“When Jesus was Risen”
“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” (Mark 16:9-14)
Many years ago, I read about an old woman, a believer, whose age began to take its toll on her, especially on her memory. At one time, she knew much of the Bible by heart. Eventually, only one precious, little portion stayed with her: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Soon, part of that slipped from her mind as well. She would be found often quietly repeating what she could of the text. Family and friends would hear her going over it again and again. —”That which I have committed unto Him.” Just before she slipped out into glory, her children noticed her lips moving, and they bent over to hear what she was saying. She was repeating just one word, “Him...Him...Him.” She had lost the whole Bible, but one word. Yet, she had the whole Bible in that one word, — “Him.” The Book of God is all about “Him.” We come together to worship “Him.” We must know, trust and love “Him.” Oh, may God the Holy Spirit set our hearts on “Him.”
This portion of Mark’s gospel is about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; but it is not the Holy Spirit’s intention here merely to prove the resurrection, or convince us of the doctrine of the resurrection. These things are written that we might know him who is himself “The Resurrection and the Life.” May God give us grace to know him and the power of his resurrection.
An Undeniable Fact
The first thing that strikes me in this paragraph is that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is an undeniable fact. That which is, in many ways, the most important and most significant fact revealed in Holy Scripture is an undeniable, irrefutable fact of history. This is a very important fact. If the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead could be disproved, everything else in the Bible must crumble to dust. — If there is no resurrection, there is no redemption, no atonement. — If there is no resurrection, there is no redemption, no forgiveness. — If there is no resurrection, there is no redemption, no salvation. — If there is no resurrection, there is no redemption, no gospel, no hope, we are yet in our sins; and we are of all men most miserable!
In these six verses the Holy Spirit tells us three of the occasions when the risen Lord appeared to men. Mark mentions only three of Christ’s post resurrection appearances, though there were several others. The risen Savior appeared first to Mary Magdalene, then to the two disciples on the Emmaus road and, third, to the eleven apostles.
This is a great mercy to us. Our Lord Jesus made his resurrection from the dead a thoroughly established, undeniable fact of history. This fact is a matter of great mercy, because, as I have already asserted, everything we believe, everything revealed in the gospel stands or falls with the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection was the crowning proof of Christ’s having put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, the seal of our redemption, the receipt of our justification, and God’s public declaration of his Son’s exaltation and glory. The Scriptures constantly lay great importance upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-4; 4:25; 8:34; Ephesians 2:4-6; Hebrews 13:20-21; 1 Peter 1:3).
The multiplied witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection are simply irrefutable (Mark 16:9 and John 20:16-18 — Matthew 28:5-10 — Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5 — Luke 24:31; John 20:6 — John 21:1 — 1 Corinthians 15:6 — 1 Corinthians 15:7 — Matthew 28:16-17 — Mark 16:14-15 — Luke 24:44 and Acts 1:4 — Acts 1:3-8 — Luke 24:50 and Acts 1:9-12 — Acts 9:5 and 1 Corinthians 15:8). Our Lord Jesus Christ has not only died for our sins, he has risen up from the dead and reigns in glory upon the throne of universal monarchy to give life and salvation to those for whom he died. — “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living” (Romans 14:9).
An Unqualified Forgiveness
The second thing that strikes me in this passage is the fact that our Lord’s forgiveness of sin is an unqualified forgiveness. Certainly this is evident in the heart of every sinner who has experienced it. It is evident in his many gracious displays of grace and forgiveness that are recorded in Holy Scripture; but there is no better picture of forgiveness than that which we have before us in the Lord’s dealings with “Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”
The Lord Jesus did not first appear to his mother Mary, or to John the Beloved. No. “He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” This seems to be written here by the finger of God as a remarkable fact, full of instruction.
Here the Holy Spirit shows us by example that which we are taught throughout the Scriptures. — Salvation is a matter of absolute, free, unconditional grace. Because salvation is, in its entirety, a matter of free grace, in no way conditioned or dependent upon us, and in no way determined by us, all who are saved by grace stand upon an equal footing before God. In Christ there is no difference between saved virgins and saved harlots, saved scholars and saved sots, saved Pharisees and saved prostitutes, or saved princes and saved paupers!
Truly, “God is no respecter of persons.” In Christ we are all equal. The last is first and the first is last. All God’s elect are forgiven of all sin. We all possess perfect righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. We all have all grace. — Christ is all in all who believe. As we read in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31, — “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
The fact that our Lord Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene also teaches us that God honors those who honor him (1 Samuel 2:30). Mary had anointed the Lord for his burial in anticipation of his resurrection. Mary was the last one to confess Christ when he was alive and the first to honor him when he died. Mary was the last one at the cross and the first one at the tomb. And Mary was the first one to see the risen Lord.
Our Lord appeared first to Mary to teach us that He is distinctly the Savior of poor, needy sinners. Christ came into the world to save sinners; and when he saves sinners, he well saves them. He makes great saints out of great sinners. Those who were once filled with seven devils, he fills with “the seven Spirits of God,” that is with all the fulness of his Spirit. Those who were once far off, he brings nigh. Those who were the filth and off-scouring of the earth, he makes to be the sons of God. Those who once sat as beggars in the dung heap of fallen humanity, he lifts by his grace and sets them among princes. And our sins and iniquities he remembers no more (Romans 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
An Unparalleled Friend
The third thing that strikes me in this passage is the fact that Our Lord Jesus Christ is an unparalleled friend. Truly, he who is the Friend of publicans and sinners is the “Friend who sticketh closer than a brother!” How manifestly evident this is in our Lord’s dealings with his unbelieving, hard-hearted disciples.
Three times Mark describes the unbelief of the Lord’s disciples (Including himself!). The Lord appeared first to Mary; but no one believed her report. Then, he appeared to the two disciples on the Emmaus road; but no one believed them either. At last, he appeared to the eleven apostles in person and upbraided them for their unbelief.
How we rejoice to know that God’s salvation is an irreversible act of grace (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Our Lord rebukes and chastens his erring children to correct them from the error of their way; but he never forsakes them. Our salvation no more depends on us after conversion than it did before. We are “kept by the power of God through faith;” and the faith is itself the gift of God. Yes, we must persevere in faith; and all who are born of God shall; but we persevere only because we are preserved in Christ Jesus!
We are here reminded again that God’s saints in this world are sinners still. Frequently the Holy Spirit shows us this by example and by precept; but the surest proof of it is our own painful and bitter experience. There is much sin in the best of saints. There is great weakness in the strongest of God’s people. There is great corruption in the most upright. And there is great unbelief in the strongest believer. Our God would make us ever aware of these things, so that we might not despair of ourselves, and that we might be patient with our brethren (1 Corinthians 15:10).
It is ever the glory of our God to bring good out of evil. The terrible, strong doubt and unbelief of these disciples is itself a validation to the truthfulness of their testimony, once they were convinced (Psalm 76:10).
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