Page images
PDF
EPUB

I. He is so in the dignity of his person. He is the greatest who ever entered, or shall ever leave, the gates of death.

In one of the boldest flights of fancy, Isaiah sets forth the destruction of the Babylonian monarchy. He sees a mighty king descending into the grave, breaking its awful silence. His footsteps disturb the dead; they raise themselves in their coffins; and as he enters alone the dark domain of a monarch mightier than himself, on his ear fall the voices of kings long buried, muttering, Art thou also become as we? Art thou become like unto us? When we die we sink into the grave like raindrops into the sea, as snowflakes alight on the water; for however man's death may for a little agitate some living circles, it never stirs the dead. But Jesus Christ being the Lord of glory, the fountain of life, the creator of the sun that darkened over his cross, and of the moon that shed her silver light on his lonely sepulchre, his descent into the tomb was an event which might well be set forth in the prophet's magnificent imagery. I can fancy all the dead astonished at his coming; and that, as he enters the domain of the grave, a spirit-voice breaks its silence, saying, " It is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?"

Fancy some great, good, brave, patriotic monarch, bound in chains, and after being ignominiously paraded through the public streets, thrust into the common gaol, to exchange the glory of a palace for the gloom and shame of a dungeon. How would such an event impress the spectators with the mutability of earthly greatness! And were such a reverse of fortune borne out of love to his subjects, how would it win their admiration, how would it move their love as well as pity! Yet, what were such an event to that which unnoticed by the world, is passing in yonder garden, where by the waning light of day two men and a group of weeping women, amid silence broken only by sobs and soft whispers, are laying a dead body on a hurriedly prepared bed of spices? Nor man's, nor angel's eyes, had ever looked on a scene so wonderful. Solomon had said, Will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? but what would Solomon have said, had he seen the young child in the manger, still more, had he seen the lonely tenant of that tomb? Whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, here a sepulchre holds. Repulsive to the eye as are these skulls and mouldering bones, the grave boasts of having held some nights within its chambers one who, while he honored lowly cottages with his visits, was greater than any whom palaces have opened to receive. The language of the prophet is literally accomplished. The regions of death were moved at Jesus' coming. Never before, never since, has the opening of these gates awakened those within. They sleep too sound for that. How unmoved do parents lie when their children are laid by their side; the mother never flings her arms about the dear babe that death restores to her bosom; and to the cry of room, room, the unmannerly beggar stirs not to make way for a king. They neither revere the good, nor respect the great. They feel no love there; and, unlike the burst of joy, the rushing into each other's embrace, the smiles, the tears,

'when the loving and long parted meet again on earth, how cold and dreary the reunions of the grave, these silent meetings of the dead!

But Christ's descent into the tomb roused death from its deepest apathy. That awoke those who are heedless of the shock of earthquakes. The dead were moved at his coming. The graves were opened. The inspired poet's fancy became a literal fact. And, waiting for him to lead the way, many dead saints left the tomb on the morning of his resurrection; in them he led captivity captive, and was followed by the strangest train that ever graced the triumph of a returning conqueror. If we should certainly conclude that the jailer has been beaten and bound, when we see the captives pouring from the open prison, how plainly do those yawning tombs, untouched by mortal hand, and these dead men, who return alive to Jerusalem, show that the long reign of death is drawing to a close, and the oldest of earth's kingdoms tottering to its fall. Their escape plainly proved that death had received from Christ's hand, what no other hand could deal, a mortal blow. Thus, all the circumstances that signalized alike our Lord's descent into the tomb and his triumphant resurrection, proclaim him, as with the sound of royal trumpets, the first and greatest of the dead.

II. Because he rose by his own power.

There is no sensibility in the dead. The eyelids your fingers have closed open no more to the light of day. The morning raises up all within the house to a fresh sense of bereavement: without, it wakens business, pleasure, the music of skies and groves; but it wakens not the sleeper in that locked and lonely chamber, who, once dreading to be left alone, is alike fearless now of darkness and of solitude.

There is no passion in the dead. The sight of them affects us, not our grief and sorrow them; as well kiss marble as that icy brow; our tears will flow, nor does Christ forbid them; but their hottest gushes thaw not the fountains that death has frozen.

There is no power in the dead. The cold hand you lift drops; the poor body lies as it is laid. And, so soon as that last, long sigh is drawn, though the color still lingers on the cheek, and the limbs are not yet stiffened into cold rigidity, they can rise no more than the ashes on the hearth can resume their original form, and change into what once they were, a branch green with leaves, and decked with fragrant blossoms. The dead can do nothing to help themselves. In all cases but Christ's resurrection, life was not resumed, but restored; it was given, not taken back. At the grave of Lazarus it proceeded from Christ's lips, wafted on the air to the ear of death. At the gate of Nain it passed from Christ's hand, streaming, like the electric fluid, into the body of the widow's son. And there, where Elisha lies stretched on the Shunammite's dead boy, his eyes on the child's eyes, his hands on the child's hands, his lips on the child's lips, that prostrate, praying man forms a connecting medium by which life flows out of Him in whom is its fulness, to fill a vessel that death has emptied. And, at the last day, we ourselves shall not awake, but be wakened, roused from sleep by the trump of God, as, blown by an angel's breath, it sounds throughout the world, echoing in the deepest caves of ocean, and rending the marble of the tomb.

Now look at our Lord's resurrection. He rose in the silent night; no hand at the door, no voice in his ear, no rough touch awaking him. Other watchers than Pilate's soldiers stood by the sepulchre; but these angels whom it well became to keep guard at this dead man's chamber door, beyond opening it, beyond rolling away the stone, beyond looking on with wondering eyes, took no part in the scenes of that eventful morning. The hour sounds; the appointed time arrives. Having slept out his sleep, Jesus stirs; he awakes of his own accord; he rises by his own power; and arranging, or leaving attending angels to arrange, the linen clothes, he walks out on the dewy ground, beneath the starry sky, to turn grief into the greatest joy, and hail the breaking of the brightest morn that ever rose on this guilty world. That open empty tomb assures us of a day when ours too shall be as empty. Having raised himself, he has power to raise his people. Panic-stricken soldiers flying the scene, and Mary rising from his blessed feet to haste to the city, to rush through the streets, to burst in among the disciples, and with a voice of joy to cry, He is risen, He is risen! prove this was no vain brag or boast, "I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."

III. Because he is the only one who rose never to die again.

The child of the Shunammite, the daughter of the ruler, the widow of Nain's son Lazarus, and all the saints who followed our Lord from the grave, were prisoners on parole. The grave took them bound to return. Dear-bought honors theirs! While Enoch

« PreviousContinue »