John 20:1-18; Acts 1:1-3.
CHAPTER 11 — THE LORD JESUS' FORTY DAYS.
RESURRECTION SCENES: MARY MAGDALENE AND HER MESSAGE.
The "Forty Days" which we are now to consider are the last of the series presented in Scripture. They are full of the actings and words of a Man risen from the dead, who has accomplished redemption, and is about to pass into the glory of God, and I should like to say a little tonight, and for some nights to come, of the manifestations of the Lord to His disciples during the forty days He was on the earth after His resurrection.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was the precious and blessed evidence of the completeness of that atoning work which He had come to effect. He has passed into glory now, and that is where you and I know him, but His various and many appearings on earth were necessary, in the ways of God, to attest the fact of His resurrection, and by "many infallible proofs" it was wonderfully proven. The position which the Lord took up during those forty days, that of a Man who had died out of this scene, and yet who was alive to God here upon the earth, moving and speaking by the Holy Ghost, is the just expression of what Christianity is for you and me now. He was a Man alive from the dead upon the earth, and He spoke and acted in the Holy Ghost. And what is a Christian? A Christian is one who has died out of this scene, in the death of Christ, and yet now lives. As Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). But everything is by the Holy Ghost.
I quite admit that the day of the Holy Ghost did not come during those forty days when the Lord was here. He went on high, and after ten days had rolled by, the Spirit of God came down on the day of Pentecost. But what one sees here is this, a Man alive on the earth in the full power of the Holy Ghost. It is thus the Acts of the Apostles opens, when Luke says, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments to the apostles whom he had chosen" (Acts 1:1, 2). Now Christianity takes pattern from Christ always, and I believe that here we have the pattern before us of what a Christian is. Christ was then a Man alive from the dead, walking in the power of the Holy Ghost, in relationship with God; and you and I, fellow-believer, are now privileged to enter into the same blessed and wonderful relationship, a divine position into which we are brought in virtue of our association with Christ.
One of the most blessed things about these "forty days" is this, that on the very day He rose from the dead, the Lord appears to one of His disciples, and brings out this most precious truth in a way that is absolutely charming to the soul that gets hold of it. To Mary Magdalene He said, "Go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father, and to my God and your God" (John 20:17). This was the most wondrous message that ever came through mortal lips, and Mary uttered it that day. Never before could that have been said, but, redemption accomplished, the moment had arrived for bringing out the new and heavenly place into which those whom the Lord Jesus called His brethren, as associated with Himself, are introduced. They are to be now in relationship with God, known as the Father, in virtue of His death and resurrection.
In all these appearings of the Lord we get very blessed and precious truths presented to our souls. He loved to assure His own of His identity and His love, "To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). The knowledge of the Father was to mark the sphere of which He Himself is the Centre and Head, and He was bringing His disciples, in these resurrection scenes, into fresh touch with Himself, and connecting their hearts with Himself. These scenes, therefore, I need not say, will have a very peculiar interest to every heart that loves Him.
I wonder how many times He was seen after He rose? When the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians to prove His resurrection and meet their Sadducean folly, he only cites five instances, though of course there were a great many more. I judge that we have eleven occasions given to us in the Scriptures where the Lord was seen on earth in resurrection. I will indicate them; although tonight I shall only speak of the first.
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9); then to her Galilean friends (Matt. 28:9); then to Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); then to the two going to Emmaus (Luke 24:15); and last of all to a company in the upper room (John 20:19). Thomas was not there then. That gives five on the day of His resurrection. The next Lord's Day He appeared again to the apostles when Thomas was with them (John 20:26). Later on He appeared to seven of them, down in Galilee (John 21:1). That was the seventh time. I know it was the seventh, because Scripture says it was the third. That is a very curious thing, you say. Well, it must have been the seventh, because He was seen five times on the first day, then again the next Lord's Day, the sixth, and now this is the seventh. Then He appeared to the eleven disciples down in Galilee at the mountain side (Matt. 28:16, 17). That is the eighth. Then we are told He was "seen of above five hundred brethren at once" (1 Cor. 15:6). That was the ninth. Then He was seen of James (1 Cor. 15:7). That is the tenth. "Then of all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:7). That was the time, I apprehend, when He led them out to Bethany, as recorded in Luke 24: So. That is the eleventh. There was also a twelfth, for Paul says, "And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time" (1 Cor. 15:8), but this was in glory. That is to say, the close carries you to the spot where Christ now is. These gracious appearings of the Lord to His disciples on the earth, carry with them very sweet and touching lessons for us. May we profit by their consideration.
Now, let us turn for a little to the history of the one to whom He appeared first. In the last chapter of Mark we read another, and rather different account of Mary Magdalene, from that given by John. "Now, when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not" (Mark 16:9-11). There you have very shortly told what were the facts with regard to Mary, and what was the effect of her testimony. She was not believed. Now there is something very solemn in that, if we bear in mind the message which the Lord gave her in John 20. Nothing could be more blessed than the message she carried. It is so solemn to feel it was not believed. And it is not believed today. There are very few believing souls today that have the faith of the message that Mary Magdalene carried at that time.
We may here inquire the reason why the Lord Jesus appeared to her first. I believe it was because of her devoted affection to Him, for nothing is more sweet to Christ than that. It may have been ignorant affection, but it was deep. She never forgot what and where she was when Jesus first met her. Her heart had been the abode of seven devils. Their expulsion became the opportunity for her to enshrine Jesus therein, and when He was crucified her love had lost its all. You know that her name has been connected with Magdalene Institutions, from the supposition that a profligate early life of sin had been connected with the "seven devils" which Jesus cast out. There is no hint whatever of this in the evangelists. I think the whole thing is groundless and gratuitous assumption. There is nothing in Scripture stated of her beyond this fact, that she was possessed of seven devils. I know that she has been confounded with the woman in Luke 7, who is stated to have been a sinner, and who washed the Lord's feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. We are not told who she was. But evidently she was not the Mary who anointed His head, as recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and again in John 12. The house in which the woman wept over his feet, and anointed them too, in Luke 7, was that of Simon the Pharisee. Whereas we are told distinctly in John 12 that Mary of Bethany anointed the Lord in the house of Simon the leper.
Neither of these two women must be confounded with Mary Magdalene. Who, then, was Mary of Magdala? I conclude that she was a noble lady of means. In the eighth chapter of Luke you find what is very interesting regarding her. "And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered to him of their substance" (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus had ministered to their spiritual wants, and they ministered to His bodily wants. They were, in plain language, devoted and attached to Him, and followed Him, as His blessed feet took Him into every hamlet telling out God's glad tidings. What, then, marked Mary Magdalene was this, her deep-rooted and blessed attachment of heart to Christ. Cultivate this, beloved friends, for there is nothing can take its place. I believe the Lord cares more for that than anything else. You may tell me she was not intelligent. She was affectionate, which is far better. You may think that you are very intelligent. Possibly you are, but, after all, how little we all know. But I do not think that intelligence ranks very high with the Lord. It is not that I make light of it, but when there is affection there will be intelligence sooner or later, though the reverse is by no means assured. When we come to the twentieth chapter of John's Gospel, we shall find that the most intelligent person on earth was Mary of Magdala. And I do not think anybody would dare say she was not the most affectionate.
Why does the Lord Jesus single her out for His first appearing? It was her affection put her in the place where the Lord could reveal Himself to her, as He does. She had been fully possessed by satanic power, but Jesus had cast the seven devils out, and from that hour the sense of the glory of her Deliverer, and the recollection of what she owed to Him who had delivered her, bound that dear woman's heart to the Lord Jesus in a way that you and I might well emulate. God give us, every one, to have a little more of the love for Him personally, that marked this dear woman.
On the day of the passover Mary had seen her tenderly loved Deliverer ruthlessly slain. She had stood by His cross, along with her friends, "who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him" (Mark 15:40, 41; John 19:25). Together they heard His last words, and then, having seen where He was laid (Mark 15:47), they returned to Jerusalem and "prepared spices and ointment" (Luke 23:55, 56), "that they might come and anoint him" (Mark 16:1). When the Sabbath was past, they went out, when it was yet dark, their only thought being that He was to be kept in death. Did Mary Magdalene go with the same thought? Most probably and therein lay her ignorance. Had she not, as well as others, heard that He was to rise again? I could scarcely say that. What she felt was this, that the world was, to her, completely empty. But indeed there was something emptier than the world. What was that? Her heart, without Christ. There was where the void was, and it completely isolated her. Consequently, although some of the Gospels would lead you to think she was in the company of other women, I have no doubt, from the twentieth of John, that her affection carried her out to the Lord's sepulchre alone, early in the morning.
"The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, to the sepulchre" (John 20:1). From what is told us in Matthew 28:1, it is quite possible that the others may have gone out with her, on what we call the Saturday evening, and carried with them the spices they had prepared to embalm Him. But before the daylight of the first day of the week came in this woman is there alone by herself She does not care for company. And when she thus comes, she finds an empty tomb, and the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. Scripture says, "Then she runs, and comes to Simon Peter." Love made her heels fleet that day. And to whom does she run? Simon Peter. Why? You know there is a saying that, "A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind." She knew the void in her own heart, and she knew also what had taken place with regard to Peter, and it made her feel — There is one at least who will understand, if the rest do not. So she "comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved."
I have little doubt that was John. It is the way he speaks of himself all through his Gospel. And had the Lord a particular love for John? I do not doubt the ways of John pleased Him, but the point for you and me to learn is this, he speaks of himself not by his name, but as the one who knew that he was loved of the Lord. Can you tell me the disciple today whom Jesus loves? Ah, do not look round, please. I do not think you will see him if you look round. I tell you what it is, if you have not got the sense in your heart of being "the disciple whom Jesus loves," you have not touched the kernel of Christianity yet, and you are out in the cold, instead of being in all the warmth of the affection of the blessed Lord. What John knew was this, "I am loved of the Lord." You and I should go about with this thought exhilarating our souls, "I am loved by Jesus." I think every, Christian should be able to take up that place in the history of his soul. Anyway John did.
Well, Mary runs and says, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" (John 20:2). The effect is this: "Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre" (John 20:3). It is very striking the way the Spirit gives us all these details. "So they ran both together; and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre" (John 20:4). Now I think that, if I had been asked which of these two was the most stalwart, I should have said Peter. I would have expected him to have been the fleeter of the two. Surely he would outrun John. No, he is outpaced this time. Do you know why? Peter carried with him an awful load that day. There is nothing that puts such a drag on the feet as a bad conscience. Peter was not happy, and if you are not happy, you are not going very fast, dear fellow-Christian. Are you rejoicing in the Lord's love? If not, you may depend upon it, your pace is not very rapid.
We are told that John outran Peter, "And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in" (John 20:5). You may say, Why did not John go in? He was a Jew, and he had doubtless a Jewish feeling, that, if he went in, he would defile himself. And so this spiritual man, John, for the moment stops. He had not yet learned that Christ having come, everything is taken out of type and shadow now. Old impressions fill his mind and hold him back. "Then comes Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre" (John 20:6). He goes in, heedless of any consequence. The remembrance of his ways and words in the high priest's palace, and his denial of his Lord, spurred him to enter. It led him to risk everything, and lose sight of everything. What availed his position as a Jew, if he had lost Christ, after having grieved Him, and wounded Him.
Impelled by the urgency of his own feelings, Peter enters the sepulchre, "And sees the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself" (John 20:7). There had been no tumult there. All was calm and quiet. Like one who has passed the night in peaceful slumber, risen in the morning and laid aside the clothes, here the Lord lays aside the death-clothes. What is the lesson? He has done with death. He had set aside everything that relates to death, the fruit and wages of sin. The napkin folded and laid aside tells of the reign of death being over for ever. Resurrection glory is to replace death. These details have indeed a meaning for the heart. I see He has gone into death and annulled it. He is risen now. Resurrection power and resurrection joy are to flood the scene. Everything now is in resurrection for the Christian, for being in Christ he is on the other side of death. I do not say that Peter and John learnt this wondrous lesson then. Have you and I learnt it? Ah, brethren, it is easy speaking, but the question is, where are we in the history of our souls? Are our souls really linked with Christ where He now is? What they saw was the proof of His wondrous victory.
And now John goes in. "Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed" (John 20:8). Believed what? I do not think exactly that he believed in Christ's resurrection. He believed surely that the Lord was gone. The tale that Mary had brought of the Lord being gone he believed. "For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead" (John 20:9). Up to that moment the great and glorious truth that He must rise from the dead, which He had pressed on them again and again during His life — ministry, never seemed to have got into their souls. There is nothing we are slower to reach than resurrection ground. When He came down from the mount of transfiguration, He said to them, "Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead" (Matt. 17:9). But spite of that, the great blessed truth, which is the backbone of the gospel, resurrection, they had not at that moment reached.
Hence, what we find is this, "Then the disciples went away again to their own home" (John 20:10). And why to their own home? Because they had a home. They had spheres of interest, and to these spheres they go back. "But" — that is a wonderful little "but" — "But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping." Why did not she go home? I do not think I am wrong when I say she had not one. She may have had a house but not a home. Where Christ had been was really the home of her heart. That sepulchre had held Him whom she loved so deeply, and therefore a home she had not. The fact was this, her world was gone, everything was gone, because He was gone. And oh, what a blessing it would he for each of us, if Christ were all to our hearts. Take away Christ, and all was gone for Mary. Desolation and an empty heart were hers, but as for home she had none. The home of her heart was away. She had lost the One who ravished her heart, who had first delivered her from Satan's power, and then filled her with the knowledge of His own love and grace, and bound the affections of her heart round Himself, for after all, there is nothing like love, and love produces love. You cannot force it. It is reciprocal, and nothing will keep your mind so steady, and cause your heart to flow out with love to Him, as the enjoyment of His love to you.
And do you not think it was a joy to the heart of Jesus as He saw from the distance that weeping woman? You may depend upon it, the Lord noticed her that day with the deepest interest. Do you think He notices us today? Does He see where our hearts are? Is He not interested as to where the affections of our souls are travelling? Surely, for He is unchanged — "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He is the same today as He was that morning. There was a blessed sight for Him to behold that resurrection morn — one person in this world who could not do without Him. Yes, that is very blessed.
"And as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and sees two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say to her, Woman, why weepest thou?" That is all the length, you notice, they can go. They see her sorrow. They notice her tears. And they are interested sufficiently to inquire why she weeps. She gives them the answer, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him" (John 20:11 and 12). When she went to Peter and John, do you know what she said to them? "They have taken away the Lord," because He was also their Lord. But now when the angels ask why she weeps, what does she say? "They have taken away my Lord." How personal. How precious to the ear of Jesus to hear this — "My Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back" (John 20:13).
Suppose you and I saw two angels, what do you think we should do? Now, honestly own what you would do. Honestly, I think I should take a downright good look at them. And I should probably think I was a very favoured person to see angels. I should not quite believe you, if you said you would not look at them. You do not know your own heart. Ah, but look at this woman. Angels had not the faintest attraction for Mary. She was not controlled by them, nor held by them. What does she do? She turns her back on them. Ah, beloved friends, what do we turn our backs on? I fear that something less interesting than an angel is sometimes apt to hold us. Is not that true? Look at Mary. "She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus" (John 20:14). You may tell me she was blind. Well, sometimes love is blinded by its very tears. But anyway, though her love was blind, mark, friends, the love was there. She was evidently in deep distress since the object of her love was, as she thought dead, and now quite gone from her grasp. It was an agony of love.
And now we read, "Jesus says to her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?" You remember He had said somewhat similar words to two men before. The one was Andrew, and I am sure the other was John the evangelist. He did not get this question in John 20, because he had a home and had departed to it. But he once heard this same voice saying, "What seek ye?" He and his companion replied then, "Master, where dwellest thou?" (John 1:38). That meant, Lord, let us know how to find your home, This day John missed that voice, but Mary heard it. Not "What seek ye?" but "Whom seekest thou?" is the Lord's touching query here to Mary. The point is, nothing can satisfy the renewed heart but the Person of Jesus, and the enjoyment of the love of Jesus. The Lord knew that, and drew near to her, fully prepared to fill to the full the empty heart that deeply and truly loved Him. And I believe we may know the same. Nothing really fills the heart but the enjoyment of His own love.
We are reaching the climax of this deeply touching scene, as Jesus inquires: "Woman! why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, says to him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away" (John 20:15). Very striking is the way in which, in Scripture, you get the gardener brought in. In the opening book of Scripture — Genesis — you have the gardener. He was the first Adam. He was put in Eden to till that garden, but failed. It is a garden here again, and in this garden you have now a broken-hearted woman, who has lost her all, and that all, the Lord of Glory. She sees Him, but knows Him not. And now she says what to me is one of the most touching things that could possibly have fallen from her lips, and which must have affected the heart of the Lord very greatly. "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away" (ver. 15). She offers, in her deep affection, to do that which her womanly weakness would have made an impossibility, viz., take Him away. She does not name Him. She does not lisp the title of the Object she is looking for. Her world was "Him." So full was her heart of Him, that she thought everybody else must be thinking about Him too.
It has been often said, If I have a sick friend, and call to ask for him, I simply say, "How is he?" They know who I mean, because everybody in that house is thinking of the sick one. And so here. "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast, laid him, and I will take him away." That is an absorbed heart. I have heard it said, she was culpably ignorant. Why do you not again and again tell me she was very affectionate? Are you as affectionate? I wish, indeed, that I were. Do you not think that reply of Mary's that resurrection morning was like a cup of cold water to the tender, but hitherto oft-times deeply wounded heart of Jesus? I trow it was so indeed.
The closing scenes of the Lord's earthly history are very beautiful from this point of view. Responsive affection is frequently seen to gladden His heart. In the early part of the Gospels He comes out like a magnet and attracts many sad and weary hearts to Himself. He satisfies and fills these hearts, and among them Mary Magdalene's. And now, when you come to the close of His career here, it is beautiful to notice how the Father works to draw out divine affections from these same hearts towards His blessed Son. Among others, God allows Mary to come and fill a cup, that which would give joy to His heart. Notice the action, just a week before, of Mary of Bethany. How she refreshed His heart as she broke her box of ointment over Him. And do you not think the testimony of the dying thief on the cross was like a cup of cold water to the blessed Lord? Again, Nicodemus coming out boldly and owning Him after He was dead was suited and right. And was it not timely and divinely perfect that there should be one to meet Him, that resurrection morning, whose attitude said, "You are everything to me, and I cannot do without You."
I do not know whether you or I ever spoke to Him in this way. And if Mary did not put this sentiment into words, I know what the Lord took out of her words. What but this? — "That heart finds everything in Me, and cannot do without Me." Do you think He talks that way about you and me? Ah, we may well ask ourselves. Do you think he would thus speak to us, "Whom seekest thou?" Suppose He got upon our track today and just asked us: "What are you seeking? Is it Myself? or is it something here?" What would our answer be? We are often so taken up with the things of this life, with what concerns our home and business. It was not so with her. Her Lord absorbed her heart and controlled her. What a joy to the heart of Jesus!
It is at this moment that the Lord reveals Himself to her by one word. She cannot do without Him, and she shall not for a single second more. "Mary" falls upon her ear. That is all. "Jesus says to her, Mary." He had said before, "And he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out; and when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (John 10:3,4). Do you and I understand what it is to be thus called of the Lord by name? And do we answer Him just as she did that day? Oh! what a revelation to her soul. "She turned herself, and says to him, Rabboni: which is to say, Master" (ver. 16). Why does the Holy Ghost tell us she turned herself? We saw just now that when she saw angels she turned her back on them. Now she sees a man, and she turns her back on him. It was Christ she was looking for, but she had not at that moment found Him. But all is revealed to her in one word, "Mary." She had heard that blessed voice before, in the day when He delivered her from the sevenfold power of the devil, and in a moment she turns herself The truth is out. He is there. She has found the One whom her heart desired above all things.
I do not doubt, in the impulse of her affection, that Mary was just about to do what her Galilean friends did afterwards — touch the Lord. She is checked by the word, "Touch me not." And why may she not touch Him? He tells her, "For I am not yet ascended to my Father." She was going to take up relationship with Christ on the old ground. That would not do. She was henceforth to know Him in a new place altogether. Where do we know Him? At God's right hand. We know not Christ after the flesh, but as the risen, ascended, and glorified Man. "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). Mary here had the most wonderful message given her that ever was committed to human lips down here to carry to others.
You might ask, Why did the Lord refuse Mary's touch, and yet let the Galilean women touch Him? I will take that up and fully answer that question at another time, God willing, only saying now that an earthly people will yet know and have Christ in their midst as the living Messiah. But Mary prefigures the heavenly saints, and illustrates what is the truth for us. She was only to know Christ as we know Him, i.e., as gone on high. I think when He said, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father," a thrill of disappointment would go through her heart, which meant: "Am I to lose Thee again, Lord? I lost Thee, and my heart was broken, and now I have found Thee." His reply seems to say this: "No, Mary, you knew Me here, and you lost Me. Now I am going back to a spot where you can always find Me and never again lose Me."
There is immense importance in His words, "Go to my brethren." He could, on resurrection ground, now own all who believed in Himself as His brethren. His death had cleared away everything that lay between them and God, and He could now take up "His own" as being His brethren. He was here the true corn of wheat. He had said, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit" (John 12:24). And here was the true unique Corn of Wheat alive from the dead, and He has His brethren in association with Himself. Hence He instructs Mary, "And say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
If you will read the Gospel of John carefully, you will find that up to John 12 the Lord almost invariably says, "my Father," though sometimes it is "the Father." From John 13 and onwards He usually speaks of "the Father." That would raise the question, whose Father is He? If He be the Father, of whom is He the Father? In reality the day of the Holy Ghost is anticipated, as He speaks of God as being the Father. But now, redemption being accomplished, death annulled, and Jesus in resurrection, God is revealed and made known to us as our Father. He, as it were, says to Mary: "You thought you had lost Me. No, no, you have got Me, and you go and tell My brethren this, I had a place up there that was always peculiar to Myself. I was the delight and the joy of My Father's heart, but I was alone. I have come down from that scene of life and joy, and gone into death for My own, and settled every question. I have cleared the whole scene, and now I am going back, but not alone. On the ground of the work I have accomplished, I am going to take My. brethren with Me. I will now share all with them. Go tell My brethren that My Father is their Father, and My God their God." This was the glorious message Mary's love to Him had secured for her — a message unique in its nature and import.
Now, my friends, do you believe that message? Had Jesus not already said, "I have declared to them thy name, and will declare it"? (John 17:26). He had. The same resurrection music is found in one of the Psalms: "I will declare thy name to my brethren" (Ps. 22:22). The sorrow of death over, Jesus hastens to declare the Father's name to His brethren. Note well that we have not touched Church ground here yet; but you have now the declaration of the Father, and that leads to it. And remember, beloved, that this is all individual. You will never know the joy of what it is to be an integral part of the assembly unless you get the sense, His Father is your Father, and His God your God. As a believer in Him, and having received the Holy Ghost, I am entitled to know that I am on the same identical ground before God as that risen, triumphant, blessed Man. In plain language, Christ's place is our place, and Christ's relationship our relationship.
God's object, in Christianity, is to bring us into complete association with Christ. Absolute identity with Christ, where He now is, as risen from the dead, and glorified, is our portion through infinite grace. He was once absolutely identified with us where we were in death. Once He was the solitary Corn of Wheat, which, except it fall into the ground and die, abides alone. But in order to bring forth much fruit, He has died, and now there is a wonderful crop. Around that risen Centre, see the untold numbers of the grains of wheat. They are His brethren. The feeblest, simplest believer in Jesus has now the same place before God as that glorified Man at God's right hand. For mark, we must have either Christ's place, or no place. This is just what we read elsewhere: "For both he that sanctifies (Christ), and they who are sanctified (all who are Christ's), are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren; saying, I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the Church will I sing praise to thee" (Heb. 2:11, 12).
Humanity is now glorified at God's right hand, and the place Christ has now taken there in resurrection, is the place He has secured for you and me. That place of holy joy and blessedness in the Father's love and presence He shares with all "His own."
Wondrous indeed was the favour conferred on Mary Magdalene to carry such news to the disciples. Love to the Lord Jesus personally secured her this immense boon, and we can well conceive the joy that filled her heart, when, in obedience to His behest, "Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things to her" (ver. 18).
To this simple affectionate woman is granted the immense favour of carrying this message to those who were the Lord's brethren, and eventually form the nucleus of His Church. Why had she this honour? Because she was devoted to Him. Among all the appearings of the Lord in resurrection to those who loved Him, be sure of this, that Mary's was not the heart least devoted to the Lord. Further, among the thousands of Marys who will be found in glory, a peculiar place will this Mary have, as the one who gratified the heart of the Lord that resurrection morning as none other did, and then became His messenger of, without exception, the most wonderful communication that mortal lips could utter. What could be more wonderful than for a sinner, delivered from Satan's power, and redeemed by grace, to learn that she was absolutely identified with that blessed One, who came down alone, and then went back to heaven and took a company with Him, and be entrusted with the exposition of the scripture, Behold I and the children which God has given me (Heb. 2:13).
Well, so much for devotedness. And now why do not we more often carry sweet messages to comfort souls? I think it is that we are not devoted enough, we are not near enough the Lord to get from Him the word for souls round about us. May we all be more devoted, and may the Lord give us to know more and more what it is to be so near to Him, that we may be suited vessels whom He can use to carry sweet tidings of grace to others. You cannot tell me, after what we have been considering, that Mary of Magdala had no intelligence. Tell me any one more intelligent. John was not in it, and neither was Peter. The only one at the moment who was really intelligent was Mary, and her love undoubtedly led her up to the intelligence. God make you and me more like Mary of Magdala, for His name's sake.