Notes on John 20:1-2

John 20:1-2

As no eye beheld what was deepest in the cross of Christ, so only God looked on the Lord rising from
among the dead. This was as it should be. Darkness veiled Him giving Himself for us in atonement. Man saw not that infinite work in His death; yet was it not only to glorify God thereby, but that our sins might be borne away righteously. We have seen the activity of the world, and especially of the Jew, in crucifying Him; high and low, religious and profane, all played their part; even an apostle denied Him, as another betrayed Him to the murderous priests and elders. But Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us all; Jehovah bruised and put Him to grief; Jehovah made His soul an offering for sin; and as this was Godward, so was it invisible to human eyes, and God alone could rightly bear witness, by whom He would, of the eternal redemption thus obtained, which left divine love free to act even in a lost and ungodly world.

So with the resurrection of Christ. He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; God raised up Jesus whom the Jews slew and hanged on a tree; He had laid down His life that He might take it again, in three days raising the temple of His body which they destroyed. But if no man was given to see the act of His rising from the dead, it was to be testified in all the world, as well as His atoning death. Preach the gospel, said He risen, to every creature. And -assuredly he who withholds His resurrection maims the glad tidings of its 'triumphant proof and character, and compromises the believer's liberty and introduction into the new creation, as he immensely clouds the Lord's glory; even as the denial of resurrection virtually charges God's witnesses with falsehood and makes faith vain. So the apostle insists in 1 Cor. 15 Had death held the Savior fast, all were lost; had it been only His spirit winning its way into the presence of God, it were at most a half-deliverance. His resurrection is in truth a complete deliverance, of which the Holy Spirit is to us the seal.

Hence we find it is the grand foundation truth of the gospel. To be a witness of His resurrection was the main requirement for an apostle (Acts 1); and that God had raised up Jesus whom the Jews had crucified was the truth most pressed by Peter. (Acts 2) So it was urged by him in Solomon's porch subsequently (Acts 3) and before the Jewish council once and again. (Acts 4; 5) Just so it was in preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 10); and by Paul yet more than by Peter. (Acts 13) This was what especially grieved the Sadducean chiefs (Acts 4); this is what rouses the undying scorn or opposition of unbelief all the world over. And no wonder; for if the resurrection be the spring of joy and ground of assured salvation to the believer, if it be the secret of his holy walk as the expression of the life he has in Christ risen, and the power of a living hope, it is also the measure of the real estate of man as dead in sins, and it is the present, fixed, and constant pledge that judgment hangs over the habitable earth, for God has raised from among the dead as its appointed Judge the Man whom the world slew. The resurrection therefore is as repulsive to man, as it is apt to be slighted by the fleshly mind even of Christians who seek earthly things.

As the resurrection is thus manifestly a truth of capital moment, the Spirit of God has taken care that the testimony to it should be as precise as it is full. Hence Matthew, who from the design of his Gospel omits the ascension, does not fail to bring out the proof of Christ's resurrection most clearly; and so does Mark; and. Luke with more detail than either shows us the. Lord in resurrection with all His loving interests in His own, a man as truly as ever, with flesh and bones, and capable of eating with them, but risen. John as usual presents the conscious Son of God, the Word mane flesh, but now in resurrection. Here the proofs are characteristically inward and personal, where the others, as fittingly present what was outward but no less necessary.

As a bulwark against philosophic skepticism the resurrection stands firm and impregnable. For it resists and refutes unanswerably the sophistry which ignores God and reduces the idea of causes to an invariable antecedence of constantly observed phenomena as in sequence: a theory quietly assumed and diligently instilled so as to set aside the very possibility of divine intervention whether in grace or judgment, in miracles or prophecy, or any relationship beyond nature with God. With God did I say? Why, according to this system logically carried out, He is and must be unknown; and if unknown, who can tell if He exist? or if all do not end in a mere deification of nature? Now the resurrection of Christ rests, as has been often shown, on far fuller evidence and surer and better grounds than any event in history, and this because it was sifted at the time by friends and foes as nothing else ever was, and because God Himself gave a multiplicity of testimony proportioned to its incalculable moment not to us merely but to His own glory; and as a fact without argumentation it overthrows of itself and instantly every opposition to the truth of science or knowledge falsely so called. For it would be the depth of absurdity to suppose that the death of Jesus was the cause of His resurrection. What then was its cause? Of what antecedent was it the sequence? If anything points to the power of God, it is resurrection no less than creation.

The truth is that the effort to reduce cause and effect to a mere antecedent and consequent springs from the desire to get rid of God altogether; for cause really implies will, design and power in activity, though we must distinguish between the causa causans and the causae causatae. These causes are in nature by God's constitution, but He lives, wills, acts; and the resurrection of Christ stands in the midst of this world's history to judge all unbelief, viewed now as a simple fact and fully proved. We may see its consequences as far as our chapter presents them later on. The Lord had distinctly and often spoken of His death and resurrection during His life. He had died and was buried; and here we learn that no power or precaution prevailed against His word. The grave had lost its inmate; and this was all Mary's heart took in-the loss of the dead body of the Lord. Deplorable forgetfulness, but of a heart absorbed in that one sad treasure here below, and it was gone!

Thus even here the proof was- in the wisdom of God gradual, and the growth of the apostles themselves slow in the truth. There was afforded the most evident demonstration that, as the power in itself was of Him only and immediately, above the entire course of nature and human experience, so those who were afterward its most competent, strenuous and suffering witnesses only yielded to its certainty by such degrees as let us see that no men were more surprised than the apostles. Even the enemies of the Lord had an undefined dread or uneasiness, which led to Pilate's allowance of, a military guard with the seal of the great stone to make the sepulcher sure; not a disciple, so far as we know, looked for His rising.

Nevertheless Christ did rise the third day according to the scriptures. In this very thing, the teaching of God's word, were the disciples weak; not the uninstructed Magdalene only, but all; as we shall sea, senseless and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken quick to forget the plain words in which the Lord Himself repeatedly announced not only His death but His resurrection on the third day.

Accordingly the opening verses have for their object to show us how the truth first began to dawn on any heart. Not only was there no collusion in feigning the resurrection of their Master, there was not so much as a hopeful anticipation in a single heart of which one can speak. The gloom of the cross had shrouded every heart; the fear of man pressed on the men yet more than on the women. Even where the fact should have been patent, she who saw the fact misunderstood its import and was more distressed than ever.

" Now on the first [day] of the week Mary of Magdala cometh early while it was yet dark unto the tomb and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb. She runneth therefore and cometh unto Simon Peter and unto the other disciple whom Jesus dearly loved, and saith to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him." (Vers. 1, 2.)

Mary of Magdala seems to be alone on the first day; certainly, if other women were with or near her, as other testimonies may imply (not to speak of the plural form here " we know," which may be merely general), she alone attracts the notice of the Spirit of God in portraying a heart, first attracted irresistibly to a scene so overwhelming and withal sacred by her love to Him whose body had been laid in the tomb; then at length met and blessed by the Lord when the best resources among the saints had failed, as will come before us in due time.

Before His death Mary, the sister of Lazarus, had anointed the Lord, His head and His feet, out of the fullness of her affection which lavished what she had most precious on Him, just at that time when she instinctively felt danger impending, and hears, in answer to heartless indifference only thence hurrying on to the deadliest ungodliness, the vindication of His love which gave a meaning to her act beyond her thoughts-O how satisfying to her heart till with Himself It was a deep and true affection met by the affection of Jesus not perfect only but divine.

And here too it was not in vain that Mary of Magdala was drawn thus early, dark as it was, to the grave, the empty grave, of Jesus. She had been there, though not alone, after sabbath had closed when it was growing dark (not " dawning," though the word applies to either) toward the first day of the week, for this is the true meaning of Matt. 28, with which compare Mark 16; as Luke 23:5454And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. (Luke 23:54) shows they had been on the preceding evening- when Friday was closing and sabbath was drawing on.

It is remarkable that this Mary runs to tell the fact of the stone's removal, and what she inferred as to the Lord's body, not to John only, but to Peter also. The latter had notoriously and grievously dishonored the Lord just before His death; but doubtless his repentance was well known to the saints at least. Still there is the record of her unhesitating appeal. Mary's heart judged who among the disciples would most heartily answer to the anxious inquiry which filled her own soul. And assuredly it was not lack of love but of self-judgment which had exposed that ardent disciple to deny his Master: on the contrary it was confidence in his own love for Him with utter ignorance of himself, and without due dependence on God, in the face of a hostile world with the shadow of death before his eyes, And the Master in the next chapter manifests His own grace toward His servant to the utmost, even while laying bare the sinful root which had betrayed him to such shameful failure. In fact Mary was far more justified in reckoning on the sympathy of Peter and John in that which troubled her, than in the ignorance which concluded that men had carried off the Lord's body on the resurrection-day. Even the warmest love cannot without the word conceive a right thought of Him who died for us. Her notion was wholly unworthy of Christ or of God's care for Him; but unbelief in the saint is no better than in the sinner, and the very strength of her love to the Lord only brings out the more into evidence how faith is needed in order to rightly understand in divine things.