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Nazareth Revisited



How sweet is the calm of the bright and tranquil morning that comes after a night of tempest and suffering. Glorious to Christ must have been the morning of his resurrection. For years he had contemplated the prospect of his suffering with burden of mind. "How am I straitened till it be accomplished!" This was the exclamation that admits us to a knowledge of the trouble it caused him(Luke xii. 50). How terrible his sufferings were, we have seen. Now they were all past. On the morning of the third * day, he awoke all healed and strengthened, and stepped forth from the temporary imprisonment of Joseph's tomb, to be "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows." We profitably regard the joyful event when we think of it as the type and forecast of the deliverance that awaits all the troubled children of God at the epoch of their resurrection.

The soldiers who had been placed on guard over the sepulchre came into the city on "the morrow after the Sabbath" with a panic-struck report. Their watch had been disturbed early in the morning in a violent and extraordinary manner. They had been frightened out of their wits, and expelled from the garden. First, an earthquake had terrified them, and then a brilliant visitor, in whose presence they were paralysed, had burst in upon them, and overpowered them. What happened besides they did not know, except that the same visitor had pushed aside a great stone that closed the entrance of the tomb, and broken the careful official seals into a thousand fragments, and sent the soldiers out of the place in a state of helpless fear.

The leading members of the watch went straight to the chief priests and made this report. The chief priests at once convened an assembly of the leading men. What was to be done? They could not admit the idea of resurrection having occurred. They could only suppose that the disciples had managed in some way to baffle the Roman guard. The soldiers protested it was no ordinary thing that had happened, and that there had in fact been an irresistible interposition of some kind, and that the truth must be told if they were to save their heads; for it was death to a Roman soldier to be found direlict in duty. The chief priests contended that whatever it was, it must have been a stratagem of the disciples to get hold of the body, and that the soldiers must support this view; any uncertainty in their report must lead to the most disastrous consequences among the people. It would be impossible to prevent the idea of Christ's resurrection getting into vogue if the soldiers gave an ambiguous account of their repulse from the sepulchre. The idea of fishermen overpowering armed soldiers seemed absurd, besides being hurtful to the pride of the soldiers; so they must say the disciples stole the body while they slept. They really must; "and look here, we will make it worth your while." And forth came the lucre in glittering and persuasive amount. The soldiers hesitated about the "sleeping," because it would be death under the Roman law to have it reported that they slept on duty. The chief priests, with nods and winks, told them to keep themselves easy on that point; they had influence enough with the governor to secure them against all consequences. And so, seeing the way clear all round, the soldiers took the money, and faithfully carried out their part of the bargain -- from which moment, the absurd report has been in circulation among the Jews to the present day.

O chief priests, most lies are lame. Yours cannot walk the honest roadside at all. If the soldiers were asleep, how did they know the disciples stole the body? If they awoke in time to discover them in the act, were they not in time to chase and capture men carrying a corpse? And what did dispirited fisher men want with a corpse? Why should they be anxious to say the corpse came to life if they knew it didn't? Why should they wish people to believe in a resurrection, which, on your story, they knew had never taken place? and why should we believe your story and not theirs? Were not ye the murderers of Christ? And if ye could be murderers, could ye not be liars also? Were not the disciples, on the contrary, his lovers? And did they not preach that men should repent of lying and all wicked works? And did they not show their own repentance by publishing their own faults (Peter's denial of Christ, to wit)in their public writings? And is it not the fact that as ye imprisoned and killed Christ, so ye imprisoned and killed some of them? and is it not the fact that, notwithstanding this, they adhered to their statements which brought them no gain? Is it not the fact that they shewed themselves men of truth, and that all who came under their influence, turned from wicked works to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from Heaven? Why should we believe your story on such bad authority and so inconsistent with the facts, and reject their account, which is the account of many eye-witnesses, and which is so entirely in harmony with the whole character and teachings of Christ, and the whole work of the God of Israel on the earth?

Shortly after the soldiers left the garden, just before sunrise, a party of a very different character arrived -- a party of timid, defenceless women, who were apparently unaware that the grave had been in military charge. These were the two Marys and Salome and the other women who had followed the Lord out of Galilee. The several accounts of their proceedings at the sepulchre appear on a rough comparison to be inconsistent with one another, but a careful sifting of the details yield a connected and harmonious narrative of the following tenour.

The women had provided themselves with spices and ointments with which to honour the body which they expected to find lifeless in the tomb, and they were coming before daylight, as the best time to carry out their purpose undisturbed. They little suspected what had happened. As they approached the garden, they remarked one to another on the difficulty there would be in removing the large stone that had been placed at the entrance of the grave. Arriving at the grave, they were agreeably surprised to find the stone removed to one side. Before they had time to realise what could be the meaning of this, they entered the sepulchre -- doubtless with lit lamps, for it was "yet dark." They looked round the inside of the sepulchre, and now their satisfaction was turned to a reverse state of mind. The sepulchre was empty. The body of the Lord was gone! Marvel and trepidation seized them. Who could have taken the body, and where? They stood paralysed for a moment, exchanging expressions of astonishment. Then they went out into the garden and stood in a perplexity what to do. While so engaged, Mary Magdalen -- apparently the warmest-hearted and most impulsive in her feelings concerning Christ -- darted away to the city to communicate to Peter and John the fact that the body of Christ had been removed from the sepulchre. After her departure, the other women looked into the sepulchre again. There were angels with them, but they did not know it. The angels had not allowed themselves to be seen till this moment. But now they removed the optical obstruction which had rendered them invisible, and the women were struck with amazement to find an angel sitting on the stone, and an angel sitting inside the sepulchre on the right side. They were "young men in white garments." Of one of them it is said, "His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow." The women were overpowered with fright and fell to the ground. One of the angels addressed them soothingly: "Fear not. Why seek ye the living amongst the dead? I know whom ye seek. Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here, he is risen: behold the place where they laid him. Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." The women remembered with intense interest that Jesus had spoken these words. Resuming, the angel-speaker said, "Go quickly, and tell his disciples (and Peter)that he is risen from the dead, and that he goeth before you unto Galilee. There shall ye see him, as he said unto you." The women, regaining a little of their composure, yet in much trepidation, "went out quickly and fled from the sepulchre: for they trembled and were amazed." They went with all speed to find the disciples, making no communication with anyone on the way. But an astounding and delightful communication was made to them in a short time.

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalen, who had gone away, had found Peter and John and informed them of what she supposed had taken place, the removal of the Lord's body. Peter and John at once set out to see for themselves, "they ran both together;" but John got ahead of his companion, and arrived at the sepulchre just after the angels had sent the other women to tell the disciples of the Lord's resurrection. These women had taken a different road from the one by which Peter and John had come to the sepulchre, so they did not meet. From John's outrunning of Peter, we seem to catch a glimpse of the personal peculiarity of the two men -- John, spare and agile, and Peter, thick set and full-bodied; and, corresponding with the mental difference of the two -- John arriving first, peeped into the sepulchre, but did not enter. He noted what was inside -- "the linen clothes (in which Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped the body of the Lord) lying, and the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself." These details, though trifling in themselves, have some value in the circum stances. They prove the body had not been taken away; for the removal of the body, either in the way alleged by the chief priests, or in the way supposed at first by Mary and the two disciples, would have involved the removal of the wrappings; as no one taking the body away, for whatever purpose, could be supposed to have taken time to undo the wrappings. They also show the practical nature of the whole transaction of the resurrection. The Lord, awaking from his short death slumber, would find himself like Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, enswathed with cerements of the tomb, "bound hand and foot"; these he would gently undo and lay neatly aside, in the position in which John saw them lie. His angelic liberators would provide him with the garments in which he appeared to his disciples, arraying himself in which, he would step forth into the fresh morning air with a glad feeling of healing and relief. But Peter and John were not yet aware of this. Peter, arriving after John, goes boldly into the empty sepulchre, and beholds the folded wrappings in which the dead had lain. He and John exchange expressions of sad wonderment, "for as yet they knew not the scripture that he must rise again from the dead." They then depart to go home. Jesus was close at hand, but he does not choose to shew himself to them just yet. Mary does not go back with the two disciples. She lingers at the sepulchre entrance, and she weeps in the coldness and silence and darkness of the early morning as she thinks that not only has the Lord been crucified, but that she is denied the very comfort of honouring his dead body. In the midst of her sobs, she takes another look into the sepulchre with the sort of hopeless hope that we all feel of perhaps seeing what we have lost, when suddenly and agonisingly deprived of an object of love. The angels who had appeared to the other women are there. They had not allowed Peter and John to see them; they now became visible to Mary, but she does not seem to have recognised them as angels. She appears to have taken them either as visitors or attendants. They ask her sympathetically why she is weeping. She replies: "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." When she said this, she became conscious of the presence of another behind her. She turned and saw a man whom she took for the gardener. It was Jesus, but he prevented her from recognising him. Her first thought was that, as the gardener, he could throw some light on the removal of the body. "Sir," said she earnestly, "if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus now chose that she should know him. "Mary!" said he. With a thrill of rapturous recognition, she exclaimed, "Rabboni," -- an exclamation of tender reverence, signifying much more than "master," though "master" is the English translation of it. Its sentiment might be expressed in the free paraphrase, "My loved Lord, guide and teacher." Mary appears to have accompanied the exclamation with a movement as if she would embrace the Lord. He checked her: "Touch me not," said he, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." In the evening of that sameday, the Lord suffered himself to be freely handled by the disciples. Consequently, there must have been a removal of the cause which led him to prevent Mary from touching him. He said to Mary he had not ascended to the Father. He must have made this ascent in the interim: but in what did the ascent consist? It cannot have been ascent in space, because in less than half-an-hour, it had been performed, for he was embraced by the feet within that time by the group of women to whom the angels had appeared during Mary's absence. What other ascent could he have made? The Father is everywhere present. To rise from the low nature of the earthy to the high nature of the divine, is to ascend to the Father. This ascent he must have performed after seeing Mary. The need for it will appear if we realise that he had emerged from the tomb a natural man, or body of life, according to the nature of Abraham and David. This had to be "changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," from the natural to the spiritual, as in the case of his brethren, who are to be developed after the pattern of his example. Until this change had taken place, he was in the defilement which contact with death imparted to everything for those under the law of Moses. Mary was under this law; and therefore until the Lord was cleansed by change, there was a reason why she should not touch him.

Mary having received his command to carry the tidings of his resurrection and impending change to the disciples, left him and went with all speed on her intensely interesting errand -- one of those errands that give wings to the feet. She flew to them; she told them, probably with much excitement and breathlessness of speech, that the Lord, whose death they were lamenting inconsolably, was risen: that he had appeared to her: that she had just left him; and that she was commanded by him to inform them. They were astounded by her words, but it did not seem possible to them they could be true. Their whole idea of Christ had been so deranged by his deaths -- (atonce so real and so unexpected) -- that they could not enter into the notion of his resurrection. They heard Mary's words as in a dream -- without being impressed by them.

Shortly afterwards, the other women came in, those with whom Mary had gone to the grave in the first instance, but from whom she had separated herself on finding the grave empty. They had their own report to make, which, while confirmatory of Mary's, differed from hers because relating to different incidents. They reported having lingered at the grave for a time, and then, having seen the angels who told them of Christ having risen, and then, finally, they said that while on the way to bring word of what the angels said, the Lord himself appeared to them and saluted them. Overjoyed, they held him by the feet, and worshipped him; and he said unto them, "Be not afraid. Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me." The disciples Were in a kind of stupefaction on hearing the words of the women. They did not know exactly what to make of them. They thought they must be dreaming. "Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not." Peter seems at this stage to have gone out by himself and made another visit to the sepulchre in the light of these reports. He again saw the linen clothes lie, but could not make up his mind, and "departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass." On his way back from this second visit, the Lord appeared to him. What passed between them is not recorded, but his report at a later period of the day made the unbelief of the disciples begin to give way, for it was reported among them, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Peter."

The most interesting of all the incidents connected with the resurrection of Christ is the Emmaus journey, reported fully by Luke, and only alluded to by Mark. Two of the disciples had occasion to go to Emmaus on the day that Christ rose from the dead -- Emmaus is a walking distance of seven or eight miles from Jerusalem, and the road to it lies through the hilly approaches to Jerusalem on the road from Jaffa on the seacoast. As they walked along, they naturally talked of the engrossing event of three days ago, and talked as men under a great sorrow. While so engaged, Jesus himself joined them on the road, but without permitting them to recognise him. ("He held their eyes that they should not know him.") In their eyes, he appeared an ordinary fellow-traveller on the road. In their depressed state of mind, they might have allowed him to pass without notice; but he did not allow himself to be thus ignored. We may imagine the delicious feeling with which he broke in upon their melancholy talk, knowing that his own death was the subject of it, and that he had such a delightful disclosure to make at the right moment. He asked them what they were so sad about! Looking at him, they expressed surprise that he should not know. "Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?" "What things?" said he, to draw them out. They then proceeded to relate the circumstances connected with Christ's condemnation and death, in a tone that indicated their inability to understand such occurrences, and the shattering their faith had received. "We trusted," said they, "that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel," as much as to say they must now abandon that hope. Yet they indicated great unsettlement, for they proceeded to refer to the reports with which "certain women of our company" had surprised them that morning -- that they had seen angels who had informed them that Christ was risen, and that one or two of themselves had gone to the sepulchre and truly found it empty, but had seen nothing of Christ -- all of which must have been extremely pleasant for Christ to hear from their lips. Having heard them out, he surprised and gratified them by charging them with folly in not perceiving that all these things were as they ought to be, in view of "all that the prophets had spoken." (Men are glad to be charged even with folly when it means that some pressing fear is groundless.) "Ought not Christ," exclaimed he, "to have suffered these things?" And in support of his question, he recalled to their minds certain things written in the Scriptures, 'Beginning at Moses and (in a cursory way going through) all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself." It is natural to wish we had possession of this discourse. Having so much, we must be resigned to its absence. It exercised the two disciples intensely. The cogency of his arguments struck home with healing power upon their grieved and bewildered minds. To use their own expression, their "hearts burned within them while he talked to them by the way." Their acquaintance with the Scriptures would enable them to recognise the appositeness of his quotations, and to feel a joyful rekindling of all the hopes and love that had grown and centred in Christ during the three and a half years of their association with him.

In such pleasant occupation, the road quickly slipped under their feet, and they found themselves in Emmaus, and at the house to which their business took them. Jesus proposed to take leave of them, but they would not hear of it Such a roadside companion at such a time was altogether too precious to part with in the ordinary way; and there lacked not arguments to press him to stay. "The day is far spent; it is towards evening; abide with us." Jesus yielded. He went in as if to stay with them. A meal was ordered. They sat down together to partake. They would naturally ask such a guest (though as yet ignorant of who he really was) to give thanks. Jesus complied. He gave thanks. At that moment, he removed the optical interference by which he had prevented them recognising him. How overpowering the discovery that it was Christ himself! But no sooner had they tasted of the healing delight than the Lord withdrew it -- well, not exactly -- withdrew it only in a sense. He renewed that interference with their sight which had caused him to appear a stranger, but renewed it in a more powerful form; for now "he ceased to be seen of them" at all. He seemed to "vanish out of their sight." In point of fact, having closed their eyes, he withdrew, and departed to Jerusalem to present himself to the whole assembly of the Apostles, when he should have given these two time to join them. These lost no time. Finishing their meal in a hurry, and exchanging excited thoughts on what had happened, they returned to Jerusalem, and made straight for the house where the eleven were gathered. Their arrival added to the state of quandary in which the disciples had been thrown by the various reports of the day. They were discussing a reported interview of Christ with Peter. And now they listened to the account of the journey to Emmaus. They thought it all very strange, but they could not make up their minds to believe, when lo! Jesus himself stood in their midst. The disciples were thunderstruck at his presence. It was not as if he had entered in an ordinary way. The door of the room where they were assembled was "shut" in the sense of being locked, for fear of molestation from the Jews. They had not seen him open the door and come in, though it is probable he did this while holding their eyes. It was therefore a great shock to see him suddenly standing in their midst. They were fairly overpowered for a few moments with fright. Their first thought was he must be an apparition. He spoke soothing words to them: "Why are ye troubled? Behold my hands and my feet that It Is i myself. Handle me and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me have." Under his kindly words their excited feelings calmed down. They began to realise that it was really the Lord himself, and not an illusion that stood before them; and that all the rumours of his resurrection that had been flying about during the day were true. Still their doubts would struggle with their glad senses. Could it be true that the agony of that terrible crucifixion day was thus wiped out for ever? "They believed not for joy."

While in this delicious chaos of mind, Jesus sought to establish absolute conviction; for this was now a necessity for them in the work they had by and bye to do. Have ye here any meat?" he inquired. The response brought forth what they had -- "a piece of a broiled fish and of an honeycomb." Taking these articles of food, he stood and ate them before them. Nothing could have been more effectually contrived for conviction as to the reality of his appearance to them. An illusion, however vivid, when ended, would leave everything as it was before; but how could that be an illusion which consumed food that could no more be found in the house when the transaction was at an end? The effect was conclusive. The disciples yielded to the evidence, and no morehesitated to indulge in the feelings of unspeakable relief and gladness brought to them by the Lord's appearance in their midst.

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