IT BEGAN WITH ELEVEN MEN and ONE WOMAN
It had been a terrifying experience for those eleven men crowded into that little upper room. For two long nights and an interminable day they had shut themselves in to escape the watchful eye of the Roman police: no one had ventured out for so much as even a bite of food. Their drawn faces and tense manner gave vivid evidence of the great strain under which they labored. They moved and spoke like hunted men.
Only a little more than a week ago they had come down from the north in high spirits, in the company of their master, the Galilean. For nearly three years he had thrilled their hearts and those of the common people with his teachings and his promises, raising their hopes of a nation to be liberated from the galling yoke of Rome.
Just a week ago yesterday he had entered the city at the head of a vast multitude of pilgrims who had shouted his praises in a frenzy of joy. It had seemed to his friends that the hour of his great triumph was very close at hand.
His visit to the city had been for the purpose of testing his strength against that of the nation’s overlords. He had been fully aware of the danger into which he was putting himself, but he had not hesitated in the least. He had been as calm as if victory were inevitable. Every step had been taken as if under the compulsion of God.
Finding the temple infested with a crew of notorious crooked religious leaders who robbed the people, preying on their religious devotion, he had been deeply moved, and in a scene of wild confusion had driven the grafters out of the temple. In doing so he had incurred the enmity of the temple leaders and had brought down upon his head the wrath of the High Priests who shared in the unholy profits of the sordid system.
On last Friday, they had succeeded in persuading Pilate, the time-serving Roman governor, to execute him as a revolutionary. Now, because the eleven were known to be his most intimate friends, they were in dire danger of the same fate.
It was almost an hour before the dawn, and the hard pressed company of Galileans were making feverish preparations to leave the city and flee for their lives. The escape had been carefully planned in every detail; but it must be executed with the utmost care, for Rome was in no mood to be trifled with, and anyone suspected of sedition could expect little mercy. The eleven moved about the room without making a sound, and such words as passed between them were spoken in whispers.
Suddenly, almost at the moment they were ready to begin slipping out of the upper room, there came the sound of flying feet in the courtyard below, and someone was heard to come racing up he stone steps that led to their hiding place. Instantly every man was rigid and alert. They did not propose to be caught unawares. Peter stood before the door with his short sword drawn. The others pressed closely behind him.
Then there came a violent pounding on the door, and a woman’s voice, screamed: “Peter, Peter, open the door! Please open the door! He is not there! He is risen! He is risen!!!!”
As by a common impulse the eleven men rushed to unbolt and unbar the great door. The voice, they all knew, was that of Mary Magdalene, one of the masters most devoted women friends.
It was Mary who followed the crowd with his mother, to the scene of the crucifixion, and stayed beside her near the cross throughout the whole terrible ordeal. Then, when the soldiers had pronounced him dead, it was Mary who had helped prepare his body for burial in Joseph’s tomb, anointing it with spices and wrapping it about with linen cloths. At a safe distance she had watched the Roman officers affix Caesar’s seal, and then had turned back to the city to sob out the dreary hours of the Sabbath.
Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, long before the sun had appeared over the eastern hills, Mary had risen from her comfortless bed and had crept through the dark streets to the city’s gate, and on out into the field to the tomb. There a horrifying sight had awaited her. The seal was broken; the stone was rolled away from the entrances; the tomb itself was empty. Someone had stolen the body of her Lord!
Crouching and sobbing before the tomb, Mary had been oblivious to everything about her until a voice spoke, just behind her. It was the master, radiant and very much alive. At first she could not believe her eyes. Then, when the full consciousness of the fact dawned upon her grief-numbed mind, she cried out in a wild, glad shriek, “Master, Master!”
She raced back to the city, and to the room where the disciples had spent the Sabbath, to bring them the amazing news.
No company of men had ever lived through a blacker day than that Sabbath when their master had lain in Joseph’s tomb. When first the eleven men had met him in Galilee, he had given them good reason to believe that it was he would redeem the land and the people. For this great hope they had given up their all, and followed him. With all their hearts they had believed that the reign of God was about to begin with men.
With the Galilean dead, their dream came crashing to earth. There was nothing left for them to do but to go back to the desolation and hopelessness of the old days. They would endure the ridicule of their more practical neighbors as best they could. They would get what little there was left in life, and end their days in despair. It was a beaten, disheartened and hopeless eleven men who crowded about the door of the upper room while Mary screamed and Peter fumbled with the great bolts and bars.
Once admitted, Mary told her story in excited, broken fragments of sentences, while the eleven stared, their eyes filled with wonder. Then, when the truth finally dawned upon them, they raced down the stairs, across the courtyard, through the half-lighted streets, and out to the empty tomb where they verified the woman’s story.
From there they raced through Galilee, Judea, and Samaria, telling the news. Everywhere they went they told the same tale. It was their only message. “He who was crucified by Caesar’s soldiers, and sealed in Joseph’s tomb is alive!” they cried. “And because he lives, all men may live! Because he is immortal, all men are immortal!”
From city to city, and from province to province, they raced with the amazing news. Everywhere men listened with incredulity. Such a thing had never been heard before. Incredulity was followed by animosity, and here and there the mobs began to gather. Then the wrath of priests and holders of privilege broke out, and the eleven were hounded and harried from the city to city. But everywhere their feet rested a fire was started!
They went on telling the story. Finally it appeared that they were going to turn the world upside down, and the opposition became violent and desperate. James the bother of the Galilean, and James the son of Zebadee, were killed by mobs in the streets of Jerusalem. Matthew, the rich tax-gatherer, was slain by the sword in Ethiopia. Philip, the mild-mannered clerk, was hanged in Phrygia, while Bartholomew was flayed alive in Armenia. Andrew was crucified in Achaia; Peter in Rome; and Simon, the Zealot, in Persia. Thomas was run through with a lance in east India. Only John, the youngest, escaped a violent death.
But swords and crosses could not stop the eleven men. From their graves they hurried on, invading slave markets and setting the bondsmen free, breaking through jail doors and releasing prisoners, marching across strange lands and bringing light and life to a world benighted.
Everywhere they went they became the defenders of the people against the holder of power and privilege, breaking down with the power of the Gospel, the social as well as the spiritual evils of their day.
Down through the centuries they raced, enlisting heroes, martyrs, scholars, thinkers, sensitive souls who sought for God. Today they are going to and fro across the earth calling to the true and the courageous to join them in the march, for there is still the business of the Kingdom to be done.
It started with eleven men, until it came to us. It now rests with us to go on with the story. IT MUST NOT STOP, we must continue.
Our nation is slowly but surely turning away from God and God’s law. The Scripture is quite clear....”the nation without God, it shall surely die.” Christians need to act and to act now. It does not matter which political party is in control, God needs to be in control, not men! Pray for our nation, our leaders, and our soldiers.
God bless America, again!
Pastor Don Magaw