John 20; Mark 14.
"What wonderful times are ours!" are words on almost every lip at present. Showers of blessing, as they say, are falling on every side. Some have gone so far as to state that, like history, Pentecost is being repeated; as if the blessed Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, had left the earth since then; and that prayer, earnest prayer, had brought Him back. Truly these days of ours are strange and solemn. No doubt there is an energy of the Holy Ghost abroad in the land both in the spread of testimony, and in the awakening of souls. It is well to bear in mind that God is sovereign while we are to be subject, and that in the exercise of His sovereignty He may, and does use any instrument that He pleases: and the more His people are walking with Him, the more subject they will be on the one hand, and the readier to rejoice in all that He does on the other. But what about the Lord Jesus Christ in these times? I would seriously and solemnly ask if it be true that this spring tide of blessing, which, it is said, is carrying on its waves thousands of souls, is bearing them to His feet, there to worship and adore? Is it awakening in their hearts new affections which find their goal in Himself? Is it bearing them on high, so as to lead them to count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord? The enquiry is of the deepest moment to us all. God forbid that any of His people should undervalue or under-estimate any service rendered to fallen man. But is Christ dearer to us than every one beside? And is it a small matter to us if His desires and claims seem disregarded or forgotten? It is because such thoughts are awakened and kept alive by the aspect of professing Christianity, that I propose taking a glance at the two Scriptures which stand at the head of this paper.
The touching story of Mary in John 20 is familiar to almost every one. It is a striking instance of ignorant, yet genuine affection. She might have known His glorious resurrection. She ought to have remembered His words, — "After three days I will rise again." But though her faith and intelligence were defective, her heart beat true to its object and her treasure. Contrast her with Peter and John, and does she not stand on a platform far above them? They can return to their home, satisfied that Jesus' body was not in the tomb, though they knew not where He was. This was not enough for Mary; her loyal heart pants to know where He is, and finding Him not, is ready to break with grief. She stands without at the sepulchre weeping, stooping to gaze at the spot where they laid Him. Unperturbed by the angels, disconcerted in no wise, there she lingers, and there her heart must be — beautiful instance of genuine though ignorant affection, and the amazing power of one object when the affections are governed thereby. "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him...... Sir, if thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take Him away."
How was she rewarded? Most surely according to the desires of her heart towards Himself. First, He allows her to hear her own name on His risen lips. Wonderful moment for Mary! Wonderful moment for Jesus! Was not every pulsation of her devoted heart met, and more than satisfied, when His blessed voice caused her to look into His own face, her Master and her Lord? I am bold to say that two hearts were made glad that daybreak, — hers who could find no home where He was not, and His who gave His life for worthless rebels like us. And I am bold to say further, that it gave Him greater joy to own her as His sheep, calling her by name, Mary! than it did her to be so owned and called. But this was not all, for He commissions her now to carry the most wonderful message ever entrusted to human lips, (see verse 17) — "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." He sends her forth to proclaim the victory of His love, not only that He had triumphed so gloriously, that every enemy was under His feet, but that He, the risen man, was Head of a new race, that, "both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare Thy name unto my brethren." (Heb. 2:11, 12.) He sends her forth out of the second garden, where the mournful history of the first garden (Eden) had been more than wiped out by the glories of His triumph, to say to poor trembling hearts like ours, that He Himself had not only won a new place for them, but that He had positively brought them into it in Himself: "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one," which does not mean that He was degraded to their level, but that He, by His death, His glorious triumph and victory, had elevated them to the heights of His own new place before His Father and God.
What grace! wondrous grace! He passes by angels that excel in strength, and comes down to a poor weak woman upon the earth, owns her as His sheep, and then sends her forth to wipe the tearful eyes, and comfort the trembling hearts of His own, by announcing unto them the conquests of His love. Who can say now that Jesus does not delight to reward the devoted heart? And who can deny that in thus rewarding it, He gratifies His own changeless affections?
Let us now turn to Mark 14. It is the only instance recorded in Scripture of any one having intelligent sympathy with Christ: it is a wonderful scene; every one is thinking of death. Jesus has the vision of death before His spirit. How must the passover, with its lamb whose blood was shed, have brought forward death, before every mind? There were the type and the antitype face to face as it were — the chief priests and scribes, with a hatred to Christ which nothing but His death could appease, seeking how they might take Him by craft, and put Him to death. Thus we see how death filled all thoughts; but there was present one, a poor weak woman, too, whose heart kept company with all that was passing through His; she alone was in full sympathy with His feelings at the moment, and entered into the thoughts of God concerning the beloved Son.
It has been remarked that the account with which Mark furnishes us of the close of His blessed mission of love, presents Jesus more solitary in it than any other; incidents and circumstances which are recorded more or less in all the other gospels, are absent from Mark. If this be so, how strikingly significant is the record of this act of Mary's in the house of Simon the leper! Her heart and her affections, in true and genuine sympathy, traversing with Him the dreariness and loneliness of His path, as well as marking her sense of the utter worthlessness of all around in view of His agony and death; on one side intelligently apprehending not only who and what He was in Himself, but likewise His value in the eyes of His Father; on the other, making use of His tomb as a burying place for every valuable thing of hers on earth. For her, if Jesus dies, He carries all of hers down into the grave with Himself!
In Matthew and Mark, the blessed Lord is consciously in man's hand, in the closing hours of His life. This indeed characterizes these gospels in their record of His death, His cross; which was both the fruit of the counsel of God in view of redemption, as well as the fruit of Jewish enmity, and man's revolted, reprobate, heart. How blessed it is then to see Mary here at such a moment, marking her sense of the glories of His person in the face of the accumulated hatred of both devil and man! It is a blessed sight, in the intelligent apprehension of faith, the homage of one willing, loving heart, thus laid at His feet — one solitary soul in that rebellious land owning Him Lord of all. All this sheds its light on His own words — "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her."
Let us now look at the facts, as they are here recorded, a little more in detail. Mary's affection, her intelligent sympathy, takes the precedence of the treachery of Judas. Her love to Jesus was of that order and character, that it secured for Him that which was suitable to Himself at such a moment, and that which entirely met His heart and thoughts. "The box of ointment of spikenard very precious," answered to all that was around Jesus, in the hatred and malignity of man, in that hour; but it also coincided with all that filled His soul; and it was as well, community of thought with the Father concerning the Son of His bosom. It is a sight of surpassing blessedness to gaze at Him as He sits there; to see Him accepting, and vindicating, too, the affection and sympathy which His own Person had created and called forth; to see her, too, fruit as she was of His grace, expending on Him to whom she showed her all — that all, as another has touchingly and blessedly expressed it. Mary, as it were, says by this action of hers, "While the King sitteth at His table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof."
There is another point of solemn interest in this affecting scene, namely, how opposite the thoughts of men are to what suits the mind of God and His Christ; the most that some could say concerning Mary's act was, that it was marked by waste. Oh, how little was He in their eyes, who measured the service rendered to Him after this fashion! For it is the person to whom the service is rendered, that is the true measure of its value. Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father; Jesus, the spotless and perfect Son of God; Jesus, the willing and ready friend of need, and want and sorrow, stood so low in their estimate, as to call forth the expression of waste in regard to that which was voluntarily expended upon Him. It is the same to-day; the present is but the offspring of the past; the family character is not wanting in either; the heir-loom of indifference to God's Christ, and no sense of who He is or what He is, passes on from generation to generation; and to-day, with all its boasted light, superiority and advance, the poor, the perishing, the destitute, and the oppressed, have their friends and allies, but Jesus, the precious, blessed, wondrous Saviour, is forgotten and neglected — only remembered to be slighted and despised.
There is a bright spot in this dark cloud; turn your eye upon it for a moment: Jesus vindicates her. How blessed! The eye under which this act was performed discerned its value, and the heart that had caused to spring up affections so suited to Himself her Lord, measures out its appreciation of all that was expended on Himself; and He lets every one know what He felt and thought of this manifestation of this devotedness to His Person. "Let her alone, she hath wrought a good work on Me; she hath done what she could; she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily, I say unto you, wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done, shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." Oh, the joy of being vindicated by Jesus, and the satisfaction of knowing that, however feebly, we have truly ministered to the longings of His heart?
The Lord give His saints in these last days more genuine affection for, and true sympathy with, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His interests, that nothing may be able to divert their hearts from Him, engage their powers but Him, satisfy their souls but Him!
~1877. Published by W. B. Horner