Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth


The Great Forty Days

Acts I.

"Speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

I T will be necessary for the teacher to again thoroughly enter into the teaching on "The Kingdom of God" in the second of the Lessons on St. Mark. Understand our Lord's beautiful Ideal for that Kingdom. Get class to see that the object of the Church is the realizing that ideal on earth. If Christians forget that object, they forget the purpose for which Christ wants them in His Church.

Last Sunday story of Resurrection. Fitting sequel now. The "Great Forty Days" between Resurrection and Ascension.

Vv.  1, 2. What "former treatise"? St. Luke, beginning history of Church here, refers us back to the foundation on which the Church rests—the Gospel. "Former treatise of all that Jesus began both to do and teach until  the day," etc. The present treatise is of all that Jesus continued  to do and teach after  that day. Book not really Acts of Apostles— only acts of two Apostles—it is really acts of our Lord by means of His servants after He had ascended. But was He not gone away from them? Matthew xxviii. 20—"with you always." They felt His presence so close to them. See i. 24. "Thou  hast chosen," ii. 47. "The Lord  added." See iii. 16, ix. 17. Wonderful how close and real His presence. So now, also, if only we had faith to see and feel it.

§ 1. Between Resurrection and Ascension

How long with them? (v.  3). Was it in same natural, familiar intercourse as before? No; very mysterious—appearing and vanishing; not hindered by doors shut, or any obstacle—yet could be seen, known, heard, felt, recognised as the same Jesus—yet mysteriously different. Why? Resurrection body. Appearances just like the angel appearances that are recorded in Scripture.

People sometimes ask, "Shall we know one another after death?" They say, "Bible does not tell." Is that so? Our Lord at Transfiguration was in the glorified body, yet Apostles recognised Him. So now after resurrection. There was a change—wonderful—puzzling; but they recognised Him, the same loving Lord, so good to Peter and the Magdalene, and all of them, just as He used to be. So when we meet those gone before, we may be startled at glory and beauty, but shall recognise manner and turn of expression, and shall recognise the real self of him or her whom we loved. "Wherefore, comfort one another with these words."

§ 2. Mysterious Interviews of the Forty Days

Now, in these mysterious interviews of the forty days what was He talking about? (v.  3). Turn back to St. Mark, Lesson II. See how all His life on earth that "Kingdom of God" was His central thought—the chief subject of all parables and sermons. Just as every great human teacher and reformer has certain pet projects and ideals—so our Lord also. This was the subject of all His teaching—the object of all His enthusiasm—the vision which filled up His great outlook into the future. (Teacher should carefully go over St. Mark, Lesson II, and call up our Lord's ideal of a Kingdom of God on earth, whose laws should be the laws of Heaven, whose work, and trade, and pleasure should be carried on according to the will of God.)

Is the Church that Kingdom of God? It is at least the poor human attempt at it. Like a sculptor trying to express his beautiful idea in some rough, coarse stone, so our Lord with His beautiful idea planted in humanity.

See how stupid they were about it. What did they ask? (v.  6). Thought He only meant a little Kingdom in Israel, with rulers, and soldiers, and weapons. Did He? What did He mean? Wonderful how He could ever risk His "Kingdom of God" with such stupid men. Why could He? Because He was to be with them, was sending the Holy Ghost to guide them.

§ 3. Holy Ghost

What should Holy Ghost give them? (v.  8). Power. Power of riches? Power in war? No. What? Power of holiness.  A rich or grand Church might not do much good; but a holy Church—an inspired Church—a band of men and women full of power from on high—full of enthusiasm for God, for righteousness, for self-sacrifice—they could accomplish anything. Fancy this whole parish of that kind. What a power! What an army of God! "Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners."

§ 4. Ascension

Now, after the forty days what wonderful thing happened? (For teaching about Ascension, see the Special Lesson for Ascension Day.)

After this, gathered together, waiting for the promise. Was the Lord present even after Ascension? Is He now? How were they occupied while waiting? (v.  14). Praying for what, think you? Were they expecting answer to prayer? Do you always?

Who were chief members? Notice last mention in Scripture of the Blessed Virgin. Was she worshipped or prayed to, or called Queen of Heaven, or Refuge of Sinners, as she is sometimes now? No. Just a simple, humble disciple, like the others, waiting for the gift promised by her Lord and her God. (In Roman Catholic districts emphasise this.)

§ 5. First Official Act

What was their first official act? Why did they venture to elect a new member of the apostolic body? Why did these Apostles afterwards ordain clergy, as our Bishops do to-day? Who told them to make such arrangements in the new Kingdom of God? Surely we must believe the Lord had given them their directions. The Acts of the Apostles is just the carrying out of His directions of the great forty days.

LESSON—You have been enlisted as members of that Kingdom of God. When? Can you refuse to serve in Christ's army? To help out that lovely ideal of the Kingdom of God, on which His heart was set—a kingdom of purity, love, courage, self-sacrifice? But do you think you ought  to refuse? Is He present in that kingdom on earth? See how Apostles felt His presence then? (v.  24). "Thou  hast chosen." How they felt His eye and hand about them! Ashamed to be careless and disloyal. So should we now? (Try to bring home to children the nearness of Christ, His longing after His ideal Kingdom of God on earth, the way in which each can help that ideal in common daily life.)

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