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assigned them was not, as it might well seem, an impossible one. "I have all power," saith He in effect, "in heaven, and jurisdiction over all the earth: go ye therefore [30.4] into all the world, making disciples of all the nations, nothing doubting that all spiritual influences and all providential agencies will be made subservient to the great errand on which I send you."
Jesus had kind actions as well as kind words for His friends at parting. There was indeed no farewell kiss, or shaking of hands, or other symbolic act in use among men who bid each other adieu; but the manner of the ascension was most gracious and benignant towards those whom the ascending One left behind. Jesus moved upwards as if lifted from the earth by some celestial attraction, with His face looking downwards upon His beloved companions, and with His hand stretched out in an attitude of benediction. Hence the eleven grieved not for their Lord's disappearance. They marvelled indeed, and gazed eagerly and wonderingly towards the skies, as if trying to penetrate the cloud which received their Master's person; but the parting left no sadness behind. They bowed their heads in worship towards the ascended Christ, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, as if they had gained, not lost a friend, and as if the ascension were not a sunset but a sunrise — as indeed it was, not for them alone, but for the whole world.
Of that miraculous event, by which our High Priest passed within the veil into the celestial sanctuary, we may not speak. Like the transfiguration, it is a topic on which we know not what to say; an event not to be explained, but to be devoutly and joyfully believed, in company with the kindred truth declared by the two men in white apparel to the disciples, who said: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven? This same Jesus, which was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven."[30.5] Wherefore we pass from the ascension to make some observations on the great commission given by the Lord to His apostles for the last time, just before He was taken up into glory.
That commission was worthy of Him from whom it emanated, whether we regard Him as Son of God or as Son of man. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation." Surely this is the language of a Divine Being. What mere man ever entertained a plan of beneficence embracing the whole human race within its scope? and who but one possessing all power in heaven and on earth could dare to hope for success in so gigantic an undertaking? Then how full of grace and love the matter of the commission! The errand on which Jesus sends His apostles is to preach repentance and remission of sins in His name, and to make a peaceful conquest of the world to God by the word of reconciliation through His death. Such philanthropy approves itself to be at once divine and most intensely human. And mark, as specially characteristic of the gracious One, the direction, "beginning at Jerusalem." The words indicate a plan of operations adapted at once to the circumstances of the world, and to the capacities and idiosyncrasies of the agents; but they do more. They open a window into the heart of Jesus, and show Him to be the same who prayed on the cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Why begin at Jerusalem? Because "Jerusalem sinners" most need to repent and to be forgiven; and because Jesus would show forth in them at the outset the full extent of His long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should afterwards believe, in Samaria, Antioch, and the uttermost parts of the earth.
It was in every way a commission worthy of Jesus, as the Son of God and Saviour of sinners, to give. But what a commission for poor Galilean fishermen to receive! what a burden of responsibility to lay upon the shoulders of any poor mortal! Who is sufficient for these things? Jesus knew the insufficiency of His instruments. Therefore, having invested them with official authority, He proceeded to speak of an investment with another kind of power, without which the official must needs be utterly ineffectual. "And, behold," He said, "I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye at Jerusalem till ye be clothed with power from on high."
''Power from on high:" the expression has a mystical sound, and its sense seems difficult to define; yet the general meaning is surely plain enough. The thing signified is not altogether or chiefly a power to work miracles, but just what Jesus had spoken of at such length in his farewell address before His death. "Power from on high" means: All that the apostles were to gain from the mission of the Comforter — enlightenment of mind, enlargement of heart, sanctification of their faculties, and transformation of their characters, so as to make them whetted swords and polished shafts for subduing the world unto the truth;
these, or the effect of these combined, constituted the power for which Jesus directed the eleven to wait. The power, therefore, was a spiritual power, not a magical; an inspiration, not a possession; a power which was not to act as a blind fanatical force, but to manifest itself as a spirit of love and of a sound mind. After the power descended, the apostles were to be not less rational, but more; not mad, but sober-minded; not excited rhapsodists, but calm, clear, dignified expositors of divine truth, such as they appear in Luke's history of their ministry. In a word, they were to be less like their past selves and more like their Master: no longer ignorant, childish, weak, carnal, but initiated into the mysteries of the kingdom, and habitually under the guidance of the Spirit of grace and holiness.
Such being the power promised, it was evidently indispensable to success. Vain were official titles — apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, rulers; vain clerical robes, without this garment of divine power to clothe the souls of the eleven. Vain then, and equally vain now. The world is to be evangelized, not by men invested with ecclesiastical dignities and with parti-colored garments, but by men who have experienced the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and who are visibly endued with the divine power of wisdom, and love, and zeal.