By J.R. Miller
We think of death ordinarily as the end of a man's life. He can do no more work in this world. Only his influence remains. But it was not the end of the life of Jesus Christ. He came again from the grave after a brief rest--and took up once more His work of redemption.
The women watched beside the grave after the burial of the body there, until they were compelled to hasten into the city before the gates would be shut upon them. Meanwhile they were in deep grief. The Sabbath was a sad and dark day for them. They were eager to get back to the grave to honor their Lord's dead body. So at the very dawn, after the Sabbath, as soon as the gates would be opened, they left their home and hastened away to His grave, carrying spices and ointments to anoint His dead body.
No one saw the resurrection. We are told something, however, of what took place. "There was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it." The rulers thought they had the sepulcher well-secured. The stone had been sealed with Pilate's seal, so that to meddle with it would be a high crime. Besides, they had procured a guard of Roman soldiers to watch by the grave. They seem to have expected thus to keep Jesus from rising. When they asked for the guard, they gave this as the reason, "He said: After three days I will rise again" (27:63). They pretended to suspect that the disciples would try to carry away the body by night, to give the impression that their Master has risen. But we see how useless were all their precautions. There was no power in the universe that could keep the body of Jesus in that rock-prison.
The effect of the resurrection and its attendant circumstances upon the Roman soldiers who kept watch, was startling. "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." The soldiers were hardened to all sorts of danger. They never recoiled in the presence of any enemy. But when an angel of God stood before them, with shining face and shining garments--they were in great terror.
But the angel who caused such dread in the Roman soldiers, spoke with all gentleness to the women who stood before the grave in great sorrow. "The angel said to the women: Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." This was the first announcement of the Resurrection. It was made by an angel to the Lord's women friends. They had ample proofs of the fact thereafter.
No event in all history is more incontestably sure, than that Jesus arose from the dead. Nor can the importance of the fact be overestimated. Everything depends upon Christ's Resurrection. All the hopes of redemption waited outside that sealed sepulcher. Jesus had said that He would rise; His Messiahship therefore depended from confirmation on His rising. He had made promises to His disciples that He would come again from death and live forever. Indeed, His kingdom depended altogether upon His rising. If He had remained under the power of death, no soul that trusted in Him could have been saved. For a Savior vanquished and held as a prisoner--could not be deliverer of others. A Savior locked in a grave--could not appear before God to intercede for men, could not walk with His people in their trials and sorrows, could not lead the dying safely through the valley which He had not Himself been able to pass through victoriously, could not bring believers from death's prison from which He had not Himself been able to come.
These are hints of what depended upon Christ's rising from the dead. Thus we see something of the tremendous importance of the fact which was announced by the angel to the women that early morning. "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said!" We have a living Christ, therefore, for our Savior. He was victorious over all enemies--then, over death, the last enemy. Therefore, He is able to deliver us from all our enemies--and from death's power at the last. He stands before God for us, and also walks with us on the earth in all our experiences, a living Friend, to love, to help, to comfort, to deliver, to keep, all who have committed themselves to Him in trusting faith.
The angel sent the women on an errand the disciples to bear to them the glorious news. "Go quickly, and tell His disciples." They obeyed promptly and with joy. "They departed quickly." On their way Jesus Himself appeared to them. "Jesus met them, saying, Greetings!" Notice that it was as they were hastening in the path of obedience, that they met their Lord. It is always and only in the way of duty that we ever meet Christ, and find blessing and joy. Had the women loitered by the grave instead of hastening away as they were bidden, Jesus would not have appeared to them. It is only in the way of obedience, in the service of love, that Jesus meets us. There are Christian mourners who never go away from the grave where they have buried their loved ones. They hear the words of hope which the gospel brings--but sit still in their grief, and no comfort reaches their sad hearts. Jesus does not meet them. If they would rise and hasten on errands of love to the living, the Divine comfort would come to them. They would meet Jesus Himself in the way, and receive His Greetings!" Grief is often selfish. It forgets the living--in its sorrow for the dead. To such mourners, true comfort never comes. Rise up and go on errands of service--and Jesus will meet you.
The women worshiped their Master, rejoicing that they had Him back again from the grave. He then Himself sent them on an errand to the disciples. "Go tell My brethren to go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me." Whenever Jesus makes an appointment with His friends, He will keep it, He will be present, and will have blessings to bestow upon those who meet Him there. Suppose that some of our Lord's disciples had stayed away from the appointed meeting in Galilee, not quite believing his promise, or having other things to do instead--what would they have missed? Or they might have said, "It is a long distance to the place"; or, "The mountain is steep, and I do not like to climb it"; or, "I fear it will rain or be stormy"; or, "Perhaps He will not be there at all--I cannot understand how He can indeed be risen." For any of these reasons, or for any other reason--some might have been absent that wonderful day. But they would then have missed the glorious sight of the risen Jesus, and would not have received His commission and promise. To the end of their lives they would have regretted that they had not kept their Lord's appointment that day.
Jesus makes appointments with us to meet us at times of prayer in church services, at the Holy Communion, at some holy appointed place. Sometimes we do not think these appointments very important, and are easily influenced to omit them. We never can know what we lose by these failures or neglects. Jesus always comes where He asks us to meet Him, and gives blessings there to those who have been faithful in gathering to wait for Him. We do not know what we may miss by staying away from any appointment with our Master.
The risen Lord's promise to His disciples when He sent them forth is one of great comfort. "Lo, I am with you always--even unto the end of the world!" If Jesus had given His commission without adding His promise, His disciples might well have shrunk from going forth to the work to which He assigned them. But having His promise, they could not hesitate.
This assurance was not for the first disciples only; He says to us also, "I am with you always!" In what sense is Christ with us always? It is not merely as our departed human friends are with us--in the sweet memories of their lives. It is a real and personal presence. He is present with us--as He was with Mary and Martha when He came to them that day after their brother had died. He is present with each one of us, not only on the bright days but on the dark days. Let us believe in the actual presence of Christ with us, and then let us act as if we believe that He is with us. This is he secret of Christian power and Christian peace!