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—MATTHEW 28:1-20.—DECEMBER 18.—
"Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the
end of the world (age)."—Matt. 28:20 .
THE Scriptures give very particular details respecting the death of Jesus and his burial in Joseph's new tomb, wherein none had previously been buried and respecting the sealing of the tomb and the setting of a guard lest the body should be stolen at night. But while these matters are interesting to us, they probably do not now have the same importance that they had when they were written. From this distance we feel inclined to ask about the general character of Jesus' disciples who declared his resurrection, rather than to inquire particularly respecting all the details which they enumerated. In broad terms we say, If the characters of the Apostles prove themselves satisfactory to us, we are ready to take their word respecting the resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent appearances to them. On the other hand, if they were bad men or otherwise unworthy to be believed, no amount of details respecting the tomb, the watch, the seals, etc., would be satisfactory to us, because cunning and designing men could make up the story to suit their desires.
But it was not so at the time of our Lord's death and resurrection. It was then very necessary that every little detail should be explicitly specified. The parts of three days and nights, for instance, were unimportant to them because of Jesus' words, which they remembered. He likened his period in death to the period in which Jonah was in the whale's belly. There are some today disposed to quibble over the matter and to claim that Jesus died on Thursday and not on Friday. Surely, however, all can concede that it matters nothing to us on which day of the week he died, nor the number of hours he was in the tomb, whether seventy-two hours to the minute or a less exact time. With us the important question is, Did he die? Did he arise from the dead? Was there a value in his sacrificial death, from the Divine standpoint, and how is that value or merit made applicable to mankind, and have we obtained our interest therein according to the Divine terms.
With the majority of Christians for these many centuries we agree that Jesus was in the tomb parts of three days and nights; that he died on Friday afternoon, and that he arose from the dead early on Sunday morning. But we are not contentious. Let who likes believe that he died on Thursday or Wednesday or Tuesday or another day; this is a matter of no importance. The all-important matter is, "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." (Rom. 8:34.) The stone at the mouth of the sepulchre was not a large boulder, as many suppose, but was shaped like a wheel—like a large grindstone. It rolled in a groove, but, being heavy, would be cumbersome and difficult for the women, as suggested.
The sorrowing friends of Jesus did not realize at the time what he had taught them respecting his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. Hence they were surprised with every incident of their experience on that eventful [R4714 : page 362] Sunday morning. The angel appeared in dazzling brightness, that he might not be mistaken for a man. He told the women who brought spices for the embalming of the Lord's body that their Master was risen from the dead—that he was no longer dead; that they would see him in Galilee; and to so tell his disciples. On the way Jesus met them and revealed himself to them. Another account tells us that Mary, separated from the others, met Jesus alone and, mistaking him for the gardener, asked whither the corpse had been removed. Then Jesus revealed himself to her. Recognizing her Master she clasped him by the feet as though afraid that he would leave her; but, different from his previous course, he declared, "Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God." Instead of delaying to commune with me, hasten at once to tell Peter and the others of my resurrection. How careful was the Master that Peter should be mentioned by name, lest he should feel that he was forever rejected because of having denied him!
For forty days Jesus was with his disciples and during that time he appeared some seven or eight times, according to all the different accounts. Once he appeared as a gardener. Once he appeared as a traveler to two of the disciples going to Emmaus. Again he appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to some of the disciples who were returning to the fishing business. They knew it was Jesus, yet he was different from formerly. But we read that they did not dare ask him respecting the matter. He appeared again to above five hundred believers in the mountains of Galilee, and finally, by appointment, he met the eleven at the top of the Mount of Olives and ascended out of their sight—a cloud receiving him. Only on two occasions are we informed that he appeared with nail-prints in his hands and the spear wound in his side. And on these two occasions we are distinctly told that he appeared in their midst, the doors being shut, and that he vanished again from their sight.
Thus did Jesus demonstrate to his disciples the fact that he was no longer dead, but alive, and additionally, the other fact equally important, namely, that he was no longer alive as a man, but as a spirit being. As St. Paul declares, "He was put to death in flesh, but made alive in spirit." But every precaution was taken to permit their natural powers of observation to comprehend the spiritual truths revealed to them respecting Jesus' resurrection and ascension. It was ten days after his ascension, on the fiftieth day from his resurrection, that the holy Spirit came, and thus demonstrated at once that the Redeemer lived and that he had appeared in the presence of God on the spirit plane and that his sacrifice had been presented and was acceptable to God; and, on the basis of his sacrifice and the imputation of his merit to the disciples, [R4714 : page 363] the sacrifices which they had presented in his name were accepted, and they were begotten of the holy Spirit, that they might also become New Creatures and share in his Kingdom and glory.
It is needless that we seek to dispute as to which was the more important event—the death of Jesus or his resurrection from the dead. Both were equally important. Had he not died there would be no basis for a reconciliation of Adam and his race condemned to death. Had he not risen there would have been no one to apply the merit of his sacrifice. Had he not risen there would have been no call of the Church during this Gospel Age to be the Bride of Christ. Neither would there have been use for the promised Mediatorial Kingdom to be established at his Second Coming for the blessing of Israel and the world.
Thus Jesus explained to the two with whom he walked to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection, saying, O slow of heart to believe all that God hath spoken in the Law and in the Prophets! Was it not necessary that Messiah should die and should rise from the dead, that in his name repentance and remission of sins might be proclaimed? How could any be invited to come to God until a way had been opened, until the redemption price had been provided? Whoever can hear this message and accept it may properly be invited to repent of sin and to reform and to live contrary to the tendencies of his fallen nature, because, in so doing, through the Redeemer, he may attain unto eternal life. And if he ask, How about the things that are past, the answer would be the same. God's provision is for the remission of sins through the merit of the sacrifice of his only begotten Son.
The eleven Apostles were commissioned, "Go ye, disciple all nations." (V. 19.) This did not signify, as some suppose, a command to convert the world. It meant that they should make disciples out of people of all nationalities—and not any longer, as formerly, of the Jews only. And the Master's injunction has been fulfilled. Disciples, followers of him, have been found in all nations. But, as Jesus did not say, Convert all nations, neither has the Gospel message done this. Those accepting discipleship were to be baptized with Christ's baptism in the name or authority of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In all, these have been but "a little flock." (Luke 12:32.) But theirs is the "high calling" to joint-heirship in his Kingdom, which is soon to bless the world.
But even this permission to disciple people of all nations could not, and did not, begin at once. For three and a half years after the cross, in fulfillment of Divine prophecy, the Gospel message was kept from the Gentiles, until the door for them into this High Calling was opened by St. Peter—Cornelius being the first to enter it.
All disciples of Jesus were instructed to follow him, to take him as their pattern and example. Any instructions contrary to these are contrary to the words of the Great Teacher. And the Master said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the Age." He has been with his faithful followers to bless them, to comfort them, to strengthen them, to fellowship them, to safeguard their highest interests, though often at the expense of their temporal interests. And this promise of his Word, of providential guidance, was to continue until the end of the Age—then he would come again in a personal and official sense to exalt his Church, to establish his Kingdom, to bless Israel with the New Covenant arrangements, and thus to bless the world of mankind.