Redemption is now completed, and the Divine Conqueror is about to ascend to His Heavenly Throne; THE Mount of Olives is again selected as the scene of this closing, hallowed memory of His sojourn on earth.
Spots which have been peculiarly and sacredly associated to us in life, are often those fondly clung to in the prospect of departure. 'In that village churchyard,' says the old man who has weathered many of life's storms, and feels the winter of age set in upon him, 'I would like these ashes of mine to repose--they would be close by the cottage-home, where a mother's voice spoke to me life's earliest and best lessons, and a mother's love and tenderness wiped many tears away. It was under yonder spreading oak, that voices, now hushed in silence, were accustomed merrily to ring. It was under yonder lowly sanctuary roof, that I first heard words of consolation and hope--that wayward youth received its timely warnings, and that I was first made alive to the momentous concerns of eternity. There, God willing, within hearing of the old murmuring brook and the Sabbath bell, and under the shadow of the ancestral trees, would I like to wing my departure to a better world--there I would seek to die, and there to be buried!'
It was a kindred feeling that made old Barzillai prefer his rough mountain-dwelling in Gilead, to the luxurious seat that was offered to him at the king's table in Jerusalem--"Let me go back again," said he, "that I may die in my own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and my mother." It is a similar sacred and hallowed magnetic power which induces, at this day, the old Israelite, as age furrows his cheek with wrinkles, to bend his steps towards the earthy Zion, that his body may sleep with the dust of his fathers in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
May it not have been some such kindred feeling and association which prompted our Blessed Lord--sharer as He was of human sensibilities--to make selection, as the scene of His final departure, that which had been peculiarly and pre-eminently hallowed during His earthly pilgrimage? OLIVET! it was the spot of all others consecrated by suffering and love; often and again it had been perfumed with the incense of His prayers--it had been suffused at midnight with His tears; down amid the grove of its Gethsemane olives, it had been bathed with His blood; its rocky highway had echoed to the songs of the jubilant multitude, and its soil been carpeted with the palm-branches which strewed the Conqueror's path--the hallowed village on its ridge (ever-sacred Bethany) had been selected as the scene of His most enduring friendship. It was surely befitting that this earthly audience-chamber--this haunt of mingled joy and woe, abasement and triumph, it was fit that He should make it the gateway of Heaven, the entrance-room of His Celestial Palace--that on its height He should convene the chariots of God, "twenty thousand, even thousands of angels"--the bright convoy that was to bear Him to His everlasting Throne!
Behold, then, the Savior and the Eleven wending their way up the mountain. It is their last week together. If the disciples were not fully cognizant of the fact, their Lord at least was. He employs the time in sacred converse. He promises them the aid of supernatural power in prosecuting their gigantic mission. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost parts of the earth, are to be the wide field of their labors. And now, as the divine Redeemer is about to take farewell of the world, where in a garb of flesh He had sojourned for three-and-thirty years, how does He leave it?
It was a world that had disowned Him, scorned Him, slain Him. The memories of unrequited love were studding the earthly landscape all around. Even those warm hearts at His side (His trusted friends) had, in the hour of peril, proved faithless. There was nowhere His great heart of purity and goodness had a perfect reflection of itself; except in that blue expanse above, where His eye was now turned. Might we have wondered, if, at that moment, when the songs of Heaven were floating in His ear--when its 'burning spirits' were waiting by the opened portals to welcome Him in--could we have wondered had He resolved, once and forever, to forget an ungrateful earth--to obliterate from His thoughts the dark story of its forgetfulness and sin--that all His thoughts and joys would now be centered on that blessed world where no sin can enter--where no dark experience of sorrow can interrupt a Sabbath of endless communion?
How different! His parting act, as the bereaved men of Galilee strain their eyes upwards, is one of benignity and love to the world He is leaving. With uplifted hands, He breathes on these representative men His blessing. Words, not of upbraiding or wrath, but of unutterable tenderness, are the last which die on their ears; and when these can no more be audible, the outstretched arms are a silent symbolic legacy bequeathed to His disciples and His Church in every age, declaring that His interest in them is still the same. Bereft though they be of His visible presence, they may rise from their posture of awe and prostrate sorrow, conscious that His benediction and blessing are still following them--that no distance, no space, no time, can ever separate them from His love.
And what is the great fact of the Ascension--that which undoubtedly must have impressed itself most powerfully on the minds of these eleven spectators? It was, that Christ ascended as a MAN; that He left this world still carrying with Him His glorified humanity. The very same Savior who had broken bread with them at their communion feast--who had met them and ate with them on the shores of Tiberias--who had walked with those who day up the steeps of Olivet--yes, "the man Christ Jesus" had ascended in a bodily shape.
The last vision they saw, was a smile on the same lips that were used to say, "Peace be unto you!"--the same hands that were laid on the sick, and that had been stretched in anguish on the tree--these same hands had just been seen uplifted still, as if He could embrace a whole world in His arms of mercy; and in that attitude, and wearing unchanged the well-known human form and features, He had vanished into the world of the glorified.
We may imagine, when the disciples were walking up the mountain-side, or when they had reached the top of the secluded ridge, and had some dim strange premonition--some indefinite idea that they were about to be deprived of their Master's blessed presence--we can well imagine that they would at least be ignorant as to the nature of His departure. Would it have surprised them if He had said, 'A body was prepared me to come to this world, which I had undertaken to redeem. In a body, I needed to offer myself a whole burnt-sacrifice--my divine nature, being spiritual, was incapable of suffering. But now, having completed the expiatory part of the mediatorial work, I leave behind me this earthly tabernacle--Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. A bright cloud will presently encircle me--a lustrous robe to clothe my divinity; in this cloudy chariot, the indwelling Godhead will ascend to its own heaven.'
Might He not thus have left the disciples and the attendant angels to consign His body (as the body of Moses on Mount Nebo) to some quiet resting-place in these secluded heights? Might not the Marys have been again summoned with their spices and linen to embalm the hallowed frame, before laying it in its honored sepulcher? No--with a body (glorified indeed, but in a visible form like theirs) He ascends. Bidding defiance to one of earth's most stable and unalterable physical laws--showing that He was Lord of matter as well as of spirit--the body rises without wing or chariot-wheel up in its radiant garment of cloud, the invariable symbol of Deity. When, in profound amazement, (their bosoms swelling with alternate fear, and hope, and joy,) the disciples saw the last speck vanish in the blue distance, and when the thought may have occurred to them, 'Before He reach the celestial gate; angels (the warders of that spiritual world) may yet divest Him of His humanity, and usher Him, in His glorious spiritual nature, into the heaven of heavens;'--lo! two of these white-robed beings are present at the gazers' side, with a message to dispel all doubt--"You men of Galilee, why stand gazing up into heaven? THIS SAME JESUS, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven."
"This SAME Jesus!"--He has entered heaven wearing that humanity; and in ages to come, when the number of His elect are completed, in that humanity He will again come forth. As a Man, He is now seated on the throne. As a Man, He has gone to prepare a place for His people. As a Man, He ever lives to make intercession. "God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that MAN whom he has ordained." 'Go, go,' men of Galilee, on your glorious errand to the ends of the earth; and as you proclaim that gospel of peace and joy to the weary and heavy laden--the poor, the broken-hearted, the storm-tossed--tell them this glorious fact--you have seen it with your eyes and we endorse its truth--"a Man--(a MAN)--shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and as a covert fro the tempest!"
What a joyful assurance! We can follow the great Redeemer through His pilgrimage of matchless love on earth, and think that "that same Jesus," wearing the same body which groaned, and toiled, and suffered, is now at the right hand of God. The gates of heaven soon closed on the straining eyes of these gathered disciples. As they looked wistfully towards the spot where the vanishing cloud was last seen, there was nothing but the calm azure--the still, silent air--like the path of the vessel furrowing the ocean, athwart which the waves have again closed, leaving no trace behind of its course.
One of these eleven, the Beloved disciple, was privileged, at a subsequent period, in his Patmos-exile, to gaze in vision within these distant portals. What did he see? It was "that same Jesus"--the loving Being with outstretched hands on Olivet, only under another expressive and touching symbol. "Ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands" crowded around some object of mysterious adoration, in the form of a Lamb, bearing scars and blood-marks. He could be in no doubt who it was. The word which had formerly designated Him on earth, spoke of Him in glory--"Behold THE LAMB of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Not only is it Christ ascended, Christ glorified, but Christ wearing the old badges of humiliation and suffering--"still red in His apparel"--His vestments "dipped in blood;" and the song of that ransomed multitude, as they cast their crowns at His feet, is, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!"
Another disciple was also gifted with the same heavenly vision. Stephen, on his martyr-pillow, was privileged to look within the half-opened portals--and to proclaim to his murderers and to the Church, the sight which arrested his enraptured gaze. It was 'that same Jesus!'--"I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." Yes! Jesus "standing" with outstretched arms, (the arms and the smile of Olivet still unaltered,) stooping over His servant's tortured frame, as if impatient to receive the first of the noble army of martyrs who were hereafter to "praise Him."
Reader! be it yours to exult this same theme of exalted comfort. You have a Brother on the Throne. Changed indeed He is in His outward condition; for His season of trial and temptation and suffering--His "hour and power of darkness" being now at an end--He has passed amid the joys and hallelujahs of the Church of the glorified, the songs of eternity ever vibrating in His ears. But His human heart--the heart which of old loved, and pitied, and sympathized, knows no change! It remains a heart of unaltered and unalterable tenderness still.
"That same Jesus" addresses every soul striving with temptation--battling with evil--crushed with sorrow; and says, "Fear not; I AM He who lives, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore--I know your sorrows, I have endured them--I know your soul-struggles, I have felt them--I know your temptations, I have encountered them--I know your very tears, I have wept them. Amid the wreck of dear earthly hopes and friendships and sympathies, let your heart-throbs be stilled and your tears dried, by this elevating assurance, that there is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother."