassuring reflection that I see in this narrative.
I. First, let me take you to this interior which Mark has so beautifully painted, and bid you look at THE SORROWING ASSEMBLY: “She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept,”
What made them weep? What makes men weep about the death of Christ? It does make them weep; we are not all turned to stone, we are not all brutish. There are times with some of us — we wish they were more frequent, — when the cross of Christ seems to touch our inmost heart, and makes the rock that lies within our nature stream with living floods of tears. Why do we mourn over Christ crucified?
First, because, like these disciples, we have some faith in him. They had been with him, and they had been with him because they had believed in him. They had so believed in him that they had left all and followed him, and been subjected to reproach for his dear sake. They had heard him preach, and the power of his teaching had won their hearts. They believed that he was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Deliverer of men; yet now he was dead, and the very fact that they had believed made them feel intense sorrow of heart as they looked back upon what he had been to them. If they had had no faith in him, they would have said, “He was an impostor, and he is put away, and there is an end of him; and it is always a blessing when an impostor at last comes to his end.” But because they had believed in him, therefore they sorrowed to think that he was gone. You and I, dear friends, who do believe in our Lord Jesus Christ at this present moment, cannot without deep sorrow think of him as dead. When once we have vividly realized that the Son of God did die upon the tree, and mark how he died in anguish utter and extreme, we cannot but grieve. We ask, “Why should he die? Why should ho thus be put to death?” And we begin to cry and sorrow because of this great crime of crimes. O thou Christ of God, wast thou despised and rejected of mon? O thou Lover of men, wast thou hated, and cast out, and crucified? O thou who didst come to save the guilty, did man put thee to death?
“Alas! and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?”
In proportion as we believe in him, we feel that we would melt away in tears of grief to think that he should die. Shall such brightness be eclipsed? Shall such glory be dishonoured? Shall such immortality be dragged down to the gates of death? We cannot but mourn that Christ should die; and if we dwell upon that thought, we shall get into that vein in which the disciples were when they mourned and wept.
No doubt they mourned and wept, principally, because they loved him, and therefore lamented for his loss. Was Christ really gone? “Alas!” they said, “our Head is taken from us, our Master and our Lord, our perfect Teacher, our complete Example, our blessed Friend, our tender Comforter.” They had lost more than she who loses her husband, or than he who has lost his spouse, or than the child that is bereaven of its mother. They had lost “every precious name in one.” And, brethren, if we were to think always of Christ as dead, if we were so unwise as to forgot that he ever liveth, it would seem, indeed, to be the greatest loss that heaven or earth could sustain for the Son of God thus to be put to death. As it is, we love him so, that we cannot think of his being put away from the sons of men, and being rejected by them, and put to death by them, without feeling our hearts breaking that he should suffer so. Love to him and our valuation of him go to deepen the tides of our grief.
And the more is this the case when we think of the sorrows he endured. I fancy that I hear John saying across the table, “And I saw them pierce his side, and forthwith there came out blood and water.” And I hear James say, “And I saw them offer him vinegar.” And I hear Peter say, “And I saw them scourge him.” And I hear Bartholomew say, “And I heard from the distance his cry, ‘I thirst.’” And then they would break into a chorus of weeping again. It was not only that he was gone, and that they had lost him, but that he had died in such a way as ho did die. They could not without tears contemplate his being put to the death of a felon in such agony extreme, deserted of the Father, and crying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” without saying to themselves, “How could it be? This is an affliction that cannot be borne, a deep sorrow that cannot be fathomed, that he should die, and die so!” I do protest, I have sometimes felt within myself as if I would have stopped his dying if I could. What! has he died to save my soul? The ransom price is altogether too great! Have you never heard of the two brothers, one of whom must die, and each was eager to suffer instead of his brother, and they contended with each other, as though they were
rivals in love with death, which should die that the other might live? And, sometimes, when love is strong upon us, we seem to say to the great Master, “It were better that I should die and perish than that thou shouldst be nailed to a cross.” He never left it to our choice. He had the start of us. He bought us with his precious blood ere we had an opportunity to debate with him in a discussion of love. He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and gave that matchless unequalled life that he might redeem you and me from going down into the pit. Yet we cannot think of his suffering and grief without mourning and weeping.
Then, dear friends, I should think that the eleven, as they sat together, must have mourned and wept as they thought of how they had treated this dear Lord of theirs. If even a friend dies, and we have ever been unkind to that friend, how our unkindness comes home to us when it is too late to atone for it! An undutiful son, when his mother dies, must feel a sore fretting of heart to think of his unkindness; but what must these disciples have felt as they remembered how they had treated their blessed Lord? They said to one another, “Oh, how we must have grieved him when we disputed among ourselves which of us should be the greatest, while he was talking about being delivered into the hands of wicked men, and being scourged, and put to death upon the cross!” “Hold your tongues, all of you,” cries poor Peter, “say nothing, for it is I who deserted him and denied him. With oaths and curses I denied that I even knew him.” And when Peter wept, they would all weep, I am sure, as each would say, “But, brother Peter, we all forsook him and fled.” “I,” says John, “was asleep in the garden that night when he said, ‘Could ye not watch with me one hour? And each one would be willing to confess his own wrong-doing towards the Blessed One, and all together would say, “Why did we not rally around him? Why did we not keep with him when they took him away, and bound him, and scourged him? Why did we not bare our shoulders, and put ourselves between the Roman lictors and his blessed flesh? At least, why did we not stand around the cross, and whisper comfort if we could not help him, and quote, at least, some promises of the Father to him, or remind him that there were some who loved him even if others were jibing and jeering at him? Then they wept and mourned afresh.
And when you and I think of the death of Christ, must we not feel much the same as these disciples did?
“’Twas you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear.”
It was our sins that drew the vengeance down upon his guiltless head, yet we have not treated him as we ought to have treated him, for even we who have known him longest, and who have loved him best, what poor friends we have been to him! He shows his wounds again now to our penitent gaze, and he says, “These are the wounds which I received in the house of my friends.” Oh, how little have we given to him, how little have we done for him, how few hours have we spent with him in solitude, how feeble have been our testimonies for him, how slack our prayers for his coming and for the triumph of his kingdom! I, for one, feel ashamed, and say, —
“Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When God, the mighty Maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.
“Thus might I hide my blushing face,
While his dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.”
I cannot keep on with this sorrowful subject; that terrible passion of our Master is enough to wring the last drop of grief out of our hearts. If we could once get into true sympathy with it, it would be to-night in this Tabernacle as it was in that upper room at Jerusalem, we should be mourning and weeping because our Lord was dead. I had many things still to say to you upon this sacred theme; but if ye could bear to hear them, I cannot bear to speak them.
II. So, I prefer to ask you to look at THE CONSOLING MESSENGER who came to the disciples, and said, concerning their Lord and ours, “He is not dead: he is risen.”
It is very important that we should have right views concerning the resurrection as well as the death of our Lord. If I go down my garden to-morrow morning early, with my spirit drooping and disconsolate, and say to myself, “Alas! the world is in a very bad state, and the church is almost as bad as the world; everything is going wrong, everything is wretched, sad, and miserable, even the very birds might begin to say, “What is that man at? He is out of tune with us.” And if I look at the flowers, surely they also might well begin to chide me, and say, “Master, what art thou at?” But if I go forth, with many burdens and many cares all cast upon the Lord, and with all the outlook, dreary as it is, still say, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be my Rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted,” then surely the mountains and the hills shall break forth before me into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. God means his people to rejoice, and the world, wilderness as it is, is to rejoice with them. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” God fill your souls with sunlight, all of you who are his people! If there is any truth that can flood our souls with joy, surely it is contained in the cheering message which Mary brought to the weeping disciples.
You and I, beloved, by our sins, slew the Christ of God; he died the accursed death of the cross; but he is not dead, he is not dead now. Some professing Christians go through a kind of practical charade of the life of Christ, acting it all over again throughout what they call the Holy Year; and then they must needs have the “three hours’ agony” on what they call “Good Friday.” Well, now, if I believed that Christ died on Good Friday, I would celebrate it with joy from the first dawn of the morning to the setting of the sun at night! It does seem to me that there is much of unbelief, after all, at the back of any attempt to go, even in imagination, through the three hours’ agony, — the agony that was endured once for all by him who said, “It is finished.” If it was not finished, I would help to go through it; but if it was finished, what have I to do with it but to rejoice in the sweet fruit of it, and triumph and be glad that he is not here, for he is risen, and gone into the glory of the Father? That message of Mary Magdalene has changed the whole aspect of affairs, and though we have wept and mourned, now we will begin to rejoice.
What did Mary say? She came with the best of news, for she said, “I have seen our risen Lord. First I saw an angel, and he told me that Christ was not there, for he was risen; and I ran to tell you that good tidings; and on the road, I saw him. I did not know him at first, but he called me ‘Mary,’ and I said to him, ‘Rabboni,’ and I tried to touch him, but he said, ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.’ I am sure that it was none other than the Christ. I am not deceived, for the tones of his voice are well known to me. I am an eye-witness that he is risen, for I saw him and I heard him.” Brethren, that our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, is a great fact of history, testified by eye-witnesses not a few. Hundreds of faithful men and women saw him after he rose from the dead. They could not have been deceived; they knew him too well. They were no impostors, for they lost everything by the witness that they bore. Many of them died in consequence of bearing this witness, but they could not help it. They were so sure that they had seen him, that they told it though they died for it. Yes, beloved, the Lord Christ, whom you and I slew by our sins, is risen from the dead. He is not on the cross, he is not in the grave; it is true that he is not here in bodily presence, for he has gone up on high. A cloud has received him, but he still lives. He lives unsufferingly, triumphant in the skies at his Father’s right hand. Let that truth be the great joy and comfort of our hearts as we believe it.
Let us also, like Mary, tell the glad news to others as often as suitable occasions arise. This is an age of infidelity, and we are very glad of any arguments that are used to prove the inspiration of Scripture and the truth of its teaching; but, after all, the defence of the external bulwarks of the city of truth is but a poor affair. The real defence is from within, where men can speak of what they know, and testify what they have seen. Do not merely say to your children and neighbours, “Christ is risen,” but tell them what he has done for you. Tell what a gracious influence his death and resurrection have had upon your own heart to renew you, to comfort you, to guide you, to make you “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” There is no getting over personal evidence. One eye-witness is better than twenty ear-witnesses; men will believe what you have seen if they do not believe what you have heard. Be not slow, therefore, to bear your witness for “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness,” and who himself has said, “Ye are my witnesses.” If the risen Christ has been revealed to you, be sure to testify concerning him as you have opportunity.
But, alas! at first, the disciples did not believe the good news. They had the common and sad failing of unbelief upon them, and they dishonoured the King’s messenger by doubting her word. Worse still, they dishonoured their Lord and Master by doubting his assurance when he told them that, the third day, he would rise again from the dead. Let us not doubt the great truth that he is risen. Dear friends, Mary Magdalene fell asleep 1,800 years ago, but her testimony is as true to-day as it was that first Lord’s-day morning, for truth is always, true; and those hundreds of people, who saw Christ after his resurrection, just as certainly saw him as if they had seen him only yesterday, for if they saw him 1,800 years ago, it was a fact, and a fact is as much a fact after two thousand years as it was at the first. Christ is risen; we must believe this glorious fact. If we do believe it, what then?
In the first place, the sin of Christ’s murder is condoned. All that sin of ours, which occasioned his death, is condoned. If he has risen from the dead, he has forgiven us the sin of putting him to death. Let your penitent spirits rejoice that the evil which you thought to do him has been turned to good account. He is no longer dead; neither are you condemned to die if you believe in him, nor shall you be for ever and for ever.
“‘The Lord is risen indeed:’
The grave has lost its prey;
With him is risen the ransom’d seed,
To reign in endless day.”
Listen. Inasmuch as Christ rose from the dead, all the sins of those who trust him are put away. You have often heard me explain this wondrous story, how Christ became the Surety for his people, and how he paid their debt; lest it should not be all paid, he was kept in the prison-house of the tomb till a full search had been made, and it was proved that he had suffered the whole penalty, and that the debt of his people was paid. To do this leisurely, three days and nights were spent, and when in heaven’s high court; it was declared that the Messiah had finished transgression, and made an end of sin, “Go, Gabriel,” said the Father; and like a flash of flame the angel descended, bearing the warrant that the debt was paid, and that the Surety must go free. There he lay, sleeping that grand sleep of death for us. When he woke, he unwound the napkin and the grave-clothes, and laid the napkin in one place and the grave-clothes in another, for he was in no hurry. He folded them up, and laid each in its proper place; and then, when all was quite finished, he, in the splendour of his resurrection life, went to the open doorway where stood his servant who had opened the gate for his Lord, and out he came in the majesty of his resurrection body. He was risen from the dead; and in that moment God set his seal to the clearance of every soul for whom Christ was the Substitute. All of us who believe in Christ may know of a surety that he died for our sins, and that he was raised again for our justification; that is, for our clearance. As the cross paid the debt, resurrection took the bond, and rent it in pieces; and now there is nothing standing in the records of eternity against any soul that believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. His rising from the dead has made us clear from every charge. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.” That rising again has cleared us from all the sins that can ever be laid to our charge.
Nor is that all. Those poor disciples thought, when Jesus died, and remained awhile in the tomb, that all was over with his kingdom. The King was dead, and so far as they could see there was no one to occupy the vacant throne. He had taken the sceptre of sovereignty in his hand, and ruled mankind in love; but that sceptre had dropped from his dead fingers. He had preached righteousness in the great congregation, but his powerful voice was silent. But when they knew that Christ was risen, they understood that his resurrection meant a living King and a triumphant cause, and that truth would conquer and righteousness rule, and that the race of mankind should not go down into perdition. O dear friends, dry up your tears! While you think of how your Lord died, you may well let them flow; but, as he liveth, and reigneth, there is no cause for sorrow now. Tell it out among the nations that the Lord has risen from the dead, and by his rising he has brought to all his people life, light, joy, hope, purity, and everlasting redemption.
III. Finally, beloved, there is, in this resurrection of Christ from the dead, A REASSURING REFLECTION to all who believe in him.
It should assuage our worst griefs to know that Christ was the Representative of his people. When he died, we who believe died in him; and when he rose again, we rose in him. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Therefore, if you believe in Jesus, have no fear of death; dread it not for yourselves, and lament it not for those who have fallen asleep in Christ already. It does seem to us a very painful thought that this poor body, which has been the companion of our souls so long, must gradually grow feeble and worn out, its senses by degrees ceasing to assist the mind, and the whole fabric at length decaying, and turning to a handful of dust, lying mouldering beneath yonder dark grass in the cemetery far away from the place where it was wont to work and live. Ah, but, concerning even this mortal body, we have good news, for he who died, and rose again, did not merely live as to his soul, but he lived as to his body, too! When his disciples “were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit,” he said to them, “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” Then he took a piece of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb, and did eat before them, to let them see that it was his corporeal self, his very body that died upon the cross, that was alive again. Every believer can say, with Job, “Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” Therefore is there no fear of death for us, for sin, the sting of death, is taken away, and we can cry even to the last enemy, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
And, further, Christ being the Representative of his people, they also shall live again. When our Lord Jesus said to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again,” she answered, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” You may say the same concerning your brother, or father, or mother, or child, or sister, or husband, or wife. They who have fallen asleep in Jesus have only gone over into the better country, whither we will follow them in the Lord’s good time. We will not sit and mourn and weep, for the woman stands with her hand on the door, and she looks at us while we are mourning and weeping, and she says, “Christ is risen; I saw him in his resurrection glory.” To me, the very hinge of the gospel is the resurrection of Christ. Whenever I get doubting, I always fall back on that great truth, he did rise from the dead. The disciples saw him; the best witnesses that could be found saw him, heard him, touched him. He did rise from the dead; then there is a future state, there is a resurrection. I am in Christ, I am trusting in him, I shall rise, and I shall live in him He has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also;” so I shall live, and with the psalmist I can say, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.” Though my body shall see corruption, yet it shall be raised in glory, and power, and incorruption, like to that risen body of my Lord.
There is the gospel. Perhaps some of you will say, “We do not understand that to be the gospel;” but it is. This is the gospel, that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he rose from the dead the third day, and that whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation.
My dear unconverted hearers, do you think that our Sabbaths are more days of sport, and that when we get to our congregations, we do it just to while away the time? If so, you think very unworthily of high and holy things. No, sirs, preaching the gospel is to us a matter of life and death; we throw our whole soul into it. We live and are happy if you believe in Jesus, and are saved; but we are almost ready to die if you refuse the gospel of Christ. Do not let any preacher be to you what Ezekiel was to the people of the age in which he prophesied. The Lord said to him, “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” Oh, that the Spirit of God would come to close grips with you, and make you feel that the Lord’s message is not sent to be criticized, but to be accepted and obeyed! God grant it, for his mercy’s sake! Amen.