There’s Something About Mary (John 20:11-18)

small__5963445736When Jesus rose from the dead, to whom did he first show himself to? If you were Jesus to whom would you go first? It is interesting to note:

He showed Himself first to Mary Magdalene, and not to the chief priests. I might have gone to the chief priests first so that I could gloat: “you wanted me dead, but couldn’t pull it off! Na, na, na, na, na, na!” But Jesus did not go there, he went to Mary.

He showed Himself first to Mary, and not to Pilate. I might have gone to Pilate first to prove my point: “See I told you my Kingdom is not of this world! You should have listened to me and not the mob!” But Jesus did not go there, he went to Mary.

He showed Himself first to Mary, and not to Tiberius Caesar, the emperor. I might have gone to the emperor first to serve notice: “You may be the emperor, but I am the King of kings, and Lord of lords, so listen up, and shape up!” But Jesus did not go there, he went to Mary.

He showed Himself first to Mary Magdalene, and not to Mary, His mother. I might have gone to console my Mum first: “Take comfort.” But Jesus did not, he went to another Mary.

He showed Himself first to Mary, and not to John, “the beloved disciple,”. I might have gone to such a close friend first: “Let’s celebrate.” But Jesus did not, he went to Mary.

He showed Himself first to Mary, and not to Peter of whom He said ” on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). I might have gone to such a key future leader of the Church first: “Let’s plan.” But Jesus did not, he went to Mary.

There’s something about Mary that Jesus should choose to show Himself to her first. What is it?

  1. Mary Magdalene is not a prominent person, she lives in the background. There is nothing truly remarkable about Mary. In the New Testament writings she does not figure prominently, in fact beyond the resurrection appearance she only gets passing mentions. She does not have power like the rulers, she does not figure prominently in the Gospels like the disciples. Isn’t it encouraging to know that the first person Jesus showed Himself to was not a prominent person, but someone more like you and I?
  2. Mary Magdalene is a woman. In that place and time it was a man’s world. It is truly astonishing that a woman should be chosen as the first to see Jesus alive. It may have been a man’s world, but this was not to be a man’s Church.
  3. Mary Magdalene is a person with a questionable background. At one point she was possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). My youngest so recently announced that some day he wants to be the Prime Minister of Canada. “You had better be well behaved then son,” was my reply, “for they will be digging for dirt on you.” While we may have a tendency to dig for dirt on others, it does not matter what you have lurking in your past, Jesus will meet with you today.
  4. Mary Magdalene is a person in need. She is weeping, actually wailing might be a better term. As you read through John 20:11-18 you get the impression she is overcome with grief plus being distraught over the indignity of a missing body. When you are in need, you are a priority to Jesus. He may not lift you out of times of distress, but will call your name and walk with you through it.
  5. Mary Magdalene is a person who is seeking Jesus. While yes, she is looking for a corpse and not expecting the Risen Lord, nevertheless, she is devoted to Him. Seek Him and you shall be found.

Yes, there’s something about Mary! And there’s something that changes about Mary. She went from seeking to care for Jesus’ corpse, to being cared for by Jesus. She went from calling Jesus “teacher,” (v.16) to calling Him “Lord” (v.18). She went from being a person in the background, to being the very first apostle, sent by Jesus to tell the disciples of the good news (vv.17-18). There’s something about Mary. I’m not a betting person, but I bet there’s something about you also.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

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Religion: Product or Truth?

What difference does it make in my life? This is a question that we ask of products we are thinking of buying before plonking down our cash. Is it worth it? Will it enhance my life? And this is the approach that many people take toward religion. Is it worth the time and effort? Will it enhance my life in some way? And so religion becomes a consumer product, and a decision is made much like one might decide whether to take out a membership at a gym or take up skiing. Finding a church becomes a bit like figuring out which gym to join.

Then along comes Easter when all manner of people, Christian and otherwise, celebrate with joyous thoughts of tulips, lilies, butterflies, and for some of us, chocolate. But Easter goes about its work dismantling the myth that religion is a product. A product is something you buy or buy into, typically so that your life, or someone’s life, can be enhanced in some way. Truth, on the other hand, is something you discover, something you learn. I once bought a treadmill in the hopes that my life would be enhanced. That is a product. My life did not change at all and I’m still not sure it was worth the $20 it cost me. My life did change radically through marriage and children. That I am a husband and father is a truth. It is the way it is. Cost is not a factor, there is no ‘buy in,’ there is no measurement of ‘life enhancement,’ there is something much better; living out and living in the truth. Jesus was crucified. That is the way it is. Jesus rose from the dead. That is the way it is. The death and resurrection of Jesus changes everything. That is the way it is. For the Christian, there is no ‘buy in’ to Christianity. There is something much better; living out and living in the truth.

So what difference does the truth of Easter make in life? Not the kind of “life enhancing” effect you may expect if religion were a product. Instead it can have a heart rending, mind blowing, life changing, destiny altering, effect. It is my hope and prayer that Christianity is not another product you have bought into, but rather that the truth of Easter and the grace and power of God is something you have truly discovered.

Do I Need Easter for More than Chocolate?

small_5994339110Do we need Easter for more than an excuse to eat chocolate? I will be the first to admit that I have a chocolate problem, but the truth is we need the facts of Easter because we have a sin problem. There is that awful word again, the one people don’t want to hear causing us preacher types to reach for words like brokenness instead. But call it what you like, we have a sin problem. What solutions have been proposed for the sin problem? How might we deal with it?

We might consider the solution of Atheism. A universe that came about quite on its own through natural processes would not have a sin problem. On this understanding there really can be no such thing as sin, just moral preferences put in place by one’s culture. Study history, however, and pretty soon you can’t help but ask “how could they?” as we learn of atrocities people commit against one another. “Why not?” is answer. And under atheism, that non-answer is a good answer, the question however, is inappropriate. Don’t judge the actions of those who would sacrifice their children, that is just where they were at in the evolution of our species and their culture at that time. But deep down, even the most enlightened free-from-God atheist will feel, though perhaps never say, that most religious of words: sin. Yes, there are things that ought never happen in any culture, humanity does has a sin problem, and so atheism fails in trying to reconcile recoiling-from-sin guts with religion-spurning heads. Besides, is there good enough evidence that God does not exist? The fact that morality exists is evidence for.

We might consider the solution to sin proposed by Karma. If you sin, you will receive justice at some point in the future. It will come back to haunt you and you will pay for it. By the way, if you are suffering now, it is because you have sinned in the past and are now paying the penalty for those sins, so don’t complain. You deserve it. One thing that we can say for this perspective is that it has a nice tidy way of making life seem ‘fair.’ Justice is always done, no one suffers without good reason. The downside comes when we may not want to alleviate another’s suffering for fear we will upset the penance that they owe. Also, does karma speak to reality? When you consider the suffering some people are born into, for karma to work you really need reincarnation. And if reincarnation were real, and people really could work off their bad karma so that they escape the cycle into Nirvana, one would expect a diminishing population. However, studies have concluded that the population just keeps going up and up. So that is not going to work as a reasonable solution to sin. Besides, what is the evidence to back up the reality of this solution.

We might consider mere forgiveness as a solution to sin. God could just forgive sin as if it never happened and erase our sin problem. Some religions will point to a forgiving God, in fact I was impressed while reading the Koran of how often Allah was referred to as being merciful. However, if God just forgives sin without penalty, then while our sin problem might be dealt with, we now have a justice problem. If there is forgiveness, where then is justice? Can a merciful God also be a just God? Simple forgiveness of sin is also not a satisfactory solution to our sin problem. And again, what is the evidence to back up the existence of a God who merely forgives?

Finally, let us consider Jesus as the solution to our sin problem. Through Jesus the perfect justice of God and the perfect grace of God collide in a blood soaked mess on the cross. Humanity could not have been more ignorant, more confused, more hateful, more self-serving, or more deserving of a good old flood than at the cross. But it is a flood of love, grace, and mercy that flows. And yet, it is also a flood of justice. The penalty of sin is paid. A penalty that we could not pay ourselves has been paid for us. Further, the one who looks to Jesus for forgiveness and justice is called to pick up a cross and follow, and is given the Holy Spirit to lead. This is a solution to a sin problem, not only for our standing before a Holy God, but also in a real practical way expressed in life. Only in Jesus do we find a satisfactory solution to our sin problem. And, as a bonus, there is evidence that Jesus lived, died, and rose again!

photo credit: RosieTulips via photopin cc