Reading: John 20; Acts 1:1-3.
In this meditation we want to gather up all that we have already said. The dispensation rests upon the forty days. The whole of God's meaning for the church is expressed in the nature of the forty days; not the church as we know it, but as God meant it to be and means it to be. Its character is taken from what happened then.
The Lord still desires that full thought, however much failure there may have been; however things in general amongst His people may be other than that today; however little there may seem to be of the divine thought expressed in what is called the church. The Lord does not abandon His full desire, but would work where He can amongst His own to have as large a measure of that full, original thought as possible, and thus, individually and corporately, we are called to take our character from the great forty days after His resurrection, in which He was laying the foundation and providing the constituents for His own unto the end of the age and beyond. Thus it is that the details of that period are of such great significance and value.
As far as we are able to see, the first movement, the first feature of that forty days - the resurrection of the Lord Jesus - was the meeting of Mary in the garden. It seems that she was the first one on the move before the daybreak. Others came along as the day was breaking, but she was there in advance of anyone, and she, therefore, comes into the very first place, the first step of the manifestations of the forty days, and represents for us the first significance of that great probationary, preparatory, constituting period.
As we look again at Mary Magdalene, what do we see? We must remember that the great new dispensation is at its commencement. This is just before the break of the great dispensational day. That day is just beginning to dawn, and when we think of all that that embodies and involves, all that was ever in God's heart and mind as to this dispensation, it is very impressive and striking to see the first movement. What should we expect if, say, the greatest thing in the history of the world was about to be brought forth, to be done? I think we should expect anything but what we find here. Here is the small, the weak beginning from the human side. God begins at such a small and weak point that you are amazed! It is almost difficult to believe what we have already said about the immensity of the forty days and what they were intended to mean for all time and for all eternity. It is almost impossible to believe that that is all true; and then to say that all that had its commencement in this first step, and really, in a sense upon this first step all the rest was to hang. How weak, how small is this beginning. The whole immense development of the old creation is entirely set aside. The creation had developed, the old creation had reached immense proportions of ability, of knowledge, of power, of world glory. What empires! What ranges of knowledge! Even today a large part of our education is occupied with the knowledge that was up to the day of Christ. Yes, the world had developed, the old creation had expanded, it was an immense thing; men had great ideas of their power, of their wisdom, of their knowledge; and the whole thing is entirely set aside and ignored. God does not take a fragment of it with which to begin His new creation, with which to bring forth the new order of things. He begins at the lowest point with this woman, who speaks to us of weakness and smallness in human life. That is where God begins, and that is God's link with His new order.
Listen to that in your heart. God's link in this universe with His great new order, with His new creation, with that universe which is to be filled through and through with His own glory, that new heaven and new earth, inconceivable in its wonder and glory and blessings, finds its link for God in Mary Magdalene. God begins right down there. He has chosen the weak things, the foolish things, the things which are not. Deeply scarred by the fall, having known what it was to be possessed of seven demons, having tasted the bitterness and the agony of sin and sin's remorse and Satan's tyranny, now owing everything to Christ as Saviour and Lord; that is where the new creation begins. That is the basic constituent of the church and of every member of Christ.
Where do you begin? Not high up at some lofty point of human development, but having known something of sin's awfulness, and Satan's cruelty, and the remorse of a lost state, and having come to find Christ as Lord of Satan and of sin, and of all adverse circumstances, to bring them under His dominion and save them. That is where the church begins. Any church which takes the name of the church which is not the embodiment of that basic thing, is not His church; it is foreign to His thought. We must remember that the very inception of our beings in relation to God in Christ is of this mind, where we owe everything to Christ's Lordship and Saviourhood, where out of the recognition of Him to Whom we owe everything we cry, Rabboni! Master! That is the beginning of the church in its basic elements. That has to abide through the age, and has to come out in the ages to come; that in the ages to come the manifold wisdom, the grace of God should be displayed by this church. What will be the abiding, the ever recurrent note of the song through the ages to be? "You are worthy!" The church is founded on that.
The church has inclined to depart from that position, and has become something in itself; with glory and prestige, fame and honour, and lavishness, and much more which is not just the worshipping, adoring, thankful, humble acknowledgment of Christ as its all. Here is Mary: a clinging, dependent, devoted debtor. Clinging - she would have taken hold of Him; devoted - we know from her past life her devotion to Him; dependent - ah yes, the sun had gone out of her life, everything was eclipsed. There was nothing left when He went; she was heartbroken. She said to the one whom she thought was the gardener, "Sir, if you have carried Him away..." 'He is all I had; to Him I owed everything. I have nothing. As long as it is possible even for me to be in proximity to His lifeless form, let it be. That is all I have left. Debtor - He saved me, He delivered me, I owe everything to Him.' It requires a good deal of imagination to reproduce the feelings that must have rushed through her soul to discover that He was alive from the dead.
The Lord was definitely seeking to do things in those forty days. He was establishing for them the fact that He was risen, the fact of resurrection, but the details also have their meaning and value, and this is the first.
It says to our hearts that the church which He was bringing into being was to be constituted upon this basis: that it is composed of clinging, dependent, devoted debtors to Him Who is their All, and they have naught beside Him. If you and I are there, we have a fairly sure foundation for union with Christ and to the purpose of God.
You notice, then, that the power of resurrection was linked with deep human weakness, and is to be so abidingly. There is no question about the power expressed in resurrection. We are familiar with the words which speak of that: "surpassing greatness of His power... which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead" (Eph. 1:19,20). Here is the immensity of divine power in resurrection, but it is all veiled, all hidden, all a secret thing, and becomes linked with the deepest human weakness, the deepest human need and dependence.
That is going to be so always. Do you pray for power? Do you pray to know the power of His resurrection? What are you prepared for? How do you expect to have your prayer answered? The Lord will answer you in words like these, "My strength is made perfect in weakness"; "Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body"; "Death works in us." For the manifestation of that power there will ever be required a weakness on the human side, and therein is the mystery of that power, therein is the seeming contradiction - power linked with weakness and death, and both present at the same time. That requires a lot of explaining. You say, If the exceeding greatness of God's power is present, there will be no weakness. That is not the case. Resurrection power is not obvious to natural perception. It is something which works in secret. It is secret and spiritual. It is God doing something unseen for the moment, but that will prove that it had and has in it the exceeding greatness of His power, because it will stand every test that can be applied to it, and go through every storm that can burst upon it, and endure through all ages. That is resurrection power.
This is why the Lord Jesus did not reveal Himself to the world after His resurrection. He only appeared amongst His own. This kind of thing cannot be apprehended by natural standards of judgement. This can only be known in a spiritual people, and they will go out and before the world will be just the same people as ever they were. They will be accounted ignorant and unlearned men. They will be accounted as weak things, the off-scouring of all things, nothings amongst men; they will be looked down upon and despised, seem to be as in themselves quite at a discount amongst men. And yet there is something about these men and these women which you cannot explain or account for on human grounds at all, but you are up against God. Touch them and you touch not them, but God. Counter what they are doing, and you have to reckon with God. That is the power that is present. It is not our presence; it is not what we are at all. We shall be present in weakness, in fear, perhaps in much trembling amongst men, and yet there is present a power which is no less than the exceeding greatness of His power. There is a paradox, a seeming contradiction about this weakness and strength, both present at the same time. Too often foolish and ignorant people have thought that they could touch the Lord's anointed with impunity, they could put their hand upon God's work, they could interfere with something that the Lord was doing, speak against it, do it harm and pass on their way unscathed. Oh no! Sooner or later they will awake to the fact that they have touched God, they have touched the anointing, they have stood in God's way. He is very long-suffering, but
of God grind slowly,
But they grind
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all."
There is no escaping God. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
God was in Christ, and God in Christ is in His Body in the power of resurrection. But it is hidden, it is veiled, it is mystic, and we must never pray for power with an eye to a display, with any ambition for glory or demonstration. Our prayer for power may be answered with a new experience of weakness: weakening, and emptying, and breaking to make room for the Lord, so that the only thing that will be recognised will be that there is more of the Lord there than there was, and there is less of the man and of the woman in themselves. Resurrection power is after that kind. It is, when we have said all, the producing of Christ Who is to be the very essence and substance of God's new universe. When God has His new heaven and new earth, His new universe completed and perfected, its characteristic through and through will be Christ. Everywhere Christ will be felt, Christ will be seen, Christ will be centre; the atmosphere of that universe will be Christ. The slightest experience and touch of that now is a wonderful thing, to be anywhere where you can say that the atmosphere of the place is Christ, to be in touch with anyone concerning whom you can say: 'To be in touch with that one is to be in touch with Christ', is marvellous. When a company of the Lord's people, forgetting all that is of this earth, even in a religious way - all that divides, every human limitation - are just together met to the Lord, and it is all Christ, it is a wonderful place to be in, it is a wonderful time to have. But think of the universe like that, with nothing else in it; Christ, only Christ, seen, known, heard and felt through and through.
That comes in with resurrection, and resurrection is the bringing of Christ into us, the producing of Christ with that end in view. All that is not Christ will fall away like an old garment, and pass for ever, and just what is Christ will remain and go on for ever. That is what God is doing in teaching us what it means to live on the ground of His risen life producing Christ, but what an immense thing it is to bring in Christ! We are not forgetting the Person when we say that the essence and substance of God's new universe is Christ. He remains the divine Person, but He is ministering of Himself, in His risen life to His Body. So you see the dispensation and the church rest upon Christ known in resurrection life, not upon doctrine, not upon creed, but upon Christ known in resurrection life. Was not that the great characteristic of the forty days?