Matthew 28The Lord of Life was buried upon the Friday, in the evening of that day on which he was crucified; and his body rested in the silent grave the next day, and a part of the morning of the day following. Thus he arose again the third day, neither sooner nor later: not sooner, lest the truth of his death should have been questioned, that he did not die at all; and not later, lest the faith of his disciples should have failed. And accordingly, when the sabbath was past, and it dawned towards the first day of the week, in the morning very early, before day, Mary Magdalene, and other devout women, go to visit the sepulchre, intending with their spices and odours farther to embalm our Lord's body.
But observe, Although the hearts of these good women did burn with an ardent love and zeal to their crucified Lord, yet the commanded duties of the sabbath are not omitted by them; they stay till the sabbath is ended, and then early in the morning they go with odours in their hands to perfume his sacred corpse; fearing neither the darkness of the night, nor the presence of the watchmen: how great a tribute of respect and honour is due and payable to these women for their magnanimity and courage! They followed Christ, when his disciples left him; they accompanied him to his cross, and followed his hearse to the grave, when none of his disciples durst appear.
Learn hence, That courage is the special and peculiar gift of God; and where God gives courage it is not in man to make afraid.
Observe here, 1. With what pomp and triumph doth our Lord arise. The earth that quaked before at his crucifixion, quakes now again at his resurrection: it quaked then at the dissolution, now at the reunion of his human nature, to tell the world that the God of nature then suffered, and now conquered.
Observe, 2. How an angel is emplowed in Christ's resurrection; He rolls away the stone. But could not Christ have risen then without the angel's help? Yes sure, he that raised himself, surely could have removed the stone: but God thinks fit to send an officer from heaven to open the prison-door of the grave; and by setting our surety at liberty, proclaims our debt to the divine justice fully satisfied. Besides, it was fit that the angels who had been witnesses of our Saviour's passion, should also be witnesses of his resurrection.
Observe, 3. How unable the keepers of the grave were to bear the sight and presence of the angel; they shook for fear, and became as dead men. Angels being pure and perfect spirits, man is not able to bear the sight of an angel, no, not in human shape, without terror and affrightment; and if the sight of an angel be so dreadful, what is the sight of God himself?
Observe here, 1. Our Lord's resurrection asserted and declared, He is risen. God never intended that the darling of his soul should be lost in an obscure sepulchre. He is not here, says the angel; that is, in the grave, where you laid him, where you left him. Death hath lost its prey and the grave has lost her guest.
Observe, 2. It is not said, he is not here for he is raised, but, He is risen. The word imports the active power of Christ, or the self quickening principle by which Christ raised himself from the dead. He showed himself alive after his passion. Acts 1:3
Learn hence, That it was the divine nature or godhead of Christ, which raised his human nature from death to life. Others were raised from the grave by Christ's power, he raised himself by his own power.
Observe, 3. The testimony or witness given to our Lord's resurrection; that of an angel: The angel said, He is not here, but risen. But why is an angel the first publisher of our Lord's resurrection? Surely the dignity of our Lord's person, and the excellency of his resurrection, required that it should be first published by an angel; and accordingly it is worthy of our observation, how very serviceable and officious the holy angels were in attending upon our Saviour in the days of his flesh; and angel foretells his conception to the blessed Virgin; and angel proclaims his birth to the shepherds; an angel succours him in his temptation in the wilderness; an angel comforts him in his agony in the garden; and at his resurrection the angel rolls away the stone from the sepulchre, and brings the first tidings of it to the women. In his ascension the angels bore him company to heaven: and when he comes again to judgment, he shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.
Observe, 4. The persons to whom our Lord's resurrection was first made known, to women, to the two Marys. But why to women? God will make choice of weak means for producing great effects, knowing that the weakness of the instrument redounds to the greater honour of the agent.
In the whole dispensation of the gospel, Almighty God intermixes divine power with human weakness. Thus the conception of Christ was by the power of the Holy Ghost; but his mother, a poor woman, a carpenter's spouse: so the baseness, being crucified between two thieves; but the powers of heaven and earth trembling, the rocks rending, and the graves opening, showed a mixture of divine power. God will honour what instruments he pleases, for the women, the two Marys, is the discovery of Christ's resurrection first made? Possibly it was a reward for their magnanimity and masculine courage.
These women cleaved to Christ when the apostles fled from him, and forsook him; they assisted at his cross, they attended at his funeral they watched his sepulchre. These women had more courage than the apostles, therefore God makes the women apostles to the apostles; he sends them to tell the apostles of the resurrection, and they must have the news at the second hand.
O what a tacit rebuke was thereby given to the apostles! A secret check, that they should be thus out-done by poor women. These holy women went before the apostles in the last services that were done for Christ, and therefore the apostles here come after them in their rewards and comforts.
Observe, 5. The evidence which the angel offers to the women, to evince and prove the verity and certainty of our Saviour's resurrection; namely, by an appeal to their senses; Come, see the place where the Lord lay. The senses concerning the truth of his own resurrection; Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: and indeed, if we must not believe our senses, we shall want the best external evidence for the proof of the truth of the Christian religion; namely the miracles wrought by Christ and his apostles: for what assurance can we have of the reality of those miracles, but from our senses; therefore says our Saviour, If ye believe not me, yet believe the works that I do; that is, the miracles which I have wrought before your eyes. Now as my senses tell me that Christ's miracles were true, so they assure me that the doctrine of transubstantiation is false.
From the whole note, That the Lord Jesus Christ, by the omnipotency of his godhead, revived and rose again from the dead, to the terror and consternation of his enemies, and the unspeakable joy and consolation of believers.
Observe here, What haste and speed these holy women make to carry the news of Christ's resurrection to the apostles; such as find and feel their hearts grieved for the absence and want of Christ, will be very ready to comfort such as are in the same condition. O how glad are these holy women to carry the good news of their Lord's resurrection to the heart-broken disciples!
Observe, 2. How these holy women hastened, in obedience to the angel's command, to tell the disciples to meet with Christ in the way. Such as obey the directions of God's ministers, seeking Christ in his own way and means, shall find him to their comfort sooner than they expected. These holy women find Christ before they looked for him: as they went to tell his disciples, Jesus met them. O happy women, while they were weeping for a dead Christ, they find a living Jesus.
Observe, 3. The affectionate and loving title which Christ puts upon his disciples: Tell my brethren. He might have said, "Go tell those apostate apostles, that cowardly left me in my danger, that durst not own me in the high priest's hall, that durst not come within the shadow of my cross, nor within the sight of my sepulchre." Not a word of this, by way of upbraiding them for their late shameful cowardice, but all words of kindness: Go tell my brethren.
Where note, That Christ calls his disciples brethren after his resurrection and exaltation, as he had done before in his state of humiliation, to show the continuance of his former affection to them, and that the change of his condition had wrought no change in his affection to his despised members: but those that were his brethren before, in the time of his abasement, are so still after his exaltation and advancement.
Observe lastly, The place where Christ chooses to meet with and speak to his disciples, not in Jerusalem, but in Galilee; I go before them into Galilee, there they shall see me. Jerusalem was now a forsaken place, a people abandoned to destruction; Christ would not show himself openly to them, but Galilee was a place where Christ's ministry was more acceptable. Such places wherein Christ is most welcome to preach, shall be most honoured with his presence. In Galilee they shall see me.
Observe here, 1. How the priests and elders endeavour by a notorious lie to hinder the belief of our Lord's resurrection, they soborne and bribe the soldiers to say that his corpse was stolen out of the grave: Lies have been an old refufge which the enemies of Christ have all along had course unto; lying is an ancient device of Satan.
But observe, 2. What an improbable and unlikely lie this was which they put into the soldiers' mouths to vouch; Say, his disciples came and stole him away, while we slept. Frivolous excuse, carrying with it a most self-evident contradiction. If the soldiers were asleep, how could they discover the disciples stealing away the body? If awake, why did they not prevent their stealing it? Besides, how improbable was it that Christ's few and fearful disciples should attempt to open the sepulchre guarded by soldiers; and as unlikely was it that the soldiers should be all asleep together, and so fast asleep too, that the great stone at the mouth of the sepuchre should be rolled away, and not one of the soldiers awakened with the noise. Infatuation is the certain consequence of desertion of God.
Yet observe farther, That this incredible falsehood finds a fast and firm rooting in the belief of the Jews to this day.
Note thence, That it is a righteous thing with God to deliver up those to strong delusions, even to the believing of notorious lies, who will not yield their assent to divine truths upon the clearest evidence, and most convincing demonstration.
How strange is it, that such falsehood as this should find belief among the Jews to this day? But where truth is obstinately rejected, a lie, though ever so improbable, is received.
The meeting of our Saviour and his apostles upon a mountain in Galilee, was an appointed and general meeting. The mountain is supposed to be that near Capernaum, where he made that famous sermon, called, The sermon on the mount: and the meeting is supposed to be appointed as a general rendezvouz for confirming the faith of all his disciples in the certainty of his resurrection. Possibly our Lord appointed this place in Galilee, so far from Jerusalem, that his disciples might without danger come thither to see their Saviour alive again, after his crucifixion.
This is judged to be that famous appearance of which St. Paul speaks, When he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. 1Cor 15:6 And those who say him worshipped him, who before had doubted.
Learn hence, That when faith is once satisfied, and sees Christ to be God, it engages the soul to worship him. Divine worship is due to Christ upon account of his divine nature. No creature can be the object of divine worship, therefore they who worship Christ by praying to him, and yet deny him to be God, are certainly idolaters. If Christ had an angelic nature, that had not made him capable of divine worship: for adoration is founded only on divinity, and what is but human or angelical, is not adorable.
Observe here, 1. A power asserted. 2. An authority delegated. 3. A command enjoined. 4. A promise subjoined.
Observe, 1. A power and authority asserted by our Saviour, as belonging to himself; All power is given unto me both in heaven and in earth.
1. In heaven; which comprehends a power of sending the Holy Ghost; a power over the angels, and all the host of heaven, and a power to dispose of heaven to all that shall believe in him.
2. In earth: which comprehends a power to gather a church out of all nations, and authority to rule, govern, and defend the same against all it enemies.
Learn hence, That all power and authority concerning the church of God, was given unto Christ and conferred upon him upon the account of his meritorious death and triumphant resurrection. All power is given unto me: that is, as Mediator; but this power was inherent in him as God from all eternity.
Observe, 2. This power delegated by Christ to his apostles; Go ye therefore and teach and baptize all nations; instructing them to observe all things whatsoever I command you.
Here is a threefold power delegated by Christ to his apostles;
1. To congregate and gather a church, a Christian church, out of all the heathen nations throughout the world. Before, he had confined them only to Israel; now, they must travel from country to country, and proselyte the heathen nations, which before had been taught of the devil, and were led away by his oracles and delusions. Go, and disciple all nations, without any distinction of country, sex, or age whatsoever, and make the gospel church as large as you can.
Thence note, That the apostles and first planters of the gospel had a commission from Christ to go amongst the pagan Gentiles, without limitation; and were not to take up their settled residence in any one nation, but to travel from country to country, instructing them in the mysteries of the gospel.
The second branch of their power was to baptize in the name of the whole Trinity; Baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Where observe, That all adult and grown persons are to be first taught and instructed, before they be baptized. But it follows not from hence, that the children of such parents may not be baptized before they are taught: for the apostles were to baptize all nations, of which children are a chief if not the chiefest part. Besides, those that were proselyted to the Jewish religion, though before they were circumcised themselves they were instructed in the law of God; yet when they were circumcised themselves, their children were not denied circumcision at eight days old. In like manner, we have no reason to deny the children of baptized parents, who are in a covenant themselves, the sign and the seal of the covenant, which is baptism. God having assured his people, that he will be the God of them, and of their seed. If this privilege be denied, the children of Christian parents are in a worse condition than the children of the Jews; and consequently infants are in a worse condition since Christ's coming, than they were before, and the privileges of those that lived under the law.
Observe farther, In whose name persons are to be baptized; In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Where we have a profession of our belief in the Holy Trinity, a dedication of the person to the worship and service of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to our lives end.
The third branch of the power which Christ delegated to his apostles, was, by their ministry to press upon all their converts an universal of, and obedience to, all his commands; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you.
Where note, 1. That preaching is the ordinary and instituted means to convert nations unto God.
2. That preaching must not only go before baptism, but follow after it. Obedience must be pressed upon, and practiesed by all those that enter into covenant with God; otherwise they lie under a great condemnation.
3. That preaching of gospel is a chief part of the minister's work, and no apostle thought himself above that duty.
4. As the apostles did not, so the ministers of Christ ought not to teach anything but what Christ commands them, so they are to teach all things whatsoever Christ commands them: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you.
Lastly, Observe the promised enjoined; Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world. This is, I am, and will be, with you and you successors, lawfully called by my power and authority, by the blessing and assistance of my Holy Spirit. I will be with you, to uphold my own ordinance, to protect, encourage, and reward you, and all your successors, in the faithful discharge of your trust; and this is not for a day, a year, or an age, but to the end and consummation of all ages.
Learn hence, That the ministry of the word, and administration of the sacraments, are a standing and perpetual ordinance, to continue in the Christian church thoughout all ages.
Learn 2. That all the faithful ministers of Christ, in what part of the world soever God shall cast their lot, and in what time soever they shall happen to live, may comfortably expect Christ's gracious presence with their persons, and his blessing upon their endeavours. Lo, I am with you, I am always with you, and to the end of the world I will be with you. Thanks be to Christ, for the gracious promise of his spiritual and perpetual presence with his ministers to the end of the world. May this promise cause us to gird up the loins of our mind, increase our diligence, zeal, and fervour, accounting no labour too great, no service too much, no sufferings too severe, so that we may but finish our course with joy, and fulfil the ministry we are engaged in. Amen. Amen.
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