We are almost through reading through J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on Mark as a family. Yesterday’s reading was particularly helpful to me personally. I will quote it below and add a few thoughts. So that you can keep it straight I will put my text in blue and leave J.C. Ryle’s as normal.
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
Let us mark, in these verses, what abundant proof we have that our Lord Jesus Christ really rose again from the dead. In this one passage Mark records no less than three distinct occasions on which He was seen after His resurrection. First, he tells us, our Lord appeared to one witness, Mary Magdalene–then to two witnesses, two disciples walking into the country–and lastly to eleven witnesses, the eleven apostles all assembled together. Let us remember, in addition to this, that other appearances of our Lord are described by other writers in the New Testament, beside those mentioned by Mark. And then let us not hesitate to believe, that of all the facts of our Lord’s history, there is none more thoroughly established than the fact, that He rose from the dead.
There is great mercy in this. The resurrection of Christ is one of the foundation-stones of Christianity. It was the seal of the great work that He came on earth to do. It was the crowning proof that the ransom He paid for sinners was accepted, the atonement for sin accomplished, the head of him who had the power of death bruised, and the victory won. It is well to remark how often the resurrection of Christ is referred to by the apostles. “He was delivered for our offences,” says Paul, “and was raised again for our justification.” (Rom. 4:25.) “He has begotten us again to a living hope,” says Peter, “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3.)
We ought to thank God that the fact of the resurrection is so clearly established. The Jew, the Gentile, the priests, the Roman guard, the women who went to the tomb, the disciples who were so hesitant to believe, are all witnesses whose testimony cannot be gainsaid. Christ has not only died for us, but has also risen again. To deny it shows far greater credulity than to believe it. To deny it a man must put credit in monstrous and ridiculous improbabilities. To believe it a man has only to appeal to simple undeniable facts.
Let us mark, secondly, in these verses, our Lord Jesus Christ’s singular kindness to Mary Magdalene. We are told that “when he was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” To her before all others of Adam’s children, was granted the privilege of being first to behold a risen Savior. Mary, the mother of our Lord, was yet alive. John, the beloved disciple, was yet upon earth. Yet both were passed over on this occasion in favor of Mary Magdalene. A woman who at one time had probably been chief of sinners, a woman who at one time had been possessed by seven devils, was the first to whom Jesus showed Himself alive, when He rose victorious from the tomb. The fact is remarkable, and full of instruction.
We need not doubt, for one thing, that, by appearing “first to Mary Magdalene,” our Lord meant to show us how much He values love and faithfulness. Last at the cross and first at the grave, last to confess her Master while living, and first to honor Him when dead, this warm-hearted disciple was allowed to be the first to see Him, when the victory was won. It was intended to be a perpetual memorial to the Church, that those who honor Christ, He will honor, and that those who do much for Him upon earth, shall find Him even upon earth doing much for them. May we never forget this. May we ever remember that for those who forsake all for Christ’s sake, there “is an hundred-fold now in this present time.”
We need not doubt, for another thing, that our Lord’s appearing “first to Mary Magdalene” was intended to comfort all who have become penitent believers, after having run into great excesses of sin. It was meant to show us that, however far we may have fallen, we are raised to entire peace with God, if we repent and believe the Gospel. Though before far off, we are made near. Though before enemies, we are made dear children. Old things are passed away, and all things are become new. (2 Cor. 5:17.) The blood of Christ makes us completely clean in God’s sight. We may have begun like Augustine, and John Newton, and been ringleaders in every kind of iniquity. But once brought to Christ, we need not doubt that all is forgiven. We may draw near with boldness, and have access with confidence. Our sins and iniquities, like those of Mary Magdalene, are remembered no more.
Let us mark, lastly, in these verses, how much weakness there is sometimes in the faith of the best Christians. Three times in this very passage we find Mark describing the unbelief of the eleven apostles. Once, when Mary Magdalene told those who our Lord had risen, “they believed not.” Again, when our Lord had appeared to two of them, as they walked, we read of the residue, “neither believed they them.” Finally, when our Lord Himself appeared to them as they sat at meat, we are told that “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.” Never perhaps was there so striking an example of man’s unwillingness to believe that which runs counter to his early prejudices. Never was there so remarkable a proof of man’s forgetfulness of plain teaching.
This particular sentence was helpful for me. We may go through seasons of life where we find we have either been willfully ignorant or accidentally ignorant of the plain teaching of scripture on some point. While there is no excuse for this, we are not alone in the history of the church in this regard. Time and time again the Lord has mercifully granted reformation to His people. Time and time again he has removed the blindness from their eyes and granted understanding, repentance, change, and hope.
These eleven men had been told repeatedly by our Lord that He would rise again. And yet, when the time came, all was forgotten, and they were found unbelieving. Let us however see in the doubts of these good men the over-ruling hand of an all-wise God. If they were convinced at last, who were so unbelieving at first, how strong is the proof supplied us that Christ rose indeed. It is the glory of God to bring good out of evil. The very doubts of the eleven apostles are the confirmation of our faith in these latter days.
Let us learn from the unbelief of the apostles, a useful practical lesson for ourselves. Let us cease to feel surprise when we feel doubts arising in our own heart. Let us cease to expect perfection of faith in other believers. We are yet in the body. We are men of like passions with the apostles. We must count it no strange thing, if our experience is sometimes like theirs, and if our faith, like theirs, sometimes gives way. Let us resist unbelief manfully. Let us watch, and pray, and strive to be delivered from its power. But let us not conclude that we have no grace, because we are sometimes harassed with doubts, nor suppose that we have no part or lot with the apostles, because at seasons we feel unbelieving.
Let us not fail to ask ourselves, as we leave this passage, whether we have risen with Christ, and been made partakers spiritually of His resurrection. This, after all, is the one thing needful. To know the facts of Christianity with the head, and to be able to argue for them with the tongue, will not save our souls. We must yield ourselves to God as those alive from the dead. (Rom. 6:13.) We must be raised from the death of sin, and walk in newness of life. This and this only is saving Christianity.
It is interesting to note the state of the disciples when Mary Magdalene first approached them, “as they mourned and wept.” They were grieving over the death of the Lord Jesus. They were despairing and wrestling with unbelief. And the blessed news delivered by Mary Magdalene, that he had risen from the dead fell on the deaf ears of unbelief. The answer they truly longed to hear was there, but they were temporarily blind to it. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted… but how often is that comfort robbed by unbelief! If you mourn over your sin… if you are grieved by your unbelief… let thy prayer ever be, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Let us mourn and weep over the sins that we commit. Let us mourn and weep over unbelief. Let us mourn and weep over a church that is weak, broken, and faint-hearted. But let us never miss out when the joyful answers are spoken from the Lord’s word to our hearts, like to the cleansed leper: Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
This reading was a blessing to me. May the Lord make it a blessing to you as well.