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John 20:1-9

1. Now, on;he first day of the week, 193193     “Or le premier (des join’s) du Sabbath, ou, le premier jour de la semaine;”Now, the first (of the days) of the Sabbath, or, the first day of the week.” Mary Magdelene goeth early to the sepulcher, while it was, yet dark, and seeth the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. 2. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him. 3. Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and came to the sepulcher. 4. And they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5. And, stooping down, he saw the linen clothes lying; yet he went not in. 6. Then Simon Peter came following him, and entered into the sepulcher, and saw the linen clothes lying; 7. And the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8. Then the other disciple, who came first to the sepulcher, went in also, and he saw and believed. 9. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that tie must must rise from the dead.

 

1. Now, on the first day of the week. As the resurrection of Christ is the most important article of our faith, and without it the hope of eternal life is extinguished, for this reason the Evangelists are the more careful to prove it, as John here collects many proofs, in order to assure us that Christ is risen from the dead. It may be thought strange, however, that he does not produce more competent witnesses; for he begins with a woman; but thus the saying is fulfilled, that

God chooseth what is weak, and foolish, and contemptible in the world, that he may bring to nought the wisdom, and excellence, and glory, of the flesh,
(1 Corinthians 1:27.)

There certainly was nothing more of earthly grandeur in the disciples than in the women who followed Christ; but as Christ was pleased to reckon them the principal witnesses of his resurrection, on this single ground their testimony is entitled to the greatest deference, and is not liable to any objection. As to the priests, and scribes, and the whole people, and even Pilate, nothing but gross and wilful blindness prevented them from firmly believing that Christ was risen. All of them, therefore, deserved that seeing they should not see; yet Christ revealed himself to the little flock.

Before proceeding farther, however, it is necessary to show how the Evangelists agree with each other; for, at first sight, there appears to be some contradiction in their words. John mentions but one woman, Mary Magdalene; Matthew 28:1 mentions two, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary; Mark 16:1 mentions three, Mary Magdalene, and Mary (the mother) of James, and Salome; Luke 24:10, 22 does not fix the number, but only relates that women came, who had followed Christ from Galilee. But the difficulty is easily solved in this manner. As Matthew inserts the names of two women who were best known, and had the highest reputation among the disciples, so John satisfies himself with mentioning the name of Mary Magdalene alone, but yet does not exclude the others; and, indeed, it is evident, from viewing his words in their connection, that she was not alone, for, shortly afterwards, Mary Magdalene says, in the plural number, WE know not where they have laid him. Although, therefore, John says nothing about her companions, yet the other Evangelists, who relate that there were many along with her, say nothing that is contradicted by John’s narrative.

The discrepancy as to the time may be easily solved. When John says that they came before daybreak, we must understand, that they had set out on their journey during the darkness of the night; that, before they came to the sepulcher, the day had dawned; and that in the evening, after sunset, when the Sabbath was ended, they had bought the spices; and thus the narrative of the other Evangelists must be reconciled.

It may be thought that there is another appearance of contradiction in its being stated by John, that Mary spoke to none but himself and Peter, while Luke 24:10, 11 relates, that she came to the eleven Apostles, and that her words appeared to them to be idle tales. But this is easily explained, for John intentionally passed by the rest of the Apostles, because it was only himself and Peter that came to the sepulcher. As to Luke mentioning Peter alone, it is for the same reason as we have just now assigned in reference to Mary Megdalene and the rest of the women. It is also probable, that the other nine disciples were restrained by fear, lest they should be too easily observed if they went in a body. Nor is this inconsistent with what Luke appears to suggest, that they despised Mary’s words; for immediately afterwards he adds, that Peter ran, (Luke 24:12.) He therefore means simply that, when they first heard it, they appeared to be astonished, but that at length Peter took courage, and followed her for the purpose of seeing.

When Luke relates that Christ appeared to Mary before that she had informed the disciples that the grave was empty, the order of the narrative is inverted. This is evident from the context, for he adds what, John tells us, happened before she saw Jesus; nor is there any thing strange in this, for the Hebrew writers frequently relate first what is later in the order of time.

On the first day of the week; or, literally, on the first day of the Sabbaths. The Evangelists do not relate when or how Christ rose; for it was enough for them to explain at what time, and to what persons, his resurrection was made known. John therefore says, that Mary came on the first day of the Sabbaths. Literally, the words may be rendered, on One (μιᾷ) day of the Sabbaths; but it is customary with the Hebrews to use the word אהד (ehad) one, instead of first, because in reckoning we begin with one. Now as every seventh day was dedicated to rest, they called the whole week a Sabbath conferring this honor on the sacredness of the day, that the rest of the time was named from it. The women, therefore, came to the sepulcher on the day after the Sabbath, having on the same day (but after sunset) bought spices; and afterwards went out of the city secretly, and during the darkness of the night, as people are wont to do when they are afraid. Now, it was the first day of the Sabbaths, with respect to the following Sabbath, because it was the commencement of the week, of which the Sabbath was the close.

3. Peter therefore went forth. There being so little faith, or rather almost no faith, both in the disciples and in the women, it is astonishing that they had so great zeal; and, indeed, it is not possible that religious feelings led them to seek Christ. Some seed of faith, therefore, remained in their hearts, but quenched for a time, so that they were not aware of having what they had. Thus the Spirit of God often works in the elect in a secret manner. In short, we must believe that there was some concealed root, from which we see fruit produced. Though this feeling of piety, which they possessed, was confused, and was accompanied by much superstition, still I give to it — though inaccurately — the name of faith, because it was only by the doctrine of the Gospel that it was produced, and it had no tendency but towards Christ. From this seed there at length sprang a true and sincere faith, which, leaving the sepulcher, ascended to the heavenly glory of Christ.

When Scripture speaks of the feeble beginnings of faith, it says that Christ is born in us, and that we, on the other hand, are born in him; but the disciples must be placed almost below infancy, for they are ignorant of the resurrection of Christ, but yet the Lord nourishes them as a mother nourishes the child that is contained in her womb. Formerly they resembled children, and had made a little progress, but the death of Christ had rendered them so weak, that they must be again begotten and formed, as Paul says of the Galatians,

My little children, of whom I Travail In Birth again until Christ Be Formed in you,
(Galatians 4:19.)

When we find that Peter, though he made less haste, is the first to enter into the sepulcher, let us learn from it that many persons have more given to them in the end than appears at the beginning. And, indeed, we sometimes see many, who were full of fervour at the commencement, give way when they come to the conflict; while others, who appeared to be slow and indolent, assume new courage when danger is at hand.

5. And seeth the linen clothes lying. The linen clothes might be regarded as the spoils, intended to lead to the belief of Christ’s resurrection; for it was not probable that his body had been stripped naked, in order that it might be removed to another place. This would not have been done by a friend, nor even by an enemy.

7. And the napkin which was about his head. When the Evangelist says, that a napkin was wrapped about his head, this refutes the falsehood of the Papists, who pretend that the whole body was sewed up in one linen garment, which they hold out to the wretched populace, calling it “the holy winding-sheet.” 194194     “L’appelant le sainct suaire.” I say nothing about their gross ignorance of the Latin language, which led them to suppose that the word napkindenoting what was used for wiping the sweat from the face, such as a handkerchief 195195     “Comme pourroit estre un couvre-chef.” signified a covering for the whole body; nor do I say any thing about their impudence in boasting that they have this very napkin in five or six different places. But this gross falsehood is intolerable, because it openly contradicts the evangelical history. To this is added a fabulous miracle, which they have contrived, to this effect, that the likeness of Christ’s body continued to be visible in the linen cloth. I appeal to you, if such a miracle had been wrought, would nothing have been said about it by the Evangelist, who is so careful to relate events which were not of so great importance? Let us be satisfied with this simple view of the matter, that Christ, by laying aside the tokens of death, intended to testify that he had clothed himself with a blessed and immortal life.

8. And he saw and believed. It is a poor exposition which some give of these words, that John believed what he had heard Mary say, namely, that Christ’s body had been carried away; for there is no passage in which the word believe bears this meaning, especially when it is used simply and without any addition. Nor is this inconsistent with the fact, that Peter and John return home, while they are still in doubt and perplexity; for in some passages John had employed this phraseology, when lie intended to describe the increase of faith. Besides, Luke 24:12 relates that Peter wondered at seeing the sepulcher in such good order; meaning by this, that Peter thought of something greater and loftier than what Mary had told him.

9. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. They had often heard from the mouth of Christ what they now saw with their eyes, but this flowed from their hearts. Being now warned by the sight of a strange spectacle, they begin to think of Christ as having something Divine, though they are still far from having a clear and accurate knowledge of him. John, therefore, accuses himself, when he acknowledges that the first time that he believed was, when he beheld the proofs of Christ’s resurrection.

Besides, he represents more strongly his own guilt and that of his brethren, by adding, that they not only had forgotten the words of Christ, but that they did not believe the Scriptures; for to this ignorance he ascribes the deficiency of their faith. Hence, too, we may draw a useful instruction, that we ought, to ascribe it to our carelessness, when we are ignorant of what we ought to know about Christ, because we have not profited as we ought to have done by the Scriptures, which clearly reveal the excellence of Christ.

Not to go farther for an instance of this, it may be thought that the resurrection of Christ is taught in them obscurely, and only under figures; but the attentive reader will find abundantly clear testimonies. Paul proves (Acts 13:34) that Christ must have risen from the dead, because God declares by the prophet Isaiah, (Isaiah 55:3) that, under his reign, the mercy promised to David would be sure. An unskilful person might imagine that what Paul quotes is not at all to the purpose; but they who believe the principles of fkith, and are well acquainted with the Scriptures, have no difficulty in perceiving the force of this argument; for, in order theft Christ may secure to us for ever the grace of God, Christ himself; must live for ever.

There are many passages of the same kind, which it is not, now necessary to collect. Let us therefore rest satisfied with the three following. It is written,

Thou wilt not permit thy Holy One to see corruption,
(Psalm 16:10.)

Peter and Paul explain this prediction as referring to Christ, (Acts 2:27, and Acts 13:35,) and justly; for there is not one of all the sons of Adam who is not of himself liable to corruption. Consequently, the immortality of Christ is there declared. It is likewise beyond all doubt that the following passage refers to Christ,

The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool, (Psalm 110:1.)

Now, death will not be destroyed till the last day. The kingdom is titan given to Christ till the end of the world, and this kingdom cannot exist without his life. But Isaiah speaks more clearly than all the rest when, after having foretold the death of Christ, he immediately adds, that it impossible to declare his age, (Isaiah 53:8.) In short we ought to believe that the doctrine of Scripture is so full and complete in every respect that whatever is defective in our faith ought justly to be attributed to ignorance of the Scriptures.


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