In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. Matthew xxviiii. 1.
THE impulse of lively affection only could have directed the footsteps of these females to the place where their Lord lay. No expectation had they that he had risen from the dead; for, in common with his disciples, they supposed that the stone which closed the door of his sepulchre had shut him for ever from the world, and frustrated all the hopes which they had entertained that it was he who should redeem Israel. Well, therefore, might their breasts be agitated with the mingled emotions of fear and joy, when "a great earthquake" proclaimed the descent of a celestial messenger, whose "countenance was like lightning, and whose raiment was white as snow;" and who addressed to them the infinitely momentous tidings--"Ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said, Come, see the place where the Lord lay."
This is the language with which the church addresses us on this sacred festival. It was but lately she called us to contemplate, with sorrow and penitence, the Saviour, as the man of sorrow; his [311/312] visage marred through suffering; smitten for our transgressions; bruised for our iniquities; pouring out his soul unto death. In the solemnities of yesterday, she called us to commemorate the descent of his body into the house of silence, to sanctify for us the chambers of corruption, while his soul passed to the prison of departed spirits, to proclaim to them the glad tidings of redemption. This day she calls us to his sepulchre, cheering us with the glad tidings--"He is not here: he is risen. Come, see the place where the Lord lay." "Christ is risen from the dead, and dieth no more." "Death hath no more dominion over him." "The Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel."
The scene of the resurrection--
1. Is an interesting scene;
2. It affords an evidence of the divine power of Christ; and,
3. It is a pledge of his mercy and compassion, and of the glorious hope of immortality.
1. The scene of the resurrection is an interesting scene.
In the sepulchre rests that divine Personage whose life had been uniformly pure, exemplary, and benevolent, and, yet whose life had been a continued series of pain and suffering. Here, at length, he reposes in peace. He has reached a haven where he is sheltered from those tempests that rolled the waves of sorrow over his soul. On the cross he poured forth his soul, and finished the work of suffering. He has become the peaceful tenant of the tomb--of that house of silence where the sorrows of life are forgotten--the wicked cease [312/313] from troubling him--the persecuted Friend of man at length finds rest.
Contemplating then the grave merely as the place of rest to the holy Jesus from the calamities which had so long pursued him, we must regard it with interest; for in its quiet abode this divine and benevolent, but persecuted Saviour of the world, has at length found a refuge which calamity cannot disturb, where the darts of calumny and persecution cannot assail him, where the voice of the oppressor is no more heard.
But the scene of the resurrection is also interesting on account of the varied and anxious emotions which must have agitated the breasts of the disciples.
Their Master, their Companion, their Guide, their most tender and faithful Friend, had been wrested from them by the hand of violence, crucified, and slain. With what sacred affection must they have beheld the tomb which guarded his precious remains! Mary Magdalene, who, having had much forgiven, loved much, anticipating even the dawn of day, hurried to pour forth her affectionate lamentations at the sepulchre of her Lord. When the tidings reached them that the body of their Master was not to be found, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and the faithless but penitent Peter, full of anxious affection, hasted to the sepulchre. It was a period of awful solicitude to them; for the mysterious scenes of the cross and the sepulchre involved not only their destiny, but the destiny of a fallen world. The sepulchre was either to hold for ever the body of the crucified Jesus, and thus to frustrate the hopes of redemption through him; or, bursting its bands, Jesus was to issue [313/314] from it, the victorious Conqueror of death and the grave, the Author of life and immortality. Behold, then, a fallen world stands at the sepulchre of Jesus, wailing its destiny, trembling lest the bands of corruption should hold him, and thus blast the hope that he was to be the world's Redeemer.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, this state of awful suspense did not long continue. A messenger from heaven proclaims the tidings--"He has risen." Thus,
2. The scene of the resurrection affords an evidence of the divine power of Jesus.
But as yesterday we beheld committed to the tomb the body of him who had been crucified as a malefactor. The sepulchre was in the custody of his implacable enemies. The seal of the civil authority is set to the stone which closed the door. A watch is placed to guard it.
To-day we go to the place where the Lord lay. The body of Jesus is not there. By whom could it have been removed? By the disciples and followers of Christ? They had not the courage nor the means for accomplishing the theft. For when their Master was taken to the judgment-seat of Pilate, they forsook hint and fled. And would they have run the risk of detection, and of the most severe punishment, in order to get into their possession the body of him whom they had thus basely forsaken? Where was the watch, too, which was set by his inveterate enemies to guard the sepulchre?
That the body of Jesus could have been stolen from the place where it was thus guarded, is wholly incredible, is morally impossible. The mighty [314/315] power of God raised his Son Jesus from the dead. Of this indeed he has given the fullest, the most irrefragable testimony, in the miraculous success and propagation of that Gospel throughout the world--which is founded on the truth, that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has risen again--by simple, friendless, obscure fishermen of Galilee.
Come then, unbeliever! view on this day the sepulchre of Jesus. Lately to this tomb was committed his body. He had repeatedly predicted, that, though he should be crucified, on the third day he should rise again. His enemies resolved to frustrate his predictions, and to prove him an impostor; and with this view they guarded the sepulchre. But all their precautions proved vain. Look at the tomb of Jesus: the body of him who was lately its tenant is not to be found: and behold, he appears to his disciples: he walks abroad in the face of day; he comes into the midst of them in their private retirement; he talks with them; he eats with them; he invites them to handle him, to be satisfied that he is not a spirit. The incredulous Thomas he calls--"Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side." He ascends into heaven in their presence. He bestows upon them, according to his promise, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost. Thus armed with power from on high, they go forth conquering and to conquer. The prejudices, the pride, the passions, the wealth, the learning, the power of the world, vanish before the preaching of these obscure and contemned men, like the dew before the beams of the morning. The nations become the kingdoms of God and of his Christ; and this day Christians celebrate that [315/316] holy sacrament which has brought down, from the period of his appearance, the solemn truth, that he who had died had risen again.
Will the unbeliever resist these facts? Will he justify his incredulity by the idle tale, that the disciples came by night and stole away the body of Jesus? Will he maintain that Jesus was an impostor, and his disciples impostors, like their Master? And yet these impostors displayed all the simplicity, disinterestedness, undaunted zeal of the most upright and sincere votaries of truth. These impostors, contemporary historians, their enemies, acknowledge exercised miraculous powers. They planted in every land a pure and holy religion, on the ruins of an idolatry deeply seated in the prejudices and passions of the multitude. And though the kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his anointed, this religion and its ordinances, coeval with the events which they commemorate, still subsist. The gates of hell have poured forth their forces, but have been unable to prevail against that Gospel, which there are those who say is founded in delusion. Surely they are fighting against God--surely they are resisting the clearest evidence that can be presented to influence the understanding and the heart.
Be not then faithless, but believing. Believe in him who is the way, the truth, and the life; who was the purest, the most benevolent, the most amiable personage that ever visited our miserable world. Believe in him whose Gospel is the most ennobling and consolatory system that ever blessed our fallen race. It dispenses light for the darkness of human reason; it discloses mercy for the [316/317] frailties and sins of fallen man; it provides grace and strength for his weak and erring nature; it offers consolation and support under the sorrows and bereavements that crowd upon him; it provides for him that immortality and bliss, to which every power of his soul aspires, and for which every feeling of his soul pants. What infatuation, then--what madness would it be to reject these blessings--to spurn from us the world's Redeemer, to quench the light of divine truth and mercy, and to grope in error and sin, till at length our fern stumble on the dark mountains, and the ways of peace be for ever hid from our eyes! But,
3. The scene of the resurrection affords also a pledge of the mercy and compassion of the Saviour, and of the glorious hope of immortality.
What, indeed, was the whole life of Christ but a constant display of mercy and compassion? For what did he make his birth-place a stable, and his cradle a manger? For what did he encounter the ills of poverty, tread the path of suffering, wander more desolate than the foxes who have holes, and the birds of the air who have nests, without a place to lay his head? For what did he encounter the treachery of friends, and the scorn and persecution of his enemies--give his back to the sinkers, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair? For what, in Gethsemane's garden, did he sweat drops of blood; and in the darkness and horrors of Calvary, yield up his soul in death? For what all this, but to prosecute his work of mercy and compassion for guilty man?
Yet, unavailing would have been the humiliation of the manger, the path of suffering, the scourges [317/318] of persecution, the agonies of Gethsemane, the horrors of Calvary, if, at length, he had been subject for ever to the dominion of the grave; the sword of divine justice would still have remained unsheathed, the sceptre of mercy still prostrate, the gate of heaven still closed.
But when Jesus burst the bands of the grave, when he shook off the garments of corruption, he afforded a sure pledge of his mercy and compassion, proved, by this his victory over death, through the power of the Almighty Father, that the sacrifice of his cross was accepted, that the justice of the Eternal was satisfied, the holiness of the Sovereign of the universe vindicated, and the kingdom of heaven opened to true believers. His resurrection exhibits the pledge that death is vanquished, corruption disarmed; and that, finally, death and the sea shall give up their dead, to appear in incorruptible bodies at the judgment-seat of God.
Ye then, to whom the remembrance of your sins is grievous, and the burden of them intolerable, behold, in the resurrection of your Lord, the solemn pledge that the atonement which divine justice demanded has been made; that Christ your Redeemer, who poured forth his blood for you on the cross, is exalted to heaven, to give remission of sins to all who believe in his name. Hear the voice of mercy which, risen from the grave and enthroned in majesty in the heavens, he addresses to you: "I am he who once died, but am now risen again, and liveth for ever--exalted to be a Prince and Saviour, to give deliverance to the cap-lives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. The bruised reed will I not break: with me there is mercy and plenteous redemption. [318/319] Come then to the fountain that is opened for sin and for uncleanness: wash, and be clean. Come ye to the waters; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Ye thoughtless and sinful votaries of the world, listen to the voice of expostulation which he who this day burst the barriers of the tomb, the Almighty Conqueror, addresses to you: "Is it nothing, that I trod for you the wine-press of the fierce anger of the Almighty? Is it nothing, that, on the cross, I encountered for you the agonies of death, and cried out as one forsaken by my God? Is it nothing, that for your redemption I have burst the bands of the grave, and escaped from corruption? Is it nothing, that from the throne of my glory, where I am now exalted, I offer you pardon and salvation? Yet a little while, the day of grace will be closed: the sceptre of mercy, which is now extended, will be laid aside. The judgment will be set, the books will be open. Read in them the awful doom of the impenitent contemners of my mercy--everlasting banishment from the presence of God, and from the glory of his power."
Penitent believers, listen to the voice of that Saviour who this day rose for your justification: "I have been the plague of death; of the grave I have been the destruction. Repentance has been hid from mine eyes. For you, O believers, I hold the keys of death and hell The prison of the grave shall not hold you. Corruption shall not have power over you. Your mortal shall put on immortality. You shall enter the paradise of God. I will lead you to living fountains of water. All tears shall be wiped from your eyes."
Ye, then, who mourn the dissolution of some of [319/320] the tender ties of life, take comfort at the grave of your Saviour Jesus, who, rising in power from it, proclaims--"I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die." "Sorrow not then as those that have no hope." The beloved friends whose departure ye mourn, united to him by faith, are not dead for ever. Short and peaceful is the slumber of their grave. Soon shall their bodies wake from corruption, and be united to their souls, now in the paradise of God. Secure your interest in the merits of him who once died for your sins, and rose for your justification. Then through the vale of death he will in safety conduct you; to the celestial Zion he will bring you, to join before his throne the blessed saints who have gone before you, and you shall ever be with the Lord. Comfort one another with these words; comfort one another with these glorious hopes.
Christians, the pledges of these hopes are spread before you, in the memorials of the body and blood of your Lord. Your Saviour, who is risen from the grave, and sits in glory in heaven, offers you the spiritual food of his precious body and blood. Eat and drink with lively, and humble, and holy faith; and by the merits and power of his body and blood your souls and bodies shall be nourished and strengthened to everlasting life.