A Risen Christ and Our Relations to Him.

John 20:1-23.

[04 1862 060] We all know that in ministering the word there are many applications of the truth, all of them of God it may be, as of course that which is really of the Spirit of God must be. I am merely speaking of our deductions from it, which partake of human infirmity. But it does not follow that, because the way of looking at a particular part of Scripture may be different, one view may not be just as true as another. What has been upon my own mind in hearing this chapter read, is the remarkable manner in which the Holy Ghost presents three distinct things in their due and divine order. The first is the very foundation and centre of Christianity: Christ risen from the dead. And this is so sure that St. Paul, as we are aware, in 2 Cor. 5:16, does not hesitate to say, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." It is not thus that we stand related to Him. It is not simply Christ as the Son of God from all eternity; neither is it Christ viewed as man in the world, but Christ risen that we belong to in an emphatic manner. Now, I am aware that there are those who do not weigh the word of God, and who merely reason from their own minds as to Scripture truth, and to them it would seem an insignificant inquiry. Supposing we have Christ, they would say, What does it matter how we view our relationship to Him? But allow me to put a case. There is one that you are attached to. Does it make no difference whether you have that person's special affections, and whether you are married to such an one or not? We may think of the loved one's worth, character, amiability, kindness, and of a thousand points that we admire. But there is such a thing, independent of all these, as entering a positive, known relationship. Now, I say that our relationship as Christians is with Christ dead and risen. And so true is this, that the Apostle Paul insists upon it that, no matter what was the blessedness of knowing Christ in all His love and power, His majesty and tenderness, as the glorious Messiah, whom prophets and patriarchs had looked for from the beginning, yet now that He was dead and risen again, there was a new and surpassing nearness of association with Him; and it is with Christ risen from the dead that we stand connected in the mind of God, by grace. Not that we lose Christ anywhere else. By grace we have Him even if we think of Him before ever he became incarnate. His thoughts were about us, His love towards us, before ever the heavens and earth were made. It was the blessed counsel between the Father and Son, and His delight even then, before a single creature was formed, that He was to share His affection with the sons of men. This we learn from Proverbs 8. It was always before the Father and the Son. Then when the earth was formed, and men were called to dwell upon it, God gradually brought out His intention to have a blessed kingdom, the head of which, He showed on Adam's fall, was to be another man, the second man. This is a very remarkable expression, which it would be well to weigh. Christ was indeed man — most truly man — and so He was born, and lived, and died; but yet was He, and He only, the second man, the last Adam. All others, viewed merely as men, came under Adam, the man that fell into sin, and so came under the judgment of God. But now there is this "second man," and He is "the last Adam." And in what condition is He so? As risen from the dead. It is in 1 Cor. 15 that we have Him so brought out; and you are all aware that the very pith of the chapter is the resurrection. But just as there, so here — a most mighty consequence is made to depend upon His rising from among the dead: namely, that we are brought even now, before our resurrection comes, into a heavenly position, in relationship with Him. It is not only that we are to be heavenly when we get to heaven, but "as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." It is perfectly sure that we are to bear the image of the heavenly. But more than this is true. If we are Christians at all, we are heavenly men now. And it is the weakness of our faith in laying hold of this blessed truth that accounts for many a bit of worldliness, and many a way of selfishness not yet judged. How is it that we fail to apprehend our own right and favoured place? Because we so little think of Christ as He is, and weigh His glorification with such careless hearts. If there are those you have a real attachment to, do you not think of them? And if some special glory belongs to them, does not your heart ponder it? If there is an actual known relationship between you, and you discover how little you think or feel, are you not grieved about it? It proves the feebleness of love. Just so we learn to judge ourselves. Our faith and love are proved to be most scanty by this, that we so little dwell upon what magnifies our Saviour. When we do dwell there, do not our own souls reap the instant blessing? We cannot see and delight in Christ, without being ourselves filled with blessedness. This is the very thing that delivers from self and transforms us into the image of Christ. God meets us in our selfishness, and in one sense He ministers to it — at least He meets us in our deep wants, and the cry which goes up to Him about them; but then it is in order to kill self. If I ask, What must I do to be saved? it is a most suited question for a lost, sinful man; but while God stoops to me in that very want and satisfies my soul, is it to leave me there? No; but to fill my heart with the Saviour — to take me out of all questions about myself, and to give me an object wholly outside, and yet nearest of all to me; and that is Christ. This is specially true of the way which the Saviour's love takes towards us now. He is risen from the dead, and He calls us into the closest association with Himself thus risen. But the disciples, as we find in this chapter, slowly, poorly enter into it. Why was this? Why are we, why are children of God so dull now, in laying hold of the resurrection of Christ and of their own standing in virtue of it? It is not that people deny the fact of the resurrection but they do not appreciate its glory, neither do they understand its application or results. They are like the butterfly which hovers over the beautiful flower, rather than as the bee so diligently gathering honey from it. Our right portion is to be extracting from this blessed truth that which the Lord calls upon us to draw from it. It is faith that does this. Faith is diligent in learning of, in living and feeding upon Jesus, and upon Jesus as He has to do with us, that is Jesus risen. But some will again urge, If I have Jesus at all, have I not the Son of God, the Saviour? Have I not His love and life in Him? Am I not an elect one? All this may be true, but unless I see Jesus dead, risen, and that He thus stands related to me, where are my sins? You may have the love of Jesus, and the hope that you are elect of God; but you may, withal, be miserable lest you should, after all, be judged for your sins. Now, it is quite right, always right, to be humbled, about our sins as long as we are here: nay, in heaven, I believe we shall have the deepest humility of all in looking back upon the past in presence of God's love and glory. But will there be any doubts in heaven? any fear of being cast down thence? Such anxieties could not enter heaven. Neither ought they to enter the heavenly man here; for that which brings us to heaven is given to us upon the earth. Why, then, should we doubt here any more than there? It is all for want of simply realizing what really is our foundation and strength before God.

What, then, is the difference, when we seize our relationship with the Lord Jesus as the one who is risen? It is this. Unless we see Him risen, the question of sin still seems to be unsettled. There is always something to be done. And so there was till He was risen. But when He was dead and risen, all was finished. John 19 shows the fact itself; John 20 shows the disciples beginning to realize it. It was not a disciple, but the Saviour Himself, who said, "It is finished;" and the disciples were slowly learning this grand truth which was now beginning to break through the clouds, that "it is finished." They come to the sepulchre; they see where the Lord had lain — the linen clothes — the napkin that was about His head by itself: what calmness and peace! There was none of the hurry of men about it; no weakness trying to force through some obstacle: no sign of trick or violence in carrying off the body of Jesus. It was Himself that had been there, sleeping in the grave; and He had raised Himself. For it was not only that God raised Him; but, "destroy this temple," He had said, "and in three days I will raise it up." None but one who was God could say this. Others require a hand outside them to raise them: Jesus raised Himself. And now that He stands risen from the dead, what does He say? He brings the individual believer into association with His own resurrection. This is what we see here. Mary was weeping; the Lord asks her why, and makes Himself known to her. Have we ever thought of this? The true dryer-up of tears is Jesus risen. It is this alone can satisfy. It is not the thought of where they are departed whom we love, but Jesus is risen; and there I find the pledge that I shall see them with Jesus and like Jesus; that, instead of loss, it will be eternal gain and blessedness. Even here He is our portion, and we look for the day when we shall be with Jesus on high. To Mary our Lord opens this out. She was not to touch Him; she longed so to show Him all the devotedness of her affection, and her deep reverence for His person. But He was now risen, and the Christian way of knowing Christ is not by the bodily touch, or His visible presence here. Thus we find that the simplest fact of Scripture is turned to illustrate the highest truths. In the account of the resurrection given by Matthew, the women do touch Him, because the first gospel shows us Jesus as the Messiah, and, as such, yet to be known and received by Israel. They are to have His bodily presence with them by and by, reigning over them in an open manner. But we love Him whom we have not seen; "though we see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." To us He is a risen unseen One. Death has entirely separated our sins, not only from Him to whom they were charged, but from us, whose they really were. He took them upon Himself, and died, and He is now risen and is bringing us into His own blessedness. Therefore He says, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." This is one errand on which He was going to heaven. It was, in truth, to bring them nearer to God, than they could have been if He had abode with them on the earth. So that there is not a single thing now but what is turned into greater blessedness than ever for us. Had Christ remained with us on the earth, we should not have been so blessed as we are. Christ, going on high, has presented us in His own heavenly privileges before His Father and our Father, His God and our God. For it results from His own place before God, founded on the putting away of our sins by His blood, that we have our place and access into the favour wherein we stand.

But that is not all. Our Lord shows us a third thing — not only that we have Himself risen, and the disciples now formally possessing this blessed place of being sons through and with the Firstborn; but, more than these, there is a circle of heavenly fellowship, of being united together as a body. And mark all well. The Holy Ghost does not consider us in a fit condition to enter into our church position until we are thoroughly established in our individual standing before God. Had this been remembered, what confusion, what ignorance, what fatal mistakes might have been hindered? It is not only that others have to watch against the snare, but such as are conversant with church truth have specially to guard against it. Always let us bear this in mind, never to merge what we owe the Saviour and what we have in Him, in that which others share. It is a great joy to think that all saints do share Christ with us; but I must have Him for my own soul. So having and enjoying Him for ourselves, we shall only so much the more be able to add to the joy and to help one another. There is a danger of forgetting this, in our coming together as an assembly and taking the sweet tokens of our Saviour's death and passion for us; a danger of merely forming one out of a mass who all join in it, without first having apprehended His message to our own souls individually. All communion of joy and worship is very right in its place; we are members one of another. But, first and foremost, there is not a word to Mary Magdalene except about individual relations to the Father and God of the Lord Jesus Christ. "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Our Lord would have us enter into this — to enjoy what Christ is and what Christ has done for us as fully as if there were not another being in the world to be blessed by it. But are we to stop short there? Am I to shut myself out from the blessed interchange of thoughts and divine affections which flow from the union of Christ's body on earth? I shall have these perfectly in heaven; but I ought also to have them now: to be entering upon the joys, sorrows, obligations which result from realizing this position now. But it must be in the Lord's order. Here we find the disciples gathered together as the effect of His message, and the doors shut for fear of the Jews. There was no mingling of the world and the saints, but the most distinct separation was maintained. No veil was there, nor middle wall of partition, still less a hedge of Pharisaic pride; but there is a separation, in heavenly grace, of those that belonged to Christ from those that did not. And those that were Christ's, were wishing to make known to others the Christ they had got. And so when the Lord comes into their midst, notwithstanding that the doors were shut, He says to them, "Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." There was their own proper united joy in seeing the Lord. He had sent a word to them before they saw Him, to tell them of their blessing, and now He Himself speaks peace to them. So, when assembled together to His name, His disciples have Him still in spirit in their midst. "Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

But the Lord "saith to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me even so send I you. And when He had said this He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." That is precisely what has taken place. Our Lord has sent down the Holy Ghost from heaven, and has baptized us into one body. He has put us into this place of common blessing and privilege; yet even when He is going to show, in a figure, the assembly which He has now formed by the Holy Ghost, He first establishes their souls individually. We are ever to remember this. We begin with peace, and we are to be the messengers of the peace to others that we know ourselves. This is the meaning of the two-fold message of peace. The Lord said it, first, for their own souls' fresh enjoyment; and, the second time, for the mission which they have in this world. Now let us put this question to our own hearts: — Do we bethink ourselves that we are thus sent of Christ? The Lord is not speaking here about apostles only. I maintain that every Christian has got a mission, and that our Lord shows that it is true of every saint of God in this very passage. For they were not the apostles only that were assembled here, but "the disciples" generally, whether men or women. Indeed, we know that one of the apostles was not there on this occasion — Thomas. It is not said, "Then were the apostles," but "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." The apostles, of course, had their part in it; and I am far from denying their peculiar privileges, authority, and responsibility, as revealed elsewhere. But in this case it is obviously not so. This I believe to be the key to the whole passage. Mark its importance. Christ risen now confers a positive personal mission upon every saint of His. With what dignity, then, it becomes us to bear ourselves! How important to bear in mind that we have this holy trust from our Lord, that we cannot be "disciples" now — cannot be Christians — without being distinctly sent of Him into the world! And how? We are only sent in as His saints, by being, if I may so say, first called out. The Lord takes us out of the world by His death and sends us into it by His resurrection; but this is as new men, heavenly men, who know the love of God as we never saw it before; who know the holiness, the righteousness, the perfect grace of God in a totally new way. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." And then there is the power, or, at least, the witness of it. "He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." That breath of Christ was the breath of resurrection-life; and every Christian, no matter where he is, Churchman or Dissenter, or even a poor deluded Popish priest — if you conceive such a thing as a man being a real Christian and yet offering up mass — still, I say, are you to deny Christ sent that man? If he love Christ, if he belong to Him, assuredly he has the spirit of Christ, and a mission from Him, however much it may be obscured and misunderstood. And it is on this very ground I should appeal to him, and say, You a Christian! You a man that Christ has sent into the world to be the messenger of life, peace in Him! You to whom Christ showed His hands and side, the witness that the sacrifice was finished, and yet you offering a sacrifice over again! What a frightful contradiction! I would appeal to him solemnly, as God would give me power, and use the true mission to expel the false mission, and press on his conscience the work Christ gave him, so that he might flee from the office the devil gave him, as from the face of a serpent.

Such, certainly, is our mission — the mission of every Christian, by whatever name they may call themselves; alas! that they should call themselves by any name but that only worthy One. Let us repudiate every name but the name given them, that of Christians. We regard them as equally possessing what we take for ourselves, the blessed gift of God's grace. We look upon them as members of the same family, vested with the self-same mission. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son is not ashamed to call us brethren, and to send us into the world. And do we not need to think of this? And mark what follows. "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them: and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." This belongs to the Church of God: it is the place in which the Lord Himself sets the Church. These disciples were already forgiven before God, and here is the mission and the application of it as regards the Church. There was no pretending on their part that they had the power to forgive men, to save them from hell, or to bring them into peace with God: nothing like the awful presumption of thinking they can open heaven and shut it at their pleasure, or inventing some other place out of their own wicked heads. I maintain that here is the Church, that is, the assembly of God, called to this. They possess life in Christ, and they stand responsible to their Lord if they know any of their number walking in sin, not to cover it over or treat it according to their own will. They are to pronounce the judgment of God upon the sins, and this is to retain them. It has nothing whatever to do with the blasphemous claim to damn or save. Salvation and judgment are the settled and sole prerogatives of Christ. But if a man, bearing the name of a brother, walks in a way that is notoriously and flagrantly evil, the church is not to own him, and the sin is retained. He is put away from the table of the Lord as a wicked person. Of whom was that word said in 1 Cor. 5? Of one who, after all, turned out a brother; but for the time being, having walked in a thoroughly evil manner, he was treated as a wicked person. It is well to be slow in coming to a judgment; it is, in ordinary cases, becoming to entreat and show much patience, but never to be tolerant of evil in ourselves or in any other who bears the name of Christ. But supposing the case is flagrant, "put away that wicked person" is the word, and this not for our own sake so much as for Christ's. There is the retaining of sins. But the guilty Corinthian, who was put away, humbled himself, and was even in danger of being swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Accordingly, the apostle in the second epistle tells them to confirm their love towards him. What! the man that had disgraced the Lord and disgraced them! Yes, even so, "lest Satan should get an advantage of us." Thus, the retaining of sins is found in the first epistle, but in the second the remitting of sins. "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained."

Thus we have three weighty things to test ourselves by. Are we seeking to walk as realizing, first, Christ risen? secondly, our relationship to Him according to the power of His resurrection? and thirdly, our corporate responsibility, as forming part of the assembly in which God dwells. Every believer now pertains to it; but Satan has come in and broken it into fragments. A few souls, not one bit better than their brethren, see that they are entitled to go back to God's own word and way, and they find that He is faithful — and this is the whole matter. We have no ground to set ourselves up in a single thing: but we are bound to assert the common place of privilege in which the Lord has set every one that belongs to Him. On the other hand, on no account treat the acting upon it or not as an optional matter. I must press it upon those who are not thus acting; I must ask, Why do you not walk as members of Christ's body? Throw yourselves upon God and His word, which most clearly shows what becomes us. Let us seek to walk holily and humbly. In much, who of us has not hindered souls by daubing with untempered mortar? Some of us, at least, have taken up the truth of God in the zeal of nature, and not in the Holy Ghost, and thus have given excuses to others. Nothing, I admit, can destroy the responsibility of those that hear the word of God; but we ought to look well to it that we do not stumble the weak — that we seek to carry ourselves as becomes grace, with real lowliness of mind — with evident desire, not to have people with us, but to get all who love Christ to do His will. We must ever enfeeble the power of truth over the consciences of others, unless there be that which commends itself to them in our own ways.