By J.R. Miller
John tells us that the new tomb in which Jesus was laid to rest, was in a garden. This is more than a picture--it is a little parable of the meaning of the grave of Christ. It was in a garden. Wherever the gospel goes it makes gardens, turning deserts into places of blossoming beauty. Since Jesus died and rose again, every Christian's grave is in a garden. All about it bloom the flowers of hope and joy. Our dead shall rise again. Like His Master, the Christian cannot be held by death. As sad as bereavement is, the Christian has comforts which bloom like spring flowers and pour their fragrance on the air.
The first appearance of Jesus after He arose, was to Mary Magdalene. She and other women had taken a tender part in the burial of Jesus, and then had come very early in the morning of the first day to the garden where the grave was. They were startled to find the grave open. They hasten to find Peter and John, and, having told them what they had discovered, Peter and John came quickly to the grave. John, being the younger and fleeter, first reached the tomb--but Peter, being the bolder, hurried in while John lingered. When Peter had pressed in, John followed him. In the grave they saw the linen cloths lying--but the body was gone! The two disciples, amazed by what they had seen, went to their home. Mary, however, could not tear herself away from the spot. She wept inconsolably because the body was no longer in the grave.
She did not realize that if the body had been there that morning, she would have had real cause for weeping. Then the world's hopes would have been quenched, lost in the darkness of eternal night! What to her was a great grief--was really the secret of a great joy. The things which we regard as causes of sorrow, if we could see them as God sees them--would appear to be secrets of joy. The empty grave, if only Mary had understood it, was the attestation of the Messiahship of Jesus!
Mary saw a vision of angels. "She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying." We find angels all along the story of the life of Jesus. They sang at His birth. They ministered to Him after His temptation, and again in the Garden, after His agony. He said that He could have called twelve legions of angels to His defense during His trial. Now we find angels watching in His tomb; and at the ascension we see them waiting to comfort His disciples as their Master parted from them.
The presence of the angels in the empty grave, suggests to us the change which Christ's resurrection made in the graves of all believing ones. We dread the tomb. It is a place of impenetrable darkness. But since Christ lay there, the sleeping places of His followers are all brightened. They are little beds in which the bodies of the saints rest--until He who has the key to their graves shall come to call them again. If we had eyes to see, no doubt, as we lay our loved ones away, we would see angels sitting at the head and at the feet of each, keeping their sacred watch.
The angels tried to comfort Mary, asking her why she wept. She told them why very frankly, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have put him." "At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus." She supposed He was the gardener. She was thinking of Him as dead, and did not recognize Him in the living man she saw. Then her eyes were dim with weeping, and she could not see.
Many a time it is the same with us. Christ is close by us in our need or in our sorrow--but we cannot see Him, and so we miss the comfort of His presence. If only we would believe in the constant presence of Christ with us, and would make that presence real by our faith, our darkest hours would be lightened, our loneliest moments would be filled with companionship, and in our weakness we should have all the divine strength about us. It was said of Moses that "he endured, as seeing him who is invisible." Moses did not see God--but His faith made the presence of God as real to him, as if he had seen Him with His human eyes. Such faith as this would change all of life for those who believe in Christ.
The first recorded word from our Lord's lips after He arose, is that which He spoke to Mary here, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" The words were spoken to comfort one who was in sorrow. Jesus had always been a comforter. He comes to everyone who is in grief with the same question, "Why are you crying?" He had come that morning from the grave, achieving His great victory over the last enemy. He was therefore the first who could have spoken such words, for before that, no one was able to wipe away the tears of sorrow. His question implied that there was no need for weeping. Mary was grieving for a dead Christ--and the living Christ was standing beside her! In our grief it is the same--He who comes to us is the risen One. The hand of Jesus has been wiping away tears ever since that morning. We may not get back our godly dead--but we have the blessed assurance that they have passed into the keeping of Christ, where they will be safe forever. Then some day we shall greet them and be greeted by them, alive!
Jesus revealed Himself to Mary by speaking her name. "Jesus said unto her, Mary!" The ancients believed that death washed away completely every memory of the earthly life, its friendships even passing from recollection. But we see Jesus here on the other side of death, and we find the old affections unchanged in Him. He took up the threads of the story with His friends just where they had been broken off three days before, and went on as if only a night's sleep had intervened. Death made no break in His life. Nothing was blotted out, nothing beautiful or good, nothing worthwhile. When our friends pass through death, whatever changes may be made in them, we know that there will be no change in their love for us. "Death does hide--but not divide."
When Mary heard her name spoken in the old familiar tones, she recognized Jesus. "She turned toward him and cried out, Rabboni!" We do not recognize Jesus--until He calls us by name. We love Him--because He first loved us. Mary's answer showed the loyalty of her heart. She was ready now to devote her life to Him.
Many people get only a fragment of the true thought of Christ. They believe in Him as their Savior--but do not think of Him as their Lord and Master. Their faith leads them to trust in Him for salvation--but it does not bring to them the comfort of a living Savior, present with them, helping them. They think of themselves as having been saved by Christ's death upon the cross--but do not realize that, important as the cross may be, their actual salvation comes through their attachment to and companionship with a living Master and Friend. Mary had a true conception--she took Christ as her Master. She surrendered herself to Him.
It was a strange word that Jesus spoke to Mary after she had recognized Him. "Do not hold on to me, ... but go to my brethren, and say unto them." He probably meant to say to her that the old physical relationship was not to be reestablished. He was risen now, and the relationship must be spiritual. Further, He meant that there was no time now for the satisfying of love, however tender and true it was. Mary would have stayed at the Master's feet in the rapture of her joy and homage. But there was something else more important. Others must know of the joy. A message must be carried immediately to the other friends of Jesus. We are too apt, when we find a great joy, to wish to cherish it alone. But duty to others calls us away. When at the communion table, for example, we find a great gladness in fellowship with Christ, we must never forget that there are others outside the sacred walls, who are in sorrow, or in danger, and we should hasten to them with the message of Christ's love.
The scene in the upper room that night was a wonderful one. The disciples had assembled in fear and trembling, hiding away, lest harm might come to them. Suddenly Jesus Himself appeared. "Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you." This was the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples as a group. His first salutation to them was, "Peace be unto you!" The words were familiar as a common greeting--but they had a new meaning to those men that night. They fell from the lips of the risen Christ! Wonderful among the gifts of Jesus to His disciples, was the giving of His peace. It quiets the troubled heart. It changes sorrow into joy.
The disciples were awed by the presence of their Master, and to quiet their trembling fear He held up His hands. "He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the
Lord." They were pierced hands which He held up. They bore the prints of the nails. Thus they assured these men that they were the same hands which had been nailed to the cross! The wounds told them first, that He had indeed died for love of them. They told them, further, that He had risen also, His hands still bearing the marks of the nails. Christ is known everywhere, by the print of the nails in His hands. A gospel without these marks is not a gospel. The preaching that does not tell men of the cross will not point men to salvation.