Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:17-23 ESV http://bible.com/59/jhn.20.17-23.esv)
During my recent trip to London I passed some of the time during our return trip watching a few recent movies I had missed seeing at the theater. I must admit, I enjoy the movies about the comic book heroes I grew up admiring and that caused me to watch Black Panther. One thing about a super hero, they all have and serve a higher purpose. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes too easy to lose sight of our own purpose in life. We have a tendency, at least in America, to think that the highest aim we have is to achieve personal happiness. That’s really self-focused and shortsighted but fits in really well with our Snapchat and “selfie culture.” Hmmm. Maybe that’s why we view these Marvel and DC comic characters as “super” heroes and we’re just “puny humans,” to quote the Hulk. In this week’s passage we encounter some insight into Jesus’ purpose for His followers and it isn’t the pursuit of some selfish view of personal happiness. Let’s take a look…
As you may recall from last week’s post, Mary appears to have touched, prodded or grabbed onto Jesus’ to verify the truth of what her eyes were seeing and then she seemed reluctant to let go. He tells her she must stop “clinging” to Him because it was important and necessary that He be allowed to ascend to the Father. In fact, He tells her to go inform His brothers that He was ascending to His/their Father and His/their God. It is important to note that Jesus gives a very specific description of His ascension. He doesn’t ask Mary to simply go inform His brothers that He’s leaving and returning to heaven but rather that He’s ascending to “my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Why is that important? The Jewish leadership had basically taught for many years that they were favored by God, as evidenced by their position, power and wealth, and that the common, ordinary people were spiritually rejected and shunned by God. They perpetuated an us/them or favored/rejected religious culture that left most with little to no hope in experiencing God’s love. However, Jesus blew that idea away as He declared; “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV) He even went further and declared that the religious leaders laid a heavy religious burden upon the people and then did nothing to help relieve their burden (see Lk. 11:37-54). In other words, their religious leaders taught that God required all of these rules be followed meticulously but they provided no hope or help that those burdens could ever be met.
But the God Jesus introduced them to was a loving Father who cared about and for His children. He was a God who was high, holy and just but also one who would seek them because they belonged to Him and were lost or would come running to meet them when they turned away from sin and started towards home (Lk. 15). He was their Father and He was their God… That’s SO incredibly important.
Just for a second, let’s revisit that super hero idea. I always thought my father was a super hero. There are so many things I could tell you about him, but suffice it to say that my dad was a great role model for his sons. He taught us how to work hard, how to keep our word, to be honest and fair regardless of someone’s race or beliefs, how to love others and how to love God supremely.
But, despite his incredible abilities my dad couldn’t do the most important thing. He couldn’t fix my innate brokenness and give me eternal life. He was good and kind but he wasn’t God. The reason my father WAS so good was because he KNEW Jesus and wanted me to know Him, too. My dad wasn’t a good man because he was perfect, he was a good man because he’d been transformed by God’s love. He knew I needed a Heavenly Father who would do more than teach me how to catch, throw and hit a baseball. He knew I needed a Father and God in the same person. Someone who would both love me unconditionally and be able to transform me radically. I needed both, and so do you.
So, listen to Jesus’ words afresh… “go tell my BROTHERS that I’m going to ascend to my Father and THEIR Father, to my God and THEIR God.” He’s not just the Father of those who seem to be greatly loved, He’s ours. He’s not just the God of those who seem holy and righteous, He’s ours. In other words, the religious elite don’t have a corner on God’s favor or love. He even loves those of us who struggle and stumble along this path called life and that’s important because of the next part of this story…
Later that same evening, as the disciples hid behind a locked door out of fear of the Jews, Jesus appeared in their midst. His first words were, “Peace be with you.” We tend to have a very shallow view of the concept or idea of Peace. The Jewish idea behind the word is that of wholeness or completeness. You experience true peace when you fully become what God intended for you. Peace reigns in our hearts and lives when all of the brokenness in us is fixed and all of the emptiness in us is filled. Ok, that’s an incredible idea. But, how do I experience this peace? How can everything that’s wrong with my life be made right? I’m glad you asked… hang with me, a bit longer.
Jesus shows the disciples His hands and side. He lets them verify His identity and His physical presence. He’s not just some spirit entity or power but He’s the real Jesus and He has a physical presence, a body. A different kind of body, but a body nonetheless. He then tells them again, “Peace be with you.” And then adds, “As the Father has sent me, I’m sending you.” Let’s deal with the implications of both of those statements, separately.
First, we can have true peace or wholeness when we recognize the implications and embrace the results of the resurrection. Jesus allows the disciples to “inspect” His wounds so that their doubts would be replaced with faith. It is much easier to accept Jesus’ teachings as inspirational than it is to accept His resurrection as factual. But, when the truth of the resurrection begins to crack the hardness of our heart then the love of God rushes in and begins the healing and transforming process. We go from brokenness to wholeness and from emptiness to purpose. Peace becomes more than a possibility, it becomes our daily reality. That’s not to say we don’t struggle, we do. But that’s where the Father’s love really begins to shine through.
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)
You see, we have MORE than just a Father who loves us. We also have a God who CARES for us. He’s not just a figurehead, he’s the first person of the Godhead. He’s a true super hero who not only CAN do something about our problems, He’s the God who HAS done something about them!
Now, the last part of the story also circles back to the idea of a super hero by having a higher purpose in life. God has a higher purpose; expressing His eternal love to mankind. He has also determined to include those who believe and follow Him in that purpose. “Just as the Father has sent me, I’m sending you.” That’s the second part of the peace equation. He not only fixed our brokenness, He has filled us with Himself and His purpose. Jesus taught us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with everything in us and to love others in the same way we love ourselves. Now, God has enlisted us in fulfilling those commandments as a part of His plan to “save the planet from destruction.” That’s your assignment, will you accept it?
One last thing… I asked the question earlier, “how can everything that’s wrong with your life be made right?” Here’s how. Let the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection crack through the hardness of your heart and permit the love of God to flow in and transform you. Paul puts it this way, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV) To confess means to say the same thing that God says or to agree with the statement, “Jesus is Lord.” It goes on to say that you must believe in the resurrection. Why? Because it is the proof or evidence of Jesus’ deity and lordship. Will you trust Him today and become whole? Only a true Super Hero can make that change in you.