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—JOHN 20:19-31.—JUNE 7.—
THE story of our Lord's resurrection never loses its interest to the Christian. With the cross and Pentecost and our Lord's second coming and the resurrection of the Church, it is one of the most important events recorded in the Word of God. Whatever helps to impress it upon our minds assists in establishing in us the faith once delivered unto the saints. Indeed we may say that if Christian people in general studied, understood and appreciated the resurrection of Jesus it would correct very many of the errors of theology received from the "dark ages" and it would protect them from other doctrinal errors of our day. Let the words of the apostles then sink deep into our hearts. If Christ be not risen your faith is vain and our preaching is vain, ye are yet in your sins (I Cor. 15:17), and we who have espoused the cause of Christ are most wretchedly deceived. Whoever realizes the force of the Apostle's words and trusts to him as an inspired teacher, will assuredly not believe that the dead are alive, but that, as the Scriptures declare, their hope is that eventually they will be made alive by their resurrection from the dead. Connecting this lesson with the preceding one brings to our attention our Lord's manifestation to two of his disciples on the day of his resurrection as they were walking into the country to the home of one of them at Emmaus. The name of but one is given, Cleopas; the other has been variously suggested to have been Nathaniel or Peter, but nothing is known on the subject. The two travelers were talking as they walked, and of course the topic of their conversation was the great tragedy of three days before and the consequent disappointment of all the grand hopes they had built of sharing with Messiah in his Kingdom. What wonder that they were sad! It was at this juncture that Jesus, in another form, overtook them and in passing looked upon them saying, sympathetically, Countrymen, wherefore so sad; is there any special trouble? Their reply was, Perhaps you are a stranger hereabouts and have not heard of the recent tragedy? Jesus, a just and true and noble character, was taken by our rulers and delivered over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion, because they were envious of him and of his growing influence with the people. It is a sad thing that such an occurrence should ever take place in this city of Jerusalem. Besides we and many others were witnesses of his good works and wonderful teachings and know that never man spake like this man. What wonder, then, that we are sad! Just as you came we were discussing a new feature of the matter; we have just heard that the tomb in which he was buried was robbed, but some of our friends declare that they saw at the sepulchre a vision of angels and received the message that he had risen from the dead! Ah, Sir, we are living in strange times; we know not what to think of these things; we are perplexed!
To the surprise of these sorrowful men their fellow-traveler was mighty in the Scriptures; he seemed to be sympathetic, to be a believer in Jesus and his Messiahship, but he had a remarkable way of presenting matters, explaining to them that they should not be sad, but on the contrary glad; that the very matters that were casting such a gloom over their lives were important features in the fulfilment of the divine program and in full accord with the teachings of Jesus and with the Scriptures. We may well suppose that he carried their minds backward and reminded them of the original promise made at the time of sin's first victory, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, but that it should mean the bruising of his heel. Thus the crushing of evil was pictured, and the fact that it would cost Messiah something of suffering was also implied, but that the suffering would be insignificant and the destruction of the Adversary would be ultimately complete.
We can also imagine his telling them about Abraham typifying the Father and Isaac typifying the Son, Messiah, and that Isaac's consecration to death, from which Abraham received him in a figure, was a typical fulfilment of the fact that Messiah must actually die and rise from the dead, and that this was illustrated in the various types of the Law, in the Passover lamb and [R4181 : page 169] also in the sin-offering of the Atonement Day. Coming down he doubtless mentioned Joseph as a type of Messiah and that his imprisonment, before he was exalted to association with Pharaoh in the government, was a type of Christ's imprisonment in death before his exaltation to be the Life Giver to the world and next to the Father in the Kingdom. Doubtless he reminded them also of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "He shall be led as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before his shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." We can think of many Scriptures which he doubtless quoted and thus brought to their attention, telling them that they had been slow of heart to believe all that God's Word contained on this subject, that they had believed the glorious features but had failed to give proper weight to the ignominious, sacrificial features of the divine plan which were not less necessary, indeed were fundamental, the basis upon which the blessings should ultimately rest. He also assured them that it behooved the Son of man to suffer, that it was necessary for him to suffer as the redemption price of Adam and his race and that then he should rise from the dead to be their Deliverer.
The narrative does not tell with what amazement the two sorrowing disciples looked at their companion and wondered at his erudition and knowledge of the Scriptures, which was so much greater than their own, so much greater than that of the other apostles! No wonder that reaching their home they invited him to stay with them! He made as though he would go farther and undoubtedly would have done so had they not been anxious to have him stay; but they urged him, pleading that the day was far gone, that he could not accomplish much in the remaining hours and that they would like to have his fellowship.
Soon they were seated at their simple evening meal, and without hesitation the wonderful stranger, who seemed to have such a grasp of the divine plan, was requested to ask a blessing upon the food. It was as he asked the blessing that they recognized his familiar tones and that it was none other than Jesus who could teach them as he had done—and simultaneously with this thought the stranger vanished. He had accomplished his purpose; why should he remain? His purpose was threefold: He would prepare their minds by pointing out to them the prophecies and the necessity for their fulfilment and their order for fulfilment; secondly, he would demonstrate to them not only his resurrection but also his change, that he was no longer the man Christ Jesus, but the same Jesus under new conditions, a spirit being, no longer limited in any respect; now he could appear and disappear at his convenience and in one form or in another form, as suited best his purposes, and in one garb or in another garb as would serve the occasion best. Thus to Mary he appeared as a gardener, to these two disciples as a traveler—but neither Mary nor these noted any print of nails in his feet or in his hands; although they were close to him, neither recognized his features nor his clothing—in fact, his raiment, as we remember, was divided amongst the Roman soldiers, and what he wore, therefore, must have been specially provided for the occasion, just as the wine was provided at the Cana marriage by divine power, which is so incomprehensible to us.
When our Lord vanished the two disciples were thoroughly aroused. We can imagine the looks upon their faces, the earnestness of their motions and the beam of their eyes as they said to one another, "Did not our hearts burn within us by the way as he talked to us and opened to us the Scriptures?" Ah, yes! Joy had now taken the place of sorrow with them; his explanation of the prophecies which made their hearts burn at the time caused them to glow still more now that they knew the speaker, recognized him as their crucified and risen Lord. They hastened back to the city seven miles away. They were so full of enthusiasm that they could not be content to rest at home with their glorious message while they knew that other dear hearts were in perplexity. They had the true spirit of discipleship, the desire to tell the good tidings of great joy, whatever the cost, to those who had the ear to hear.
And are not our experiences similar to theirs notwithstanding the fact that centuries have since elapsed? Indeed, our condition is very similar to theirs in this respect. The false doctrines of the "dark ages" have cast a gloom and a sorrow and fear and disquiet over all Christian hearts. The story of the resurrection is still with us, but it has been made rather meaningless by the various false doctrines, as, for instance, that our Lord was the heavenly Father himself, that he did not die, could not die, else the Universe would have been without a Ruler, hence, that there is no real death, no real atonement for sin, but more or less of a deception practiced, a make-believe dying upon the cross while Christ as the Father permitted the deception to be worked. Surely thus our Lord has been taken away and we know not where they have laid him; and what is true of us is true of all the Lord's truly consecrated people. But now in this harvest time the Master is [R4182 : page 169] again present with his people. We are in his parousia, in the time of his presence in the end of the age, and those who have been watching and hearkening have heard the prophetic knock indicating the time of his presence, and have opened their hearts. Our hearts burn within us now as we come to understand better than in the past the great messages of God's Word, telling us of his love not only for the Church but also for the world, and of the redemption accomplished through the precious blood and of the salvation that shall be brought unto us at the revelation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in Kingdom glory; yea, and of a blessing also upon all the families of the earth which will be willing to receive the same into good and honest hearts. Do not our hearts burn within us as these prophecies of old open before us and we see their true significance? And shall not we like these disciples at Emmaus arise hastily and go to the brethren wherever they may be and tell them the blessed tidings [R4182 : page 170] of the Redeemer's presence, to help them to understand the riches of God's grace as outlined in his precious Word? Surely all who have the proper feeling have this missionary spirit and desire to do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith.—Gal. 6:10.
Meantime Jesus, the spirit being, immediately transferred himself from Emmaus to the upper room where the disciples were assembled and the doors were fastened because they were fearing the Jews and also that the persecution which had come to the Lord might also extend to them. They were having their evening meal when our Lord, discarding the body and the clothing in which he had appeared to the two at Emmaus as a spirit being, came into their midst while the doors were shut, just as an angel could do. There he materialized, created for himself a body of flesh with clothing and in an instant stood before the disciples, who were terrified and were scarcely calmed by his familiar salutation, "Peace be unto you." It was still the first day of the week, the day of his resurrection; we may be sure the disciples were discussing the great and momentous event and the news they had indirectly received of our Lord's resurrection. They were endeavoring to harmonize the various stories told by the women, wondering to what extent they had been deceived, etc. And now to hear the Master's own words saying, "Peace be unto you,"—what could it mean? It meant a confirmation of the story of the women that they had actually seen the Lord, that he really was no longer dead. Then the Master showed them the wounded side and lacerated feet and hands, and their fright was turned into joy. The perplexities were not all gone; but they were getting the lesson that their Master was triumphant over death. Undoubtedly they were still perplexed at his appearing to them while the doors were shut; it would require a little time for them to learn that he was no longer the man Christ Jesus but the glorified Jesus, the spirit Jesus. They got a further lesson on this subject when a few moments later he vanished out of their sight, or, as some would say, dematerialized. The material body and clothing could not have gone through the walls while the doors were shut; a spirit being, however, is not limited by doors or locks or walls and our Lord, a spirit being, had used spirit powers and then additionally had created the body in which he then appeared, which was in still another form than that of a gardener, a stranger, a traveler to Emmaus.
Here our Lord took occasion to give his commission to the apostles, saying, "As the Father sent me, even so send I you." I have done the work the Father gave me to do; I now appoint to you a great work, which you are to do in my name, even as I worked in my Father's name. Symbolically then, as conveying to them a lesson, Jesus breathed upon them and said, "Receive ye the holy Spirit." He thus represented that he would put his Spirit, his disposition upon them which would enable them to carry out their commission, even as his own reception of the holy Spirit at the time of his baptism enabled him to carry out his consecration. What he did was rather a pantomime teaching; they must tarry at Jerusalem before they would really be endued with power from on high, before they would be endued with the holy Spirit. And why must they wait for Pentecost? Because the holy Spirit could come only upon those who were fully reconciled to the Father, and before they could be acceptable to the Father the great Redeemer must first ascend on high and appear in God's presence on their behalf and on behalf of all the household of faith to apply for them the merit of his sacrifice as a covering for all of their blemishes, that through him they might be acceptable to the Father and be permitted to receive the full adoption of the holy Spirit as the sons of God.
Addressing the apostles our Lord indicated the dignity of their complete representation of himself, saying, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." This dignity, this honor, this privilege was not granted to all believers, but merely to the apostles. And it is not true that this authority descended from them to others, the clergy, nor that the power to forgive sins nor to fix the responsibility for sins is thus come to reside in those who are alleged to have been called by apostolic succession in the laying on of hands. The apostles had no such successors; there were only twelve and when one (Judas) lost his bishopric it was given to another, St. Paul. These twelve are represented in the symbols of Revelation as the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem, and these alone were the apostles of the Lamb, specially privileged as such, and specially addressed in the above words.
It is right, therefore, that we should heed carefully the words of the twelve apostles as being a divine revelation in the most special sense, that we should note well what they tell us of such sins as are cancelled by the merit of Christ's sacrifice and which sins are not cancellable, but are sins unto death or sins for which a measure of stripes must be inflicted. In view of this how carefully we should study not only the words of the Master himself but also those of the apostles, to note the conditions upon which God is willing to accept all who come unto him through Christ and the conditions upon which sins may be forgiven.
But while it is not granted to any but the apostles thus to fix the limitations upon which sins are forgivable and which sins must be punished, it is the province of all those whom the Lord uses as his mouthpieces to make known these limitations to the Church and to point out to them the teachings of the apostles on these subjects. Thus it is our privilege today to explain to those who have hearing ears what are the conditions of justification by faith and reconciliation to the Father and what are the conditions leading to the Second Death—not on our own authority, not on our own account, but in the name of the Lord through his apostles, whose words we properly quote in substantiation.
The Apostle Thomas was not with the others on that first Sunday evening that our Lord appeared in the upper room. It was probably fortunate for many since that he was absent and that he was of that doubting disposition which lead him to rebuke the others for having believed in the Lord's resurrection upon too slight evidence. When they related to him the circumstances he declared, "Unless I put my finger in the prints of the nails and thrust my hand into his side I will not believe." An entire week passed and there was no further manifestation of our Lord so far as the records show until the next first day of the week, probably again in the evening, the beginning of the eighth day from the time of our Lord's resurrection. On this occasion all of the eleven apostles were present. The conditions were very similar to those of the week previous. Possibly they had been expecting all through the week to see our Lord and had been disappointed and when they were together a week later they hoped that this would be a favorable time for him to reveal himself. Thereafter the first day of the week was made an occasion for special meetings of the Lord's followers in remembrance of his revelations of himself on the first and on the eighth days. Thus as the Jewish Law, providing for the seventh-day Sabbath, was recognized as ending with the Jewish dispensation, the Gospel Church, under the guidance of the holy Spirit and freed from the Law, nevertheless desired a special day in the week for rest and spiritual refreshment, and the choice for the first day became very pronounced. We must remember, however, that there is no stipulation of the first day of the week nor any other day as a Sabbath. As Christians we delight to have the Sabbath spirit, the spirit of consecration to the Lord every day, and we are glad that the first day of the week is so generally observed by the nominal Church and that thus the Lord's Spiritual Israel can have the more favorable opportunity for fellowship with him and with each other on the day which most beautifully represents their hopes, the resurrection day, the day which marked the beginning of the new hope, new joy and a new dispensation of divine providence.
When our Lord appeared on this occasion he addressed Thomas particularly, showing that he had knowledge of what his disciples had discussed when [R4183 : page 171] they saw him not. Using Thomas' own language he exhorted him to stretch hither his finger and put it into the print of the nails and to thrust his hand into his side, and not be faithless but believing. The fact that Thomas was not too easily convinced gives us all the more assurance that the manifestations were unquestionably genuine and conclusive to those honorable men who bore witness thereto at the cost of their reputation, their influence, their lives—their all. We are not informed whether or not Thomas did put his finger into the nail prints and his hand into our Lord's side; it matters not, for at all events his mind was convinced.
Thomas' response is the Golden Text of this lesson, "My Lord and my God!" He recognized a divine power as indubitably attested by this manifestation; he knew therefore that the one in whose presence he stood was not only his Lord and Master Jesus, whose disciple he had become, but he recognized him as his God, as a mighty one, superior to all mankind, worthy to be called by the name God, which signifies "mighty one." This would not, however, mean that Thomas supposed our Lord Jesus to be the heavenly Father. We are to remember that the word God is applied not only to the Father and to the Son but also to the holy angels and on one occasion to men, to the seventy elders of Israel, whom Moses appointed in the wilderness.
Nevertheless we delight to remember the testimony of the Word that all men should honor the Son as they honor the Father also. The word also signifies that there are two so far as personality is concerned, though they are one so far as purpose and plan are concerned, as our Lord declared. Thus our Lord testified that all of his followers are to become one, even as he and the Father are one—one in purpose, in intent, in will, in spirit. Thus we also properly recognize the Lord Jesus as our God, a mighty one, in harmony with and one with the Father.