The briefest word at the outset, by way of helping any who are with us for the first time to come into line with what it is we feel the Lord is concerned with at this time.
Our basic scripture is in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans and verse 4: "Who," (that is, God's Son) "was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead." Declared the Son of God with power, by the resurrection of the dead.
And we have noted that word translated declared or in the margin determined, is, in the original language, the word, the English form of which is horizon. And the literal statement is that Jesus was horizoned, the Son of God, by resurrection. So we are moving within the horizon of resurrection. We have covered a lot of ground within that horizon, but not by any means the whole. We are going further this afternoon, a little, in this consideration and I want to just refer you to one or two other passages that bring us to our special points for this hour.
In the gospel by Mark, chapter 16, verse 1: "When the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, brought spices, that they might come and anoint Him." At verse 9, "Now when He was risen, early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons."
In the gospel by John, chapter 20, verse 1: "Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb." Verse 11: "Mary was standing without at the tomb, weeping; so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him. When she had thus said, she turned herself back and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said unto Him, Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him and I will take Him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turneth herself and saith unto Him in Hebrew, Rabboni, which is to say, Master. Jesus saith to her, Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; but go unto My brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. Mary Magdalene cometh and telleth the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and how that He had said these things unto her."
The first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15 at verse 3: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that He appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve, then He appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all, as unto one born out of due time, He appeared unto me also."
We have said, and it is necessary to repeat at this point, that for 40 days after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, He inaugurated and established an entirely new spiritual regime. We can say, with a good deal of truth, that the phase of the earthly life of Jesus, in most ways, can have written over it the word: failure. Failure in the world, "The world knew Him not," we are told. Failure in Israel, for Israel recognised Him not, "He came unto His own, and they that were His own, received Him not". Failure in Israel. Failure with His disciples. He had given them a rich wealth of teaching, but how little, if any of it they had understood. They failed to understand what He was meaning. Again and again that is quite evident - failure in His teaching ministry. Failure in His works; He did many mighty works before their eyes, but they understood not. It would have been impossible for them to have behaved as they did at the end, if they had really understood. Failure in His claims, for within the circle of His disciples, He had made great claims, but they understood not. It was failure in every realm.
And His crucifixion, His crucifixion, as such, His crucifixion was the picture of someone who had terribly failed, from a certain standpoint, whose life had up to that point, up to that point, been a failure. When the world takes the hands and crucifies, when Israel enforces His crucifixion, when all disciples forsake Him and flee, you have to say: up to that point so far, you write the word failure over that stage. You must not read back into that what you know now, take it as they saw it, take it as they felt about it, take it as seen by the world, seen by Israel, seen by those disciples. Their verdict on Him and everything after that, was failure.
And these latter failures, where the disciples were concerned, were due, especially due, to the natural and earthly level or horizon within which they lived. Their horizon was a wrong one, was too narrow and small of one, was of a wrong order and kind. Their world was far too small a world for them to comprehend Him and understand the profound depths and vast ranges of significance within His words and His works.
I repeat: His failure was due to that small horizon within which they lived and within which, for the time being, He was limited where they were concerned. It was in themselves that the straitness was, and it was in themselves that He was straitened. He was in bondage, limited in them. Their mental limitations were a prison for Him; He was trying continually to break through that small, narrow, earthly mentality of theirs, to get them out somewhere beyond themselves. But no, no. He fails.
Now, the forty days after His resurrection were not only the evidence of His resurrection. We have perhaps been mainly occupied with that aspect, and of course Luke does make that point, that, "By many infallible proofs after His resurrection He appeared unto them by the space of forty days". It is true that the forty days were a solid evidence that He was risen, and perhaps the main meaning, but that is not all. The forty days was not only the evidence that He personally was alive from the dead, but the forty days represented a complete change in the whole regime, the whole order of things, the whole dispensation. And you know that that word dispensation, is the word which in the original just means house-order, house order, the order of the house, and this was a complete change in the order of the house. And it is with that change that we are occupied just now.
And that change is demonstrated very clearly, and I think very effectively, in the cases concerned, with the resurrection. These cases to which the Lord appeared after His resurrection, they are not just making up the story. It looks like that: He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and then to these and to those, this one and to that one, and so you make up the story by collecting a number of names and persons to whom He appeared. No, that's not the whole thing, dear friends, by any means.
Each of these cases, and I don't know how many of them we shall be able to take up and follow through, but each of these cases contains a very deep law of the new dispensation which had been inaugurated by His resurrection. And that is why we this afternoon take the first of them and focus upon Mary Magdalene.
Now, you'll notice (I hope you do) that the record is quite precise on this matter. It is not just a chance statement, a way of writing, or putting in chronological order. The Spirit of God always knows what He's doing when He inspires scripture. And the record is quite precise about this priority and precedence of Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala. A great deal that is merely sentimental has been said about this, we leave it. This priority, precedent, is due to the fact that it does contain the most definite and emphatic change of position and putting of a relationship with Christ which comes in by resurrection.
This, of all times, was surely not the occasion for the Lord to administer a rebuff to this poor woman. Alone, breaking her heart, pouring out her tears, twice taken account of by angels of the Lord Himself, whether her deep history and relationship with Him and all that she had gone through by this cross. For, before it was light, while it was yet darkness, she has crept out, made her way to the tomb. Here is the picture of a heart bursting with grief, with sorrow, with distress born of her indebtedness to Him, for what He had done for her and of all the disappointment that had come with His death. Disappointment to her hopes, and her beliefs, and her love. I say, this of all times would have been the wrong time for the Lord of compassion to have administered a rebuke when He said... did He? Did He say "Touch Me not"? "Touch Me not!" No, He never said it. He never. But you say, "It's written here!" but He never did say it. We've got to know what it was He said in order to get to the very heart of this matter.
This was no rebuke. This was no lack of sympathy and understanding, no hardness of spirit. No. What did He say? Well, the margin gives us a nearer interpretation or translation, it says, "Take not hold on Me". Literally, the words are, "Lay not hold of Me" or "Do not cling to Me" - that's a very different thing from "Touch Me not" and you will see the force of this when you recognise that when other women came with Mary Magdalene and found Him, they embraced His feet and worshipped and He said nothing.
And later He said to Thomas, "Reach out thy hand, put it into the wound", and yet again to disciples, in terror shut in the room, the upper room, He said, "Handle Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me to have. Touch Me? Yes you may, but lay not hold on Me. Do not cling to Me." Dear friends, that's the heart of the message and that introduces as the very first thing in this new dispensation and order the foundation principle of everything in this dispensation. He is the first one, but He represents the first and basic principle of everything for this new order.
If what Mary had really wanted had been permitted, and what did she want? She had been with Him, following Him, accompanying Him, waiting on Him, ministering to Him - always near, never far from Him and then He had been taken away, by cruel hands snatched from her. At last placed in a tomb. He's back! She's not going to lose Him again, she's not going to let Him go again, she's going to hold on this time; no one shall snatch Him from her again. She will lay hold of Him, to never leave Him, never let Him leave her again. If that had been permitted by the Lord, it would have contradicted all His teaching, all His teaching! "It is expedient for you that I go away. If I go not away, the Comforter, the Advocate will not come unto you. I go unto My Father. I go away." There's an imperative, a necessity. It is essential.
Everything for the future hangs upon this going away, doesn't it? And all His teaching, all His effort to make them understand, which so evidently they failed to grasp, all that effort of His to make them understand the importance, the superlative importance of His departure from this world, would have been contradicted if she'd been granted what she was seeking: not a touch of Him, not just feeling His hand and thigh, but holding Him, keeping Him, possessing Him. It is like that in that form, in that human way, in that human way and this would have been not to her gain, but to her infinite loss if it had been allowed. This was not unkindness, cruelty, lack of sympathy, there was the infinite goodness of the Lord in this seeming unkindness. How often it's like that!
This, dear friends, itself indicated or pointed to:
The New Way
The new way of having and possessing the Lord which is characteristic of this new dispensation of the [Lord] - the new way of having the Lord and the new way of holding the Lord - that's quite a new way. And who will say that it is not a better way, for here is the great transition and change from what is outward to what is inward, and that's no loss, that's a gain. Christ in you is something better than Christ in Palestine! Christ in you; the change, you see, is from the outward to the inward, from the objective to the subjective. The Christ within: "I will not leave you comfortless," He'd said, "I will come to you." How did it work out? "I will pray the Father and He will give you another comforter, He shall be in you, He shall abide with you forever." The change from the outward to the inward is no loss, dear friends, indeed it's a very great gain, is it not? Is it not?
It was the change, the great change from the earthly to the heavenly. "I go unto the Father, I go to prepare a place for you." From the earthly to the heavenly. And this, this dear friends, is of tremendous significance for us in this age.
You know, and I'm going to make a statement which is far bigger than itself and covers far more ground than it may seem to you to cover, but it is open to your investigation and proof. And the statement is this: that because of failure to recognise and to grasp the truth that is here as represented by this woman and what the Lord said to her, that is, the truth of the change from the earthly to the heavenly where Christ is concerned, failure to understand and grasp that, accounts for more than nine-tenths of all the church's troubles. This incorrigible tendency of the human soul to bring things down to earth that are heavenly and hold them there and make of a heavenly law an earthly thing: an earthly system, an earthly order - to bind spiritual things to the earth - crystallise, organise, systematise Christ and make Him earthbound. I say that accounts for more than nine-tenths of all the church's problems. And that is open to investigation and I submit it to you for very serious consideration.
There is no [fiercer fact] than that between the earthly and the heavenly, the spiritual and the temple, the organised and the organic - no fears for that. You'll have no battle whatever if you keep on the earth, all the forces of evil will align themselves with you and give you a more or less a good time, easy time. You move away from their realm into the heavenly realm, which is antagonistic to their system, and you will find the battle is on at once. If you move into the realm where things are truly of heaven, of the Spirit, and then you know what Paul means when he speaks about spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies. I say there is no greater conflict than this very thing.
The whole habit, this inveterate habit of the human heart is to come down here, settle down here, to get an easy situation here, to eliminate the elements of conflict and so compromise, and so yield as to get on easily without friction, without trouble. That's the human heart, the human soul. It's like that. Compose things by coming down from your exalted position. Oh, the infinite difficulty that has been found for men to keep their hands right off of Divine things. Uzzah is not just an Old Testament character, he is an age long principle, putting out his hand to look after, protect, and preserve, and safeguard, and steer the things of God. And wherever that happens, the same result follows as did in his case: confusion in Israel, suspense of all progress of the testimony, the locking of everything up for a long period until it was put right. It's like that.
I say this difficulty which has ever existed for men to keep their hands off things of the Spirit of God and leave the Spirit of God to do His work, have perfect freedom; oh, this holding on of Mary Magdalene. What a dangerous thing. What a pernicious thing in its working and what a terrible loss it would mean. Laying hold on, putting human hands on, not letting go, not giving the Lord the release that resurrection represents and demands.
Oh, we are afraid that unless we do put our hands on, something will go wrong, there will be loss, there will be weakness, but it has never proved that way. It has never proved that way, it has always been just the other way around. This is the tragedy of church history! And this tragedy began before the New Testament was closed. It began before the apostle Paul finished his course and went to the Lord. Perhaps you've not recognised this, but those last letters of the apostle Paul, written to his son in the faith, Timothy, which contains so much about how men ought to behave in the house of God, about elders and what-not as to order in the church, those letters were corrective of a thing that was coming in, which not long after Paul's departure, became the established system of the kind of clericalism and ecclesiasticism with which we are familiar today. A deadly, crippling thing to the Spirit of God. It started up before Paul went away.
And what he was writing about is, "You're elders? Alright, it's alright to have elders, but mark you: they're not ecclesiastics, they're not officers, they are spiritual men. And so all other offices are to be of a spiritual kind. And you begin to put your hands on and organise this thing and you're pulling things down to this accursed earth where death and confusion will inevitably follow." Well, a lot of light comes in through that window and that statement. This is the tragedy.
It is ever and anon like Israel in the days, in the later days of Samuel the prophet when the elders came to Samuel and said, "Thou are old. Make us a king like unto the nations." Oh, here we are. Here we are. Man must always make something like something; imitate it. Imitate, manufacture, make like and this follows right through, mark you, into Christianity.
I'm hesitating whether to say it. I have quite a lot of letters from different parts and have had personal inquiries while I've been in America, from leaders who are in the midst of a revolt against the established system of Christianity. And both by their letters and by their personal approach, they say, "Will you tell us how to set up a New Testament church?" It's everywhere! What can I say? Only one thing: it can't be done! You can't do it, so don't try. Don't try! Oh, you can take your New Testament and say, "Now, this is the way they went to work, and this is what they had, and how they did it." Alright, and imitate it and "make like unto". It's sheer imitation! It takes the Holy Ghost to make the church.
Churches are as much born of the Spirit as are individuals. And what is true of their inception and their birth, is true of their whole history if it is to be a history of power, of Life, of influence and effectiveness. It's got to be of the Spirit and it's got to be on heavenly ground, and it's got to be out of men's hands and in the hands of the Holy Spirit. And if men come in at all as instrumental, they must, they must most definitely and positively be anointed men; men anointed of the Holy Spirit for that position, and for that responsibility - not chosen, elected, voted by people or by men, but obviously and manifestly anointed vessels for that position. And everybody who has any spiritual discernment can say, "That man is anointed for his job." And if that is not true, God have mercy upon us if we get into it.
Suffer this, but it's very important dear friends, for our time. We have come into the dispensation of the resurrection, horizoned by resurrection, and resurrection just means this: we are on different ground from that which we were on before. Something's happened; we've gone through something and come out into something which is altogether different. It's now a heavenly thing in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, sent down from heaven.
Oh, Mary Magdalene sobbed, sobbed, "They have taken away my Lord!" Poor soul. Poor soul, angels and Jesus, it's written, looking upon her said, "What are you crying about? Why weepest thou? Why, this is nothing to cry about!" "They have taken away my Lord!" Oh, we know what she meant, but do you know dear friends, heaven has taken away our Lord, taken it to Himself and it is no loss! It's an infinite gain.
Mary Magdalene came into the good of this other side, she is there with them at the beginning of the story of the book of the Acts. She's gathered with them, she's there on the day of Pentecost. She's emerged out of her fears and her weeping and from her mistaken sense of loss and come right into this great gain, this great gain. Jesus in heaven is no loss to us, to the church. Really, the truth was, that on that day when she thought He'd been taken away, He was given to her in a way altogether beyond anything that she could have thought or held at the time - in a fuller way, a more intimate way. A more intimate way, oh yes, there's something much more intimate in speaking spirit with spirit than two humans talking to one another. More intimate and thank God, more lasting. She meant: they're never going to take Him again, but if she got her request, she would have lost Him. She would have lost Him; the fact is that in losing in one realm, she gained eternally in another. It was an everlasting gain that none could take from her.
I wonder if Mary Magdalene ever read Paul's letter to the Romans and read on through chapter 8 and came on to those mighty words, "I am persuaded that nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord". And he catalogues all the things which do, in the human realm, separate. And he says none of them and not all of them put together can separate us from this love of God in Christ Jesus. I wonder if she ever read that and reflected upon the garden and her tears. If she did, I'm quite sure that she bowed and said, "Thank God He never gave me my request then, He's given me something infinitely better." Sometimes, dear friends, we gain by letting go. It's the law, it's a principle: we gain by letting go and we lose by holding on. But oh, what a business for the human soul to learn, because the soul does cling, it does cling, and its greatest ordeal is to learn how to let go to God. Shall we pray?