Reading: Acts 1:2-4; 1 Cor. 15:3-8.
These passages do not give a
complete record. A more complete one would be this: To Mary (John 20), to the
woman, to the two disciples on the Emmaus way, to Peter, to the apostles without
Thomas, to the apostles with Thomas, to the seven disciples by the Lake (John
21), to a multitude of Galilee (Matt. 28), to James in Galilee, to all the
apostles (Acts 1), and then in the ascension.
In these passages, especially 1
Cor. 15 with the larger summary which we have added of His appearances, we have
something which is a great feature and factor of the church in the mind and will
of the Lord. Why would not the Lord be content with waiting for, or bringing
about what we would call "the psychological moment", when all the disciples were
gathered together with the believers, and then appear in the midst of them and
let it all be done in one act, so that they all beheld Him? There would have
been nothing personal and private as such, and everyone would be able to verify
the other's witnessing. Why should He spread it over so long a period, and make
His appearances so diverse, so various? Why these two features of adversity and
continuity? The answer is that which provides the church with its meaning. They
each, and all, saw the Lord. In the end it was a company, each of which had seen
Him alive. That is the church. That is what He intends the church to be, so that
every one personally can say, "I am one who has seen the Lord", and then they
are formed into the large company, and they are all together saying, "We have
all seen the Lord". You cannot have anything simpler than that, and yet how
vital, how important that is.
You can constitute a Christian
society in many other ways, but you can only constitute the church on that
basis. The true church is that, or it is nothing. It is the company of those who
can all look at one another and say, "You have not got an experience of the
living Lord that I have not. I have seen the Lord!" It is a matter of personal
testimony to having come into touch with the living Lord, the risen Lord, and
that personal testimony becoming collective forms the church. That is as
essential to the local assembly as it is to the whole.
That is where you begin, but
there is something more inside of it. The diversity of appearances was in order
that there should be particular meaning in each case. The thing which was common
to all was that they saw the Lord, they came into touch with Him as alive, but
there were things which were not common to all added to that; that He appeared
to different ones with a different meaning, for particular purposes.
There was something secret in
the heart of Mary Magdalene. The coming of the Lord to her first, alone as He
did, had a big meaning. Of course, you want that verified, or you might think
that is straining the point or is fanciful. Tell me why it was that to Mary He
said, "Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go
to My brethren and say to them, 'I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My
God and your God'", but that when the others saw Him they held Him by the
knees? We will not answer that question at present. It does not come within what
we have to say, but it would be strange, would it not? If the Lord were really
right in what He said to Mary, then there was some principle involved, some
truth at stake. But He allowed the others to embrace Him. You cannot say there
is nothing in that at all. Mary stands alone in every way, and it was for a
specific purpose that He appeared to her first and alone. There was a secret.
She had that secret.
Why did the angel say, "go
your way, tell the disciples and Peter..."? Here you do not know when it
was. It says twice over in the New Testament that He appeared unto Peter. One
is, "...and has appeared to Peter". Here is an isolated appearance. They
reported it. Why? There was a special reason. He was a man who had a secret, a
tragic secret, a terrible secret. He was a man who might never have forgiven
himself. There was something in his life that he might never be able to
overlook. Why did the Lord appear to Simon alone? You have the answer in your
own heart; you know why.
Why did the Lord appear to
James alone? It is not a matter of answering the question and saying why. The
point is this: there is a diversity of appearances which had its own meaning for
all concerned specifically. It meant something to Mary that it meant to no one
else. It meant something to Peter that it meant to no one else. It meant
something to James which was peculiar to him.
There is the diversity.
Our knowledge of the Lord,
while it must have the common basis, must be the same with us all. That we have
really come into touch with the living Lord, that must mean something to our own
hearts particularly and peculiarly so that we have got a treasure, a pearl,
something which that has come to mean to us.
Bringing all these things
together you have the church. For one to be able to say, He means this to me,
and for another to be able to say, He means that to me, and to pool our
appreciation of Christ, constitutes the church's full-orbed testimony. We all
have the Lord, but we all know our own secret as to what the Lord means to us in
a particular way. There is no mere generalisation about this. The Lord touches
the individual life with a meaning that becomes very personal. That ought to
characterise our coming together, that we are not only able to say that He is
our Lord with one voice, but we ought to be able to speak of what He is to us
personally in a particular way; to have our own secret about the Lord.
There is not only the
diversity, there is the inclusiveness: "to the whole company of about five
hundred brethren at once". Why that? Perhaps you would think that it was
enough when He had appeared to them separately and apart. There is such a thing
as verifying one another's testimony, and if anyone is going to make a statement
about having seen the Lord, it will be necessary for all the rest to be able to
corroborate. The Lord does not leave anything to chance. Here is this multitude
together, and some are saying: "We have seen the Lord", and others may be
saying: "Well, that may be your imagination, that may be simply a psychical
experience that you have because you are made like that". No, they could all
verify, they could all corroborate. The church's testimony must be a
corroborated testimony. We must all be able to stand alongside of the other and
verify this as a solid whole. The fact is that the Lord did not go until He had
covered the whole ground both separately and collectively. So He made His church
a whole, both by individual and collective proof, evidence and witness. So far
as the individuals were concerned, they were the separate notes of testimony.
When you get the multitude you have the whole harmony, and you have that as
really the nature of the church. It has its separate and distinctive notes, but
it is ultimately and finally a great harmony of testimony to Him.
That is why He extended His
stay so that there might be this diversity and this unity, and that there might
be an establishment of this matter, that it should not be something
transcendent, something leaving them, after all, with the question: Was it real?
Was it true? It was so fleeting.
Arising out of that you have
this particular feature: it is reality. If you prefer the word: truth, it is a
more comprehensive word. It is the characteristic of reality that the Lord is
after; reality in spiritual life, reality in spiritual experience of Him. How He
works at this matter of reality! What pains He takes! How He will deal with us
personally in a secret way, and how He will persist and persist, and not leave
us until He has established reality in us! The Lord has His heart set upon
reality. Let us use the Scriptural phrase for that: "You want truth in the
inward parts" (Psa. 51:6).
As we have pointed out, these
men, for the time before the resurrection, were moving in an unreal realm: they
themselves were not in reality, it was all something which they had not really
grasped. They heard things, and saw things, but they were not in those things.
They would declare their belief both in Him and in His statements, but with all
their declaration, with all their good intention, with all their sincerity, with
all their desire and meaning to go all the way with Him, the root of the matter
was not in them, and they were really not in it. The Lord knew that quite well,
and He knew that there being this element of untruth, this lack of truth in
them, that structure would collapse sooner or later. If there is an element of
untruth anywhere in the church in any member or in any place, that structure
will collapse, it will not weather the storm.
I wonder if we dare turn to
illustrate again from literature in this connection. You remember Buskin's
"Seven Lamps of Literature". When he speaks about the lamp of truth he tells of
his visits to Italy. Going round looking at the great buildings he saw some
which had weathered the storms of generations, showed no signs of wear or
crumbling, were still as steady as when they were first constructed, and he said
the builders had put true foundations and true stones into the buildings. But he
went elsewhere, and he saw buildings the roofs of which had collapsed, fallen
in. He entered into one building and found that buckets had been placed to catch
the rain which was dripping over priceless frescos. Into another building he
went to see the wonderful marble columns that were spoken about, and as he
scratched them he found that the marble was painted on. They were forsaken
buildings. People had discovered the deception, and in disgust left them alone.
So he went the round, and he said these roofs had collapsed, these buildings
were forsaken, these buckets were all a testimony to a lie; lying stones in a
foundation, lying paint pretending to be marble; and it tells its own story at
length. At length the lie found it out.
It would be too strong a word
to say that these men were in a lie during those years, but they were not in a
true position. They may have thought they were, but they were not, and the Lord
knew that; there being an absence of that truth, the building would collapse
sooner or later, and so by the space of forty days - a complete period of
probation, testing, evidencing - He would make sure, He would make for reality.
He would leave them in the place where they were able now to say, not in
testifying to something presented objectively, but in speaking of that which had
entered into their very being: "We know. This Christianity and this Christ is
not a teaching, a doctrine, or anything like that to us; it is a living reality.
We know it is true." So John wrote years afterward: "We know Him Who is true",
and in writing the Apocalypse he repeatedly speaks of Him that is true. It was
that that made the church. It is that which makes the church. It is that which
must make the assembly.
The Lord pursues that course,
and persists in it with you and with me. If you and I are really in living union
with the risen Lord, under the government of the Holy Spirit, the Lord is going
to check us up on all matters of reality. We may get a lot of teaching, and
think that we know it, and go and talk about it, but sooner or later we shall go
through something which will find out whether that truth is our very life or
not, and if it should be found that we can say, "Oh well, this thing that we
have been in, and all this that we have heard does not work!" That would be the
disclosure to the Lord. The Lord is working against that by taking us down into
depths, trial, adversity, suffering; sometimes suffering in circumstances,
sometimes physical suffering, sometimes mental suffering, sometimes the
suffering of a long-drawn-out demand of patience. What is the result?
When we come back we are more real, there is something more genuine, more true.
We know what has happened. The storm has passed over us, and, passing over, it
has swayed us, it has tugged us, it has sought to root us up, and sometimes we
wondered whether we should not be rooted up and thrown over in that storm. But
at length our rooting has become deeper and stronger, and we come out of the
tempest knowing something more settled, more restful, more assured, more steady,
less self-confident, but with more confidence in the Lord. The solemn reality
has been wrought by means of the storm.
The Lord is out for reality in
us, not mere profession without possession. May we urge upon you the need for
continually seeking the Lord for reality, for truth. You do not want to come to
the day when your edifice will collapse, and the sad story be of a lie, an
untruth, something that was not real, but which was a pretence, that was an
assumption; you were in a false position, you were there because it was expected
of you, or for some other reason. Be sure you are on ground of truth, ground of
The Lord was making sure in the
forty days. That was what it amounted to. If you want that proved you must read
on into the New Testament, and read through the book of the Acts, and you will
see that the one mark of an apostle was that he had had his own evidence of the
resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and he could say: "I know!" This is the
foundation of the apostles and prophets, upon which the church is built. We have
to come on to that foundation.
Another thing which shines out
so clearly in those forty days is fellowship. The cross scattered them, the
resurrection gathered them; and I think it scattered them in more ways than one.
"I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered..." "You
all will be offended... this night". "We shall be scattered every man to
his own...". Probably they were not only scattered in that geographical way,
but they were very largely out of touch with one another. That is true at any
rate in some cases. His appearing was a steady process of recovering, and some
of the most beautiful touches of those days were when they were together talking
about Him, talking upon a report perhaps. Some had reported that they had seen
the Lord, and as they were reporting and talking about this He was in the midst.
It was fellowship by which the Lord was realised. It was the risen Lord creating
the fellowship, which in turn brought an enjoyment of His presence. There was a
wonderful, steady gathering together. You start with the individual, and you end
with the whole company. They are being brought together in some new way. They
were flowing together, and there was one testimony.
There is nothing like having
one testimony to make for fellowship. There is nothing like having a similar
knowledge of the experience of the Lord. It is the sharing of the one Life of
the Lord that brings fellowship. So the forty days were making a growing,
consolidated fellowship. When He has finished there is no more scattering. What
happens when He is received up? They all go back to the upper room together, and
then there comes the Day of Pentecost. They waited together in the upper room
for a further period, and then Pentecost. And what an exhibition of fellowship
there is on the Day of Pentecost. That is the church. It is the fellowship of
one Life, the fellowship of one basic experience of the Lord, the fellowship of
one testimony. The Lord was making for that. He was definitely at work to secure
that. It was wonderful to see it coming about. Thomas was a little awkward. In
effect he said, I am not coming in; you can have your meetings if you like, I
shall not be there. But this spiritual movement which was going on made it
impossible for him to maintain that indefinitely, he could not keep it up. There
was something doing, he was one of them, and he had to come in. So the Lord in
the end secured them all.
Fellowship is a feature of the
church, and is of tremendous importance to the world. There is one who works
against it; but he would work for it, to him it represents values of no small
character. Do remember that the proof of this is seen. Whenever any one gets out
of fellowship they get out of Life, and they interfere with the real life of the
assembly, the church, when they are out of spiritual fellowship. They become a
dead spot, and the whole fellowship, the whole assembly is hurt. If you in
secret are out of the spirit of fellowship with any of your brethren, any fellow
members of Christ, remember that that spells death for you, and it spells death
for the assembly in measure. The Lord's way is not being given Him while that is
so, and you know quite well that if you have ever been like that - and most of
us have had our bad times, when we have been disgruntled and out of good spirit
with others - we know that it is not until we have settled that matter that
there is joy, and we are able to go on, and the Lord is able to go on with us.
Fellowship is of tremendous importance to Life and the very purpose of God. So
He wrought fellowship for forty days after His resurrection, seeking to bring it
There is one more word to add.
It is not so clearly marked as these things, it is a thing that you can sense
only, and which you must really deduce, and yet it is of great importance. It
could not be otherwise, and as a matter of fact it always does work out like
this when you have got that of which we have spoken, that personal visitation of
the Lord as to a Mary. Oh, wonder for Mary. I have no doubt she was overwhelmed
with it, in the light of what she had been and who she was, that she should be
the first, and then that she should be entrusted with this great message. Surely
she would have said, "Who am I? What am I? Is it true? Am I dreaming? Think of
what I have been; think of what I am. Is it true?" Then see Peter. The Lord made
a special point of giving him a personal visitation in resurrection. What must
Peter have thought? "Oh, this is too much for me. Think of what I have done.
Think of that awful night, and yet, and yet, He comes to me in a personal way,
not as one of a crowd, but alone." And then look at Thomas. What must Thomas
have felt? "Oh, a week ago I was talking as a disaffected man, declaring my
unwillingness to believe, and now He has come right to me, 'My Lord, and my
What is behind all that? What
is the result of all that? There is only one word for it: a deep, deep humility.
These appearances did not make these people feel important. This knowledge of
the Lord did not puff them up. They did not set themselves up as the
people. It did not inflate them. It did not for a moment stir any pride of a
fleshly kind. It went to the depths and created the deepest sense of humility.
A true assembly as the
expression of the true church is that. Something which is proud of its teaching,
proud of its knowledge, proud of what it has of the Lord in a wrong sense, and
looking down on others, talking as from a pedestal, is not the true thing. The
true thing is of a very humble spirit: "Why should the Lord have done this for
me? What am I? Who am I?" That ought to be the effect of a personal knowledge of
the Lord, and that ought to be spread right over the church:
"Not I, but Christ, be
honoured, loved, exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen, be known and heard...
No self-important bearing".
The true child of God is not
self-assertive, does not keep himself or herself in view, does not put on airs
to attract attention, is always seeking as far as possible to be hidden in the
Lord and to keep Him in view. The Lord is everything and such a sense maintains
a true humility. "The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is of great
price..." (1 Peter 3:4). That is the church.
These things can be felt, can
be sensed, can be discerned in the forty days, and they are great elements in
the making of the church, and they tell us what the assembly ought to be; the
assembly is only the aggregate of the individual; the assembly can never be more
than its individual members are.
So may the Lord make us like
this, for His Name's sake.