THE LIFE OF JESUS
by J. R. Miller
THE GOSPEL OF THE INFANCY
We look for the glory of the life of Jesus, in His manhood's years. Then He wrought great miracles, revealing His divine power. Then He spoke His wonderful words which have touched the world with their influence of blessing. Then He went about doing good, showing the love of God in all His common life, and on His Cross. We do not turn to the infancy of Jesus for supernatural revealings. The apocryphal Gospels have their stories of infant prodigies—but we do not accept these, and are careful to say that Jesus wrought no miracles and showed no revealings of deity—until He had been anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Yet in no portion of the life of Jesus Christ, is there really greater glory than in His birth. Nothing showed more love for sinners—than His condescending to be born. We should say that the heart of the gospel was the Cross—but the first act of redemption was the Incarnation, when the Son of God emptied Himself of His divine attributes and entered human life in all the feebleness and helplessness of infancy. In its revealing of love and grace, the cradle of Jesus is as marvelous as His Cross.
It is impossible to sum up the blessings of this holy infancy. Childhood everywhere is exalted by it. Something of the light of the manger shines now about every child's cradle. Wonderful has been the ministry even of the pictures of the infant Jesus. Where the story of the birth of Christ is known—the world becomes a safer place for all children; hearts are gentler and truer, and the air is sweeter where the Christmas message is told. Since Christ, the Son of God, was born the Son of Mary, all infancy is sacred in a sense.
We should learn to revere childhood. The home to which a baby has come, is a sacred place. The parents who fail to understand the blessing that has come to them in their little one, are missing a revelation as glorious as the burning bush, before which Moses was bidden to take off his shoes.
We wonder at the strange reception Jesus had in this world. We would have thought that He would be welcomed enthusiastically. But He came almost unobserved. Some lowly shepherds, learning through an angelic vision of what had happened, came in to see the wonderful Child. But that was all. The great event made no stir in Jerusalem. "His own received Him not."
But one day Jerusalem was startled by the coming of a delegation of wise men from the far East. They spoke of a King who had been born in the country of the Jews. Neither Herod nor the rulers had any thought of such an event in their midst. The world does not recognize its true royalty.
Tradition says they were kings who came. They certainly were thoughtful men—reverent, devout, sincere seekers after that which is good and true. They were men of character; they were also rich, for they came laden with treasures—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Yet they bowed down to this Child King, whom they found in lowly circumstances, giving Him highest honor, and laying their gifts at His feet. Even this incident, however, made no lasting impression.
The people were indifferent. None of them followed the Magi to worship their King. The only result was the tragedy of Bethlehem—the slaying of the little children, in Herod's jealous plot to destroy the new-born King.
So it is always. Jesus divides men. Many turn from the glory of His life with indifference. They ignore Him. They laugh at the adoring of His friends and their faith in Him. They see no beauty in Him.
Yet always there are those who see in Jesus, the King of glory. They are drawn to Him in love, which becomes a very fire in their hearts. They stop at no cost or sacrifice in following and serving Him. They bring Him their best treasures—not money—but the gold, frankincense and myrrh of their hearts.
Christ never disappoints any who are drawn to Him in adoration and devotion. Visions of beauty and blessing in Him never fade out. Every hope in Him is realized. None who ever turn to Him in need and heart-hunger, will fail to be satisfied. Every promise that He gives, becomes a glorious reality to those who accept it.
THE MOTHER AND THE CHILD
The picture of the Virgin Mother and the Holy Child has wrought itself inextricably into the life of Christendom. It is a blessed evangel wherever it is seen— sweetening homes, softening hearts, inspiring heavenly aspirations. But in the light of the story of Jesus Christ every mother and child have a deep interest to all true-hearted people. To the reverent mind, motherhood is always sacred. It stands near to God. When a little child is laid in the arms of a mother, a holy trust is committed to her, an immortal life in its first beginnings, which she is to train and make ready for its mission.
It was a holy trust indeed that was committed to Mary, when she was chosen to be the mother of the Redeemer. It behooved her to be holy in her own person and diligent in her care of her child. But scarcely less serious—is the responsibility of every mother. She does not know for what lofty mission her child has been born. Her hand must never slacken, nor must she fail God in her duty as a mother, else she may wreck a divine plan for a life.
Great is a mother's joy as she sees her child grow up in purity and strength—the answer to her prayers, the fruit of her faithfulness. Ofttimes, too, sorrow falls to the lot of motherhood. When Mary presented her Child to God in the Temple, she was granted a vision of His future greatness—but she was shown a vision also of a day when she should stand by His Cross—her own heart pierced by the nails that pierced His hands and feet.
The veil is not lifted to reveal to other mothers, what experiences their children may meet, yet there are few mothers whose love does not bring them grief as well as joy. There is always pain in the responsibility of motherhood, in love's solicitudes. Many times, too, is there sorrow over the failure of bright dreams. Sometimes it is suffering in her children, which makes the mother stand pale and with anguished heart beside them. Or it may be their early death that is the cause of her grief. Motherhood never misses pain. But pain enriches. Only the mother who suffers—learns love's holiest secrets.
THE WATCHFULNESS OF GOD
Does God watch over the lives of little children on the earth? Does He keep guard over imperiled infancy? The story of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt answers the question in the case of one infant life. It was a flight divinely ordered and directed. The Child Jesus was in danger. There was no human way of escape. He who had come to earth to be the Redeemer of men, was about to be slain in His cradle! Then Heaven interfered for His deliverance. An angel came to Joseph, bidding him hasten away because the life of the Child was in peril. Instantly the command was obeyed, and when Herod's soldiers came, the Child they were sent to destroy, was safe beyond their reach.
The Child Jesus was unique in the world's history—but the same providence that watched over His infancy, watches over the infancy of every child. To our eyes, evil seems to strike where it pleases. Weakness appears to have no defense against strength. Pestilence knows no distinction when it comes into a community—but enters the homes of the evil and the good with like impunity. But Heaven is ever watching. There are lives no pestilence can touch. There is a wall
of protection about them which nothing can pass. The child who has a mission for God in the future, cannot be stricken in his cradle!
Only one thing need concern us—the doing of our duty, hour by hour, as it comes to us. We have nothing whatever to do with the keeping of our own lives. We never need to ask whether a certain way is safe for us. Absolutely the only question we need to ask is—what God would have us to do. His way is the safe way, though it be through a thousand perils. If we listen for the divine voice, and then follow it without question, we shall ever be under the wings of God.
The legends tell of the way the Holy Family were led, protected and provided for, in the flight to Egypt. We call these apocryphal stories. But no matter. Heaven was really open over these peasant travelers all the way. So heaven is open over everyone who seeks safety and care, in obedience to the divine command.
We are apt to think that, as a child, Jesus must have been different from other children. When we remember that He was the Son of God, it seems to us that there must have been divine revealings even in His infancy. The apocryphal Gospels make the story of Christ's boyhood, a "blaze of miracle." But in their efforts to show His divine character, they give us a most undivine portraiture. The Child Jesus, as they depict Him, is cruel, vindictive, smiting down other children that resist His desires. His bearing is harsh and ungentle. He is mischievous and domineering.
Altogether different, however, is the portraiture of the childhood of Jesus given in the Gospels. He grew up among other children, with nothing in Him to set Him apart from them. He was not precocious—but learned His lessons by hard study, just as they did. He was humble and simple in His manner, obedient to His parents, gentle to all about Him, sweet and beautiful in His disposition. He was the Son of God—but the divine glory in Him was revealed in a perfectly natural human childhood.
We may think of the influences amid which this Holy Child grew up. His home life was pure and gentle, with an atmosphere of love and prayer. Nazareth was like a garden in its beauty. The village, nestling within a circlet of hills, has been described as "like a handful of pearls in a goblet of emeralds."
We know that in one sense, the Child Jesus was different from other children—He was sinless. This means that He lived a life of communion with God from His earliest years. But this did not make Him unnatural or unwholesome in His life—it only made Him the sweeter. Love always ruled in Him. He was gentle and thoughtful, never unkind, severe, censorious. His sinlessness did not make Him a prodigy among His playmates. The divine in Him, was revealed in the graces which everywhere are recognized as the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Artists seek to put the most marvelous beauty into the face of the Child Jesus. No doubt He was beautiful. The heart makes the face, and the perfect love and grace that dwelt in Him—must have made His countenance altogether lovely.
THE YOUTH OF JESUS CHRIST
Although it is so little, enough is told us of the youth of Jesus Christ, to enable us to fill out a very beautiful picture. One of the charms of childhood, is its continual unfolding, as when a rosebud opens, little by little—until the full-blown rose delights us. The growth of Jesus was not abnormal—but natural. It was not in piety alone that He grew—but physically, as well. He "grew strong," and "advanced in stature." He also became "filled with wisdom," which means that He was a diligent learner. We are told also that "the grace of God was upon Him," and that He "advanced ... in favor with God and men." This means that His life grew more and more beautiful and lovable continually.
A single word gives us another glimpse of His youth—the "carpenter." He worked at a trade until He dropped His tools to begin His public ministry. It means a great deal to a tired man, as he reads the story, to be able to say,
"Yes, yes, a carpenter—same trade as mine,
It warms my heart as I read that line.
I can stand the hard work, I can stand the poor pay.
For I'll see that Carpenter at no distant day."
Another thing about the youth of Jesus, is that He found the sphere for His glorious life with all its powers, in life's common duties. We might think that being the Son of God, He would be exempt from the tasks of ordinary childhood. But He differed in no sense in this respect from other children. At His first visit to the temple, He seems to have become fully aware of His relation to the heavenly Father. But with this new glory in His heart, He went back to His peasant home with His mother and Joseph and was subject to them. He found His "Father's business" in the obediences, obligations and tasks of His lowly station.
The youth of Jesus teaches that the truest and divinest life, is the one that in its place, high or low, does best the will of God. Browning tells of an angel who took the place of a discontented boy, and did his lowly task-work.
"He did God's will—to Him all one,
If on the earth—or in the sun."
The labor of Jesus, teaches us that the life of the carpenter's apprentice, is as holy as the ministry of a radiant angel about God's throne.
THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS
The Cross did not come to Jesus as a surprise—its shadow rested on Him in the brightest, busiest days. There was no hour when He did not see what the end would be. Other men are born to live—Jesus was born to die. Other men look forward to a goal of splendid success in the world—great achievements, worthy attainments, power, position, honor—the goal of Jesus was His Cross.
In His earliest infancy, the shadow of the Cross fell over Him. He was saved from death, only by flight into Egypt. When John the Baptist pointed Him out to his friends as the Messiah, he spoke of Him as the Lamb of God, the Lamb of Sacrifice.
In His teaching, Jesus revealed from the first, His appointment to death. One of the earliest incidents of His public life was His conversation with Nicodemus, to whom He said that the Son of Man must be lifted up, that is, on His Cross, that all might see Him and believe. He told the people, too, that they would destroy the temple, meaning His body. When Peter, speaking for all the disciples, said that He was the Christ, thinking, however, of a glorious earthly royalty, Jesus began at once to say that He must suffer many things and must be killed. This was His own interpretation of the Messiahship which His disciples had so nobly confessed.
When two of His followers, dreaming of the brilliant court of the great King that they supposed their Master about to become, asked first places in His kingdom. He spoke to them of a "cup of suffering" He must drink, and a "baptism" with which He must be baptized, and asked them if they were ready for such a course as His must be. When a feast was given in His honor and a woman anointed Him, He said she had done it for His burial. When He would give His friends a memorial of His love, it was not His wonderful teachings, nor His great miracles that He asked them to remember—but that He had given Himself for them.
Thus from the infancy to the close, the shadow of the Cross rested upon the soul of Jesus. Yet it did not sadden Him. Never a sunnier-hearted man lived, than He. He knew the meaning of the Cross, that it would make redemption for sinners, so He went to it with joy, singing a hymn as He left the upper room for the garden of Gethsemane.
"NOT DEAD—BUT SLEEPING"
This is a charming story. Probably Jairus had not sought to know Jesus hitherto. Probably he would not have sought Him now—but for his distress. Trouble turns to Christ, many a heart that otherwise would never have gone to Him. This little girl was the father's only child. That made her dearer. She was now at the point of death. That made the case most urgent.
Jairus believed that if only Jesus would come and lay His hands on her, that she would live. The Master responded instantly, and He set out with the anxious father. But there was an interruption. As they were pressing their way through the crowd, a poor woman reached out her hand and touched the Master's garment. We might think that Jesus would not have allowed Himself to be detained for a moment, even by another case of need—but He lingered to help the woman.
When He was ready to go on, a messenger came and said to the ruler, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any more?" When death comes, all is over. But Jesus said quietly to the father, "Fear not, only believe." It is never too late for Him to help. So they went on to the house.
Already the professional mourners were in charge, making their noisy clamor. Jesus sought to quiet the tumult—but the mourners paid no heed to His words, only laughed at Him. The world still laughs at the hope of immortality. Then He exercised His authority and bade them all leave the room. Only the parents and three of His own disciples, did He permit to be with Him. Only love and faith could be admitted to a scene of such solemnity and awe. Besides, it was fitting that when the little girl awoke, she should not be embarrassed by the presence of a crowd in her room.
The manner of working the miracle was beautiful. The Master had a most tender love for children, and this was a child. He did not merely call her—but took her hand, and then said, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" There was no delay, no slow returning of the life. Instantly the child rose up, and walked. Either their great joy at having their daughter back again, or their feeling of awe at what had taken place, caused the parents to forget the child's need, until Jesus bade them give her something to eat.
"LORD, SAVE ME!"
Those who was one of the strangest nights of our Lord's life. In the evening He sent the disciples out upon the sea alone. Then He went up into the mountain and spent the night with His Father. A storm came on, and the little boat was wildly tossed in the waves. From His place of prayer, Jesus kept His eye on His disciples. He saw them distressed in rowing, and around three in the morning, He came to them walking on the water.
Then it was that Peter called to Jesus, "Bid me to come unto You upon the waters." It was just like Peter, loving and eager—but impetuous and rash. Still, the Master said "Come!" and instantly the disciple stepped out from the boat. While he kept his eye on his Master, he walked on the water as if it were a solid pavement. But for a moment he saw the waves, and at once began to sink.
In his despair he cried, "Lord, save me!" and immediately Jesus reached out His hand and lifted him out of the waters. But while He was rescuing him, He said, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" The words show that Peter need not have sunk into the sea. He could have continued to walk on the water as he began. Jesus had bidden him to come, and the bidding implied ability to do it.
Nothing is impossible to faith. A good man said, "Doing what can't be done—is the glory of Christian living." Anybody can do the things that can be done—but it is the privilege of the Christian—to do what cannot be done. It was a prayer of Augustine's, "Command what You will—then give what You command." It is only the littleness of our faith that causes our achieving to fall below what our Master expects of us.
Though Peter's peril was caused by his own fear, the Master did not disregard his cry. He is patient with our failures, pitiful with our weaknesses, and His love never wearies in delivering us. But why should our faith be so small? The Strong One is ever beside us. When we are doing what He has bidden us to do, when we are in a place to which He has sent us—we need never fear nor falter; we cannot fail but through the failure of our own faith.
THE TEACHER BY THE SEA
Jesus loved the Sea of Galilee. It is only a small lake, and yet no other body of water on the earth is so sacred. It is associated with many holy memories of our Lord's life. He wrought many of His miracles along its shores. He often sailed upon its waters with His disciples. Several times He was in the storms that are so frequent on the Lake, and by His word quieted the winds and calmed the raging waves.
Many of Christ's wonderful words were spoken by this Sea. Sometimes He would sit in a fishing-boat, anchored a little way from the land, and speak to the people on the shore. He was a wonderful teacher. He was the Son of God.
"No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father's side—He has revealed Him." John 1:18. Jesus revealed God in His teaching. He was called 'the Word'. A word reveals. The world could not find out God by any of its own searchings—but Jesus revealed Him. He was God Himself, speaking to men.
Not in His teachings only, did He make God known—but also in His life. People saw the heart of God—in Christ's life of purity, gentleness, kindness, compassion and mercy. He said, "He who has seen Me—has seen the Father."
Other men have taught beautiful lessons, and inculcated a lofty morality—but in their own lives have failed to exemplify their teachings. Every word that Jesus spoke, was a beam of light shining out in His own character. Other great teachers declare the truth—Jesus Himself was the truth!
Jesus was a most gracious teacher. The world was stained with sin—and He brought the revealing of divine mercy. Everywhere men were unhappy, unsatisfied—and He spoke of rest. There was sorrow in every heart—and He came with comfort. People were groping in darkness—and He came to lead them in the right way.
The influence of the teachings of Christ is immeasurable. One compares the words of Christ, to a handful of spices cast into the world's bitter waters—to sweeten them. They are also, as suggested in one of His own seaside parables, a handful of heavenly seeds scattered over dreary wastes—to change them into a lovely garden. The words of Christ have touched all the world's life—and have left cleansing, enriching and uplifting everywhere.
There is silence now on the lonely and deserted shores of the Sea of Galilee, where once the great Teacher spoke—but none of the words that fell there from His gracious lips, have lost any of their graciousness, their life, their heavenly music. "Heaven and earth shall pass away," He said, "but My words shall never pass away."
CHRIST AT THE DOOR
Perhaps no other great picture ever painted is richer in its spiritual teachings, than Holman Hunt's "Light of the World." It is a gospel in itself. The Savior of men stands before us in imposing beauty, masterful and kingly in his strength. He is clad in a priestly robe, indicating His office as Redeemer. On His head is a crown, suggesting royalty—but it is a crown of thorns, reminding us of His suffering and sacrifice. His form is luminous—He is the Light of the world, not only in His teaching—but also in His person, and His character. He carries in His hand a lantern, symbol of His teachings, which have gone into all the world, a lamp to men's feet, showing them how to live and giving joy and comfort everywhere.
The attitude of the Savior is also in accordance with the representation
of the Scriptures. He is standing at the door of a cottage, interpreting His own word in the Revelation: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." His face shows eager love and yearning. He longs to be admitted. He does not wait to be sought—but seeks to save and to bless, coming Himself from heaven—to men's very doors to be their guest.
In this representation we have the whole meaning of the Incarnation, with its love and condescension, its revealings of tenderness and compassion, its sacrifice. He is knocking, and there is no indication that His knocking is heeded within. The door is still shut—there is no sign that it is being opened. Yet the heavenly Friend has not grown impatient, does not turn away. He stands in a listening attitude, and continues to knock. All divine love, grace, and yearning—are expressed in His face as He stands there.
As we look closely at the picture, we find another teaching in it. There is no knob or latch outside the door. It can be opened only from within. We have this also in the words in Revelation: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock—if any man hears My voice and opens the door—I will come in to Him." Why does He not force the door—and enter with the blessing He longs to bestow? That is not the way of love. It only knocks and waits. We can shut it out if we will. We can shut out the mighty, patient, loving Christ, if we will. Have we opened? Will we?
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep!" John 10:11
The shepherd is a favorite Scriptural picture of the divine love and care. In the Old Testament, the twenty-third Psalm gathers the whole wonderful truth in exquisite lines which are dear to both young and old, wherever the Bible is known. Then in the New Testament, when our Lord would give His friends the sweetest revealings of His heart toward them, and tell them what they are to Him, and what He would be to them, He says, "I am the Good Shepherd."
The earthly shepherd lives with his sheep. If they are out in the storm, he is with them. If they are exposed to danger, so is he. Christ lives with His people—in all their afflictions, and all their storms. He enters into closest relations with them.
The earthly knows his sheep. He has a name for each one—and calls them all by their names. Christ knows each one of His friends, has intimate personal knowledge of each one. He knows the best in us—and also the worst. He knows our faults, our sins, our wanderings. Yet, knowing us as we are—He loves us still and never wearies of us.
The earthly is most gentle with his sheep. He does not drive them—but goes before them and leads them. When they need rest on the way, he makes them lie down, and chooses for their resting-place, not the dusty road—but green pastures. He is especially kind to the lambs, gathers them in his arms and carries them in his bosom. All this is an exquisite picture of the gentleness of our Good Shepherd, in His care of His sheep. He is thoughtful toward the weak. He loves the 'lambs' and makes room for them on His bosom. Whatever the need is, there is something in the heart of Christ which meets its craving and supplies its lack.
The earthly shepherd defends his flock in all danger. Often he has to risk his own safety, even his life, in protecting his sheep. The Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep.
Christ's sheep are absolutely safe in His keeping. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:28. Then at last He will bring His own all safely home, "and they shall become one flock, one shepherd."
THE COMPASSION OF CHRIST
Every revealing of Christ, showed His sympathy with the weak and the wronged. That is not the way of the world in His day. The strong oppressed the weak. No provision was made for the feeble, the destitute. All that we see in the world today of pity, of sympathy—is the fruit of Christ's own life and teaching. All hospitals and refuges, all the vast work done now in institutions for the blind, the crippled, the insane, the aged, the orphaned—is the continuance of the gracious ministry of Jesus Himself begun nineteen hundred years ago.
The heart of Christ was ever sensitive to human distress. No cry of pain failed to awake sympathy in His loving heart. The people soon discovered this. They were not used to it in their teachers and rulers. But they soon learned that Jesus really cared for them, that He felt with them in their suffering and need—and that He would help them. Wherever He went, the sick were brought to Him, the blind, the demoniac—and no one was ever turned away unhealed.
But it was not only those with physical ills that found sympathy at the hands of Jesus. There are sorer needs than those of the body. An
Arctic explorer was asked whether, in their long experience of need, he and his companions had suffered greatly from the pangs of hunger. He answered that they forgot their hunger—in the sense of abandonment, in the feeling that their countrymen were making no effort to relieve them. The hardest thing the poor, the sick and the suffering of our Lord's time had to bear—was that nobody cared for them. But Jesus cared. He had pity on them because of their physical needs—but His compassion was stirred chiefly because He saw them as sheep that had no shepherd.
Wherever Jesus appeared, human distress found Him. There can be no truer picture of Him than one which represents Him in the midst of needy ones—all of whom look to Him for help. He was ever speaking gracious words which fell like heavenly music on the ears of those who heard them. Take one of His words for illustration: "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden—and I will give you rest." If Jesus had never spoken another word but that, He would have been the world's greatest benefactor. What millions have heard His call, and in Him have found blessed rest! Forever will that gracious word continue to be spoken to earth's weary ones, and forever will hungry hearts welcome it as offering all they need.
Jesus came as the Messiah of His people—but His own received Him not. A few individuals received Him, among them the Twelve and a little company of men and women. These were ardently devoted to Him. They believed in His Messiahship, although they did not understand what it meant. But His nation accepted Him not. They opposed Christ from the beginning, and their opposition grew in bitterness, until at last they nailed Him on a Cross! This was their return for His love!
Christ's reproofs of the nation for their rejection, were very severe. Some of them were spoken in the temple, before He finally left it. Some were spoken to the disciples from the Mount of Olives. He laid bare the hearts of the teachers and rulers. They bound heavy burdens on the people—but they themselves did not touch them with one of their fingers. They devoured widows' houses, and then made long prayers—that men might think them holy. They paid tithes of the smallest things—but justice, mercy and faithfulness, they omitted from their lives. They were careful to keep their dishes clean—but they paid no heed to their own inner lives. It was with breaking heart that He
told them of the doom that was impending. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings—but you were not willing. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!"
There are two marvels here. One is that the rulers could have rejected Jesus Christ. He came doing good, going about in a marvelous ministry of mercy. He came offering them all the blessings of eternal life. How could they despise and reject Him?
The other marvel is that Jesus kept love in His heart through all their rejection. On Palm Sunday, as He was riding into the city amid the
acclaim and enthusiasm of the people, when He passed the crest of the hill and the city came into His view. He broke into loud weeping and cried, "If you had known, in this your day, even you, the things which belong to your peace! but now they are hidden from your eyes." The love of Christ failed not, though unrequited, though treated so unjustly, though the answer to it was a Cross! His answer to man's rejection—was redemption!
THE COMING OF THE KING
It was only five days before the crucifixion. This day Jesus was the people's idol. Was He Himself deceived by this popular outpouring and acclaim? Did He suppose that at last, after their rejection of Him for so long—that they were now going to accept Him as their Messiah? No! He knew it was only the outburst of a day. He knew this was but the first stage of His last journey to the Cross. As He heard the cries of the throng, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" there was an undertone ringing in His ear, and the words of the undertone were, "Ride on, ride on in majesty—in lowly pomp ride on to die!"
There must have been a deep spiritual meaning in the triumphal entry, since Jesus Himself planned it. It was a declaration of His Messiahship. The prophet had foretold that the Messiah should come in this very way. "Behold, your King comes unto you—He is just, and having salvation; lowly, riding upon an donkey." In thus claiming that He was the person to whom the prophet referred, and in thus bringing about the fulfillment in Himself, Jesus clearly proclaimed to the rulers—that He was the Messiah.
There was also in the manner of this triumphal entry, an announcement of the character of His kingdom. If it had been an earthly royalty that He was proclaiming, He would have come riding in a war chariot. The donkey suggested lowliness and peace. He was the king of love—not of strife. He came to fill the world with blessing—not with carnage.
As we look at the people in their enthusiasm, and hear their rejoicings, we cannot forget that in five days the Passover throngs cried "Crucify Him!" and we learn how fickle worldly enthusiasm is. A picture by Tintoretto gives the scene of the Crucifixion, after all was over. It is evening. The multitude has dispersed. The crown of thorns is lying near by. Then in the background an donkey is nibbling at some withered palm leaves. That tells the story of the transitoriness of the world's honor.
The Palm Sunday pageant was but a day's spectacle. Jesus went to a Cross—and not to an earthly throne. But in its deeper meaning, His entry into Jerusalem, was a triumph indeed. The Cross was the way to His true glory. Now He is our King—and we are with Him in His triumph.
REMEMBER JESUS CHRIST
"Do this in remembrance of Me." 1 Corinthians 11:25
Our Master craved to be remembered. None of us want to be forgotten. We want to live in the hearts of those we love. But this was not the only reason why Christ wished to be remembered. He had come to save sinners. This was to be done by getting men personally to love Him. This love must be strong enough to rule our whole life, and lead us to the most complete devotion. Therefore His disciples must remember Him, for remembering is part of love.
The Lord's Supper was intended to keep Christ always vividly in remembrance. We are to think of Him, when we have in our hands, the sacred memorials of His love, reminding us of what He did to redeem us. But we are to think of Him just as devoutly, when we are away from the sacramental table, in the midst of worldly tasks and circumstances.
If we always remember Christ, it will keep us faithful in our loyalty. He wants us to be as true to Him out on the streets, and when we are tempted and tried—as when we are at His feet in prayer.
In a battle, there was a young soldier, only a few days from home, who fought as bravely as any old veteran, and died on the front line. After the battle they found in his shirt pocket, just over his heart, the picture of a fair girl's face. That was the secret of his courage. If we carry the memory of Christ in our hearts in the places of trial and testing—we will never fail Him. The secret of all the noble heroisms of the Church, has been passionate love for Jesus!
Remembering Christ, will transform us into His likeness. Our thoughts are the builders, which rear the temple of our character. If we think of unclean things—our lives will become unclean. If we think of earthly things—we will grow earthly. If we think of Christ, if thoughts of Him are in our mind and heart continually, we will be changed, moment by moment, into His beauty.
The highest attainment in Christian life—is to always remember Christ, never to forget Him, to keep His blessed face ever before us. Then we shall never lose His peace out of our hearts. Then we shall never fail Him in any duty or struggle. Then we shall never be lonely, for remembering Christ will keep us ever conscious of His gracious presence.
THE LESSON OF SERVICE
"I am among you as one who serves." Luke 22:27
Serving is not an easy lesson to learn. But it is a lesson we must learn—if ever we would become like our Master. He did not come to be served—but to serve. He served to the uttermost, just as He loved to the uttermost. Anything that needed to be done for another, He did as naturally and as simply as He breathed. He loved people, and was interested in them, and was ready always to be helpful to them. It never mattered what the service was, whether it was the saving of a soul, the curing of a grievous sickness, or the giving of a cup of water—He did the least as graciously and as divinely, as the greatest.
The washing of feet was the lowliest service any man could do for another. It was the work of the lowliest slave. Yet Jesus without hesitation, did this service for His own disciples. Thus He taught them that nothing anyone may ever need to have done by another, is unfit for the whitest hands. We begin to be like Christ—only when we begin to love others enough to serve them, without asking whether the service is something that we may do without the loss of dignity.
One day a stranger entered an artist's studio in Milan. The artist was busy within. He was working at the head of a statue of Christ and appeared to take no notice of the stranger. At last he broke the silence, and said, "What do you think, sir, is it like Christ—or not?"
There is no surer test of the genuineness of Christian life, than in this matter of serving others. "Is it like Christ—is it ever so little like the Master's serving?" We are too careful of our dignity. When we see the Son of God washing His disciples' feet, we should be ashamed ever to ask whether anything another may need to have done, is too menial for us to do. A king may do the lowliest kindness to the poorest peasant in his realm, and his honor will only be enhanced by it.
"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." John 13:14
"O blessed Jesus, when I see You bending,
Girt as a servant at Your servants' feet,
Love, lowliness, might—in zeal all blending,
To wash their dust away and make them meet
To share Your feast. I know not to adore,
Whether Your humbleness or glory more."
THE REFUGE IN SORROW
One of life's great questions, is where to go in sorrow. For there are none to whom sorrow does not come at some time. The Master, whose footprints are on all life's paths, shows us the way to the refuge in the time of trouble. He found it in prayer. "Being in agony—He prayed."
We may listen at the gate of the Garden—and learn how our Master prayed. He was facing a great sorrow and He pleaded with His Father that it might not come to Him. We have a right, therefore, to ask in prayer, that the trouble which seems imminent may pass, or that we may be relieved of the bitter anguish we are enduring. God will never blame us for such pleading.
There was another element, however, in our Lord's praying. In His most intense pleading for the passing of His sorrow, He still referred all to His Father. "Nevertheless, not as I will—but as You will." There is no true prayer which is not modeled after this pattern. We do not know what is best. We do not know what is in the sorrow for us, for others, or for the divine glory—nor what would be lost if we failed to endure it. We must leave all with our Father, saying, "As You will."
Then the Master found the comfort which He sought. His prayer was answered. The cup did not pass.
The bitterness was not lessened in the smallest degree. So far as we know, not a single cruel element in the terrible experience was eliminated or even mitigated because of the prayer in the Garden. The answer came in another way. The Holy Sufferer was strengthened to accept the sorrow and endure it. And was not that an answer? Was it not a better answer than if the dreadful anguish had been diminished? The pleading grew less intense as He went back again and again into the depths of the Garden, and at the end the struggle was over, victory had been won, and He was at peace.
Prayer is always answered. It is answered either directly in the giving to us of what we ask—or in ourselves, in enabling us to accept the will of God and rejoice. We shall never seek this refuge in vain. We shall always find comfort there, and peace, and always God's angel will meet us to strengthen us.
"COULD YOU NOT WATCH ONE HOUR?"
One of the saddest elements in the Gethsemane experience, was our Lord's disappointment in His disciples. He chose the three best loved of them all, and asked them to be near Him during His great agony. He hoped to get strength from their sympathy. While He went through His mysterious struggle, He supposed that they were praying near by. But when He returned to them to be helped by their love, they were asleep! This happened three times. His friends failed Him in His hour of sorest need.
One of the legends of the Brittany peasants, tells how the robin got his red breast. The day of the Crucifixion, as Jesus was being led out to Calvary, a bird, pitying Him as He went on His way of sorrows, flew down and plucked one thorn from the crown of thorns He was wearing. The blood spurted from the wound and splashed the bird's breast. Ever since, the peasants say, the robin has had a spot of red upon its breast, in remembrance of its pity for the Master that day of sorrows.
The disciples had it in their power that night, not literally to pluck thorns from their Master's brow—but to strengthen Him by their sympathy, and to make His victory a little easier. But they missed their opportunity, and made the Gethsemane experience harder for Him.
There was something inexpressibly sad in our Lord's question, "What, could you not watch with Me one hour?" It showed the bitterness of His disappointment. His request of them was a most reasonable one—it was only for one hour that He had asked them to watch. An hour is not long to keep awake. Then it was a service of love that He requested of them, and love should count nothing hard, especially love for such a Friend as Jesus was to His disciples.
Then it was of Peter, personally, that Jesus asked the question. Peter had professed undying loyalty and devotion but an hour before. Others might be untrue to Jesus—but he could not be. Yet Peter was one of those who wearied in watching before one little hour had passed.
The Master no longer needs us to watch with Him personally in hours of anguish—but He is represented by His cause and by His people, and there is continual call for the watching of love and sympathy. Let us not disappoint our Master.
WHY DID PETER FAIL?
One of the saddest disappointments of the story of our Lord's last days, is Peter's denial of his Master. If the gospel narrative were fiction, this event would not be in it. We would have said it was impossible. Peter loved Jesus deeply and truly. He had received the name of "the rock". For three years he had been under the teaching and in the constant companionship of Jesus. He had special honor and favor in the apostle-family. His name stands always first in the list, and he was one of the three of the Master's closest personal friends. It was he who had made the great confession, which won from Jesus such commendation.
We would have said that he was the last of the apostles who would deny his Lord. Yet, in spite of all, this bravest, most favored apostle, this man of rock—fell most ignominiously; fell, too, at a time when friendship to his Master ought to have made him truest and most loyal.
Why did he fail? His self-confidence made him weak. He slept in the Garden—when he ought to have been watching. Then he drew his sword to defend his Master. His next mistake was in following Jesus afar off. His last error was in joining the company by the fire—when he came in. The denial was already more than half made when he sat down among the officers, trying to appear as one of them. It was easy then, when the maid twitted him with being of the Galilean's party, to deny it.
Against the pitiful weakness and cowardness of Peter, shine the faithfulness and graciousness of the Master. He heard it all—the denial thrice repeated, and the oaths and curses—He heard it all—but loved on. It was this marvelous forbearance that saved Peter. It was the Master's look that saved him.
"WHAT SHALL I DO WITH JESUS?"
Pilate's was a most unenviable distinction. No doubt he felt honored when he was made procurator of Judea. But the honor brought him a responsibility which left him weighed and found lacking. Pilate did not know when he was roused so early that April morning, that that Friday was doomsday for him. He did not know when he was going through the various stages of the trial of Jesus, that he was making such a record of infamy for himself! He would better a thousand times have missed the honor of being the governor of Judea, and thus have escaped the making of the terrible mistake he made that day.
Yet Pilate need not have failed so terribly. If he had been simply just, and had stood like a rock for what was right, the day would have become one of undying honor—and not one of everlasting obloquy for him. But the question with which Pilate met every crisis was not, "What is right?" but, "What will advance my interest?" He knew that Jesus was guilty of no wrong—he confessed that he found no fault in Him. He knew the motive of the religious rulers—that for envy they had delivered Him.
But instead of directly acquitting Him, he sought in indirect ways to secure His release. He sent Him to Herod, thinking thus to get clear of the responsibility of meeting the question himself. This failing, he begged the rulers to accept Jesus as the one prisoner to be set free at that Passover. But they refused, choosing Barabbas. At this point it was that Pilate, perplexed and beaten, asked, "What then shall I do with Jesus?" Instantly came the answer, "Crucify Him!" Still Pilate pleaded, awed by something in the prisoner before him, and dreading to send Him to the cross. But the only answer he got was, "Free Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!" He still struggled hopelessly to keep Jesus from death—but he had gone too far in his temporizing. So he yielded. He delivered the prisoner to their will.
Then taking water, he washed his hands before the people, saying he was innocent of the blood of the Just Man he was giving up to crucifixion.
Pilate lost his opportunity. He is held up before the world as a judge who knew the innocence of the Man who stood before him—yet sent Him to a cross! An imaginative writer, describing Pilate's life in the world of eternal darkness, represents Pilate as washing his hands forever, and then looking at them to find them still and forever stained. They will never come clean!
"BEHOLD THE MAN!"
It was Pilate's last appeal. He hoped that the spectacle of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe would so move the people to pity, that they would cry out for His release. But the appeal was in vain.
While the Holy Sufferer stands before us, we may think of Him as He appeared that moment. "Behold the man!" Recall His life. It had been beautiful in its sinlessness and in its revealings of God. In His trial, His enemies had sought to find some flaw in Him—but they could find nothing. Pilate said, "I bring Him forth to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him." Witnesses could have been gathered from all over the land to testify to His kindness, His thoughtfulness, His mercy, His love—but not one could they find anywhere to testify to any wrong He had ever done, any injustice, any injury. He had been the Friend of the poor, the Comforter of sorrow, the Helper of the weak.
As He stands before us now, He appears as the man of sorrows. His back has been torn by the cruel scourge. A crown of thorns is around His brow, as if He were a king. And truly He was a king, and He never was more kingly than in that hour.
He was kingly in His bearing. He made no plea in His own defense. He was silent to all insults, and when He spoke, it was with serene composure. Never was man more kingly.
He was kingly, too, in His love. There had not been a shade of bitterness in His heart, under all the cruelties and sufferings He had endured. He had come to show this world the love of God, and His gentleness had not once failed in all those terrible hours. He set in motion in this world's life tides of love which have been flowing over all lands, slowly changing cruelty into kindness, bitterness into sweetness, and making all things new.
He was kingly also in His suffering. His was a crown of sorrow, for He was the Redeemer of sinners. Thorns were the fruit of sin, and He took our curse upon Him—that we might receive a crown of life. He was subjected to shame in the eyes of the world—that we might be welcomed to glory. Never was He more kingly, than He was on that dreadful, yet glorious day.
THE GREAT MYSTERY OF LOVE
The Cross was the culmination of divine love. The life of Christ was all love. He was the love of God come down to earth, interpreted in a human life, so that all could understand it. At last, on the Cross, this love found its highest expression, when the Son of God gave Himself up to redeem sinners.
We can never understand the mystery of this love. We have hints of it—but hints only, in some of the higher expressions of human love. The immeasurable distance between the divine Redeemer and those He died to redeem—makes the love forever inexplicable. Some artists have suggested this mystery in their pictures of the Crucifixion.
One artist has left nearly everything to the thought of the beholder. Where the form of the Savior is—there is only darkness, with some traces, little more than suggestions, of light, which, as you study the picture closely, reveal in dim, shadowy outline, the form of a Man on a cross. The face appears in merest outline, and a ray of light shows the figure of one kneeling at the foot of the cross. The picture suggests two mysteries—the mystery of the love of Christ in its great sacrifice; and then the mystery of redemption by which the blessing of that sacrifice is communicated to penitent human souls that bow at the Cross.
The Cross is now the center of the world's hopes. We cannot understand the mystery—but we are sure of the fact that there is redemption in the blood of Christ. Paul puts the truth in a few great luminous words in one of his letters, "The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me." This concentrating of the love of Christ and its great sacrifice upon himself, as if Paul had been the only one Christ loved and for whom He gave Himself up—shows us that we are all individualized in the heart of the Redeemer, and in the meaning of His work. Each one of us may say, "He loved me, and gave Himself up for me!"
"Under an eastern sky, Amid a rabble cry,
A man went forth to die—For me!
Thorn-crowned His blessed head,
Blood-stained His every tread,
Cross-laden, on He sped—For me!"
LAST AT THE CROSS, FIRST AT THE GRAVE
Mary Magdalene's devotion to Christ, is one of the most beautiful stories in the Gospels. Tradition has branded her as a great sinner—but there is really nothing in the New Testament to prove that the tradition is true. It is said that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her—but demoniacal possession is not identified in the Gospels with immorality. It is enough to know of Mary, that the love of Christ saved her. When she saw Him in His divine purity, and when His holy eye looked into her heart, her old self perished—and a new woman, without spot, arose in her.
A wonderful devotion to her new Master now possessed her. A great Moravian missionary used to say, "I have only one passion—and that is Jesus." So it was with Mary of Magdala. Whatever form of evil it was that had absorbed her life before Jesus found her, she was now utterly possessed, body, mind and soul—by her passion for Christ. In all the New Testament, there is no finer example of the consecration of a life to Christ.
During the crucifixion, Mary was among the holy women who stood beholding, in love's marvelous devotion. Perhaps she was present when Joseph and Nicodemus took down the body of Jesus from the cross, washed it, wrapped it in spices, and laid it to rest in the clean, new tomb, cut in the rock. When the other friends went away from the garden, the record shows us this picture of devotion, "Mary Magdalene was sitting there, facing the tomb."
Her devotion was matchless in its depth and in its intensity.
What was its secret? It was in her mighty love! But why did she love so much? Why did her holy passion for her Master so far exceed that of His other friends who loved Him too with unquestioned loyalty and devotion? It was because she had such a distinct realization of what she owed to Him.
Many people know they have been redeemed—but seem to have only the faintest conception of the meaning of their redemption. Mary understood with unusual clearness, what Christ had done for her, and her whole soul went out to Him in adoring love.
Mary's devotion to Christ continued to show itself after His death. She had no expectation that He would rise again—but she sought to honor His dead body. Her love was rewarded by being the first to whom He showed Himself alive—and the first to carry the news of the resurrection to the disciples.
THE WOMEN FRIENDS OF JESUS
Woman's devotion and fidelity shine out very brightly in the Gospel story. There is no mention of any woman ever showing unkindness to Jesus. A man denied Him, a man betrayed Him, men plotted to destroy Him, and at last put Him on the cross. But no woman had any part in wronging Him.
There were certain women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him. No doubt they were women whom He had helped in some way, and in response to His kindness they devoted themselves thenceforward, to personal service to Him. The love of these women appears conspicuously after His death. As the morning of the first day of the week began to dawn, they were eagerly on their way to the tomb of their Friend. Their purpose was to honor His body. The burial on Friday afternoon had been hurried, as the hour was late, and they wished now to lay fragrant spices in His grave. As they drew near in the dim dawn and came in sight of the tomb, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. They pressed on, and, looking in, saw that the body was not there! This greatly perplexed them. As they stood there, however, they saw a vision of angels in dazzling garments. They were awed by the vision—but as they bowed in reverence, the angels spoke to them words of assurance and comfort, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here—but has risen!"
One of the legends tells of the discovery of the crown of thorns and of how it lay on the altar through Passion Week. The people came and looked at it and wept, as they remembered the sufferings of Jesus. Then very early on Easter morning, the priest entered to remove the sacred relic, that the people's hearts might not be saddened by it on the glad Easter day. When he opened the door he found the place filled with a wondrous fragrance. He did not understand it—but as he moved toward the altar, the light was breaking through an eastern window, and as it fell on the crown of thorns he saw that it had been changed to a crown of roses, every thorn a rose. The legend teaches the true Easter lesson. At the broken grave of Christ—sorrow is turned to joy, death to life, darkness to light, despair to hope.
THE WALK TO EMMAUS
"When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him!" Luke 24:30-31
It was a wonderful walk that the two friends took that afternoon. The Man who joined them, seemed only to be a common stranger. He had a kindly manner, and the three were soon talking familiarly. He opened to them the meaning of great Scripture words, saying many things His companions could never forget. They were so pleased with His company, that when they reached the end of their journey, they urged Him to become their guest, and he consented.
It was at their evening meal together, that the stranger revealed His identity. Perhaps, as He took the bread and was in the act of breaking it, they saw His hands with the print of the nails in them. We do not know just how it happened; we only know that it was while they were at their plain, simple evening meal—that "then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him!"
It is in life's common experiences, that Christ usually reveals Himself to us. One of His disciples asked Him to show them the Father. He desired some remarkable revealing, a great glory, like the Sinai splendor. Jesus said, "Have I been with you these three years, and have you never known Me? I have been showing you the Father all the while!" He had been doing this in sweet, gentle living, in patience, in kindness, in thoughtfulness, in purity and simplicity of life. The disciples had seen all these beautiful things in their Master, day after day—but they had not dreamed that these were divine revealings, that in them He was revealing God!
It is the same now. Some people say that if Christ would work miracles, if He would do startling things, they would believe on Him. Men are looking too far away to find Christ. In his quest for the Holy Grail the knight wandered over all lands in vain, finding it at last, when he came back, by his own gate! We do not need to go far away to find opportunities to serve Christ; He is waiting continually in the poor who need us, in the sick who long for our visits, in the lonely who crave friendship, in the tempted who cry out for a hand to help them stand. In doing kindnesses to His little ones—we will show our love for Him—and He will reveal Himself to us in joy and peace.
THE PATHOS OF DIVINE LOVE
"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep—and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" Luke 15:4
Nothing is more wonderful in the Good Shepherd, than His care for His lost sheep. It might be worth while, we would say, for Him to care for a whole flock that wanders away and is lost—a flock is valuable. But it is the loss of only one sheep—which makes its appeal to the heart of the Good Shepherd. Does He really miss one among so many? Does Christ really care when somewhere on the earth, one of His sheep is wandering in the dark ways of sin? Did any mother ever have so many
children that if one of them wandered from home—she would not miss it? It would not be love in the Good Shepherd, if He did not miss the one that strayed from His fold.
The seeking of the sheep by the shepherd—is a wonderful illustration of the divine love. He leaves the ninety-nine that are safe—and goes away in search of the one poor, silly sheep which has left the shelter of the fold. The story suggests pain and discomfort, danger and suffering, as the shepherd goes to the desert and treads on over rough ways, up steep mountains, through dark gorges—looking for His lost sheep. His heart is in His quest. He does not weary in it.
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through,
Before He found His sheep that was lost!
"Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way,
That mark out the mountain's track?"
"They were shed for one who had gone astray
Before the Shepherd could bring him back!"
All this is wonderfully heart-moving, as the story of an oriental shepherd seeking his straying sheep. But that is not all that is in the story. The Master would not have recited the beautiful story merely to tell the people about a common shepherd. It would not have been put into the Gospels among heavenly revealings, if that were all. Christ Himself is the Good Shepherd, and what He tells us in His parable is how He seeks His lost sheep! Not one ever strays away from Him—and is allowed to go on unmissed, unsought. No one on the earth may care, and no one may seek to bring back and save the imperilled one. But always Christ cares and seeks—until He finds!
THE KING AND HIS KINGDOM
Jesus in His teaching, spoke much of His kingdom. On the evening of the day He died, however, it did not seem probable that He would found a kingdom, or leave anything behind Him in this world, which would endure. But three days after His death and burial—He arose! That changed everything. It proved that He was divine. A few weeks later He met His apostles and outlined His plan for the conquest of the world. The meeting was by appointment—it was not accidental, and it had a purpose.
First, Jesus told His disciples that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. This was a tremendous claim, one no mere man could ever make. He had won His place as universal King, by His humiliation and death. It warms our hearts to remember that He who sits on the throne of all power—is a man like ourselves, Jesus Christ, whom we know to be so human, so gracious, so loving. With all authority in His hands, nothing can ever go wrong with us, His friends.
Then Jesus told His disciples of their part. All authority had been given to Him—but men did not yet own Him as Lord. "Go, therefore," He said, "and make disciples of all the nations." If the claim of
Jesus to universal authority was so stupendous, this duty now laid upon His followers seemed vast beyond all possibility. Yet the words of the commission are so plain, that there can be no mistake as to their meaning. That little handful of the Master's followers, was to make disciples of all nations. Believers of today are the successors of the first disciples, and the commission is theirs now. Christ is universal King—but there are millions who still do not own His sway, and it is our duty to make disciples of these.
The disciples might have pleaded their inability to do this vast work. But the Master said that they were not to do it alone—they and He would do it. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." He was about to go away into heaven as to His human presence. But He would return again in His spiritual presence and stay with His Church unto the end. The promise was fulfilled and His disciples went everywhere, Christ working with them. We alone cannot win men to Christ—but if Christ is with us, nothing can resist His power!
THE PARTING BLESSING
The last walk was along a familiar way. The Master and His disciples had often gone over it before, and every foot of it had its sacred associations for them. He talked with them as they walked. What would we not give, to have the words He spoke to them! They must have been words of deep revealing, full of love. Their hearts were strangely comforted by what He said. They never forgot those farewell words!
We like to remember the way a friend looked the last time we saw him, what he was doing, especially if it was some kindness to us. We like to recall the love that was on his face and in his eyes, as he talked to us before he went away. It is interesting to think of the last glimpse of Christ which His people had, before the cloud enfolded Him and hid Him forever from their view. He was in the act of blessing His disciples. It was while His hands were lifted up, and words of love and grace were falling from His lips, that He began to rise. It is no fantasy to believe that this is the constant attitude of Christ toward His people inside the gates of heaven.
This earth is not the only world. Jesus went away into heaven—but His life was not ended when He vanished from human sight. We do not see Him—but He sees us! He is making intercession for us before the Father. It makes heaven very real to us, to think of Christ there. The first face we shall see when we reach our eternal home—will be a face like our own, the Face of our Master.
If we truly love Christ—Heaven draws our hearts upward. We are exhorted to seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. This does not mean that we are to neglect our earthly duties, spending our time in spiritual raptures while our work is left undone. The angels called the disciples from their heavenward gazing, and turned their thoughts to the duties that were waiting.
Pensive gazing is not pleasing to God—working and witnessing are far better. When our friends are taken from us, we are not forbidden to sorrow—but we are forbidden to sorrow in a way that would keep us from duty and service. Our Master wants us to go back to our tasks again after a bereavement, thoughtful and serious, yet earnest and faithful, inspired by heavenly hopes—but ready ever for earthly duties!