Standing by the Cross
I was affected, beloved brethren, by what the apostle Paul writes to the saints at Corinth: "I did not judge it well to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Paul had much to bring before them, but this is foundational. He came to them "not in excellency of word or wisdom, announcing to you the testimony of God"; he got back to the cross of Christ. We read in chapter 1, verse 21-23, "since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom has not known God, God has been pleased by the foolishness of the preaching to save those that believe. ... we preach Christ crucified, to Jews an offence, and to nations foolishness; but to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ God's power and God's wisdom."
This is where Paul starts in working out things with the saints at Corinth — preaching "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." He wasn't teaching philosophy and vain deceit. It wasn't the wisdom of men; it was Christ, God's wisdom: "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who has been made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption." And I believe the sufferings of Christ and the foolishness of the cross affected the saints at Corinth, because in his second epistle, chapter 7, verse 10, he writes, "For grief according to God works repentance to salvation, never to be regretted", and he goes on to write of "your being grieved according to God." Paul's letter brought them back to the cross of Christ.
I read these passages in the gospels because they point to persons who stood by the cross. In John 19, we read, "And by the cross of Jesus stood his mother and the sister of his mother, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala." These three sisters were standing by the cross. The disciples had forsaken Him and fled, although in this account John, the disciple whom He loved, is standing by the cross as well. And think of what the Lord said to John and to his mother! "Woman, behold thy son. Then he says unto the disciple, Behold thy mother." The Lord had confidence in these persons who were standing by the cross.
Well, Matthew tells us there were many women beholding from afar off, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, and again we have Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Men thought little of Galilee, and perhaps some of these persons were not too intelligent. In John 20, Mary of Magdala thought that Jesus was the gardener, but she had affection for Him. She loved Christ and was prepared to stand by the cross. We may speak of standing by the cross fairly glibly, but if we think of the taunts, the suffering, the persecution, the shame and spitting that the Lord Jesus endured on the cross, and think of persons standing by, prepared to be identified with the Lord Jesus in His suffering, it makes this expression "standing by the cross" mean more to us.
So Mary of Magdala and the other Mary came to the sepulchre on the dusk of the next day after sabbath. Mary of Magdala shines all through this section. She was one out of whom seven demons had been cast. She had not been a reputable person, not one who had been highly regarded, yet now she shines in her affection for the Lord Jesus Christ, in standing by the cross and in weeping at the tomb. And what a revelation comes to these two women — Mary of Magdala and the other Mary: "An angel of the Lord, descending out of heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it!" The other disciples didn't get this impression, but these two women did — these women who were prepared to stand by the cross and who knew something of "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." The angel tells them: "He is not here, for he is risen", and then tells them what the disciples are to do. We might not have expected that! We might have expected the Lord to speak to the disciples Himself, they being ones who had been with Him all the days of His public service! Yet Jesus appears to these women, saying, "Fear not; go, bring word to my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see me." And in John's gospel, Jesus gives Mary of Magdala this wonderful message: "Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God."
So Jesus says here, "go, bring word to my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see me." It is not Jerusalem, the religious center, but it's Galilee, the place of reproach, the place from whence they had come. They had followed Jesus from Galilee, and now they are to tell the disciples to go back there. Are we prepared to accept this word — "go into Galilee?" The angel had spoken to these women, but the Lord came into it. As they went to bring his disciples word, Jesus confirmed them: "behold also, Jesus met them, saying, Hail!" Have we experienced confirmation from the Lord Jesus Himself? Thank God the disciples obeyed the Lord's word through these sisters, whereas some of the watch went into the city and brought a false report — one which is current among the Jews until this day. How solemn!
But "the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain that Jesus had appointed them." Even then, some of them doubted. Well we don't read of these two sisters doubting! It says of the disciples, "when they saw him, they did homage to him, but some doubted." But then Jesus comes up and speaks to them, saying, "All power has been given me in heaven and upon earth." He commissions them there despite their doubts and hesitations. How gracious the Lord is, even to doubting Thomas, who said to the other disciples, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." John 20:25.
Dear brethren, let us be persons like Mary of Magdala, who was prepared to stand by the cross of Christ, and to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted these wonderful messages: "Go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God", and "Fear not; go, bring word to my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see me." Our brother referred to "Lift up ye gates, and the king of glory shall come in", and that is really what happened in John 20, where the doors were shut where the disciples were through fear of the Jews. Jesus Himself came and stood in the midst of them. That's like lifting up "ye gates", and the King of glory coming in!
Surely the Lord Jesus will come into exercises at the present time, as we are prepared to be subject to the message that He would give us through persons who have real affection for Him and are prepared to stand by the cross.
May the Lord bless the word. For His name's sake.
S. E. Hesterman