It was near the dawning of a new morning, the morning of a new day destined to be a great day. While yet dark there come a number of women out of the city gate toward the tomb where Jesus' body had been laid. They carry spices and ointment. With woman's ever tender thoughtfulness they are bent upon some kindly service for that precious body. They had followed up the burial and noted the arrangements with a view to this morning's early service. Their whole thought is absorbed with a tomb and a body and a bit of loving attention. They wonder as they come along whom they can get to roll the heavy stone over into its groove at the side of the opening. Mary Magdalene is in the lead. With her in the darkness is her friend Mary, the mother of John and James. Others come along a little behind, in small groups.
As they get near to the place the keen eyes of Mary Magdalene notice at once with a quick start that the stone is rolled away. Somebody has been tampering with the tomb in the night. Leaving her companion, she starts back on a run into the city and finds Peter, and tells him that the Lord has been taken away, and they don't know where He has been laid. Peter, too, is startled. He gets John, and the two start back on a run.
Meanwhile the other women have gone on toward the tomb. As they approach they are startled and awed to find a man there, with the glorious appearance of an angel, sitting upon the stone. To these awe-stricken women this angel being quietly said, "Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen, as He told you. Come and see the place where He lay." And as they gaze with wide open eyes, he adds, "Go quickly and tell His disciples, and be sure you tell Peter, that He is risen from the dead, and lo, He goeth before you into Galilee. You will meet Him there. Lo, I have told you." But the women were panic-stricken, and ran away down the road, and told no one except some of the apostles. And to them their story seemed ridiculous. They refused to believe such talk.
And now Peter and John come breathless to the tomb. John is in the lead. Either he is younger or swifter of foot. As he comes up he stops at the opening of the tomb, and, with a bit of reverential awe, gazes within. He can see the linen cloths lying; but the body they had encased is clearly not in them. Peter comes up, and steps at once inside for a closer inspection. There the linen cloths are, just as they had enswathed the body, but flattened down, showing the absence of anything inside their folds. The napkin that had been about the head was folded up neatly and laid over to one side. Then John enters, and as he continues looking conviction comes to him that Jesus has indeed risen. Wondering greatly at this thing, wholly unexpected by them, they go off to their homes in the city.
And now another little group of the women come up, and are perplexed in turn as the others, the stone away, the body of Jesus not there. As they stand with staring eyes and fearing hearts, two men unexpectedly appear in clothing that dazzles the women's eyes. Frightened, they bow down before these men, who seem to be angels. But the men quickly reassure them with their words. Why were they seeking a living One in a tomb? Jesus was not there. He was risen. And they remind the women of Jesus' own words about being killed and then rising again. As the men talk the women remember the Master's words, and wonderingly see their meaning now, and hurry away to tell their friends the great news.
And now Mary Magdalene has gotten back to the tomb. In her zeal for the safety of that precious body, she had made quite a journey into the city and back. Her zeal took her quickly to Peter. Her sorrow makes the way back longer. She had been first to come, but had not heard the news that came to her companions. Now she stands at the open tomb weeping. She stoops and looks in to see if it can be really true that He is not there. To her surprise two angel beings are seated, one at each end of where Jesus' body had been lying. They say to her, "Why are you weeping?" She replies, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him." Turning back in her grief as the words are spoken, she sees some one else standing. Again the same question by this One. Why was she weeping? Whom was she looking for? Her eyes are blinded with the rain of tears. This is likely the man in charge of the garden wherein this family tomb was.
With earnest tones she says, "Sir, if thou didst carry Him away, tell me where thou didst lay Him and I will have Him taken away." Then that one word came to her ears, her name, in that unmistakable voice, "Mary." Quicker than a flash came the response, "Oh, my Master!" That same wondrous, quiet voice continues, "Do not continue to be clinging to Me. I am not yet ascended to my Father. Be going to my brethren and tell them I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God." And Mary quickly departs on her glad errand for Him. She was the first to see His face and hear His voice, and have her hand upon His person, and do something at His bidding.
And now the other women who had been at the tomb in the garden and fled away are on the road approaching the city. As they hurry along, to their utter amazement--here is Jesus in the road approaching them. With a glad smile in His eyes, the old, sweet voice speaks out in rich tones the usual simple salutation of greeting, "Good morning." At once they are down on their knees and faces, holding His feet and worshipping. And Jesus softly says, "Do not be afraid. Go tell my brethren to meet Me in Galilee, up by the old blue waters of the sea."
While these incidents were occurring, all in such short time, something else is going on of a different sort. The Roman soldiers guarding that tomb had had a great shock. They had been suddenly displaced by another guard. The sacred Roman seal had been ruthlessly broken, the stone rolled back from the opening, and some one sat upon it. Their bewildered, stupefied senses heard the movements and were aware of a strange, blinding light. Then they knew that the body they were to guard was no longer within. That was about as much as they could get together. They hurry to town and tell the chief priests. Quickly the chief priests gather their clique to confer about this new phase. Was there ever such mulish obstinacy? No thought of candid investigation seems to enter their mind. The way of covering this new difficulty is after all easy. Money will buy the soldiers, and they will do as they are bid. It took a good bit of gold. The soldiers probably were keen to know how to work so good a mine. And the story was freely circulated that the body was stolen while the soldiers slept.
Peter has gone down the road from the garden toward the city after having satisfied Himself that Jesus was not in the tomb. He was wondering what all this meant. John, lighter of foot, had hurried ahead to his home in the city, very likely to tell the news to Jesus' mother, his own new mother. Peter plods slowly along. There is no need of haste now. He is thinking, wondering, thinking. It was still early morning, with the sweet dew on the ground, and the air so still. Down past some big trees maybe he was walking, deeply absorbed, when--Somebody is by his side. It is the Master! But we must leave them alone together. That was a sacred interview, meant only for Peter.
The news now quickly spread; the two stories, that of the soldiers, that of the disciples. Folks listened to the one they preferred. Everybody was discussing this new startling appendix to the crucifixion. A bit later in the day two others were walking along one of the country roads leading out of the city, toward a village a few miles away. They jog along slowly as men who are heavy footed with disappointment. They are intently absorbed in conversation, eagerly discussing and questioning about something that clearly puzzled them.
A Stranger, unrecognized, overtakes them and joins in their conversation. He asks, "What is this that you are so concerned about?" So absorbed are they with their thoughts, that at His question they stand still, looking sad and unable for a moment to answer. Where would they begin where there was so much? Then one of them says, "Do you lodge by yourself in the city, and even then do not know the things that have been going on there?" The Stranger draws them out. "What things?" He says. Thus encouraged, they find relief in unburdening their hearts. It was all about Jesus, a man of great power in word and deed, before God and all the people; the great cruelty with which the rulers had secured a sentence of death for Him--and--crucified--Him.
"We were, however, hoping," they said, "that He was the One who was about to redeem the nation. And now it is the third day since these things occurred. And most surprising word was brought by certain women that has greatly stirred us. They went early to the tomb, and did not find His body, but saw a vision of angels who positively said that He was alive. And some of our party went there and found it true as the women said. But--they did not see Him."
Then the Stranger began speaking in a quiet, earnest way that caught them at once. "O foolish men, so slow you are in heart to believe the messages of the old prophets! Was it not needful that the Christ should suffer these very things and to enter into His glory?" Then He began freely to quote passages from all through their sacred writings. As they walk along listening to this wonderful explanation, which now sounds so simple from this Man's lips, they come up to their home in the village. The Stranger seemed inclined to go on. But they earnestly urge Him to come in and get some refreshment and stay over night. He may talk more. They have heard no such winsome talk since Jesus was with them.
He yields. And, as they gather over the simple evening meal, the Stranger picks up the loaf, and looking up repeats the simple grace, and breaking the loaf reaches the pieces over. But as their hands go out for the bread, their eyes turn toward the Stranger's face. Instantly they are spell-bound--that face--why--it is the Master!! Then He is not there. And they said to each other, "Did you ever hear such talking?" "My heart was burning all the time He was talking." "And mine, too." Then they hasten back to the city. Those miles are so much shorter now! They go straight to the house where they have been meeting.
"Even So Send I You."
Here were gathered most of the apostles and several others. Eagerly they were discussing the exciting news of the day. Some know that Jesus has risen. Mary Magdalene, with eyes dancing, says, "I saw Him." But some are full of doubt and questionings. How could it be? The door is guarded, for if the frenzy of the national leaders should spread, they come next. There's a knock at the door. Cautiously it is opened. Two dusty but radiant faces appear. "The Lord is risen indeed," they exclaim. And then they tell the story of the afternoon and His wondrous explanation and of that meal.
As they are talking, all at once--who's that?--right in their midst. It looks like Jesus. There is that face with those unmistakable marks. And you can see their eyes quickly searching between the sandal straps. Yes, it looks like Him. But it can't be. Their eyes befool them. It's been a hard day for them. It must be a spirit. As they start back, there comes in that voice they can never forget, the old quiet "Good evening."--"Peace unto you." Then He holds out His hands and feet, saying, "Do not be troubled--it is I Myself--handle Me, and make sure. A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." Then He said, "Have you something to eat?" and He ate a bit of broiled fish.
Reassured by such simple practical evidence, a glad peace fills their hearts and faces. They talk together a bit. Then Jesus rising, said again, "Peace unto you--as the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." Then He breathed strongly upon them, saying in very quiet, solemn tones, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit--Whosesoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven. Whosesoever ye retain they are retained." And again, as they look, He is not there.
But one man was absent that new Sabbath evening hour. Thomas simply could not believe, and would not, without the most sane, common-sense evidence. He missed much by not being at that meeting. The next Sabbath evening he is present with the others. Again the Master comes as before, unexpectedly standing in their midst, as they talk together about Him. And now Thomas is fully satisfied after his week of doubting. Some of us folks will always be grateful for Thomas.
Some time later, there occurs that second wondrous draught of fishes, at the command of the unrecognized Stranger, one morning at the breaking of the day, and the talk with Peter and the others as they walk along the old shore of the sea. And to James, who seems to have been a leader by dint of a strong personality, He appears.
And one day when there was an unusually large meeting of His followers, as many as five hundred, He came as before and was recognized. And then at the last upon Olives' top came the goodbye meeting and message.
It is surely worthy of remark that the Bethany home is not represented at either cross or tomb. Many of His dear friends are named in connection with both, but not these. Here are some of those dearest to Him, and to whom He is most dear. Here is one, a woman, who had discerned more keenly ahead than any other that He was to die and why. She had understood the minor strains of the old Hebrew oratorio as none other. She had learned at His feet. And here, too, was one who knew death, and the life beyond, and then a return again to this life. It was not indifference that kept them away. They loved tenderly, and were tenderly loved. Their absence is surely most significant. Mary's ointment had already been used. This morning in glad ecstasy of spirit she and her brother and sister wait. They know.
Two things stand out very clearly about Jesus' resurrection. It was not expected by these followers, but received at first with incredulity and doubt and stubborn unwillingness to accept it without clear undisputable proof. And then that they were thoroughly satisfied that He was actually back again with them, with His personal identity thoroughly established; so satisfied that their lives were wholly controlled by the consciousness of a risen Jesus. Sacrifice, suffering, torture, and violent death were yielded to gladly for His sake.
A new morning broke that morning, the morning of a new day, a new sort of day. That resurrection day became a new day to them and to all Jesus' followers. The old Sabbath day was a rest-day. God Sabbathed from His work of creation. This new day is more, it is a victory-day. Every new coming of it spells out Jesus' victory over sin and death and our victory in Him. The old Hebrew rest-day came at the week's close. The new victory-day comes at the week's beginning. With the fine tingle of victory in our spirits we are ever at the beginning of a new life and new victory and great things to come.
Did Jesus rise? Or, was He raised? Both are said of Him. Both are true. He was raised by the power of the Father. Every bit of His human life was under the direction and control of His Father. Every act of His from first to last was in the strength of the Father. This last act was so. The Father's vindication of His Son was seen in the power that raised Him up from out of the domain of death. He was raised.
Jesus rose from the dead. The action was in accord with the law of His life. He rose at will by the moral gravity of His character. He had gone down, now He lets Himself rebound up. The language used of His death is very striking. No one of the four descriptions of the death upon the cross says that He died. The words commonly used to describe the death of others are not used of Jesus. Very different language is used. Matthew says, "He dismissed His spirit." Mark and Luke each say, "He breathed out" His life. John says, "He delivered up His spirit."
His dying was voluntary. Not only the time of it and the manner of it, but the fact of it was of His own choosing. The record never suggests that death overcame Him. He yielded to it of His own strong accord. He was not overcome by death. He could not be, for sin having no hold within His being, death could have none. Physical death is one of the logical results of the sin within. Jesus yielded up His spirit. It was a free, voluntary act. He had explained months before that so it would be. "I lay down My life that I may take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again. This commandment I received from My Father." This being so, the return to life followed the same voluntary course. Having accomplished the purpose in dying, He now recalled His spirit into the body and rises by His own choice.
Man's true gravity is toward a center upward. Sin's gravity is toward a center downward. When an ordinary man, a sinful man, dies, he is overcome by the logical result of the sin in himself. He is overcome by the moral gravity downward of His sin. He has no choice. His own moral gravity apart from sin is upward. But that is overbalanced by the downward pull of the sin ingrained in his very being. And this quite apart from his attitude toward the sin.
In Jesus there was no sin. Being free of it, He rose at will. "It was not possible that He should be held by death," for it had no hold upon Him. His gravity was upward. For a purpose, a great strong purpose, He yielded to death's embrace. Now that purpose being achieved, He quietly lets Himself up toward the natural center of gravity of His life.
Clearly Jesus' body had undergone changes through death and resurrection. It is the same to outer appearance, so far as personal identity is concerned. The doubting, questioning disciples handle His person, they know His face, they recognize His voice. He eats with them and talks with them and moves in their midst as before. Even the doubter, stubborn in his demand for tangible, physical evidence, is convinced by the feel of his hands that this is indeed Jesus back again. Further, He moves about among them unrecognized till He chooses to be known. Yet this may have been His power over them rather than any changed quality in His person.
But mark that the limitations of space and of material obstructions are gone after the resurrection. He no longer needs to get that body through space by physical strength or management, but seems to go where He will by choosing to be there. He is no longer affected in His movements by the walls of a building or other such material obstruction, but comes and goes at will. The arrangement of the linen cloths in the tomb, as marked so keenly by Peter and John, is significant. They are found lying as they were when enfolding that body, as though He had in rising risen up through them.
Clearly the body is the same so far as personal identity is concerned. But the limitations are gone. The control of spirit over body seems full, without any limitations. As one of us can, in spirit, be in a place far removed as quick as thought, so He seems to have been able to be actually, bodily, where He wanted to be as quickly. All the old powers remain. All the old limitations are gone, never to return. Jesus had moved over to the life side of death. He had gone down into death's domain, given it a death blow, and then risen up into a new Eden life, where neither sin nor death had power to touch. Those forty days were sample days of the new Eden life on earth.
Jesus has become the leader of a new sort of life lived on the earth, mingling in its activities, but free of its power, controlled from above. He asks every one who will to come along after Him. We can, for He has. It is possible, because of Him. We may, for He asks us to. It is our privilege. Let us go.