Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Day Sermon - Excerpt - John xx.19,20

John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, leads the assault at Blenheim

Let us now consider the disciples reaction to all of this. The Gospel says, “Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.” The truth of Jesus’ resurrection finally hit them and the celebration began. I was moved by these words of Charles Simeon, while preparing this sermon: “Gladness is opposed to grief; they had seen the saddest sight that was ever exhibited in the world; - a sight that made the sun to blush, and hide his head beneath the sable mantle of midnight; - a sight that wrung their hearts with unutterable anguish; - but the cause of their grief was removed; - their Lord, who had been torn from them by the cruel hands of lawless rabble, was now restored to them; - he had been dead, but he was now alive again.” Having seen the worst sight of all, they now beheld the best and most wonderful sight of all: the incarnate Son of God risen from the dead! Here was the very focus of the joy of heaven itself displayed before them: their own beloved Lord was alive again.

Oh, they were glad because they loved him. And their gladness would only grow as they came to better understand all he had done for them. Their gladness of love, of comfort, of peace, would grow from fulness to fulness. Their gladness of confidence would also grow in like fashion as the gladess of a soldier can grow if he has a general that is of the finest quality.

There have been a few times through history when an army general has been everything a general ought to be. The perfect general will be a genius of strategy, leading his men to victories. He will be a humble man, who, while maintaining the dignity of his position, nevertheless makes his men to feel that he is their comrade in arms. He will show care for his troops, being sure their needs are met and that their orders are worthwhile. He will be a fighter, not asking his men to do anything that he himself would not do, often found beside his men in the heat of battle. Such generals have been few but where they have served, their soldiers have been glad with that gladness of respect, of love, of admiration and of confidence that leads to the highest morale of which an army is capable. And it has often been the case that when this general comes onto the field, his men will be so glad to see him and so excited, that they will break their ranks and usual order and cheer him with loud enthusiasm.

Such a general was Sir Winston Churchill’s ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, or “Corporal John” as his soldiers liked to call him. Sir Winston writes in his biography of Marlborough:

“It is on this morning field of [the town of] Elixem that we see [Marlborough] as he should be remembered. It was one of the very few moments in his life when he came in contact with spontaneous mass affection. As he rode up sword in hand to take his place in the cavalry charges, the troopers and their officers broke into loud acclamations, quite unusual to the military etiquette of those formal times. And afterwards, as he moved along the front of his army, the soldiers, mostly Blenheim [veterans], cast discipline to the winds and hailed him everywhere with proud delight. Here … [was] the enemy baffled and put to flight, not at the cost of thousands of poor soldiers, but by the sleight of a master-hand …; and here was Corporal John, who could do it every time if only he were set free, who was so careful of their food and pay and so just in his government of the army, who thought for all as their commander and fought in the scrimmage as a private man – surely for once they might show him what they felt!” (pp. 460-461)

The parallel with Jesus of such a leader as I have described, and as Churchill has described, and the parallel of the soldier’s enthusiasm with the gladness of the disciples are plain to see. Jesus proved himself the greatest Captain to have ever lived. He had defeated the greatest enemies of all mankind: sin, the devil, and death itself! And he had safely brought his disciples through that struggle and now proclaimed their victory! None more glorious and yet humble than he! None so kind and considerate! None so brave, none so wise, none so capable of confounding and vanquishing his enemies, none so loving as He! None so inspiring of glad confidence than he! Well might those disciples be glad to see the Lord! No more inspiring figure in all of human history stood before them – and the inspiration only grew and grew with the increase of their understanding as the days and months and years drew on. It is no wonder they were willing to lay down their lives for such a Captain. Many men had done so and would do so for their generals. Why not they for theirs, who was the best of all?

Oh, frends, what is this risen Jesus to us? Does our faith, our confidence in him, match his grand qualities? Have we not sufficient ground in him for our peace, our faith, and our joy? Have we not here, in Him, a source of confidence that can dispell every gloom, remove every obstacle, and overcome every opposition? Oh let us raise a shout of Huzzah! to this our Captain, leave the sin that so easily besets us, and launch out into the battle of faith and duty that is set before us. Then we may rejoice with that glorious army of saints among whom we will stand on the day of our Resurrection, and on that day, with unbridled affection and to the top of our voice, acclaim Jesus the victorious Lamb of God!


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