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184. Noli Me Tangere
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. John 20:17
THE lesson is to a soul brought into the conscious presence of the Lord.
Oh, to be in that condition!
Mary Magdalene had wept because of her Lord's absence, and longed to find him; and now she has her desire: he stands before her.
Oh, that we knew where we might find him (Job 23:3).
Her conduct in holding him by the feet was natural, and yet it was forbidden by a higher wisdom than that of mortal men.
I. THE CAUTION. "Touch me not."
1. We may blunder even in our closest fellowship, and may need a prohibition. We have never greater need of caution than in our nearest approaches to God. Courtiers must be most careful in the throne-room.
2. We may carnalize the spiritual.
3. We may seek most passionately what is by no means essential.
- This has ever been a tendency with even the best of the saints; and it has misled many in whom affection has been stronger than intellect.
4. We may crave what were better further on.
- The assurance of sense, by touch or otherwise: when the assurance of faith is far better, and quite sufficient.
- The detaining of one who has no intention of going.
5. We may be selfish in our enjoyments.
- When we are raised to eternal glory we shall be able to enjoy what now we must not ask.
II. THE MISSION. "Go to my brethren."
She would have preferred to stay, but Jesus bids her go.
1. This was better for her. Contemplation alone may degenerate into the sentimental, the sensuous, the impracticable.
- Staying to contemplate alone by ourselves, when we ought rather to bless others by publishing the blessed news (2 Kings 7:9).
2. This was better for them. They heard the best of news from the most trustworthy of informants.
3. This was unquestioningly done by this holy woman.
III. THE TITLE. "My brethren."
- What she had seen she declared.
- What she had heard she told.
- Women are said to be communicative; and so there was wisdom in the choice.
- Women are affectionate, and so persuasive; and therefore fit to bear such a tender message as we have now to consider.
Our Lord, of design, chose this title to comfort his sorrowing ones. They had so acted as almost to cease to be his followers, disciples, or friends; but brotherhood is an abiding relationship. They were
1. His brethren, though he was about to ascend to his throne.
2. His brethren, though they had forsaken him in his shame.
- He was still a man, though no more to suffer and die.
- He still represented them as their risen Head.
- He was still one with them in all his objects and prospects.
- Relationship abiding, for brotherhood cannot be broken.
- Relationship owned more than ever; since their sense of guilt made them afraid. He was a true Joseph to them (Gen. 14:4).
- Relationship dwelt upon, that they might be reassured.
Never let us omit the tender sweetnesses of the gospel, its courtesies, benedictions, and love-words, such as the "My brethren" of the text before us. If we leave out these precious words we shall mar the Master's message of grace.
IV. THE TIDINGS. "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father." This message was meant to arouse and comfort them.
1. By the news of his departure they are to be aroused.
2. By the news of his ascension they are to be confirmed.
3. By his ascension to the common Father they are to be comforted with the prospect of coming there themselves. He is not going into an unknown country, but to his home and theirs (John 14:2).
4. By his ascent to God they are to be struck with solemn awe, and brought the more reverently to look for his presence among them.
- See how practical our Lord is, and how much he values the usefulness of his servants.
- Have we not something to tell?
- Whether man or woman, tell the Lord's brethren what the Lord hath told to thee.
It is this that men will labor after, and have labored for, even from the beginning of the world, to be too much addicted to the things of sight and sense. They will worship Christ, but they must have a picture before them. They will adore Christ, but they must bring his body down to a piece of bread. They must have a presence, and so, instead of raising their hearts to God and Christ in a heavenly manner, they pull down God and Christ to them. This the pride and base earthliness of man will do. And therefore saith Christ, "Touch me not" in that manner; it is not with me now as it was before. We must take heed of mean and base conceits of Christ. What saith Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:16? "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." Christ after the flesh was of such a tribe and of such a stature, and had such gifts and qualities. What is that to me? Christ is now Lord of lords and King of kings. He is glorious in heaven, and so I conceive of him. Richard Sibbes
"Touch me not." By which we are to understand, not that the Lord would have objected to this token of her affection, for we find that soon after the Lord made Thomas put his hand into his side (verse 25); but this was not the moment for Mary to be so employed. The Lord had a message to send by her to his disciples. It was time that they, as well as herself, should receive the joyful tidings of his resurrection; therefore he would first send her to them. Dr. Hawker.
To whom then dost thou send her? "Go to my brethren." Blessed Jesus! who are these? Were they not thy followers? Yea, were they not thy forsakers? Yet still thou stylest them thy brethren. O admirable humanity! O infinite mercy! How dost thou raise their titles with thyself?. At first they were thy servants, and then thy disciples; a little before thy death they were thy friends; now, after thy resurrection, they were thy brethren. Thou that wert exalted infinitely higher from mortal to immortal, descendest so much lower to call them brethren who were before friends, disciples, servants. Bishop Hall.
While the going up of Elias may be compared to the flight of a bird which none can follow, the ascension of Christ is, as it were, a bridge between heaven and earth, laid down for all who are drawn to him by his earthly existence. Baumgarten.
Charles Hadden Spurgeon
185. Signs and Evidences
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. John 20:27
HOW struck must Thomas have been when his Lord addressed to him the very words which he had himself used! (See verse 25.)
Jesus knows how to send the word home to us.
In the church of to-day we have many a Thomas slow, suspicious, critical, full of doubts, yet true-hearted.
Thomas set his Lord a test, and thus tried his patience.
The Lord accepted the test, and so proved his condescension.
The proof sufficed for Thomas, and thus showed the Lord's wisdom. Peradventure, certain among us would desire tests of some such sort. To those we would earnestly say
I. CRAVE NO SIGNS.
After the full proofs which Christ gave to his apostles, we need no more, and to look for further signs and evidences would be wrong. Yet some are demanding miracles, faith healings, visions, voices, impressions, transports, depressions, etc.
1. It is dishonoring to your Lord.
2. It is unreasonable, when the truth bears its own evidence.
3. It is presumptuous. How dare we stipulate for proof more than sufficient, or demand evidence of a sort which pleases our prejudices!
4. It is damaging to ourselves. Faith must be weak while we demand for it such proofs; and in this weakness lies incalculable mischief.
5. It is dangerous. We may readily be driven either into infidelity or superstition, if we give way to this craving for signs.
Picture what Thomas could and would have become under the influence of his unbelief, had not his Lord interposed.
II. YET TURN TO CHRIST'S WOUNDS. Let these stand to you instead of signs and wonders.
Behold in these wounds
1. The seals of his death. He did actually and truly die. How could he outlive that wound in his side?
2. The identification of his person as actually risen.
3. The tokens of his love. He has graven us upon the palms of his hands.
4. The ensigns of his conflict, of which he is not ashamed, for he displays them.
5. The memorials of his passion, by which he is manifested in glory as the Lamb that was slain
This should more than suffice you; but should doubt still linger
III. USE SUCH EVIDENCES AS YOU POSSESS.
1. The sacred narrative of our Lord's life and death, if carefully studied, exhibits a singular self-evidencing power.
Does this seem an idle tale to you?
2. The regenerating and purifying result of faith in the great Lord is a further piece of evidence. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20).
3. The solace which faith yields in sorrow is good proof.
4. The strength it gives in the hour of temptation is further help.
5. The ardor of mind and elevation of aim, which faith in Jesus creates, are other experimental arguments.
6. The visitations of the Holy Spirit, in quickening the heart, reviving the spirit, and guiding the mind, are additional proofs. Thus the Holy Ghost bears witness to our Lord.
7. The actual enjoyment of fellowship with the Lord Jesus himself is the master key of the whole controversy. "We have known and believed" (1 John 4:16).
Should you not see cause for fear, if it be so?
Seek now to view those wounds believingly, that you may live.
For all thy rankling doubts so sore,
Love thou thy Savior stil
Him for thy Lord and God adore.
And ever do his will.
Though vexing thoughts may seem to last,
Let not thy soul be quite o'ercast;
Soon will he show thee all his wounds, and say,
"Long have I known thy name know thou my face alway."
We learn here how prone we are to establish improper criteria of truth. How often do we judge of things exclusively by our experience, our reason, our senses! But what can be more foolish than this? To how small a distance do these powers extend? How many things are certainly true, the truth of which falls not within the compass of either! How many things can a man relate, which appear impossible to a child! Tell the inhabitant of the sultry climes, that, at a certain season of the year, water, which he has only seen in a fluid state, becomes solid, and hard enough to walk upon and it will seem to him an idle tale: he has witnessed no such thing, and reasoning from what he knows, deems it incredible. If Thomas had constantly judged according to the rule he professed, how little could he have believed at all! . . . To believe no more than we can comprehend, or reduce to some of our modes of knowledge, is not to honor the authority of God at all; yea, it is a reflection upon his wisdom, and upon his veracity: upon his wisdom as it he could tell us no more than we know; and upon his veracity as if he were not to be trusted if he could. William Jay
Skillful swimmers are not afraid to go above their depth, whereas young learners feel for the ground, and are loath to go far from the bank-side. Strong faith fears not when God carries the creature beyond the depth of his reason. "We know not what to do" said good Jehoshaphat, "but our eyes are upon thee" (2 Chron. 20). As if he had said, "We are in a sea of trouble beyond our own help, or any thought how we can wind out of these straits, but our eyes are upon thee. We dare not give up our case for desperate so long as there is strength in thine arm, tenderness in thy bowels, and truth in thy promise." Whereas weak faith, that is groping for some footing for reason to stand on, is taken up with how to reconcile the promise to the creature's understanding. William Gurnall
Charles Hadden Spurgeon
186. Faith Without Sight
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John 20:29
THOSE who saw and believed not, were far from being blessed.
Those who saw him, and believed, were undoubtedly blessed.
Those who have not seen, and yet have believed, are emphatically blessed.
There remains the superlative degree of blessedness in seeing Jesus face to face without need of believing in the same sense as now.
But for the present this is our blessedness, this is our place in the gospel history we have not seen, and yet we have believed. What a comfort that so high a degree of blessedness is open to us!
I. DO NOT LET US DIMINISH THIS BLESSEDNESS.
1. Let us not diminish it by wishing to see.
2. Let us not diminish it by failing to believe.
- By pining for some imaginary voice, or vision, or revelation.
- By craving marvelous providences, and singular dispensations.
- By hungering for despairs or transports.
- By perpetually demanding arguments, and logical demonstrations.
- By clamoring for conspicuous success in connection with the preaching of the word, and the missionary operations of the church.
- By being anxious to believe with the majority. Truth has usually been with the minority.
II. DO NOT LET US THINK THIS BLESSEDNESS UNATTAINABLE.
- Believe practically, so as to act upon our faith.
- Believe intensely, so as to laugh at contradictions.
- Believe livingly, so as to be simple as a child.
- Believe continually, so as to be evenly confident.
- Believe personally, so as to be assured alone, even if all others give the lie to the doctrines of the Lord.
- Believe thoroughly, so as to find the rest of faith.
l. This blessedness is linked for ever with the faith which our Lord accepts; in fact, it is the appointed reward of it.
Why, then, are so many cast down? Why will they not believe?
III. DO NOT LET ANY OF US MISS IT.
The faith which our Lord described is exceedingly precious, and we ought to seek after it, for
2. God deserves such faith of us. He is so true that his unsupported word is quite enough for faith to build upon. Can we only believe him as far as we can see him?
3. Thousands of saints have rendered, and are rendering, such faith, and are enjoying such blessedness at this moment. We are bound to have fellowship with them in like precious faith.
4. Hitherto our own experience has warranted such faith. Has it not?
5. Those of us who are now enjoying the blessed peace of faith can speak with great confidence upon the matter.
1. It is the only true and saving faith. Faith which demands sight is not faith at all; it cannot save the soul.
Know you this faith?
2. It is in itself most acceptable with God. Nothing is acceptable without it (Heb. 11:6). It is the evidence of the acceptance of the man and his works.
3. It is a proof of grace within: of a spiritual mind, a renewed nature, a reconciled heart, a new-born spirit.
4. It is the root principle of a glorious character.
5. It is exceedingly useful to others: in comforting the despondent, in impressing unbelievers, in cheering seekers, etc.
6. It enriches its possessor to the utmost, giving power in prayer, strength of mind, decision of character, firmness under temptation, boldness in enterprise, joy of soul, realization of heaven, etc.
Blessedness lies that way. Seek it!
But why specially blessed? Because the Holy Spirit hath wrought this faith in their hearts. They are blessed in having a believing heart; they are blessed in the instrument of their belief, blessed in having an evidence that they are passed from death unto life: "whom, having not seen, ye love." It is more blessed to believe than to see, because it puts more honor upon God's word. It is more blessed, because it presents us with a more invariable object. He that can trust an unseen Savior may trust him in all circumstances: shut him up in a dungeon, separate from all sight and light, it matters not; for he has always a heart to believe unto righteousness, and his soul rests upon a rock that shall never be moved. The same faith that takes hold of an unseen, risen Savior, takes hold of every other truth in the gospel. Richard Cecil.
"With men," says Bishop Hall, "it is a good rule to try first, and then to trust; with God it is contrary. I will first trust him, as most wise, omnipotent, merciful, and try him afterwards."
By constant sight, the effect of objects seen grows less; by constant faith, the effect of objects believed in grows greater. The probable reason of this is that personal observation does not admit of the influence of the imagination in impressing the fact; while unseen objects, realized by faith, have the auxiliary aid of the imagination, not to exaggerate them, but to clothe them with living colors, and impress them upon the heart. Whether this be the reason or not, the fact is true that, the more frequently we see, the less we feel the power of an object; while the more frequently we dwell upon an object by faith, the more we feel its power. J. B. Walker.
Faith makes invisible things visible, absent things present, things that are very far off to be very near unto the soul. Thomas Brooks
The region of unbelief is black with God's frown, and filled with plagues and wrath; but the region of faith is as the floor of heaven for brightness. Christ's righteousness shelters it, the graces of the Spirit beautify it, and the eternal smile of God comforts and glorifies it. Dr. Hoge.
It would grieve an indulgent father to see his own child come into court, and there bear witness against him and charge him of some untruth in his words, more than if a stranger should do it. The testimony of a child, though, when it is for the vindication of a parent, it may lose some credit in the opinion of those that hear it, upon the suspicion of partiality, yet, when against a parent, it seems to carry some more probability of truth than what another that is a stranger says against him. The band of natural affection with which the child is bound to his parent is so sacred that it will not be easily suspected. He cannot be supposed to offer violence to it, except upon the more inviolable necessity of bearing witness to the truth.
O think of this, Christian, again and again by thy unbelief thou bearest false witness against God! And if thou, a child of God, speakest no better of thy heavenly Father, and presentest him with no fairer character to the world, it will be no wonder if it be confirmed in its hard thoughts of God, even to final impenitency and unbelief, when it shall see how little credit he finds with thee, for all thy great profession of love towards him and near relationship to him. William Gurnall.
Charles Hadden Spurgeon