April 8, 2012

He Is Going Ahead Of You To Galilee

Passage: Mark 16:6-7

But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’

In the garden of Gethsemane just prior to Jesus’ arrest he said to his disciples: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  That was Thursday evening; it is now Sunday; so why haven’t they headed off to Galilee by now?  It’s obvious isn’t it?  If you were in the disciples shoes would you be off to Galilee?  Jesus is dead.  The dream is gone; nothing to see here; just another group of dejected followers deluded by a want-to-be messiah.  The best that can be mustered is a visit to the tomb to embalm the body—and hardly anybody will go there.

“Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you”, said the angelic messenger.  Are the disciples going to go to Galilee?  Mark’s gospel ends abruptly with the women fleeing in terror and saying nothing to anyone.  Clearly the fact that the tomb was empty did not convince the women that Jesus had risen from the dead.

No early-day Christian believed upon Jesus risen because of an empty tomb. Early-day Christians believed upon Jesus risen because the living Lord Jesus himself had seized them and convinced them that he was alive and was in fact the very one they had seen crucified. This is the only reason anyone believed in the resurrection of Jesus then; it's the only reason anyone believes in the resurrection now.

So, will we go to the place where Jesus said he would meet us?

1.  "Prove it”, the sceptic demands. Prove that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the Dead. If you can prove it, then the Christian message might be true after all."

Let me tell you right now: there is no proof. Jesus consistently refused to traffic in proofs. At the outset of our Lord’s public ministry the tempter took him up to the top of the CN Tower. "Jump off, and land without spraining your ankle; then the whole world will know that you are the Son of God." "No", Jesus had replied, "If I do that, people will only look upon me as a sideshow freak, they may find me entertaining or even puzzling, but they will never follow me and magnify my work in the world." A few months later some bystanders were uncertain as to whether they should throw in their lot with Jesus or wait and see. "Give us a sign", they told him, "an unmistakable sign that you are the one we should follow." "No sign", said Jesus; “Signs are for armchair debaters who lack commitment; signs foster arguments among armchair dabblers; I want foxhole followers.”

You see, for those who have met the risen Lord signs are superfluous; for those who have yet to meet him, no sign is ever sign enough. What's more, Jesus himself has never wanted it proved. He has always wanted followers, not detectives.  Even if you could prove it, faith does not necessarily follow.  Does the meaning of his resurrection follow from the fact that he has risen?  Do you immediately conclude that your sins are forgiven from the fact that he has risen?  The crucial fact was the he Jesus was raised; and that makes all the difference.

2.  Perhaps this is why we are called to Galilee.  No, I don’t mean that we all have to do a pilgrimage to Galilee to meet the risen Lord (though I would be happy to lead a tour if you want to go).  Why Galilee? Galilee is the theatre of Jesus’ itinerate ministry; everything he said and did now takes on its fullest meaning—yes, its reality—in the light of his resurrection.  The significance of all that he said we now come to understand is the very word of the Lord of the universe.  As we go back to Galilee the one who preached that “the kingdom of heaven is near, repent, and believe the good news” is none other than the very Word who was in the beginning with God, who was God, and through whom everything that came into existence was made.

With the resurrection in view consider again two of Jesus’ Galilee proclamations.  “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them there” (Matthew 18:20); that must have sounded strange form the lips of an itinerate preacher who was located in one place at one time.  How could he be present anywhere people gathered in his name; in name only? On the lips of the risen Saviour its real meaning is heard; he is present in our midst.

Jesus sent his disciples out in a Galilean mission to proclaim the goods news of the kingdom; “whoever listens to you listens to me”, (Luke 10:16) said Jesus to these preachers.  Heard from the lips of a preacher located in one place at one time, this may seem a function of the transmission of ideas; you repeat what I taught you to others and in that way they hear me.  But heard on the lips of the Risen Lord this is the promise of his effectual presence whenever the gospel is proclaimed.

The risen Jesus promises unfailingly to meet us in the gathering of his people in his name and in the proclamation of the gospel.  Will we go to meet him where he promised to meet us?

Preaching is never merely a matter of setting forth a cluster of ideas or notions on a religious
topic.  Preaching the gospel to the yet-ungospelized is not the same as commending capitalism to communists, or commending a political party platform to those who support someone else’s, or commending sobriety to the substance-habituated.  In every situation just mentioned someone is placing one set of ideas alongside another set, at the same time assuming that the other party will see the inherent superiority of the contrasting set of ideas.

Preaching isn’t this; preaching isn’t articulating notions whose inherent superiority is self-evident. Preaching, rather, is testifying to the living person of Jesus Christ as he is clothed with his truth. In the course of this testimony the living one himself emerges from the sincere but garbled utterance of the preacher and stands forth as living person to be seized and trusted and loved and obeyed.  Preaching is a matter of uttering many words about Jesus when, in the midst of these many words, the Word himself steps forth in such a way that hearers are no longer assessing words; hearers are confronted with that Person whom they cannot evade and concerning whom they must now decide. But of course the one spoken about can loom up out of the many words about him and stand forth as the world’s sole redeemer and sovereign and hope only if he is alive. Unless Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and is now alive, preaching is nothing more than an exercise in comparing idea with idea, notion with notion, even bias with bias.

“If Christ be not raised”, the apostle begins, “then our preaching is in vain.” Of course it’s in vain. Preaching is always a matter of pointing to Jesus Christ as the living one who not only lives now but whom death will never be able to overtake again. What could be more futile, vain, than commending as living, living eternally, someone who is at this moment deader than a dinosaur?  What could be more deluded than hoping a dead person will show up in person because we “gathered in his name”?  To declare Jesus risen is to know him alive and present with us.

3.  The gospel of Mark is richly textured, and therefore there are many themes coursing throughout it. Nevertheless, there's one major theme: Jesus Christ is victor. Wherever Jesus comes upon sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering, the demonic and death, he conquers them. Jesus triumphs. He vanquishes the hostile powers that break down men and women, push them toward despair, impoverish life, undermine hope, collapse resistance. Jesus vanquishes every hostile power that afflicts us, torments us, fragments us. Jesus is victor.

One-half of Mark's gospel concerns only one week of Christ's life, the final week, the week that builds toward the climax of his death. In other words, death is the big event, the big power, the biggest enemy of all.  Death has lots of “errand boys”; sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering, and storms of life.  They are death-on-the-way, death-around-the corner, death as the ruling power throughout the universe—except for Jesus Christ who bested it once and brandishes his victory in the face of death's refusal to quit although defeated. We call Jesus "Master" just because he has mastered the powers that otherwise master us.

Consider Mark’s hearers; Christians in Rome suffering Nero’s hostilities.  When the secret police broke down the door of a Roman Christian's home at 3:00 am in the year 66; when wild animals dismembered believers as crowds cheered; when Nero ignited them and called it a fireworks display—in the midst of it all they knew their Lord, victorious himself, hadn't abandoned them and wouldn't forget them. He cherished them and gripped them so that they'd never be lost to him. They knew that their faith hadn't been in vain, and their glorified life to come would be so very glorious as to eclipse their pain forever.

What about us? As a pastor my work takes me to suffering people; to grief stricken people, to people who have received a life-threatening diagnosis, to the bi-polar person who has been victimised by body-chemistry, to people with chronic pain or illness that will not abate, to the person robbed of actuality by the ravages of dementia.  Death’s errand boys seem ever to assert death as still in charge.

Perhaps you recall the story in 2010 of the 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days a half-mile underground; the world watched the dramatic rescue as one by one they were evacuated from what would certainly have been their grave.  One year later a news story investigated how they were doing.  “A year out of the dark in Chile, but still trapped”, the article began.  It chronicled the emotional and psychological problems that plague these miners.  Is this not often the way with death’s errand boys; we may be out of the dark overcoming something life-threatening, but we are still trapped.

You find yourselves among friends and neighbours and relatives who suffer similarly. What is the nature of our ministry on behalf of all such? A few words of pre-packaged cheer? A quick-fix formula? There are no quick-fix formulas in life. If our ministry consisted of waltzing in and saying, "Never mind; it's not as bad as you think", they'd ask us to leave. On the other hand, if we appeared with a face as long as a horse's they would tell us we were of no help. There's relatively little that we can say, relatively little that we can do, but ever so much that we must be. We must be those whom the triumph of Jesus Christ over death possesses so genuinely, so thoroughly, so profoundly that our presence bespeaks his victory for those who otherwise feel they are nothing but victims.

‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’