Everything about the way that Jesus was treated in His trial and death was calculated to bury Him in shame and disgrace and make His followers too frightened to keep up their association with Him. Confusion, fear and sorrow were prominent in His erstwhile followers. Yet as Mark 16 indicates, something burned in the hearts of the women – the two Marys and Salome. They couldn’t stay away from Jesus’ grave and nothing could stop them showing Him the highest respect even in these circumstances. Michael Bruce asks us how we behave towards Jesus Christ in times when He is largely treated with scorn and contempt and when His cause seems to have no prospects.
Bruce (1635–1693) was familiar with such times. Ejected from his pastorate, he preached in fields and barns to those who dared to attend, then was wounded when captured and sentenced to banishment. The authorities had no respect for Christ or His church and any individual’s commitment to Him seemed certain to end in failure and embarrassment. But in the following updated extract from one of Bruce’s sermons, Bruce identifies a powerful burning love as the motive of the women who refused to turn their backs on Jesus at this time of His great humiliation.
How pleasant is it for men and women to have love-warm exercise on their hearts to Christ at a time when He seems to be in a low condition, with His back to the wall. There is love-warm exercise here in these women’s hearts, dark and cold as the time was.
1. Love makes you miss Him when He isn’t there
The first love-warm exercise on these women’s hearts is that Christ is missed, and when missed, there is much din made for Him. These poor women had had His company before, and now they lack it, and o the fuss and din that they make for it! Is there any life among you, friends? Or is the exercise of seeking Christ missing and away? O! it’s a dreadful business in many Christians and ministers, that Christ is away and He is not missed, Christ is away and there is no din made for Him.
2. Love makes you stop caring about anything apart from Him
Where love-warm exercise is on someone’s heart, it will disrupt their rest, it will break up their sleep, and they will be up before dawn to get at Him. Do you have anything of that love to Christ that keeps you awake when other folk sleep, fasting when others are feasting, weeping when others are laughing, still at it when others are at ease? Love will make you run over the mountains after your Beloved, and put you in pursuit after Christ before other folk have hardly rubbed the sleep out of their eyes. Tell me, friends, is there warmness in your pursuit after an absent Christ among you now, when He seems to be in His grave? There must be a warmness in the heart, when the pursuit of an absent Christ comes between poor bodies and their food, sleep and rest. It is heart-warming when, whatever be the poor body’s hardships, yet it will be after a buried Christ. This is the thing you must resolve on, if you follow Him.
3. Love makes you use every opportunity God gives to meet Him
It came naturally to these women to make a good use of the sabbath day. Wherever there is a love to Christ, there is a congenial respect for the sabbath. The women make the sabbath, as it were an usher to bring them to Christ. Many, when the sabbath is done, quit Christ till the next week, but where there is love-warm exercise in a someone’s heart, the sabbath will be an usher to conduct you to Christ.
4. Love makes you bring something useful with you
When those who love Christ go to visit Him, they always prepare something to take with them, that they think will be needful. The women prepared spices to embalm Christ’s broken body (Luke 24). Always take something with you when you go to Him, even if it is nothing more than all the empty dishes in your house for Him to fill. If you want to be welcomed when you come in the day of trouble, bring with you to Christ’s grave emptiness and spices too.
There are four sorts of spices that Christians are now to bring to Christ’s grave.
One is a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51). Such he will not despise, for it has a pleasing smell to Him.
Another thing to bring is your soul and body a living sacrifice to Him. This, says the apostle, is your reasonable service, and nothing smells sweeter to Him, than when soul and body both are given up to God, and put at His disposal.
Thirdly bring the spices of fresh praises of His name. “Who offereth praise glorifieth me” (Psalm 50). Praises to Him in such a day as this, is a sweet relish to God. For a Christian to sit down on Christ’s grave, and sing over His praises and commendations, how acceptable it is!
Fourthly, bring lively mortification of sin and lively deniedness to the world and the flesh and the lusts thereof. It is something Christ relishes, when, for all that has come and gone, you keep thinking less of the world.
But I’ll tell you four sorts of spices that ought not to be brought to Christ’s grave. Rehashes of old arguments, long since resolved. Natural and carnal fears, which God’s Word puts paid to. Lame sacrifices, which we think good enough for Him now His back is to the wall. Ill guided complaints that cast reflections upon God.
5. Love engulfs all difficulties in the way
These women set a meeting with Christ above all difficulties in their way.
1. They have no one to join with in what they do. There were very few of their friends to press for it and fewer to praise it. “Why are the disciples not going to visit Christ’s grave?” someone might query. “Is it really right for you to go before the disciples?”
2. There was a number of soldiers around the grave with their orders and commission. “What you are doing is rebellion,” might be one objection, “and besides, think of what the soldiers might do to you!” But they swallow up these difficulties in hope of meeting with Christ. “What are they but flesh? We want a meeting with Jesus!”
3. There was a great stone upon the grave. “Who will roll away the stone?” they said. But they face this down also. “So what if we get all our backs broken rolling away the stone, if we could only get a meeting with Jesus!”
4. It was not yet full day when they set out. “Wait till daytime,” someone might have said, “and then you will see to go: you don’t know what you may meet with, and you won’t manage to keep to the path.” But love is so bubbling up in their hearts that they cannot wait any longer till they get to Him. Christ and a meeting with Him swells larger in their hearts than all difficulties.
There is such love-warm exercise in their hearts that difficulties are so far from holding them back from visiting Christ’s grave that they make use of them all as stepping stones to walk on. “What matter if we are reproached as fanatics, if only we can get to Him! In any case, duty is ours and the outcome is the Lord’s.”
“We would like to go to Christ if we dared,” some say. “But if I am known to follow Christ the influential people in my community will go ballistic and my neighbours will all deride me.” Will they? “Yes, they will, and if I grow zealous in any way and become straight in my principles and practice I will be a marvel to all around and I don’t want to stand out.” Well, I cannot persuade you, but I’ll tell you news. Love in a Christian’s heart always produces these two things. It makes encouragements as broad and as wide as God has carved them out to be. Burning love will make nothing of a cold blast or a dark night for meeting with Christ. And love always looks at the bonny side of its object, its preciousness and all its beautiful colours. Love makes Christ so lovely that it engulfs all difficulties between Him and it, and makes them as it were die out and vanish.
6. When difficulties increase, love increases too
The love-warm exercise in these women’s hearts is that as their difficulties grow, their ardency and diligence to find Him keeps growing too. In times of difficulty it is good to see Christians growing in diligence, and a foul shame to see them slacking because of difficulties. The two Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, would put all Scotland to shame today if they were amongst us. They put to shame all the disciples in that time of difficulty. Worldly folk might have told them there was not much prudence in their undertaking. Sometimes indeed the undertaking of Christians is accompanied with prudence, yet I always love it when what is lacking in prudence is made up for by pure zeal, honesty and sincerity. Zeal and honesty in God’s people makes up for many defects and is preferable to the shirking kind of prudence that many these days lay much weight on.
7. Love risks everything to do Christ a good turn
These women venture themselves and all that they have for Christ. They lay life, name, fortune, credit and all at the stake for Christ. If they can just get the spices put on Christ’s body they will think all has gone well. For all these poor women knew, they might have got a gibbet or a prison cell from the higher powers and clergy for owning Christ’s grave. “Gibbet here, gibbet there, prison here, prison there, I need to see Him. Fines and penalties here, fines and penalties there, I must do this good turn for Christ. I will not be hindered, whatever it costs.” There is warmness indeed!
8. Love keeps looking for a rising Christ
The final piece of love-warm exercise among these women is that they keep seeking news of a rising Christ. Something in their hearts wants to have Him up again. That is why they march over all difficulties, to see what word there is of Him. Love is healthy where there is a warmness in it and where Christ keeps growing in the heart, and where this is there is always many visits to Christ’s grave and much enquiry made about when He will rise again.
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