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and instructive; and especially the last, of which we have an account in the text, when - He led them out as far as to Bethany, and lifted up his hands and blessed them, and was parted from them.”
This was the last interview he had with his disciples, in respect of his human nature and bodily presence: for having ascended, 66 the heavens must retain him until the times of restitution of all things." 6 Then he will come in the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and we must all appear at his judgmentseat.”
A striking scene it was indeed, when the lately crucified Saviour collected his friends, who, a short time ago, despaired of ever seeing him, and led them out to Bethany and blessed them, and ascended in their sight! Blessed were the ears which heard his words, and the eyes which saw that sight! Reflecting on it now, his friends are ready to say, with Peter in another case, It would have been good for us to have been there! In one sense, this is impossible; but in allusion to Paul's words, we may say, while absent in body we may be present in spirit. By faith and meditation we may realize the scene, place ourselves at Bethany, and listen to the gracious words of the Redeemer: we may see his hands lifted up, and hear him pronounce his parting benediction! For our encouragement he blessed the disciples, as a pattern of what he would do in his exalted state. We may, therefore, not only place ourselves at Bethany, but actually participate of the blessing. It is no vain thing to seek him, for they who seek shall find. Though, like his disciples, we can no more
have his bodily, with them we may have his gracious, presence, according to the great and running promise, “ Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
The happiness of those who were with Christ, and saw him ascend, may be divided into precious INSTRUCTION, blessed ATTAINMENT, and unspeakable
As this happiness may be our own, it ought to be carefully considered.
I. They had precious instruction.
1. At Bethany, they got a signal proof and display of Christ's divinity. This is the great rock on which the church is built; and, if this foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do? Nothing could be of greater importance to them, than to know whether Christ was indeed the true God; and nothing can be more important to us.
There was no middle: either Jesus of Nazareth was the true God, or the greatest impostor. When he was in this world he constantly asserted his divinity, and so asserted it as his enemies well understood him, and sought to stone him, because he made himself equal with God. His friends too understood him, and cried with faith and admiration, “ My Lord and my God—thou art the Christ the son of the living Godand to whom shall we go but unto thee? thou hast the words of eternal life.” The disciples had many displays of Christ's divinity before he led them out to Bethany. He often gave them satisfying proof that he knew their thoughts: he turned water into wine;
he healed the sick; made the blind to see; raised the dead; dispossessed the devils; and wrought many other miracles. But the display of his divinity at Bethany crowned all the former. Then he not only drew down a blessing from God, but he ascended to him; and his ascension was with God's highest approbation, for the angels were sent to attend him, and a cloud received him: “God is
gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.” The following things could not fail to make deep impressions, and prove that their Master was a wonderful
indeed : he cried on the cross, and gave up the ghost ;-when they went to seek him in the grave they found him alive;—now they see him ascend, attended by angels ;--and justly might they ask, Will God receive and exalt a liar? While here, he always said that he was the true God, and him hath God exalted with his right hand a Prince and a Saviour. If to this it should be objected, If there was then such a display of his divinity, why did he not take his enemies to witness it, when it would have silenced their cavils and completely satisfied them? To this we might answer, that sense and reason have many questions, and are seldom satisfied with divine procedure. But as Christ's enemies have asked this question, we might ask another: Why did not Christ take all his enemies with him to heaven, where they would have had the fullest evidence and greatest display of his glory? We might also answer, that while his enemies did not believe in his divinity, it was by no means for want of evidence; and they did all they could to darken and resist the evidence
which they had. They sought to kill Lazarus because he was a living proof of Christ's power in raising him from the grave; they bribed the watch who brought the news of the Saviour's resurrection; and endeavoured to stifle all convictions. They said, Let him come down from the cross, that we may believe on him. He did more; he rose from the dead, and they did not believe!
2. They were confirmed in the reality, and instructed concerning the nature, of Christ's resurrection. His resurrection is of the last importance in the Christian religion, and is the great fundamental doctrine. This is plainly asserted by the apostle, 1 Cor. xv. 14—18. “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain; ye are yet in
your sins: and they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” The whole of Christianity, and the salvation of sinners, depend upon the resurrection of Christ. Every appearance which he made was a proof that he was risen; and he gave them the most satisfying evidence that he was the very person who was crucified, and whose body was buried in a new sepulchre in the garden. He showed them his hands and his feet. He spake in a plain and familiar manner about the things concerning which he had conversed with them before his death. These things are expressly asserted in this chapter. “Behold my hands and my feet," said the risen Saviour, " handle me and see; and he ate with them, and said unto them, these are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, &c.” He went also into Galilee before them, as he had said ; and nothing
could be a stronger proof that it was Christ himself, than collecting his friends to a well-known place, and conversing familiarly with them according to his promise. Every appearance which he made during his forty days abode, confirmed them that the Lord was risen indeed ; and this last, at Bethany, left them without the least hesitation, for when he was carried up into heaven, they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
They were at the same time instructed about the nature of his resurrection. They were not only satisfied that the same body rose, but that their Master rose to die no more. Though Lazarus was raised from the grave, he had again to die; but Christ died once; and conquered death, and entered into heaven. As we shall find afterward, they learned that he rose for them, a public Head ; and that as he died for our offences, so he rose again for our justification.
3. They were instructed about his ascension. Before this, they had satisfying evidence both of his divinity and resurrection; though their knowledge was now greatly increased: but they were only acquainted with his ascension as foretold in prophecy. At Bethany, they were eye-witnesses of that glorious event; and this was the chief reason for which he led them out. His ascension was necessary. If he was a divine person, he could not always dwell upon earth; and, if risen, and his work finished, the glory which followed was as necessary as the death that went before. If he rose as a public Head, it was requisite that he should enter within the vail as forerunner. As they were to see him no more with the