THE CLOSING VERSES of Luke 23, and the opening part of this chapter makes it very plain that none of His disciples in any way anticipated His resurrection. This makes the testimony to it all the more pronounced and satisfying. They were not enthusiastic and visionary, inclined to believe anything, but rather of materialistic mind and despondent, inclined to doubt everything.
The women are brought before us in the first place. They had no thoughts but those suitable to an ordinary funeral. Their minds were occupied with the sepulchre, His body and the spices and ointments that were customary. The Jewish sabbath intervened however, and put a stop to their activities-this was of God, for their activities were wholly unnecessary, and by the time they could have resumed them, the sacred body was not to be found. Instead of the dead body they found two men in shining garments, and heard from their lips that the Lord was now "the living One" and not among the dead. So the first testimony to His resurrection came from the lips of angels. A second testimony was found in the words He Himself had spoken during His life. He had predicted His death and His resurrection. When reminded of His words, they remembered them.
The women returned and told all these things to the eleven; that is, they presented to them the evidence of the angels, and of the Lord's own words, and of their own eyes, as to the body not being in the sepulchre; yet they did not believe. The modern sceptic might call these things "idle tales;" well, that was just how they appeared to the disciples. Peter however, with his usual impulsiveness, went a step further. He ran to the sepulchre to see for himself, and what he saw so far verified their words. Yet in his mind wonder rather than faith was excited.
Next we are carried on to the afternoon of the resurrection day, and Luke gives us in full what happened with the two going into the country, to which Mark just alludes in verses 12 and 13 of his last chapter. The incident gives us a very striking insight into the state of mind that characterized them-and doubtless they were typical of the rest.
Cleopas and his companions were evidently just drifting away from Jerusalem to the old home, utterly disappointed and dejected. They had entertained very fervent expectations which centred in the Messiah, and in Jesus they believed that they had found Him. To them Jesus of Nazareth was "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people;" and at that point evidently their faith stopped. They did not as yet perceive in Him the Son of God who could not be holden of death, and so to them His death was the mournful end of His story. They did think that "it had been He which should have redeemed Israel," but then that to them meant redeeming them by power from all their national foes, rather than redeeming them to God by His blood. His death had shattered their hopes of this redemption by power and by glory. This disappointment was the fruit of their having cherished expectations which were not warranted by the Word of God. They expected the glory without the sufferings.
Not a few believers may be found today who have drifted off into the world in rather similar fashion. They too have drifted because disappointed, and they are disappointed because of entertaining unwarranted expectations. The expectations may have been centred in Christian work, and the conquests of the Gospel, or in some particular group or body of believers with whom they were linked, or perhaps in themselves and their own personal sanctity and power. However, things have not happened as they expected, and they are in the depths of dejection.
This case of Cleopas will help in the diagnosis of their trouble. In the first place, like him they have some little "Israel," which engrosses their thoughts. Had Israel been redeemed, just as Cleopas had expected, he would have been in the seventh heaven of delight: as it was not so, he had lost his enthusiasm and interest. He had to learn that though Israel was right in the centre of the bright little picture that his fancy had painted, it was not in the centre of God's picture. God's picture is the real one, and its centre is Christ risen from the dead. When Jesus had joined Himself to them, drawn out their thoughts and gained their confidence, He opened up to them, not things concerning Israel, but "things concerning HIMSELF." A certain cure for disappointment is to have Christ filling every picture that our minds entertain:-not work, even Christian work, not brethren, nor even the church, not self in any of its many forms, but Christ.
But there was a second thing. True, these unwarranted hopes of Cleopas, which led to his disappointment, had sprung from this thinking too much of Israel and too little of Christ; yet this wrong emphasis was the result of his partial reading of the Old Testament Scriptures. Verse 25 shows that their foolishness and the slowness of their hearts had led them to overlook some parts of the Scriptures. They believed some things that the prophets had spoken-those nice, plain, easy-to-be-understood things as to the glory of the Messiah-whilst they set on one side and passed over the predictions of His sufferings, which doubtless seemed to them to be mysterious, peculiar, and difficult to understand. The very things they had skipped were just what would have saved them from the painful experience through which they were passing.
In speaking to them, three times did the Lord emphasize the importance of all Scripture-see verses 25 and 27. He so dealt with them as to make them see that His death and resurrection were the appointed basis of all the glory which is yet to come. "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things . . . ?" Yes, indeed He ought! And as He ought, so had He done!
What a walk that must have been! At the close of it they could not bear the thought of a separation from this unexpected "Stranger," and they besought Him to abide. Going in to tarry with them, He of necessity took the place which is ever intrinsically His. He must be Host and Leader and also the Blesser; and then their eyes were opened and they knew Him. What joy for their hearts when suddenly they discerned their risen Lord!
But why did He withdraw from their sight just as they had recognized Him? For the same reason doubtless as He had told Mary not to touch Him earlier in that same day (see, John 20: 17). He wished to show them from the outset that He had entered into new conditions by resurrection, and that consequently their relations with Him must be upon a new basis. The brief glimpse they had of Him however, coupled with His unfolding of all the prophetic Scriptures, had done its work. They were completely revolutionized. A new light had dawned upon them: new hopes had arisen in their hearts: their disconsolate drifting was over. Though night had fallen, they retraced their steps to Jerusalem, to seek the company of their fellow-disciples. Sick at heart they had sought solitude: faith and hope being revived, the company of saints was their delight. It is ever thus with all of us.
Back they came to tell their great news to the eleven, but they arrived to find themselves forestalled. The eleven knew the Lord was risen, for He had also appeared to Peter. The proofs of His resurrection were rapidly accumulating. They now had not only the testimony of the angels, and the remembrance of His own words, and the account given by the women, but also the witness of Simon, almost instantly corroborated by the witness of the two returned from Emmaus. And, best of all, even as the two were telling their story, in their very midst, with words of peace on His lips, stood Jesus Himself.
Yet, even so, they were not at the outset wholly convinced. There was about Him in His new risen condition something unusual and past their comprehension. They were fearful, thinking they saw a spirit. The truth was they saw their Saviour in a spiritual body, such as 1 Corinthians 15: 44 speaks of. This fact He proceeded to demonstrate to them in very convincing fashion. His was a body of "flesh and bones," yet though conditions were new, it was to be identified with the body of "flesh and blood," in which He had suffered, for the marks of the suffering were there in both hands and feet. And while the truth was slowly dawning in their minds, He made it yet more manifest by eating before them, that they might see that He was not merely "a spirit." Thus the reality of His resurrection was fully certified, and the true character of His risen body made manifest.
Then He began to instruct them, and first of all He emphasized to them what He had already stressed with threefold emphasis to the two at Emmaus, that ALL things written concerning Him in the Scriptures had to be fulfilled, as indeed He had told them before His death. They were to understand that all that had happened had transpired according to the Scriptures, and was in no way a contradiction of what had been written. Then, in the second place, He opened their understandings so that they might really take in all that had been opened up in the Scriptures. This, we think, is to be identified with that in-breathing of His risen life, which is recorded in John 20: 22. This new life in the power of the Spirit carried with it a new understanding.
Then, thirdly, He indicated that, having this new understanding, and being "witnesses of these things," a new commission was to be entrusted to them. They were no longer to speak of law but of "repentance and remission of sins . . . in His Name." Grace was to be their theme-forgiveness of sins through the Name and virtue of Another-and the only necessity on the side of men is repentance-that honesty of heart which leads a man to take his true place as a sinner before God. This preaching of grace is to be "among all nations," and not confined to the Jews only, as was the giving of the law. Yet it was to begin at Jerusalem, for in that city man's iniquity had risen to its climax in the crucifixion of the Saviour; and where sin had abounded, there the over-abounding of grace was to be manifested.
The basis, on which rests this commission of grace, is seen in verse 46-the death and resurrection of Christ. All that had just happened, which had seemed so strange and a stumbling-block to the disciples, had been the laying of the necessary foundation, on which the superstructure of grace was to be reared. And all was according to the Scriptures, as He again emphasized by saying, "Thus it is written." The Word of God imparted a Divine authority to all that had transpired and to the message of grace which they were to proclaim.
So, in verses 46 and 47, we have the Lord inaugurating the present Gospel of grace, and giving us its authority, its basis, its terms, the scope it embraces, and the depths of sin and need to which it descends.
Verse 49 gives us a fourth thing, and by no means the least-the coming gift of the Holy Spirit, as the power of all that is contemplated. The Scriptures had been opened up, their understandings had been opened too, the new commission of grace had been clearly given; but all must wait until they possessed the power in which alone they could act, or rightly use what now they knew. Luke draws his Gospel to an end, leaving everything, if we may so put it, like a well-laid fire waiting for the match to be struck which will produce a cheerful blaze. He opens his sequel the Acts by showing us how the coming of the Spirit struck the match, and lit the fire with wonderful results.
We have just seen how this Gospel ends with the launching of the Gospel of grace, which is in striking contrast with the way in which, in its opening verses, it brings before us the temple service in working order, according to the law of Moses. The four verses which close this Gospel also present us with a striking contrast, for the first chapter gives us a picture of godly people with earthly hopes, waiting for the Messiah who would visit and redeem His people. It shows us a God-fearing priest, engaged in his temple duties, but possessed of only a little faith, so that he was struck dumb. Not believing, he could not speak: he knew nothing worth speaking about, at all events for the moment. Verses 50-53 show us the risen Saviour ascending to engage in His service as High Priest in the heavens, and leaving behind Him a company of people whose hearts have been carried from earth to heaven and whose mouths are opened in praise.
Bethany was the spot from which He ascended, the place where, more than any other, He had been appreciated. He went up in the very act of blessing His disciples. When we remember what they had proved themselves to be, this is indeed touching. Six weeks before all had forsaken Him and fled. One had denied Him with oaths and curses, and to all of them He might have said what He did say to two "O fools, and slow of heart to believe." Yet upon these foolish, faithless, cowardly disciples He lifted up His hands in blessing. And upon us too, though very like to these men in spite of our living in the day when the Spirit is given, His blessing still descends.
He blessed them, and they worshipped Him. They returned to the spot that He appointed for them until the Spirit came, and in the temple they were continually occupied in the praise of God. Zacharias had been dumb: no blessing could escape his lips, either Godward or manward. Jesus went up on high to assume His priestly office in the fulness of blessing for His people; and He left behind those who proved to be the nucleus of the new priestly race, and already they were blessing God and worshipping Him.
This Gospel has indeed carried us from law to grace and from earth to heaven.
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