FRIDAY, MARCH 30
The emerging message
Isaiah’s prophecy of death being swallowed up for ever. People of the Lord of a future generation will say, “We trusted in Him and He saved us”.
Mark recounts how the sudden realisation that the resurrection of Jesus was a reality was a shock, not least to the three women disciples who discovered of the miracle of the open, empty tomb.
A turning point as Peter enters Cornelius’ house and tells the Gentile audience that God does not show favouritism to His own nation of history but receives those of any race or culture who turn to Him: the Good News is for Gentile equally with Jew.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul’s mission has reached the Greek city of Corinth and he reminds the church he founded there that Jesus, crucified and buried as dead, is very much alive as hundreds could testify.
“He has gone ahead”
Between seven and eight centuries before Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, Isaiah prophesied of a Messiah to come – a light in the gloom, a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a wonderful counsellor and prince of peace, born of a virgin, a healer, and light to the nations of the world. He would be One who would restore sight to the blind and set captives free – and on Mount Zion death would be swallowed up for ever, its power broken. Who could believe such an immense vision?
When the Messiah, Jesus, did start His ministry, Jews who had studied these and three dozen others which point to the Messiah to come were unable to recognise Him, even though he fulfilled the genealogy and all the criteria that had been prophesied. God had gone ahead while people who professed to know his ways struggled to catch up.
When Jesus had been nailed to the Cross to die amid earth tremors and eclipse of the sun and mocking onlookers, His men followers fled and the women watched from a distance. He had died; they were in the shock of bereavement. Visiting the tomb cut in the rock given by Joseph of Arimathea with aloes and spices, as we would put flowers on the grave, the three women found the massive stone closure rolled back, an empty tomb – and an angelic messenger who said, “He has risen, and gone ahead… to Galilee.” The shock of bereavement became a stunned incredulity, a joy they would feel once numbed emotions began to recover.
Peter, with fighting his natural reserve as a Jew, accepted an invitation to visit a Roman officer’s house and talk to them about Jesus. Something had fallen into place for him, a revelation which shocked him to the core – God’s favour through Jesus was for Jews and Gentiles equally. God had gone ahead and once again done a new thing (Isaiah 43:19)
In more recent church history we can see how God has often ‘gone ahead” and done a new thing, to the consternation of those rooted in how it had been before.
Our ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’ look different. There are various ‘people groups’ or tribes within the Christian church. We call them denominations, or sub-groups within denominations. Take evangelicals, for example, who have so faithfully defended the priority of Scripture and the centrality of a personal relationship with Jesus against modernist liberalism. Yet some have been uncomfortable (or worse) alongside those who found in that same personal relationship and same Bible a spiritual empowering and spiritual gifts for service and mission that God seems to be re-emphasising today. Pentecostals formed churches (for distinction they called them ‘assemblies’) in the early years of the last century found a freedom to worship and evangelise with great freedom and expressive joy. One of the very first was started by a Hereford outfitter during the First World War years. Fifty years later, believers in the C of E and other more formal churches began to be impacted by the same new awareness of the Person of the Holy Spirit and His empowering – and some old-time Pentecostals reacted by separating even more, suspicious of this new ‘departure’.
The problem is that human nature does show partiality and likes to protect its own – and God confronts this. We may have opportunity to pray with someone who professes no faith at all – and God is inclined to do something completely unexpected (and, we think, underserved), to shock them with His love and grace.
The house of Cornelius, for us, is discerning the kingdom of God over and above our little prejudices. It is also leaving our comfort zones and favourite seats in church or chapel, to willingly enter the territory of people who are absolutely NOT like us – and show them Jesus.
TUESDAY, MARCH 27
Three women disciples are those entrusted by God with the discovery of the miracle of the open, empty tomb
In a strongly male-dominated society, the only eyewitnesses to Jesus death, burial and then empty tomb are the “least” of the disciples, the women.
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
The Sabbath ended, shops could reopen for the evening. The women will complete the burial rites left incomplete at the hasty interment earlier.
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb…
“Very early on the first day of the week” – all four gospels state this rather than the “third day”, 1 Cor. 15:3-4. This doesn’t seem to tally exactly with Jesus’ predictions. The reason may be to present the Resurrection as something new.
Mary Magdalene saw where Jesus was laid, so she knew where to go, Mark 15:47.
3 …and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
Tombs like this were constructed with a sloping groove for the heavy circular stone closure, which was designed to stay closed. It would have to be lifted out or rolled back up the incline. Mark keeps to the bare essential facts, while Matthew mentions the earthquake and angelic visitation, Matt. 28:2.
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
They reacted as you and I would react to an unexpected, unexplained sight – and unexpected person.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.
There had to be a word from God to explain the inexplicable – the empty tomb. The angelic messenger was God’s provision for this need.
7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’ ”
Peter is specifically included because he was, at this point, an outsider through having denied Jesus, Mark 14:66-72
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Afraid, astonished, confused: not able to believe the angel at first. But when they did, they talked about it – a lot, Matt 28:8, Luke 24:9.
Sometimes God just needs people who will look and listen and learn, and then be the ones who communicate what He has revealed to others. From a society of extreme male domination, we have learned, rather slowly, to recognise the God-given roles of men and women and the power of its partnership. This is brought out in this account of the most jaw-dropping of all miracles and those chosen to be the first witnesses of it.
Another lesson is the way an angelic messenger appears to give essential interpretation and direction. Some things are conceptually and emotionally beyond our grasp. God knows this and graciously provides. So we are reminded to be open to the interactions of angels – heavenly spiritual messengers – in our lives, usually unseen, but we can be aware of their presence. We think that our five senses provide the sum total of reality, but the spirit world and the heavenly dimension is being played out in parallel with everything we see and experience. The sixth sense, our spiritual awareness and connected by prayerful engagement, is just as real even if it is just outside our field of vision.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
If God was about to reveal something extraordinary and hard to believe, could He find in you a willing and reliable witness?
How much does the fear of people’s unbelieving and perhaps scornful reaction put us off telling what we know to be true?