By J.R. Miller
It was in the upper room on the evening of the day on which Jesus arose. The disciples had gathered there, drawn together by their common sorrow and also by the strange things which had occurred that day. The doors were closed and fastened. Suddenly, with no opening of the doors, Jesus Himself appeared among the disciples. They were terrified--but He spoke to them these quieting words: "Peace be unto you." Still further to alleviate their terror He said, "Why are you troubled? Behold My hands and My feet--that it is I Myself!"
Doubts always cause perplexity. Doubting cost Thomas a whole week of grief and sadness. Even those who have given up their Christian faith, confess that in doing so they lost the sweetest joy out of their lives. Jesus showed the disciples His hands and His feet, that they might see in them the prints of the nails and thus be convinced that He was indeed risen! The print of the nails is the indubitable mark of Christ where He appears. We see Him always as the suffering One, or as the one who has suffered, for He bore our sins.
Slowly the doubt and fear of the disciples vanished, as they beheld their Master right before them, as they looked at the wounds in His hands and feet, and the marks of the thorns upon His brow, and heard His voice in words of love. He sought then in other ways to make them familiar with the fact that He was risen. He asked them for something to eat, and when they had given Him a piece of broiled fish, He ate it before them. We see how gentle Jesus is, in dealing with the doubts and fears of His disciples. He does not want them to disbelieve. Yet He does not chide and condemn them because they are slow in believing. He is most gentle with those who are seeking to believe. Some Christian teachers are stern and severe with those who even ask questions which seem to indicate doubt or uncertainty as to great teachings. But Jesus deals most lovingly with everyone who has difficulty in believing.
Somehow the disciples had been very slow in understanding the words which Jesus had spoken to them before His death, about the manner of His Messiahship. They had been so full of their earthly idea of Him--that they could not accept or even understand any suggestion which permitted a completely different view. He reminded them of what He had said. "These are the words which I spoke unto you." The cross was no surprise to Jesus. All along His years, He saw it standing at the end of His course. The events in His life which had seemed so terrible to the disciples, for a time blotting out all their hopes, were the very things which He had foretold, over and over again, during His ministry. If they had only understood His words, they would have been saved all their perplexity, when they saw Him going to a cross. Many of the perplexities of our lives, come from the same forgetting of the words of Christ. There are many promises in the Bible--but we forget them just when we most need to remember them. We throw away our life preservers, just when we ought to buckling them about us.
Now Jesus sought to make all things plain to His disciples. "Then He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." There is a promise which says that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. We sometimes forget that we need to ask God to open our minds, to help us to understand the deep things of His Word. The lessons of the Bible are shy, and hide themselves away from ordinary search; only prayer and reverent love will find them.
The commission of the disciples contained the gospel, "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." They were to begin right where the cross had been set up. We should begin at home, just where we live, to tell the story of Christ. We should shine, first, close about ourselves. "He does the best in God's great world--who does the best in his own little world." We should begin at Jerusalem, touching the lives nearest to us. But that is not to be the end. Every Christian has something to do with getting the gospel even to the remotest ends of the earth.
The first disciples were to be not only messengers--but also witnesses. "You are witnesses of these things." How shall people know of things they have not seen, unless others testify of these things to them? The disciples knew personally the story of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. No other people knew these facts. If the story was to reach the world--it must be told by those who knew it. It is our business, after we have seen Christ, to become witnesses of Him to those who have not seen Him. It is not said, "Go and bear witness," but, "Go and be witnesses." The testimony is not to be merely in words--it must also be in the life.
The disciples may well have shrunk from such a tremendous task as their Master put upon them, in giving them their commission. But He hastened to assure them that they would not be left unhelped. "Behold, I send forth the promise of My Father upon you." They were to receive the Holy Spirit, and thus would be enabled to deliver their message, live their new lives, and carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. The promise is put in a little different way in the last words of Matthew's gospel: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the ends of the world." Jesus went to heaven when He ascended--but He returned as to His real life, in the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost. Since then, the presence of Christ has been as actual among His people in all this world--as it was during the days of His incarnation in the little company of friends who knew Him personally.
The story of the Ascension is told briefly. "It came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." In the last glimpse the world had of Jesus in human form, He was holding out His hands over His friends, blessing them. Ever since that time, the hands of the risen Christ have really been spread out over this world, raining blessings down upon it. Jesus is at the right hand of God--but He has not lost any of His interest in this world, nor has He withdrawn His hands from the work of redemption. He ever lives in heaven--to make intercession for us. Then He is always with us in the world, in real, personal presence, so that any one of us may say, "Christ and I are friends!"
When the disciples had seen their Master ascending out of their sight, they were not overwhelmed with grief, as they had been when He died on the cross. They understood now the meaning of His departure, and their hearts were full of joy and gladness. "They worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." While they would not see Him anymore, they knew where He had gone, and why. They knew also that He had not left them, that they had not lost Him--but that He had gone out of their sight, that He might become all the more to them, in their spiritual lives and in their power for service.
There was something yet to do before the blessing of Christ's redemption could come upon His disciples. They were to wait for the promise of the Father. So they came down from the Mount of Olives and entered the city, to begin the waiting and prayer, at the end of which the Holy Spirit would come. "And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God." We cannot always be engaged in prayer and formal acts of worship--but we can have in our lives continually the spirit of devotion. We can always be expecting to find blessing, looking up to God and pleading for it. If we live thus, a life of prayer, of faith, and hope, our weekdays, even when engaged most busily in the work of the world--we will be full of song and cheer. If we cannot write hymns which people may sing, we can at least make our lives songs, so that all who see us shall hear the music of love and peace in our life.