Three Great Sights

"And he that saw it bear record" (John 19:30-35).

"And he saw and believed" (John 20:1-9).

"When they saw the Lord" (John 20:19-22).

The disciple whom Jesus loved saw his Lord dead upon a cross; he looked within His empty tomb, and, along with his brethren, he beheld the living Lord in their midst. A great sacrifice, a mighty triumph and a changeless love! Since the world began no sights to compare with these had ever been seen by the eyes of men. What emotions must have swept John's soul in those great hours: sorrow, despair, amazement, triumph! The Sorrow and despair passed, but the amazement and the triumph remained.

The First Sight — A Great Sacrifice

It was God's great mercy to men that He had an eyewitness there who could record what he saw. We are sure that John never did nor could forget those sights. They would be an indelible and ever-present memory with him throughout the eighty years that he lived after them, often spoken of but recorded at last for our good. But it was not a tenacious human memory only that bore the record, the Holy Ghost also had His part in it (John 14:26). "He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knows that be says true, that ye might believe." What was it that he saw? The suffering and death of His Lord. He stood by the cross when all his brethren had fled, he stood there with the mother of Jesus and some other women and saw the head of his Lord bow down in death. He saw the soldier rend His side with a spear, the last stab of the world's hatred, and he beheld blood and water flow forth from the gaping wound. He must have seen many crucifixions before this one, for it was a daily occurrence in the land under the rule of the ruthless Roman, but he had seen none like this, and of this only does he bear a record.

He bears record, inspired by the Holy Ghost to do it, because of who He was who died there, and because of the eternal and infinite results of His death. He opens his Gospel by declaring the eternal power and Godhead glory of his Lord, who became flesh and dwelt among men. Jesus is the Creator and life-giver, and He came into the world that He had made but which had gone from Him, not to condemn it, but that it might be saved through Him. His death was the only way; about this there could be no question, and of His death an infallible witness had to be borne to all generations of men that they might believe.

But why did He die? I know why other men die. The Scriptures tell us why men die in the plainest possible language. "By one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and death passed upon all men for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). But here the holy, sinless Son of God hung dead upon a cross. Why? There could be no question but that He really died. It was no swoon that John saw, as some of the religious rationalists declare. The soldier's spear thrust settled that. How could a natural body be still alive out of which the life-blood had been drained? Though we know that He was dead already before that last act in the terrible drama of man's sin. He had given up His life; but why?

In this same Gospel we read "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son," but we cannot rightly separate those words from what goes before them. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." "Must" is a hard word. There is no word in any language that presents with greater force what is inexorable. He must be lifted up. If eternal life was to reach a ruined race, carried far from God and under the judgment and power of death by their sins, a Son of man must be lifted up in their stead, as their substitute and representative. Divine and eternal justice demanded this; nothing less could avail. But this Son of Man must be unlike every other man, He must be entirely free from the taint and offence of sin that brought in the ruin, and upon Him death must have no claim. Where shall He be found? He was found in God's bosom. "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." The Son of man is the Son of God.

This is love indeed. How shall we describe it? What words shall we employ to tell out its greatness? We call it great love, wonderful love, love surpassing all other loves: we pile adjective upon adjective, but we feel that all are feeble and inadequate. All words that we can command, or their equivalents in the days when Paul wrote his Epistles must have been considered by him when he desired to describe this love and the gift that it gave, for the two are one; but he discarded them all and declared that the Gift was "the unspeakable Gift." We shall have a new language when we reach heaven, our home; we shall be able to speak in heavenly superlatives there, but shall we even then find words that shall fully describe this great gift of God's love? I doubt it. It will be for ever the unspeakable gift, unspeakable love.

We stand in thought with John, and with his eyes we see it all. We gaze upon the dead Christ upon the centre cross, who was made sin for us — the proof and pledge and measure of God's love to men, His love to us. And there we learn the necessity for it, for without shedding of blood is no remission, but the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses from all sin. The judgment could not spare Him when He was lifted up as our substitute. His life was poured out as the infinitely efficacious sacrifice, and it has met the demands of justice against us, and because of it God has given to all who believe eternal life. For "this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son."

But John saw water as well as blood flow forth from the side of his Lord, and though he did not understand it at the time, he learnt its meaning afterwards by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. He saw the evil of the human heart clearly exposed in the bitter hatred with which they hated Christ. And let the reader say, as he beholds through John's eyes, as the writer says, "There go I, but for the grace of God." There is no difference, not only because all have sinned, but because the nature that does the sins is alike in every man.

But the evil of man's heart brought out the good that was in God's, and by His Son given, not only were our sins borne in His own body on the tree, but He died for us, not because of what we had done only, but because of what we were. We can face it all now; not only the sins, transgressions and iniquities, but the evil spring of all within us, and we can take up Paul's language and say, "I am crucified with Christ." There was the blood to expiate our sins, but there was water also, marking the judicial end before God of the man who had sinned the sins. "There are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water and the blood: and these three agree in one" (1 John 5:8). They witness to the glorious fact that God Himself has taken up our case, and whether it be sins or sin, the fruit or the root, He has dealt with it according to His own wisdom, that nothing might stand in the way of our full enjoyment of the revelation He has made of Himself, and nothing stand in the way of His delight in us. John bore his true record, that we might believe. Have we believed? To all that believe God has given eternal life.

The Second Sight — A Mighty Triumph

We pass to the resurrection chapter for the second great sight. John is there again as an eye-witness. He and Peter had run together to see the sepulchre because of a report that the Magdalene had brought to them, and going into it they beheld the linen clothes lying and the napkin that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. John saw this and has recorded what he saw; and his record gives the lie to the report that was circulated amongst the Jews that His disciples had come by night and stolen His body. If they had done that, or if anyone else had done it, would they not have taken the clothes with the body?

Peter and John had run to the sepulchre with no other hope than to find His body there, "for they did not yet know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." They ought to have known, for He had plainly told them all about it before He died, but they had no faith as to it and only sight could convince them. They may have thought that tears had so dimmed the eyes of Mary that she could not rightly see in the gloom of that early morning, or at the worst, that His enemies had robbed the tomb; but the clothes lying as they were and no body in them convinced the amazed disciple, and "he saw and believed." He saw an empty tomb; the great sacrifice had been followed by a great triumph, the power of death was broken, the Lord was Conqueror.

It were as well that we should all ask if we have reached this point in faith, for there are many who sing with true sincerity "Simply to Thy cross I cling" who have not reached it. They do not know in their souls what triumph may be theirs by the knowledge of the Lord's resurrection. We all need to consider well the words of Paul in his defence of the resurrection. "If Christ be not raised your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins." A most serious consideration. His resurrection was as necessary as His death if we were to be saved, and without the resurrection the Gospel is incomplete.

I have met Christians who have had a great fear of death, but if they do only see the empty tomb as John saw it, or accept his testimony as to it, they will be able to challenge death and the grave, and cry, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory"? "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." The power of death has been broken and the Lord has triumphed not for Himself alone, but for all who believe. We thank God for the empty tomb, and John's record of how he saw it.

"It takes the terror from the grave.

From death the victory."

The Third Sight — A Living Lord

But where was the One who had lain in that empty tomb? First of all, He made Himself known to Mary as she stood disconsolate and hopeless in the garden, and He made her His messenger, to carry a most wonderful message to His disciples. "Go to My brethren," said He, "and say to them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God." I would have you to notice of whom He was thinking. We should have thought that the first thing that He would have done on that day of His triumph would have been to go to the Temple and convince the apostate leaders of that nation that He was indeed the Christ, and convict Pilate of his crime against all justice; but He did not do that. He had no thought of self-vindication, His thoughts were on His feeble, fickle, faithless disciples, who had scuttered for safety, like frightened rabbits to their holes, at the first sign of danger. Oh, how He loved those men, and those women! He had spent a busy day here and there reawakening their faith in Him, and had sent a message to them, telling them that He would meet them in Galilee, and that appointment was kept later on as we know, but such was His love for them that He could not wait for that appointment. The news of His resurrection had brought them together in the evening of that same day, He knew where they were and He could not refrain from going to them.

He might have claimed His crown and kingdom, and the vindication of His Name of all the foul aspersions that had been cast upon it, but He did not. Those fishermen disciples were more to Him than crowns and kingdoms; they were His brethren, the Father's love-gift to Him, for them He had died that He might never lose them, and if they were glad when they saw Him, how infinitely greater was His joy.

"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." They saw their living Lord, unchanged in His love for them. They heard Him say, "Peace to you," for no words of upbraiding were upon His lips. He showed them His hands and His side, and by those wounds they knew Him, and He breathed them into a new life and relationship with Himself, that neither death nor hell could dissolve. And as He loved them so He loves everyone of His own; the centuries have not changed Him, we who have believed through grace are as precious to Him as were His disciples on that resurrection day. He said to Thomas just one week later, "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." That blessedness rests upon us who have believed John's testimony, and the living Lord may be as real to us as He was to those men who actually saw Him, for faith is greater than sight. Yes, we may know the supreme blessedness of the living Lord in the midst of His own beloved brethren, for where they are there He is.

What a dignity rested upon that company in the upper room that night. Men would have called them a wretched crowd, despicable cowards, and so they were until Jesus stood in their midst, then a dignity was put upon them that no company of angels will ever bear. He identified them with Himself; He shared with them His Father's name and love, and appointed them to be His witnesses in the world.

And there we stand who have believed, and in view of this great place of nearness and relationship with the Lord, what are the prizes that the world can give? Paul counted them as refuse for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus His Lord; and so may we.

We needed a great sacrifice for the salvation of our souls; we needed an empty tomb for the assurance of our faith, and we need a living Lord for the satisfaction of our hearts. We need Him as our Lord, our Centre, our Leader, our Head. I commend these three great sights to your earnest consideration. You will find in them and flowing out of them that which covers all our need until we shall see the Lord in His glory.