By J.G. Bellet
THIS chapter gives us the fourth and closing part of our Gospel.
It shows us Jesus in resurrection. It is as Matthew 28, as Luke 24, and as John 20, 21; having, however, like all the rest, its own characteristic features.
The descent of the angel to roll away the stone, putting the sentence of death in the keepers of it, is peculiar to Matthew and, in the preceding meditation on that Gospel, I have considered why this is so.
We get, however, the words of the same angel to the women who had come to the sepulchre; for that was an expression of grace, and was suited matter for our evangelist. And this same company of women receive from the same angel the same message which they received as recorded in Matthew, but with this addition, that Peter is expressed by name. "Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him." The words, "and Peter," are added in Mark--and this was quite in keeping with the considerate, compassionating grace of this Gospel; for Peter might well have needed that thoughtful, special kindness at that moment. He had signalized himself sadly in the midst of his brethren; and his Lord now signalizes him graciously in the midst of the same brethren.
This is full of character.
The corrupting of the keepers of the sepulchre by the chief priests and elders of the people is passed by here. Properly so. It was matter for the notice of Matthew, as the rolling away of the stone had been; for it led to what "is commonly reported among the Jews to this day," and therefore lay within the scope of the Spirit in that evangelist rather than in Mark.
We have here some general notices of the visits which the risen Lord paid to His disciples, and, likewise, of their slowness of heart to credit the resurrection. And here let me ask, Does this slowness surprise us? I would say, It need not. True, indeed, we may challenge ourselves, and say, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with us that God should raise the dead?" But, by nature, we have not the knowledge of God, as the apostle speaks, on this very matter. 1 Cor. 15: 34. "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" No; but our hearts are hardened. In earlier days the apostles had not considered the miracle of the loaves and of the fragments gathered up, just because their hearts were hardened (Mark 6: 52); and here it is hardness of heart that has to account for this unbelief. And as we do not by nature think worthily of His power, neither do we think worthily of His grace. We are all astray. We are indisposed to receive any good news from God. The resurrection of Jesus, the full fruit of divine grace, is published and carried abroad; but it is not believed, just because our hearts are hard. The flesh may be unclean, as indeed it is, vicious and violent too. But withal, to give it its full revolted place and character, we must further say of it, that it refuses the message of grace and salvation from God. And one of the sure and sweet fruits of a renewed mind is its faculty to think well and happily of the Blessed One, seeing His glory in the face of Jesus. The homage of a soul that has turned from the dark and hardened and erring ways of nature is then rendered to God. And it is eternal life in us.
The risen Lord has here, in Mark, as in all the Gospels, to rebuke this unbelief of the apostles. But He removes it as well as rebukes it--pardoning it by the way; nay, sealing that pardon by the hand of a witness of great dignity--for He puts them into the ministry, committing the honour and power of His name to them in the face of every creature.
But further; it is only in this Gospel that the women who came to the sepulchre wonder how they are to get the stone removed from the mouth of it; for they knew not as yet that, let but the third day arrive, the Lord could not be holden of death. As it is likewise only in this same Gospel that Pilate marvelled that He should be so soon dead, when Joseph came to crave His body; for he knew not that, let all Scripture be but fulfilled, the Lord would give up the ghost. See John 19: 28-30; Acts 2: 24.
The natural thoughts of saints put them in close company with the thoughts and reasonings of the children of men. As in these instances. Pilate and the godly women are in like ignorance. But grace ever abounds. The women at the sepulchre are instructed and comforted; and the disciples are commissioned to bear the name of their Lord abroad to every creature.
The commission here, however, has its own character, with all the rest. It simply gives the apostles work to do. "Go ye into all the world," says their Lord to them, "and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
It is not the discipling of all nations that is here contemplated, as in Matthew, for the glory of Him Who has now accomplished all things, and is exalted; it is universal testimony with partial acceptance--the common result of service in the gospel. As is said of Paul's ministry at the close of the Acts of the Apostles--"Some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not." Therefore the form that the commission to the apostles by their risen Lord takes here simply contemplates service and its results, and is thus in full keeping with the whole of the Gospel.
And, still more strikingly, the Lord Himself, though about to be glorified in the highest will be found, as the closing words tell us, in service also. For it is here, and here only, we read this--"So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following."
Thus our Gospel closes in the character with which it had opened, and which it had preserved throughout. It opened with the Lord in service--"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God"--it closes by revealing Him to us, though hid and glorified in heaven, as still "working." Jesus is in ministry, whether He be the rejected One among men on earth, or the accepted One at the right hand of God in heaven, where all principalities and authorities and powers are made subject to Him. He "went about doing good." He approved Himself, indeed, to have come among us, not to be ministered unto, but to minister. As such a One, the Holy Ghost in Mark first looked at Him, and as such does He keep Him in view to the end.
Very duly does his Gospel take its place after that of Matthew, and before those by Luke and John; though, as I observed at the beginning, it might be judged to come as the last. It comes after Matthew; because there Jesus as Messiah is testing Israel--and that was the first thing the Lord had to do, on His coming into the world, and entering on His holy, wondrous course. We have seen this in the preceding paper on Matthew It comes before Luke and John; for the Lord Jesus is here in Mark, the Servant of the Father's grace and pleasure in Israel; in Luke He takes a larger and higher scene of action, as a Teacher and an anointed Man, rather dealing morally with men; and at last in John He rises to the highest, as in divine grace, in solitariness and in sovereignty, dealing with sinners.
We will, therefore, leave each of the Gospels just where we find them put by the hand of God; and we accept them just what we find them to be under the Spirit of God. The candle has been lighted, and set in the candlestick. We have only by faith to know it to be the candle of the Lord, to walk by the light of it through the darkness of this present world, waiting for that world to come, of which it is the bright, infallible witness.
Section 4 of: The Evangelists, being Meditations upon the Four Gospels. (New Edition, Rouse, 1903)