Resurrection Reverberations, Gospel Focus
We recently celebrated another Easter. Nearly two thousand of them have come and gone since the first. Yet the continuing impact of the explosion of Jesus’ life continues to reverberate in this world of death.
Since Jesus is still alive today and actively continues to bring people to faith, let’s go back to the first Easter and see the model and the progress of her work.
John’s story is fascinating. It also gives us incredibly intimate moments and personal moments of transformation and teaching as people encountered the resurrected Jesus.
This same Jesus is alive today and still leads many through this same pattern and progression.
After the devastating spectacle of Jesus’ brutal death on the Roman cross, the Sunday morning began quietly. Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb. She wanted to show her devotion to the one who had made such a difference in her life.
But the tomb was open and empty. Not understanding the meaning of this, but knowing something was wrong, she ran to report the missing body.
The empty tomb should still confuse people today, in a world of death and sadness, and something is wrong.
Peter and John ran to the tomb, to the place of death, with John in front. The longtime competitive friends knew each other as they tried to make sense of Jesus’ death.
But the tomb was, indeed, empty. It didn’t look like a crime scene with body wraps strewn across the floor. He felt organized, orderly, and obviously something very unusual had happened. John saw and believed.
Throughout the gospel, this disciple had been particularly close to Jesus. It was no surprise that he responded quickly with faith. But what about the others? What about dummies, skeptics and failures? Keep reading.
Mary Magdalene was the last person one would expect to have the honor of meeting the risen Christ first, especially in this culture.. She was an unimportant woman with a load of life’s baggage.
It is beautiful to recognize that Jesus came first to a woman, and a woman with question marks all over her reputation.
If we were writing the story of Jesus coming back from the dead, we might see him knocking on Pilate’s door – “Do you remember me?” Or perhaps we’d see his figure darken the door of a Sanhedrin council meeting – “I’m back!
Or maybe we’d be less dramatic and have him meet the key leaders of the soon to be launched church movement. But we didn’t write the story; eyewitnesses did.
And the facts were clear: Jesus chose to make this insignificant, baggage-laden woman the first eyewitness!
Please note what this passage tells us about Jesus.
First, and most importantly, she looks for the prone body, but instead she sees Jesus standing: He is alive and well! Even though we have read this story a thousand times, let’s never lose the wonder of this moment and this truth!
Second, as we have already pointed out, he chose to meet Marie-Madeleine. Maybe he knew how much her tender heart would break when she died after all he had done for her. (Even today, Jesus likes to meet people loaded with the baggage of life and feeling hopelessly small in a world of death!)
Third, note his sensitivity towards her: “Why are you crying ?” And then, fourth, observe his personal connection with her; he spoke his name. (How beautiful to see hurt people discover that not only is Jesus alive as a historical fact.
More than that, he is sensitive and personal in his desire to connect with them – he knows my name!) This personal connection brings us to the fifth, and critical, observation: in v17, Jesus has created a new family and invites his disciples to join.
For the first time in the gospel, he calls his supporters “my brothers”. He openly extends his special relationship with them for the first time, “my Father and your Father, my God and your God”.
And Mary is launched with the privilege of reporting this to others. Not only had she seen him alive, but he had “told her these things!”
The scene shifts from the garden that morning to a Closed gathering of disciples in Jerusalem that night. Reports swirled in the conversations and hearts of the disciples, but then Jesus joined them.
Again, notice how her character isn’t seething and wanting revenge. There is a tenderness and determination about him. He speaks of peace to these troubled hearts.
He shows his hands and his side – Jesus is far more willing to share the proof of his death and resurrection than most humans are willing to pursue it!
He sets forth their commission – just as his Father sent him, so now he would send them to spread the news to others.
And they would be strengthened by the Spirit of Godwith forgiveness at the heart of their activity and their message.
The story continues in the same room, but eight days later. Now it’s the moment for Thomas to receive the unfortunate label that has stuck with him since.
The others had seen Jesus’ hands and side, but Thomas said his belief would need the same proof.
Notice how the chapter started with disciples running to check the evidence of an empty tomb. It ends with another disciple looking for proof of the resurrection – our faith is based on facts.
So Jesus joined them again, and his attention was fixed on Thomas. Notice that Jesus did not rebuke the skeptic; instead, he offered evidence.
And Thomas’ response has echoed through the centuries: “My Lord and my God! (I’m glad Thomas was able to talk about the punchline of the whole Gospel of John!)
Jesus offered evidence to Thomas. And Jesus also gave hope to all who would not have the same direct opportunity to reach out and feel the hurts..
It is possible, even blessed, to believe based on eyewitness accounts and the preponderance of historical evidence.
Really, the whole gospel of John was written to invite people to believe that Jesus is the Christthe Son of the living God, and believing, to have life.
the the last chapter of John continues the expanded presentation of the Great Commission.
We have already seen “All authority. . . was given to me. . . Go!” (In John, it sounds like “As the Father sent me, so I send you…”) We saw the “I am with you always. . .” (In John: “Receive the Holy Spirit…”).
But what about the specifics of what discipleship, bringing people in and then building them up, part of Matthew’s Great Commission will look like?
Here is John 21, with Jesus meeting again tenderly and graciously with his disciples. This time, by the Sea of Galilee.
This passage is filled with sweet reminders of their commissioning. The adrenaline of those weeks in Jerusalem had faded. Now seven disciples were in a boat trying to catch fish again.
Jesus gently reminded them of his first encounter with some of them in the beginning in Luke 5. He had called them to fish, not for fish, but for people.
As they came ashore, he gently reminded them of another previous lesson. While they were working with Jesus, he could provide needed provisions near the Sea of Galilee.
He had done it before: bread and fish for thousands. Even today, we need these reminders. If we have met the risen Christ, then there is a call on our livesa call fish people and join Jesus in his mission to draw people to him out of this dark world.
But there was also another reminder: the coal fire strategically placed to cook breakfast and bring Peter’s heart back to that night in Jerusalem.
We know from the other gospels that Peter had already met Jesus alone on Easter Sunday. But her failure to follow Jesus through trials may still have echoed in her wounded heart.
Or maybe the echo was in the estimation of others. In chapter 20 we see Jesus coming to no one and to the doubter, but what about failure? If we fail, are we finished?
Another tender conversation follows, with Jesus offering Peter three opportunities to declare his devotion and three affirmations of his commission to feed the herd.
Pierre had declared his loyalty unto death, but he had not survived the night by his own strength. But now Jesus has offered Peter the privilege he longed for: the opportunity to live for Jesus and, eventually, to die for Jesus.
Peter and John walked along the beach and, ultimately, to their deaths, with Peter ahead. The longtime friends were aware of each other as Peter tried to make sense of Jesus’ words about their deaths.
One would risk martyrdom for one’s master. The other would experience the challenges of growing old and dying. We are all on one path or the other. Some of us will be killed for Jesus. Others of us will grow old and die following Jesus.
Be that as it may, the instruction that Jesus gave is still valid. For now, we have to fish people and feed the herd. And how can we follow faithfully to the end? “Follow me.” Simple. Keep your eyes on the risen Christ.
This same pattern and progression is still at work today. In a world of death, something is wrong. When people hear about Jesus, they are asked to check out the empty tomb. Hopefully, as they gather evidence, they will meet the risen Lord personally.
He always likes to come to nobody, skeptics and failures. And in meeting him, we discover life in the relational bonds of the Trinity and find the purpose of our life in this world.
We are here to fish for the lost and feed God’s people. And as we keep our eyes on the living Christ, we are empowered to live for him and eventually die for him, confident that death is not the end of the story!
Peter Mead Is mentor to Cor Deo and author of several books. This article first appeared on his Biblical Preaching blog.