C. H. Spurgeon: On Sabbath mornings, lately, we have been meditating upon the sorrows of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been, in thought, travelling with him from dark Gethsemane to still darker Golgotha. We have pictured him under accusation before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate; we have, in imagination, heard the cruel shouts of the Jews, "Away with him! Crucify him!" These solemn events have been full of pain to us; even the bliss that comes to us through the cross of Christ has been toned down with intense sorrowfulness as we have thought of the agonies our Saviour there endured.
But as soon as we get to the other side of the cross, and realize that Christ has risen from the dead, everything is calm, and quiet, and peaceful. There are none of those rough winds and stormy blasts that come sweeping around us as we stand outside Pilate's palace and Herod's judgment hall. All is springlike, - summerlike, if you will, - ay, and autumnlike, for there are most luscious fruits to be gathered in the garden wherein was a new sepulchre out of which the living Christ arose in all the glory of his resurrection from the dead.
There was just one painful memory during the interview which Christ had with his disciples, when he said to Peter the third time, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" And "Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me?" But all the rest of the manifestations of our Lord to his disciples were singularly placid, joyful, restful.
"And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me." (Matt. 28:9,10)
So, dear friends, I want it to be with you now as you enter into the spirit of the scene described in our text. I pray that the Master may set you on the other side of the sepulchre, and make you feel as if he breathed upon you as he breathed upon his disciples, and said to you as he said to them, "Peace be unto you!" We need this experience, at least sometimes; for while the lessons to be learned at Calvary are inestimably precious, and it is beyond all things necessary to sorrow over our sin as we see how we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son, yet we must ardently desire to gather all the fruit that grows even on the accursed tree, and part of that fruit will give us the sweet rest of reconciliation through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is the time for fellowship with your Lord, beloved. Now, on the other side of the tomb, you can stand beside your risen Saviour. He can come into our midst, and say, as he has often done, "Peace be unto you!" As we journey to our homes after this service, we can walk and talk with him as they did who went to Emmaus in company with him. We can take him with us into our daily labours, on the morrow, even as he went to the sea where his disciples were fishing, and taught them how to catch a multitude of fish. Familiar acquaintance with Christ should spring out of the fact that he is no longer dead, that he is not now in the grave, but that he has risen in fulness of life, and that, most wonderful truth of all, that life is in all his people.
1. Our meditation upon this text will, I trust, help us to enjoy fellowship with Christ. Read the beginning of it, and learn from it this first lesson. The Lord Jesus often meets with his people in the way of holy service: "As they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them."
My brother said, just now in prayer, that we do not expect actually to meet Jesus in flesh and blood, but we know that there is a great blessedness in store for those who have not seen him with their mortal eyes, and yet have believed in him; and we do expect to meet him, after a spiritual fashion, so that faith can recognize him; nay, more, we know that he is here in his real, though invisible, presence. We may expect this blessed experience when we are in the way of holy service. I grant you that our Lord Jesus comes to us at other times as well.
"Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings:
It is the Lord who rises
With healing in his wings."
Ay; and, sometimes, the light of the Sun of righteousness surprises the Christian when he cannot sing. "Or ever I was aware," says the sweet singer of the blessed Canticle, - "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib," for the presence of Christ may be suddenly manifested to his people, and they may be as though they were caught away altogether from earthly scenes, and were with Christ in the heavenly places.
We have known this to happen, sometimes, in the lonely night watches; and we have said with David, "When I awake, I am still with thee," even in the darkness of the night. We have known it to happen in the very midst of the hurry and worry of business. On a sudden, everything has been calm and quiet. We could not make it out; it seemed like a Sabbath in the middle of the week, - a very oasis in the wilderness. The Lord Jesus Christ has come to some of us when we have been amidst the busy throng in Cheapside. In fact, there is nothing but sin that can keep him away from us, since he is not dependent upon the ordinary rules that regulate the movement of earthly bodies. He was not so on earth after he had risen from the dead, for though I doubt not that he often came and went just as others did, yet, at other times, he came like an apparition, "the doors being shut," and he could be here and there at his own sweet will, passing from place to place, holding the eyes of those to whom he was nearest, or opening their eyes just when he pleased to do so.
That is how he acts toward us now. Do not some of you recollect when Christ first appeared to you? Ah! it is years ago with some of us, but we mind the place, the spot of ground where Jesus first manifested himself to us. The joy of marriage, - the joy of harvest, - these were as nothing compared with the joy that came to us from the vision of his face. Many days have passed since then, and we have had fresh visitations from him. He has come to us, and come again, and yet again. He has not been strange to us; and, now, some of us can say that we are not strangers to him, for he is our dear familiar Friend. Yet are there times, even with those who dwell with him, when the light is clearer, and the voice is nearer, and the sense of his presence is more delightful than usual.
These times, I say, come by Christ's own appointment whenever he pleases; yet I again remind you of the lesson we learn from our text, which is, that we may expect these visits from Christ when we are going about his business. These devoted women had been to the sepulchre, and had there seen "the angel of the Lord," who had bidden them go quickly, and tell his disciples that he had risen from the dead, and would meet them in Galilee. So they hastened with all their might to tell the cheering tidings to the sorrowing followers of Jesus; "and as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them."
It is better to be actively working for Christ than to sit still, and read, and study, and hope to enjoy his company so. There must be alternations between the contemplative and the active life of a Christian. Sometimes, it is best to sit quietly with Mary, and leave Martha and the dishes alone; but, at another time, it is better to bestir yourself, and to run hither and thither with all the diligence of a Martha, for then Jesus will be most likely to meet with you. I notice - and I think that my observation is correct, - that my brethren and sisters who do most for Christ, know most about him, and have most fellowship with him. The Sabbath-school teacher, diligent in his class, and weary, perhaps, now that the Sabbath is well-nigh spent, yet rejoicing that he has set forth Christ before his class, is the one to whom the Lord will come and manifest himself. The man who has been in the street preaching, or going from door to door trying to speak for Christ by a tract or by his own voice, and all of you, indeed, who have done anything for your Lord and Master, are the most likely persons for him to meet with at this time.
I have known some, who have been for years members of churches, but who have never done anything for the Saviour; they are the kind of people who do not get on with my ministry long, they say that they are not able to feed upon it. They are generally wanderers who go about from one place to another looking for new light, and they never get to be very happy or very useful; nor do they often have much communion with Christ. No; our Lord is very choice in his company, and he does not frequent the house of the sluggard; but wherever there is one who spends and is spent for Jesus, there we may expect that Jesus will be. If we heartily serve him, the state of mind into which we shall be brought will be congenial to his own; fellowship will be likely between the labouring Saviour and his labouring servant. Follow the example of him who went about doing good, and you will thus be in sympathy with him, and you will find that he will come and walk with you because you two are agreed.
That is certainly one reason why Christ comes to those who are busy about his errands, because he is in agreement with them, and they are therefore travelling in the right road to meet with him. "If any man will not work, neither shall he eat," is a rule that Christ observes; and those who will not work for him get but scant morsels from him. Few of the bits my brother spoke of, that are dipped in the dish with Christ, come to those who never lift a hand to do him any service; but if he brings us into loving obedience, into joyful alacrity and sacred earnestness in doing his will, then it is that he will in all probability meet with us by the way, and manifest himself to us. Sit ye down, then, ye who have come to the end of another day of holy service; and just pray, "Jesus, Master, come and meet us now."
Oh, that you might feel as though he stood behind you, and looked over your shoulder, - as if the shadow of the Christ fell upon you, and you felt even now his pierced hand touching you; and that prostrate at his feet your spirit might lie, holding him by the feet and worshipping him!
I do not feel as if I needed to preach upon this subject; I want only to set you longing for larger and deeper communion with Christ, and aspiring after it, especially you to whom this Sabbath has been a day of service, from which service, perhaps, you have not as yet seen any good come. You have come from that field weary, - not weary of it, though weary in it, - for you are ready still to serve your Lord. Now, I want you to feel that Christ is here, and that he comes to commune with you.
II. So we advance a step to our second remark. When Jesus meets us, he has ever a good word for us: "Jesus met them, saying, All hail."
That is, first, a word of salutation, as if he had said, "Welcome, friends! Glad to see you, friends! All hail, my friends!" There is nothing cold and formal about that word; it seems full of the warmth of brotherly kindness and affectionate condescension. "All hail!" says our Lord to the women. "You are glad to see me, and I'am glad to see you. 'All hail!'" How much more sweet that sounds than that bitter sarcasm of the soldiers, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And yet it seems almost like an echo of it, as though Christ caught up the cruel word, crushed the bitterness out of it, and then gave it back to the holy women before him full of delicious sweetness. "All hail!" says he. "All hail!"
My dear Christian brother or sister, would you be glad to see the Saviour if he could be made visible to you? Yet you would not be so glad to see him as he would be to see you. He is very dear to you; but he is not so dear to you as you are to him. Out of two friends, the greater affection is always found in the one who has conferred the most favours, upon the other. I will not dare to compare for a moment the love which exists between you and Christ, for what have you ever done for him compared with what he has done for you? He loves you more than you can ever love him. Well, then, he says, "All hail! I am glad, my son, - I am glad, my brother, - I am glad, my friend, that thou hast come up to this place where my people meet. All hail! I welcome you."
Besides being a word of salutation, it is a word of benediction. Our Lord, by this expression, seems to say, "All health to you, - everything that can do you good - I wish for you every good thing." He speaks it to you, believer. "May you have the haleness, the wholeness, that makes holiness; and, so, may it be all well with you, - all hale with you!"
Then it is also a word of congratulation, for some render it, "Rejoice," and, indeed, that is the meaning of the term, "Let us joy and rejoice together." Jesus gives to you, beloved, this watchword as he meets you, "Rejoice." The children in your class are not yet all converted; nevertheless, rejoice in Christ. All in the congregation, about whom some of us are concerned, are not saved; nevertheless, let us rejoice in Christ. You yourself cannot run as quickly on your Lord's errands as you wish you could; nevertheless, rejoice in Christ Jesus, though you can have no confidence in the flesh. It is a blessed thing when it becomes a sacred duty to be glad. What man, to whom our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Rejoice," can have an excuse for misery? So, "All hail!" is a word of gratulation.
And according to some versions, it may be read, "Peace be unto you!" That is a word of pacification, - as though our Lord had said, "Ah! you women did not run away from me, as the men did; but, still, you were afraid and very timid; and though you were at the sepulchre, you went there trembling. You did not believe my word, or you scarcely believed it, - that I would rise from the dead, but I am not going to have any back reckonings with you. 'Peace be to you!'"
Now, dear friends, have you heard your Lord and Saviour say to you, "It is all forgiven - every omission and every commission, every slip and every fault, - all the lukewarmness, and all the coldness; it is all gone"? That is the meaning of the greeting, "All hail!" from the lips of Christ. "There is nothing between me and thee, dear heart, but Perfect peace and unbroken love. I rejoice to see thee; and I would have thee rejoice, and rest, and be quiet, for I have come near unto thee, to bless and cheer thee."
That is the second lesson I learn from the text. First, that, when we are runing on our Master's errands, we may hope that he will meet us; and, next, when he does meet us, we may expect that he will always have a good word for us.
III. Thirdly, When Jesus meets us, it behoves us to get as near to him as we can: "And they came and held him by the feet."
Note that they first stood still. They had been running quickly to carry the angel's message to the disciples, but at the sound of their Lord's voice they stopped, half out of breath, and they seemed to say by their looks, "It is indeed our blessed Master. It is the very same Lord whom we saw laid in the tomb, the best-beloved of our soul." Then, next, they approached him. They did not flee away backward at all, but they came right up to him, "and held him by the feet."
Now, dear friends, if Jesus is near to you, come closer still to him. If you feel that he is passing by, come near to him by an act of your will. Be all-alive and wide-awake; do not be half-asleep in your pew; but say, "If he is here, I will get to him. If he is anywhere about, I will speak with him, and beg him to speak to me." If ever our heart was active in all our lives, it ought to be active in the presence of Christ. And let us try to be all aglow with joy, for so were these women. They were delighted to behold their risen Lord, so they drew nearer to him; and, all intent with earnest, burning, all-conquering love, they came so close to him that they could grasp him, for they felt that they must adore him.
Now, beloved, let it be so with you and with me. Do not let us lose a single word that our Lord is ready to speak to us. If this be the time of his appearing to us, let him not come and find us asleep. If he be knocking at the door, if he be saying to us, "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled," let us not reply that we cannot leave the bed of sloth to let him in; but now, if ever in our lives, let us breathe a mighty prayer, "Come,O thou blessed One whose voice I know full well, and commune with me."
If Jacob held the angel whom he did not know, -if, as our hymn puts it, he said, -
"Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee;"
- let us much more say, -
"Come, O thou Traveller well-known,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see;
"I must have thy company. My spirit craves it, sighs for it, pines for it; I must have thee. I will hold thee. Leave me not, but reveal thyself to me now."
That is the third lesson we may learn from our text.
IV. And the fourth I have almost touched upon; I could not help it. It is this, When Jesus meets us, we should retain him, and worship him: "They came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him."
When Mary Magdalene first sought to hold her Lord, Jesus said to her, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father;" but now he permits what he had formerly forbidden: "They came and held him by the feet," - those blessed feet that the nails had held but days before. He had risen from the grave, and therefore a wondrous change had taken place in him, - but the wounds were there, still visible, and these women "held him by the feet." And, beloved, whenever you get your Lord Jesus near to you, do not let him go for any little trifle, - nay, nor yet even for a great thing; but say, with the spouse in the Canticles, "I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go."
The saints themselves will sometimes drive Christ away from those who love him; therefore the spouse said, "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please." Be jealous lest you lose him, when you have realized the joy, the rich delight, of having him in your soul!
You feel, at such a time as that, as if you scarcely dared to breathe, and you are so particular about your conduct that you would not venture to put one foot before the other without consulting him, lest even inadvertently you should cause him grief. Bow thus at his feet; be humble. Hold him by the feet; be bold, be affectionate. Grasp him, for though he is your God, he is also your Brother, bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh.
But take care that, in it all, you worship him: "They came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him." This is not the Socinians' christ; they cannot worship their saviour, for he is but a mere man. This is our Christ, "the Son of the Highest," "very God of very God," "God over all, blessed for ever." As we hold him by the feet, we feel a holy awe stealing over us, for the place whereon we stand is holy ground when he is there.
We hold him, but still we reverently bow before him, and feel like John in Patmos when he wrote, "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead." Well spoke one of old, to whom it was said, "Thou canst not see Christ, and live." "Then," replied the saint, "let me see him, and die." And we would say the same; for, whatever happens to us, we wish for a sight of him.
I have read of one who cried, under the overpowering weight of divine manifestations, "Hold, Lord! Hold! I am but an earthen vessel, and if thou dost fill me fuller, I must perish." Had I been in his place, I think I would not have spoken quite as he did, but I would have said, "Go on, Lord, with the blessed manifestation of thyself. Let the earthen vessel be broken if need be; it cannot possibly come to a better end than by being crushed and even annihilated by the majesty of thy glorious presence." At any rate, we will hold him, and worship him; the Lord help us to do so more and more!
V. The last remark I have to make is a practical one, which also comes out of our text. From such a meeting with Christ, we should go on a further errand for him: "Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee; and there shall they see me."
When we have such a meeting with Christ as these women had, let us go on some further errand for him, as soon as he permits us to do so. It is a very blessed thing to have fellowship with Christ, but it would be a very ill result of our communion with him if it led any one of us to say, "Now I shall not go back to my service any more. I shall not go to my class again. I might be provoked by the scholars; I might be careless there, and so I might lose the fellowship I am now enjoying with Jesus. I shall not go and preach again; I shall stop at home, and have communion with Christ all the day."
I knew one brother, who got into such a condition that he really thought that, to see the face of his people robbed him of fellowship with Christ. All the week long, he never saw anybody, for his fellowship with Christ, he said, was so intense that he could not bear to look upon mankind; and when the Sabbath came, and he had to meet with his people, he would, if he could, have preached out of a box so that they might hear his voice, and he might never see them.
Now, I do not think that such a spirit as that is at all right. Who is the man who can best bear witness for Christ, but the man who has been with him in secret and sacred fellowship? And what is a better return for Christ's wondrous grace to us than that we should consecrate ourselves to the holy task of showing forth his glory amongst our fellow-men?
There is a striking legend illustrating the blessedness of performing our duty at whatever cost to our own inclination. A monk had seen a beautiful vision of our Saviour, and in silent bliss he was gazing upon it. The hour arrived at which it was his duty to feed the poor at the convent-gate. He would fain have lingered in his cell to enjoy the vision; but under a sense of duty, he tore himself away from it to perform his humble service. When he returned, he found the blessed vision still waiting for him, and heard a voice saying, "Hadst thou stayed, I would have gone. As thou hast gone, I have remained."
So, dear friend, ask thyself, "Since Jesus is very precious to me, what more can I do for him? I was running to his disciples when he met me; so when he bids me go to them, I will run the faster that no time may be lost to the disciples before they also share the enjoyment with which my Master has indulged me. And when I get to them, I shall have more to tell them than I had before. I was going to tell them that I had seen the angel of the Lord; but I shall be able to tell them that I have seen the Lord himself, and I shall tell the message so much more brightly and powerfully now that I have had it confirmed from his own lips."
Those holy women were full of fear and joy, strangely mingled emotions, before; but now, surely fear must have taken to flight for Jesus had said to them, "Be not afraid;" and it must have been joy, and joy alone, with which these blessed women would break in upon the eleven, and say, "We have seen what is far better than a vision of angels, for we have seen the Master himself. We held him by the feet till we knew that it was really our Lord, we held him till we had worshipped him, and heard him say, 'Be not afraid;' and then he gave us a message from his own dear lips, and this is what he said to us, 'Tell my brethren that they go into Galilee; and there shall they see me.'"
Happy preacher, who, on his way to his pulpit, is interrupted by meeting his Master! Happy preacher, who has lost the thread of his discourse, for few discourses are worth much that have too much thread in them, but who has found something infinitely better than thread, - some links of sacred fire, - some chains of heavenly love, that go from end to end of the discourse, so that he tells what he knows, and testifies what he has seen, for men must give heed to such a witness. His countenance is all aglow with the light that shines from the face of Jesus; it is bright with the joy that fills the preacher's own soul, and those who listen to him say, "Would God we knew that joy!" and those that do share it say, "Yes, we know it," and they respond to it till hearts leap up to speak with hearts, and they sing together a chorus of praise unto him whom they unitedly love.
I wish it were so at this moment. I should like, dear friends, to be able to tell my message the better because of having met my Master; and I should like you to go out to the work and service of another week strengthened, and rendered mighty and wise for all you have to do, because Jesus has met you, and has said to you, "All hail," and you have held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
There I leave the subject with you. Perhaps some of you are saying, "We wish we could hold him by the feet." Ay, but in this blessed supper, which is spread upon the table, you have an outward emblem of how to hold him better than by the feet, for, in the eating of bread and the drinking of wine in memory of him, he sets forth to us how his whole self can be spiritually received into the innermost chambers of our being, - how he can come unto us, and sup with us, and we with him, - how he can dwell in us, and we can dwell in him. Not only the peace of God, but his very self, can now come, and abide in your very self, and there can be a union between you and him that never shall be broken. God grant that you may enjoy it even now!
But I know that some here present cannot understand what I have been talking about; it must have seemed like an idle tale to them. Ah, dear friends! and if we were to go into a stable, and were to talk to horses about the ordinary concerns of our home life, what would they know about it all? They understand about oats, and beans, and hay, and straw; but what can they know of the themes that interest intelligent human beings? So, there are some men in this world, of whom Dr. [Isaac] Watts truly says, -"Like brutes they live, like brutes they die."
They have no spiritual nature and they cannot therefore comprehend spiritual things. And as I might pity the horse because it is a stranger to mental enjoyments, so I would pity the unregenerate man who is a stranger to spiritual enjoyments. For, as much as the mind of man is above the living something that is within the brute, so much is the spirit of the believer above the ordinary mind of the unregenerate man. We have joys, the sweetness of which is such that honey is not to be compared with them; we have bliss, the like of which Solomon's wealth could not have purchased; and we have been introduced into a world which is as much fairer than this material universe as the sunlight is better than the darkest midnight of a dungeon. Oh, that you did all know it! May God, of his grace, give you his Spirit, create you anew, and breathe faith in Jesus into your soul! Then will you know the bliss of meeting with him, and of serving him.
God bless the Word, for Jesus' sake! Amen.
A sermon preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, ca. 1872. Slightly edited to remove inaccuracies..
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