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For example, more than once we find phrases like these: 'we believe
that _Jesus_ died,' 'having therefore boldness to enter into the
holiest by the blood of _Jesus_,' and the like - which emphasise His
death as the death of a man like ourselves, and bring us close to the
historical reality of His human pains and agonies for us. '_Christ_
died' is a statement which makes the purpose and efficacy of His death
more plain, but '_Jesus_ died' shows us His death as not only the work
of the appointed Messiah, but as the act of our brother man, the
outcome of His human love, and never rightly to be understood if His
work be thought of apart from His personality.

There is brought into view, too, prominently, the side of Christ's
sufferings which we are all apt to forget - the common human side of His
agonies and His pains. I know that a certain school of preachers, and
some unctuous religious hymns, and other forms of composition, dwell, a
great deal too much for reverence, upon the mere physical aspect of
Christ's sufferings. But the temptation, I believe, with most of us is
to dwell too little upon that, - to argue about the death of Christ, to
think about it as a matter of speculation, to regard it as a mysterious
power, to look upon it as an official act of the Messiah who was sent
into the world for us; and to forget that He bore a manhood like our
own, a body that was impatient of pains and wounds and sufferings, and
a human life which, like all human lives, naturally recoiled and shrank
from the agony of death.

And whilst, therefore, the great message, 'It is Christ that died,' is
ever to be pondered, we have also to think with sympathy and gratitude
on the homelier representation coming nearer to our hearts, which
proclaims that 'Jesus died.' Let us not forget the Brother's manhood
that had to agonise and to suffer and to die as the price of our
salvation.

Again, when the Scripture would set our Lord before us, as in His
humanity, our pattern and example, it sometimes uses this name, in
order to give emphasis to the thought of His Manhood - as, for example,
in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'looking unto Jesus, the
Author and Perfecter of faith.' That is to say - a mighty stimulus to
all brave perseverance in our efforts after higher Christian nobleness
lies in the vivid and constant realisation of the true manhood of our
Lord, as the type of all goodness, as having Himself lived by faith,
and that in a perfect degree and manner. We are to turn away our eyes
from contemplating all other lives and motives, and to 'look off' from
them to Him. In all our struggles let us think of Him. Do not take poor
human creatures for your ideal of excellence, nor tune your harps to
their keynotes. To imitate men is degradation, and is sure to lead to
deformity. None of them, is a safe guide. Black veins are in the purest
marble, and flaws in the most lustrous diamonds. But to imitate Jesus
is freedom, and to be like Him is perfection. Our code of morals is His
life. He is the Ideal incarnate. The secret of all progress is,
'Run - looking unto Jesus.'

Then, again, we have His manhood emphasised when His sympathy is to be
commended to our hearts. 'The great High Priest, who is passed into the
heavens' is '_Jesus_' ... 'who was in all points tempted like as we
are.' To every sorrowing soul, to all men burdened with heavy tasks,
unwelcome duties, pains and sorrows of the imagination, or of the
heart, or of memory, or of physical life, or of circumstances - to all
there comes the thought, 'Every ill that flesh is heir to' He knows by
experience, and in the Man Jesus we find not only the pity of a God,
but the sympathy of a Brother.

When one of our princes goes for an afternoon into the slums in East
London, everybody says, and says deservedly, 'right!' and 'princely!'
_This_ prince has learned pity in 'the huts where poor men lie,' and
knows by experience all their squalor and misery. The Man Jesus is the
sympathetic Priest. The Rabbis, who did not usually see very far into
the depth of things, yet caught a wonderful glimpse when they said:
'Messias will be found sitting outside the gate of the city _amongst
the lepers_.' That _is_ where He sits; and the perfectness of His
sympathy, and the completeness of His identification of Himself with
all our tears and our sorrows, are taught us when we read that our High
Priest is not merely Christ the Official, but Jesus the Man.

And then we find such words as these: 'If we believe that _Jesus_ died
and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring
with Him': I think any one that reads with sympathy must feel how very
much closer to our hearts that consolation comes, 'Jesus rose again,'
than even the mighty word which the Apostle uses on another occasion,
'Christ is risen from the dead.' The one tells us of the risen
Redeemer, the other tells us of the risen Brother. And wherever there
are sorrowing souls, enduring loss and following their dear ones into
the darkness with yearning hearts, they are comforted when they feel
that the beloved dead lie down beside their Brother, and with their
Brother they shall rise again.

So, again, most strikingly, and yet somewhat singularly, in the words
of Scripture which paint most loftily the exaltation of the risen
Saviour to the right hand of God, and His wielding of absolute power
and authority, it is the old human name that is used; as if the writers
would bind together the humiliation and the exaltation, and were
holding up hands of wonder at the thought that a Man had risen thus to
the Throne of the Universe. What an emphasis and glow of hope there is
in such words as these: 'We see not yet all things put under Him, but
we see _Jesus_' - the very Man that was here with us - 'crowned with
glory and honour.' So in the Book of the Revelation the chosen name for
Him who sits amidst the glories of the heavens, and settles the
destinies of the universe, and orders the course of history, is Jesus.
As if the Apostle would assure us that the face which looked down upon
him from amidst the blaze of the glory was indeed the face that he knew
long ago upon earth, and the breast that 'was girded with a golden
girdle' was the breast upon which he so often had leaned his happy head.

So the ties that bind us to the Man Jesus should be the human bonds
that knit us to one another, transferred to Him and purified and
strengthened. All that we have failed to find in men we can find in
Him. Human wisdom has its limits, but here is a Man whose word is
truth, who is Himself the truth. Human love is sometimes hollow, often
impotent; it looks down upon us, as a great thinker has said, like the
Venus of Milo, that lovely statue, smiling in pity, but it has no arms.
But here is a love that is mighty to help, and on which we can rely
without disappointment or loss. Human excellence is always limited and
imperfect, but here is One whom we may imitate and be pure. So let us
do like that poor woman in the Gospel story - bring our precious
alabaster box of ointment - the love of these hearts of ours, which is
the most precious thing we have to give. The box of ointment that we
have so often squandered upon unworthy heads - let us come and pour it
upon His, not unmingled with our tears, and anoint Him, our beloved and
our King. This Man has loved each of us with a brother's heart; let us
love Him with all our hearts.

II. So much for the first name. The second - 'Christ' - is the name of
office, and brings to us a Redeemer.

I need not dwell at any length upon the original significance and force
of the name; it is familiar, of course, to us all. It stands as a
transference into Greek of the Hebrew Messias; the one and the other
meaning, as we all know, the 'Anointed.' But what is the meaning of
claiming for Jesus that He is anointed? A sentence will answer the
question. It means that He fulfils all which the inspired imagination
of the great ones of the past had seen in that dim Figure that rose
before prophet and psalmist. It means that He is anointed or inspired
by the divine indwelling to be Prophet, Priest, and King all over the
world. It means that He is - though the belief had faded away from the
minds of His generation - a sufferer whilst a Prince, and appointed to
'turn away unrighteousness' from the world, and not from 'Jacob' only,
by a sacrifice and a death.

I cannot see less in the contents of the Jewish idea, the prophetic
idea, of the Messias, than these points: divine inspiration or
anointing; a sufferer who is to redeem; the fulfiller of all the
rapturous visions of psalmist and of prophet in the past.

And so, when Peter stood up amongst that congregation of wondering
strangers and scowling Pharisees, and said, 'The Man that died on the
Cross, the Rabbi-peasant from half-heathen Galilee, is the Person to
whom Law and Prophets have been pointing,' - no wonder that no one
believed him except those whose hearts were touched, for it is never
possible for the common mind, at any epoch, to believe that a man who
stands beside them is very much bigger than themselves. Great men have
always to die, and get a halo of distance around them, before their
true stature can be seen.

And now two remarks are all I can afford myself upon this point, and
one is this: the hearty recognition of His Messiahship is the centre of
all discipleship. The earliest and the simplest Christian creed, which
yet - like the little brown roll in which the infant beech-leaves lie
folded up - contains in itself all the rest, was this: 'Jesus is
Christ.' Although it is no part of my business to say how much
imperfection and confusion of head comprehension may co-exist with a
heart acceptance of Jesus that saves a soul from sin, yet I cannot in
faithfulness to my own convictions conceal my belief that he who
contents himself with 'Jesus' and does not grasp 'Christ' has cast away
the most valuable and characteristic part of the Christianity which he
professes. Surely a most simple inference is that a _Christian_ is at
least a man who recognises the Christship of Jesus. And I press that
upon you, my friends. It is not enough for the sustenance of your own
souls and for the cultivation of a vigorous religious life that men
should admire, howsoever profoundly and deeply, the humanity of the
Lord unless that humanity leads them on to see the office of the
Messiah to whom their whole hearts cleave. 'Jesus is the Christ' is the
minimum Christian creed.

And then, still further, let me remind you how the recognition of Jesus
as Christ is essential to giving its full value to the facts of the
manhood. 'Jesus died!' Yes. What then? What is that to me? Is that all
that I have to say? If His is simply a human death, like all others, I
want to know what makes the story of it a Gospel. I want to know what
more interest I have in it than I have in the death of Socrates, or in
the death of any man or woman whose name was in the obituary column of
yesterday's newspaper. 'Jesus died.' That is a fact. What is wanted to
turn the fact into a gospel? That I shall know who it was that died,
and why He died. 'I declare unto you the gospel which I preach,' Paul
says, 'how that _Christ_ died for our sins, according to the
Scriptures.' The belief that the death of Jesus was the death of the
Christ is needful in order that it shall be the means of my deliverance
from the burden of sin. If it be only the death of Jesus, it is
beautiful, pathetic, as many another martyr's has been, but if it be
the death of Christ, then 'my faith can lay her hand' on that great
Sacrifice 'and know her guilt was there.'

So in regard to His perfect example. If we only see His manhood when we
are 'looking unto Jesus,' the contemplation of His perfection would be
as paralysing as spectacles of supreme excellence usually are. But when
we can say, '_Christ_ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,' and
so can deepen the thought of His Manhood into that of His Messiahship,
and the conception of His work as example into that of His work as
sacrifice, we can hope that His divine power will dwell in us to mould
our lives to the likeness of His human life of perfect obedience.

So in regard to His Resurrection and glorious Ascension to the right
hand of God. We have not only to think of the solitary man raised from
the grave and caught up to the throne. If it were only 'Jesus' who rose
and ascended, His Resurrection and Ascension might be as much to us as
the raising of Lazarus, or the rapture of Elijah - namely, a
demonstration that death did not destroy conscious being, and that a
man could rise to heaven; but they would be no more. But if '_Christ_
is risen from the dead,' He is 'become the first-fruits of them that
slept.' If _Jesus_ has gone up on high, others may or may not follow in
His train. He may show that manhood is not incapable of elevation to
heaven, but has no power to draw others up after Him. But if _Christ_
is gone up, He is gone to prepare a place for us, not to fill a
solitary throne, and His Ascension is the assurance that He will lift
us too to dwell with Him and share His triumph over death and sin.

Most of the blessedness and beauty of His Example, all the mystery and
meaning of His Death, and all the power of His Resurrection, depend on
the fact that 'it is _Christ_ that died, yea rather, that is risen
again, who is even at the right hand of God.'

III. 'The Lord' is the name of dignity and brings before us the King.

There are three grades, so to speak, of dignity expressed by this one
word 'Lord' in the New Testament. The lowest is that in which it is
almost the equivalent of our own English title of respectful courtesy,
'Sir,' in which sense it is often used in the Gospels, and applied to
our Lord as to many other of the persons there. The second is that in
which it expresses dignity and authority - and in that sense it is
frequently applied to Christ. The third and highest is that in which it
is the equivalent of the Old Testament 'Lord,' as a divine name; in
which sense also it is applied to Christ in the New Testament.

The first and last of these may be left out of consideration now: the
central one is the meaning of the word here. I have only time to touch
upon two thoughts - to connect this name of dignity first with one and
then with the other of the two names that we have already considered.

Jesus is Lord, that is to say, wonderful as it is, His manhood is
exalted to supreme dignity. It is the teaching of the New Testament,
that in Jesus, the Child of Mary, our nature sits on the throne of the
universe and rules over all things. Those rude herdsmen, brothers of
Joseph, who came into Pharaoh's palace - strange contrast to their
tents! - there found their brother ruling over that ancient and highly
civilised land! We have the Man Jesus for the Lord over all. Trust His
dominion and rejoice in His rule, and bow before His authority. Jesus
is Lord.

Christ is Lord. That is to say: His sovereign authority and dominion
are built upon the fact of His being Deliverer, Redeemer, Sacrifice.
His Kingdom is a Kingdom that rests upon His suffering. 'Wherefore God
also hath exalted Him, and given Him a Name that is above every name.'

It is because He wears a vesture dipped in blood, that 'on the vesture
is the name written "King of kings, and Lord of lords."' It is 'because
He shall deliver the needy when he crieth,' as the prophetic psalm has
it, that 'all kings shall fall down before Him and all nations shall
serve Him.' Because He has given His life for the world He is the
Master of the World. His humanity is raised to the throne because His
humanity stooped to the cross. As long as men's hearts can be touched
by absolute unselfish surrender, and as long as they can know the
blessedness of responsive surrender, so long will He who gave Himself
for the world be the Sovereign of the world, and the First-born from
the dead be the Prince of all the kings of the earth.

And so, dear friends, our thoughts to-day all point to this lesson - do
not you content yourselves with a maimed Christ. Do not tarry in the
Manhood; do not think it enough to cherish reverence for the nobility
of His soul, the gentle wisdom of His words, the beauty of His
character, the tenderness of His compassion. All these will be
insufficient for your needs. There is more in His mission than
these - even His death for you and for all men. Take Him for your Christ,
but do not lose the Person in the Work, any more than you lose the work in
the Person. And be not content with an intellectual recognition of Him,
but bring Him the faith which cleaves to Him and His work as its only
hope and peace, and the love which, because of His work as Christ,
flows out to the beloved Person who has done it all. Thus loving Jesus
and trusting Christ, you will bring obedience to your Lord and homage
to your King, and learn the sweetness and power of 'the name that is
above every name' - the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

May we all be able, with clear and unfaltering conviction of our
understandings and loving affiance of our whole souls, to repeat as our
own the grand words in which so many centuries have proclaimed their
faith - words which shed a spell of peacefulness over stormy lives, and
fling a great light of hope into the black jaws of the grave: 'I
believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord!'



A FOURFOLD CORD

'And they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and
fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.' - ACTS ii. 42.

The Early Church was not a pattern for us, and the idea of its greatly
superior purity is very largely a delusion. But still, though that be
true, the occasional glimpses that we get at intervals in the early
chapters of this Book of the Acts of the Apostles do present a very
instructive and beautiful picture of what a Christian society may be,
and therefore of what Christian Churches and Christian individuals
ought to be.

The words that I have read, however, are not the description of the
demeanour of the whole community, but of that portion of it which had
been added so swiftly to the original nucleus on the Day of Pentecost.
Think, on the morning of that day 'the number of the names was one
hundred and twenty,' on the evening of that day it was three thousand
over that number - a sufficiently swift and large increase to have
swamped the original nucleus, unless there had been a great power of
assimilation to itself lodged in that little body. These new converts
held to the Apostolic 'doctrine' and 'fellowship,' and to 'breaking of
bread' and to 'prayers,' and so became homogeneous with the others, and
all worked to one end.

Now, these four points which are signalised in this description may
well afford us material for consideration. They give us the ideal of a
Church's inner life, which in the divine order should precede, and be
the basis of, a Church's work in the world. But, while we speak of an
ideal for a Church, let us not forget that it is realised only by the
lives of individuals being conformed to it.

I. The first point, which is fundamental to all the others, is 'They
continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine.'

An earnest desire after fuller knowledge is the basis of all healthy
Christian life. We cannot realise, without a great effort, the
ignorance of these new converts. 'Parthians and Medes and Elamites,'
and Jews gathered from every corner of the Roman world, they had come
up to Jerusalem, and the bulk of them knew no more about Christ and
Christianity than what they picked up out of Peter's sermon on the Day
of Pentecost. But that was enough to change their hearts and their
wills and to lead them to a real faith. And though the _contents_ of
their faith were very incomplete, the _power_ of their faith was very
great. For there is no necessary connection between the amount believed
and the grasp with which it is held. Believing, they were eager for
more light to be poured on to their half-seeing eyes. They had no
Gospels, they had no written record, they had no means of learning
anything about the faith which they were now professing except
listening to one or other of the original Eleven, with the addition of
any of the other 'old disciples' - that is, _early_ disciples - who might
perchance have equal claims to be listened to as 'witnesses from the
beginning.' We shall very much misunderstand the meaning of the words
here, if we suppose that these novices were dosed with theological
instruction, or that 'the Apostles' doctrine' consisted of such fully
developed truths as we find later on in Paul's writings. If you will
look at the first sermons that Peter is recorded as having delivered,
in the early chapters of the Acts, you will find that he by no means
enunciates a definite theology such as he unfolds in his later Epistle.
There is no word about the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; His
designation is 'Thy holy child Jesus.' There is no word about the
atoning nature of Christ's sacrifice; His death is simply the great
crime of the Jewish people, and His Resurrection the great divine fact
witnessing to the truth of His Messiahship. All that which we now
regard, and rightly regard, as the very centre and living focus of
divine truth was but beginning to shine out on the Apostles' minds, or
rather to gather itself into form, and to shape itself by slow degrees
into propositions. 'The Apostles' teaching' - for 'doctrine' does not
convey to modern ears what Luke meant by the word - must have been very
largely, if not exclusively, of the same kind as is preserved to us in
the four Gospels, and especially in the first three of them. The
recital to these listeners, to whom it was all so fresh and strange and
transcendent, of the story that has become worn and commonplace to us
by its familiarity, of Christ in His birth, Christ in His gentleness,
Christ in His deeds, Christ in the deep words that the Apostles were
only beginning to understand; Christ in His Death, Resurrection, and
Ascension - these were the themes on the narration of which this company
of three thousand waited with such eagerness.

But, of course, there was necessarily involved in the story a certain
amount of what we now call doctrine - that is, theological
teaching - because one cannot tell the story of Jesus Christ, as it is
told in the four Gospels, without impressing upon the hearers the
conviction that His nature was divine and that His death was a
sacrifice. Beyond these truths we know not how far the Apostles went.
To these, perhaps, they did not at first rise. But whether they did so
or no, and although the facts that the hearers were thus eager to
receive, and treasured when they received, are the commonplaces of our
Sunday-schools, and quite uninteresting to many of us, the spirit which
marked these early converts is the spirit that must lie at the
foundation of progressive and healthy Christianity in us. The
consciousness of our own ignorance, of the great sweep of God's
revealed mind and will, the eager desire to fill up the gaps in the
circle, and to widen the diameter, of our knowledge, and the consequent
steadfastness and persistence of our continuance in the teachings - far
fuller and deeper and richer and nobler than were heard in the upper
room at Jerusalem by the first three thousand - which, through the
divine Spirit and the experience of the Church for nineteen hundred
years are available for us, ought to characterise us all.

Now, dear friends, ask yourselves the question very earnestly, Does
this desire of fuller Christian knowledge at all mark my Christian
character, and does it practically influence my Christian conduct and
life? There are thousands of men and women in all our churches who know
no more about the rich revelation of God in Jesus Christ than they did
on that day long, long ago, when first they began to apprehend that He
was the Saviour of their souls. When I sometimes get glimpses into the
utter Biblical ignorance of educated members of my own and of other
congregations, I am appalled; I do not wonder how we ministers do so
little by our preaching, when the minds of the people to whom we speak
are so largely in such a chaotic state in reference to Scriptural
truth. I believe that there is an intolerance of plain, sober,
instructive Christian teaching from the pulpit, which is one of the
worst signs of the Christianity of this generation. And I believe that
there are a terribly large number of professing Christians, and good
people after a fashion, whose Bibles are as clean to-day, except on one
or two favourite pages, as they were when they came out of the



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 6 of 57)