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SECTION II. THE EYES OF THE DISCIPLES OPENED
Jesus showed Himself alive after His passion to His disciples in a body, for the first time, on the evening of His resurrection day. It was the fourth time He had made Himself visible since He rose from the dead. He had appeared in the morning first of all to Mary of Magdala. She had earned the honor thus conferred on her by her pre-eminent devotion. Of kindred spirit with Mary of Bethany, she had been foremost among the women who came to Joseph’s tomb to embalm the dead body of the Savior. Finding the grave empty, she wept bitter tears, because they had taken away her Lord, and she knew not where they had laid Him. Those tears, sure sign of deep true love, had not been unobserved of the Risen One. The sorrows of this faithful soul touched His tender heart, and brought Him to her side to comfort her. Turning round in distress from the sepulchre, she saw Him standing by, but knew Him not. “Jesus saith to her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, replies, Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary.”659659John xx. 15, 16. Startled with the familiar voice, she looks more attentively, and forthwith returns the benignant salutation with an expressive word of recognition, “Rabboni.” Thus “to holy tears, in lonely hours, Christ risen appears.”
The second appearance was vouchsafed to Peter. Concerning this private meeting between Jesus and His erring disciple we have no details: it is simply mentioned by Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians, and by Luke in his Gospel; but we can have no doubt at all as to its object. The Risen Master remembered Peter’s sin; He knew how troubled he was in mind on account of it; He desired without delay to let him know he was forgiven; and out of delicate consideration for the offender’s feelings He contrived to meet him for the first time after his fall, alone.
In the course of the day Jesus appeared, for the third time, to the two brethren who journeyed to Emmaus. Luke has given greater prominence to this third appearance than to any other in his narrative, probably because it was one of the most interesting of the anecdotes concerning the resurrection which he found in the collections out of which he compiled his Gospel. And, in truth, any thing more interesting than this beautiful story cannot well be imagined. How vividly is the whole situation of the disciples brought before us by the picture of the two friends walking along the way, and talking together of the things which had happened, the sufferings of Jesus three days ago, and the rumors just come to their ears concerning His resurrection; and as they talked, vibrating between despair and hope, now brooding disconsolately on the crucifixion of Him whom till then they had regarded as the Redeemer of Israel, anon wondering if it were possible that He could have risen again! Then how unspeakably pathetic the behavior of Jesus throughout this scene! By an artifice of love He assumes the incognito, and, joining the company of the two sorrowful men, asks them in a careless way what is the subject about which they are talking so sadly and seriously; and on receiving for reply a question expressive of surprise that even a stranger in Jerusalem should not know the things which have come to pass, again asks dryly and indifferently, “What things?” Having thereby drawn out of them their story, He proceeds in turn to show them that an intelligent reader of the Old Testament ought not to be surprised at such things happening to one whom they believed to be Christ, taking occasion to expound unto them “in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself,” without saying that it is of Himself He speaks. On the arrival of the travellers at the village whither the two brethren were bound, the unknown One assumes the air of a man who is going farther on, as it would not become a stranger to thrust himself into company uninvited; but receiving a pressing invitation, He accepts it, and at last the two brethren discover to their joy whom they have been entertaining unawares.
This appearing of Jesus to the two brethren by the way was a sort of prelude to that which He made on the evening of the same day in Jerusalem to the eleven, or rather the ten. As soon as they had discovered whom they had had for a guest, Cleopas and his companion set out from Emmaus to the Holy City, eager to tell the friends there the stirring news. And, behold, while they are in the very act of telling what things were done in the way, and how Jesus became known to them in the breaking of bread, Jesus Himself appeared in the midst of them, uttering the kindly salutation, “Peace be unto you!” He is come to do for the future apostles what He has already done for the two friends: to show Himself alive to them after His passion, and to open their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures, and see that, according to what had been written before of the Christ, it behooved Him to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.
While the general design of the two appearances is the same, we observe a difference in the order of procedure followed by Jesus. In the one case He opened the eyes of the understanding first, and the eyes of the body second; in the other, He reversed this order. In His colloquy with the two brethren He first showed them that the crucifixion and the rumored resurrection were in perfect accordance with Old Testament Scriptures, and then at the close made Himself visible to their bodily eyes as Jesus risen. In other words, He first taught them the true scriptural theory of Messiah’s earthly experience, and then He satisfied them as to the matter of fact. In the meeting at night with the ten, on the other hand, he disposed of the matter of fact first, and then took up the theory afterwards. He convinced His disciples, by showing them His hands and His feet, and by eating food, that He really was risen; and then He proceeded to show that the fact was only what they ought to have expected as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
In thus varying the order of revelation, Jesus was but adapting His procedure to the different circumstances of the persons with whom He had to deal. The two friends who journeyed to Emmaus did not notice any resemblance between the stranger who joined their company and their beloved Lord, of whom they had been thinking and speaking. “Their eyes were holden, that they should not know Him.”660660Luke xxiv. 16. The main cause of this, we believe, was sheer heaviness of heart. Sorrow made them unobserving. They were so engrossed with their own sad thoughts that they had no eyes for outward things. They did not take the trouble to look who it was that had come up with them; it would have made no difference though the stranger had been their own father. It is obvious how men in such a mood must be dealt with. They can get outward vision only by getting the inward eye first opened. The diseased mind must be healed, that they may be able to look at what is before them, and see it as it is. On this principle Jesus proceeded with the two brethren. He accommodated Himself to their humor, and led them on from despair to hope, and then the outward senses recovered their perceptive power, and told who the stranger was. “You have heard,” He said in effect, “a rumor that He who was crucified three days ago is risen. You regarded this rumor as an incredible story. But why should you? You believe Jesus to be the Christ. If He was the Christ, His rising again was to be expected as much as the passion, for both alike are foretold in the Scriptures which ye believe to be the Word of God.” These thoughts having taken hold of their minds, the hearts of the two brethren begin to burn with the kindling power of a new truth; the day-dawn of hope breaks on their spirit; they waken up as from an oppressive dream; they look outward, and, lo, the man who has been discoursing to them is Jesus Himself!
With the ten the case was different. When Jesus appeared in the midst of them, they were struck at once with the resemblance to their deceased Master. They had been listening to the story of Cleopas and his companion, and were in a more observing mood. But they could not believe that what they saw really was Jesus. They were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit — the ghost or spectre of the Crucified. The first thing to be done in this case, therefore, manifestly was to allay the fear awakened, and to convince the terrified disciples that the being who had suddenly appeared was no ghost, but a man: the very man He seemed to be, even Jesus Himself. Not till that has been done can any discourse be profitably held concerning the teaching of the Old Testament on the subject of Messiah’s earthly history. To that task accordingly Jesus forthwith addressed Himself, and only when it was successfully accomplished did He proceed to expound the true Messianic theory.
Something analogous to the difference we have pointed out in the experience of the two and the ten disciples in connection with belief in the resurrection may be found in the ways by which different Christians now are brought to faith. The evidences of Christianity are commonly divided into two great categories — the external and the internal; the one drawn from outward historical facts, the other from the adaptation of the gospel to man’s nature and needs. Both sorts of evidence are necessary to a perfect faith, just as both sorts of vision, the outward and the inward, were necessary to make the disciples thorough believers in the fact of the resurrection. But some begin with the one, some with the other. Some are convinced first that the gospel story is true, and then perhaps long after waken up to a sense of the importance and preciousness of the things which it relates. Others, again, are like Cleopas and his companion; so engrossed with their own thoughts as to be incapable of appreciating or seeing facts, requiring first to have the eyes of their understanding enlightened to see the beauty and the worthiness of the truth as it is in Jesus. They may at one time have had a kind of traditional faith in the facts as sufficiently well attested. But they have lost that faith, it may be not without regret. They are skeptics, and yet they are sad because they are so, and feel that it was better with them when, like others, they believed. Yet, though they attempt it, they cannot restore their faith by a study of mere external evidences. They read books dealing in such evidences, but they are not much impressed by them. Their eyes are holden, and they know not Christ coming to them in that outward way. But He reveals Himself to them in another manner. By hidden discourse with their spirits He conveys into their minds a powerful sense of the moral grandeur of the Christian faith, making them feel that, true or not, it is at least worthy to be true. Then their hearts begin to burn: they hope that what is so beautiful may turn out to be objectively true; the question of the external evidences assumes a new interest to their minds; they inquire, they read, they look; and, lo, they see Jesus revived, a true historical person for them: risen out of the grave of doubt to live for evermore the sun of their souls, more precious for the temporary loss; coming
“Apparelled in more precious habit,
More moving, delicate, and full of life,
Into the eye and prospect of their soul,”
than ever He did before they doubted.
From these remarks on the order of the two revelations made by Jesus to His disciples, — of Himself to the eye of their body, and of the scriptural doctrine of the Messiah to the eye of their mind, — we pass to consider the question, What did the latter revelation amount to? What was the precise effect of those expositions of Scripture with which the risen Christ favored His hearers? Did the disciples derive therefrom such an amount of light as to supersede the necessity of any further illumination? Had Jesus Himself done the work of the Spirit of Truth, whose advent He had promised before He suffered, and led them into all truth? Certainly not. The opening of the understanding which took place at this time did not by any means amount to a full spiritual enlightenment in Christian doctrine. The disciples did not yet comprehend the moral grounds of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection. Why He underwent these experiences they knew not; the words “ought” and “behooved” meant for them as yet nothing more than that, according to Old Testament prophecies rightly understood, the things which had happened might and should have been anticipated. They were in the same state of mind as that in which we can conceive the Jewish Christians to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews was addressed to have been after perusing the contents of that profound writing. These Christians were ill grounded in gospel truth: they saw not the glory of the gospel dispensation, nor its harmony with that which went before, and under which they had been themselves educated. In particular, the divine dignity of the Author of the Christian faith seemed to them incompatible with His earthly humiliation. Accordingly, the writer of the epistle set himself to prove that the divinity, the temporary humiliation, and the subsequent glorification of the Christ were all taught in the Old Testament Scriptures, quoting these liberally for that purpose in the early chapters of his epistle. He did, in fact, by his written expositions for his readers, what Jesus did by His oral expositions for His hearers. And what shall we say was the immediate effect of the writer’s argument on the minds of those who attentively perused it? This, we imagine, that the crude believer on laying down the book would be constrained to admit: “Well, he is right: these things are all written in the Scriptures of the Messiah; and therefore no one of them, not even the humiliation and suffering at which I stumble, can be a reason for rejecting Jesus as the Christ.” A very important result, yet a very elementary one. From the bare concession that the real life of Jesus corresponded to the ideal life of the Messiah as portrayed in the Old Testament, to the admiring, enthusiastic, and thoroughly intelligent appreciation of gospel truth exhibited by the writer himself in every page of his epistle, what a vast distance!
Not less was the distance between the state of mind of the disciples after Jesus had expounded to them the things in the law, and the prophets, and the psalms concerning Himself, and the state of enlightenment to which they attained as apostles after the advent of the Comforter. Now they knew the alphabet merely of the doctrine of Christ; then they had arrived at perfection, and were thoroughly initiated into the mystery of the gospel. Now a single ray of light was let into their dark minds; then the daylight of truth poured its full flood into their souls. Or we may express the difference in terms suggested by the narrative given by John of the events connected with this first appearance of the risen Jesus to His disciples. John relates, that, at a certain stage in the proceedings, Jesus breathed on the disciples, and said unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” We are not to understand that they then and there received the Spirit in the promised fulness. The breath was rather but a sign and earnest of what was to come. It was but an emblematic renewal of the promise, and a first installment of its fulfilment. It was but the little cloud like a man’s hand that portended a plenteous rain, or the first gentle puff of wind which precedes the mighty gale. Now they have the little breath of the Spirit’s influence, but not till Pentecost shall they feel the rushing wind. So great is the difference between now and then: between the spiritual enlightenment of the disciples on the first Christian Sabbath evening, and that of the apostles in after days.
It was but the day of small things with these disciples yet. The small things, however, were not to be despised; nor were they. What value the ten set on the light they had received we are not indeed told, but we may safely assume that their feelings were much of kin to those of the two brethren who journeyed towards Emmaus. Conversing together on the discourse of Jesus after His departure, they said one unto another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” The light they had got might be small, but it was new light, and it had all the heart-kindling, thought-stirring power of new truth. That conversation on the road formed a crisis in their spiritual history. It was the dawn of the gospel day; it was the little spark which kindles a great fire; it deposited in their minds a thought which was to form the germ or centre of a new system of belief; it took away the veil which had been upon their faces in the reading of the Old Testament, and was thus the first step in a process which was to issue in their beholding with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and in their being changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Lord the Spirit. Happy the man who has got even so far as these two disciples at this time!
Some disconsolate soul may say, Would that happiness were mine! For the comfort of such a forlorn brother, let us note the circumstances in which this new light arose for the disciples. Their hearts were set a-burning when they had become very dry and withered: hopeless, sick, and life-weary, through sorrow and disappointment. It is always so: the fuel must be dry that the spark may take hold. It was when the people of Israel complained, “Our bones are dried and our hope is lost, we are cut off for our parts,” that the word went forth: “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” So with these disciples of Jesus. It was when every particle of the sap of hope had been bleached out of them, and their faith had been reduced to this, “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel,” that their hearts were set burning by the kindling power of a new truth. So it has been in many an instance since then. The fire of hope has been kindled in the heart, never to be extinguished, just at the moment when men were settling down into despair; faith has been revived when a man seemed to himself to be an infidel; the light of truth has arisen to minds which had ceased to look for the dawn; the comfort of salvation has returned to souls which had begun to think that God’s mercy was clean gone for ever. “When the Son of man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?”
There is nothing strange in this. The truth is, the heart needs to be dried by trial before it can be made to burn. Till sorrow comes, human hearts do not catch the divine fire; there is too much of this world’s life-sap in them. That was what made the disciples so slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Their worldly ambition prevented them from learning the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom, and pride made them blind to the glory of the cross. Hence Jesus justly upbraided them for their unbelief and their mindless stupidity. Had their hearts been pure, they might have known beforehand what was to happen. As it was, they comprehended nothing till their Lord’s death had blighted their hope and blasted their ambition, and bitter sorrow had prepared them for receiving spiritual instruction.
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