Fear And Great Joy: A Resurrection Meditation

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8 (ESV)

It’s a strange mixture. We don’t usually hear about people being afraid and joyful at the same time. It’s always one or the other. Either someone is afraid or they are happy. It never seems to be both.

But this was different. This was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing like it had ever happened before. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The women who had followed Jesus were afraid because this was all new to them. They had seen God’s power before but never like this. This was more than feeding the five thousand and turning water into wine. This was the defeat of death, once and for all. When you come face to face with whatever it is that’s scary enough to beat something as scary as death itself, fear seems to be the natural emotion.

But it wasn’t the only emotion.

There was joy as well. There was joy because separation was gone. There was joy because the cross was not the end. There was good news to tell and these women were overjoyed because they were the ones chosen by God to deliver it. The angel of the Lord could have gone straight to Peter and John and the boys. Instead, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman who had once been possessed by seven demons, and another lady who Matthew affectionately refers to as, “the other Mary.” None of that mattered. The body that they had come to visit was not there. It had not been stolen. It got up under it’s own power.

That’s a scary thing.

But it’s also a joyous thing.

That strange combination of fear and joy is still with us today. We often find ourselves afraid because things are not as they should be. We live under the curse of Adam’s sin.

That’s a scary thing.

But Jesus came to undo the curse, take it from us and put it on himself. When we consider our sins in relation to the holiness of God, things definitely are not as they should be.

That’s a joyous thing.

 

From the perspective of the religious elites of the day, the cross should have been the end of our faith. Instead, it is the source of our hope.

If you were hearing this story for the first time, you would think that some of Jesus’ last words would be, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Instead, just a few days later, the women who heard him utter that frightening sentence would hear him say, “Do not be afraid.”

In this world, there are a million reasons to be afraid. When you think about it, there is only one reason not to be.

Jesus is alive.

That is enough.

That is our great joy.

Scars In Heaven

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Christians have a lot to look forward to. No matter how bad it gets on this earth, we know that things won’t stay this way. Pain and heartache will not last. Death does not get the final say.

That’s not to say that life isn’t hard for Christians. It is. And it doesn’t mean that we look forward to the day of our death with some creepy fascination. We just know that hardships are no match for the eternal joy that will be ours with Christ. We know that death, though painful, does not get the final say.

Of all people, Christians have the greatest reason for hope.

As our bodies age, hurt and betray us, we know that we have the promise of a new and imperishable body that will be beyond description and equipped with everything that we need to fully enjoy and obey God (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

In the new heavens and new earth, there will be no cancer hospitals, no AIDS, no jails, no political corruption, no divorce, no broken hearts and no sin.

But there will be scars in heaven.

Those scars won’t be ours. That weird mark just above your eyebrow from the time when you thought that the sliding glass door was opened will be long gone in heaven. Your new body will not carry the marks of your kidney surgery or that old football injury.

The only scars in heaven will belong to Jesus.

In talking about our new bodies, Paul tells the Corinthians that we will bear the image of the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49). After Jesus rose from the grave, he was not the bloody mess that he was while the Romans beat him. He didn’t walk around with the fatigue he had on the cross. But he still the scars.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:24-28 (ESV)

In his resurrected body, Jesus walked with people and carried on conversations with them (Luke 24:13-35). He walked through walls (John 20:26) but he was no ghost. In his resurrected body, Jesus even prepared and ate breakfast with his disciples (John 21:1-14).

But why? Jesus had the power to conquer death. Couldn’t he also get rid of the scars that the crucifixion left on his body? Of course he could. But there’s a reason why he didn’t.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

Jesus did not die simply to redeem our souls. His death redeemed us as whole persons. That includes our bodies.

When we finally get to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth with our scar free bodies we will look to Jesus and be constantly reminded of how it all came to be. Scars have a way of reminding us of things.

Every scar has a story just beneath it.

Several years ago I was playing with my dog in the backyard. I named him Hines after Hines Ward, the great Georgia Bulldog football star. My dog was big and looked mean but he was really friendly. Sometimes he was too friendly. I have a scar on my hand from one of Hines’ friendly moments. Whenever I look at that scar, I think about Hines.

And so it will be for us in eternity. The scars that remain on our Lord will remind us of what really matters. They will help us to remember that our new bodies are only possible because of Christ’s broken body.

I can’t wait for the day when all diseases are gone. I’m looking forward to finding out what it will be like to have a body that is not broken by sin. But, as nice as that will be, none of it is the ultimate point.

Christ is.

And for all eternity, his scars will remind us of that.

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Next Month’s Crucifixion

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A lot has changed in 2000 years. Man, a lot has changed in 2 years. Watch a movie that’s just a few years old. If it’s set in New York and you can still see the World Trade Center in the skyline or if one of the characters uses a flip phone, the movie may as well be in black and white.

A lot has changed. And fast.

During the month of April, I plan on preaching through specific events leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ. Part of the trick for me is to not read the gospels, are any part of the Bible, through my white, American eyes. But I can’t help it. Something inside of me has to wonder what it would be like if Jesus was born 30 years ago in the United States and was now just a few weeks away from his crucifixion.

A lot has changed in 2000 years.

Or has it?

People would still be mad at Jesus.

Conservatives and libertarians would probably like him at first. But then we would take notice of some of the people who followed him and start to have our doubts. Prostitutes? Really? The deal closer for us would be the time when one of us walked into a restaurant and noticed Jesus sitting with a high ranking IRS official. That, coupled with his hesitancy to do anything to overthrow oppressive government officials, would be all we would need.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17 (ESV)

Those with more of a liberal slant would love Jesus’ work with the poor. His Sermon on the Mount would get tons of shares and likes on social media. Of course, the part where he talks about marriage and adultery would have to be overlooked. Who is he to keep people apart who really love each other? And what’s with his followers? Some of them carry swords! There are even rumors that Jesus told them to do such a thing. That seems more and more like the work of an extremist than a man who will bring about peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27 (ESV)

The health nuts would really have a fit. I mean, have you seen some of the things he eats? Isn’t he aware of the mercury in the fish or the gluten in the bread? To top it all off, his disciples don’t even wash their hands before they eat. Barbarians!

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Mark 7:15 (ESV)

The church folks wouldn’t like the way he stirs up controversy in houses of worship. Those were expensive tables he turned over. The anti-religion zealots would ridicule his frequent talk of God and the government would view him as a puppet to be used for their own wicked purposes only to be discarded when those purposes are met.

It’s been said that nothing brings unity like a common enemy. If Jesus was wrapping up his earthly ministry next month in the United States, he would be the common enemy. He would be the one person who got the libertarians, the liberals, the high-ranking government officials, the food Nazis, the church crowd and the skeptics to all sing the same song.

“Crucify!”

It’s been 2000 years since Jesus’ earthly ministry. The World Trade Centers have come and gone. Phones have gotten smarter.

But things haven’t really changed all that much.

The human heart still has a bent towards grace when it is the recipient but away from grace when it’s another heart doing the receiving.

Thankfully, God hasn’t changed either. 2000 years ago, Jesus didn’t come looking for people who would agree with him. He came looking for sinners. He found them. He confronted them. He forgave them. He loves them.

He found a tax-collecting traitor named Levi. He found an extremist named Simon who wanted to see that government overthrown. He forgave them both. He loved them. And he gave them both a spot around the same table. His table.

We all have our differences. And that’s good. But none of us have exclusive rights to Jesus. We all have our shortcomings. If the crucifixion took place a few Fridays from now, we would all find our own ways to drive nails, run away in terror, mock or yell, “Crucify.”

All of us.

But that doesn’t mean that we should abandon truth in some sort of near-sighted hope that doing so would lead to unity. It won’t. It never does.

Instead, we should cling to truth. The Truth.

It’s only then that we come to grips with just how dire our condition is.

But it’s also there where we see just how deep the Savior’s love is.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34 (ESV)