Time For Change? Thinking Through John 20:11-18.

When will things ever change? Why does everything keep changing?

Which statement resonates with you? Perhaps they both do. We humans desire change, but then we also resist change. Sometimes we push for change, yet sometimes we push back when things are changing.

We cannot talk about Easter without talking about change!

A big change happened at Easter, which inspired a lot of change, which of course also meant a lot of pushback. What was that big change?

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus,…

John 20:11-14 (NLT emphasis added)

Jesus was dead. Now he is alive. That was a big change! And that changed everything!

The fact that Jesus is alive changes everything.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking who Jesus was and is. Those religious leaders who thought he was a fraud would need to reconsider. Those who saw Jesus as great teacher or miracle worker but merely a great teacher or miracle worker, would need to reconsider. Those who wondered if Jesus might be the expected Messiah, though having their hopes dashed by his crucifixion, would need to rethink their expectations of the Messiah. This rethinking of the identity of Jesus led to Jesus being reconsidered as “The Word made flesh and dwelt among us” (see John 1:14) and “King of kings and Lord of lords” (see 1st Timothy 6:15) and “My Lord and my God!” (see John 20:28).

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking how we relate to God; no longer through the old covenant, but through Jesus.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking the God’s priorities; from making Israel great again, to connecting people with God and God’s kingdom wherever they may live, whatever their nationality may be.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking who is invited to live and lean into the Kingdom of God; anyone and everyone.

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking how people relate to one another when it comes to class divisions: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28 (NRSV).

That Jesus, though crucified, was now alive meant rethinking ethics; no longer living by the letter of the old covenant law, but the teaching and example of Jesus.

Since Jesus is risen, since Jesus is king, that changed everything! It meant changing anything that did not fit the Kingdom.

A Kingdom Pivot

The word pivot has been used a lot recently with reference to adapting to a pandemic. We church leaders needed to change how we led worship and how we gathered people together when worship gatherings were stopped. We all have needed to learn to live with masks and social distancing. The reality of a nasty virus meant the need for a pivot in how we live.

The reality of Jesus risen from the dead means there is need for a “Kingdom pivot.” Since Jesus is the king, what does life look like in His kingdom? What needs to change?

An example of a Kingdom pivot.

Here is an example of the Kingdom pivot from our Scripture Focus:

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

John 20:14-18 (NLT)

Jesus is alive and a woman in the first to know! Why didn’t Jesus go straight to the disciples? According to scholars women were not even allowed to be witnesses in those days. It was a man’s world. Jesus showed himself alive first to a woman as a call for a change in attitudes toward women.

Some Bible teachers have pointed out that since an apostle is one “sent out” with a message, Mary is the first apostle! This is a huge sign that in the Kingdom there will be a different attitude toward women. This Kingdom pivot is aligned with the teaching of Jesus when Martha wanted Mary to take her proper place. Mary was doing what women were not supposed to be doing, learning. Yet Jesus affirmed her choice to learn. Change was coming.

Not everyone could handle this change in attitudes toward women, indeed we see evidence of this in the New Testament itself, and in churches around the world right down to our day. Change gets messy. For myself, I’m glad to be part of a convention and church that supports women in leadership at all levels. To me, this is an important Kingdom pivot.

The Kingdom Pivot in our lives.

Jesus is alive. Jesus is king. That changes everything. Are we prepared to change anything that does not fit the Kingdom?

What does a kingdom pivot look like in your life right now? It might be a change in habits or attitudes. It might be seeking help for change in a battle with an addiction. It might be a change in the way we treat others, whether family, friends, strangers, or enemies. It might be a change in our attitudes toward a certain people group. It might be a change in our attitude toward ourselves. I came face to face with my tendency for perfectionism when the pandemic hit and worship and preaching went online. My imperfections were suddenly recorded on camera! We perfectionists tend to beat ourselves up when we end up being less than perfect, which we always do. People don’t beat themselves up in God’s Kingdom. There is a Kingdom pivot needed in my life. What Kingdom pivot do you need in yours?

Are we open to these changes or do we resist them?

In Conclusion.

Jesus is alive and is king. That changes everything. So be prepared to change anything that does not fit his kingdom.

The Greatest New Beginning Ever. (Thinking Through Acts 1:1-5)

What is the biggest new beginning the world has ever seen?

Some might point to the conclusion of WWII, ushering in a post-war era, or the the dropping of atomic bombs, ushering in the nuclear age and a nuclear arms race. Some might point to the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or of course, the current pandemic. Has anyone in the world been immune to the changes it has brought?

Whatever we might think has been the biggest “new beginning” humanity has experienced, let me suggest that the biggest and greatest new beginning ever can be found summed up in the first few verses of the book of Acts:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven…

Acts 1:1-2 (NLT)

The writer, in speaking of a first book, is referring here to the Gospel of Luke in which he wrote about the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The biggest new beginning the world has ever seen is Jesus!

You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how Jesus has had a great impact on world history. Yes, Christians have sometimes had a negative impact, but there can be no doubt Jesus has changed the course of world history. Of course we can also think about the impact Jesus has had in many, many individual lives.

As the book of Acts opens, we learn about how Jesus has been the greatest new beginning ever seen:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles…

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

Central to this new beginning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are different ways of looking at how the death and resurrection of Jesus works, of how the events of that first Easter have brought a new beginning. Though there are others, here are three keys ways:

First, Jesus took our place, suffering the consequence of our sin, so that we may have eternal life.

Second, Jesus had victory over evil, sin, and death. Though it looked like the powers of evil had won at the crucifixion, actually it turned out that God had the victory. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright often points out, Jesus is not a failed messiah, but the true king. Good triumphs over evil in the end because God triumphs, and God is good. Love wins in the end because God wins, and God is love.

Third, Jesus is the example of what love looks like. God came to us in Jesus, we killed Jesus, God loves us anyway and offers reconciliation. If everyone responded to offence the way that God responded to the offence of humanity at the cross, what a different world this would be!

When we hold these three perspectives together we see a wonderful new beginning with the expectant hope of eternal life though we have not earned it, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord though we don’t always perceive it, and the example of the better way of love though we don’t always live it. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.

Let us continue in Acts:

…and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

It was obvious to the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem that Jesus was killed. It likely took a wee bit more convincing that he was alive. However they were convinced, not that they had seen a ghost, nor that Jesus was simply resuscitated to life in the here and now, but that Jesus was raised to new life with a new kind of body. The disciples and many others were convinced enough to change their whole perspective, and convinced enough to suffer and die for what they knew to be true. The resurrection changed the disciples. The resurrection changed everything. It was a wonderful new beginning.

Let us continue,

And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

We can take note that during the forty days between resurrection and ascension, the Kingdom of God was a special focus for Jesus as he taught his disciples. Therefore the Kingdom of God really ought to be a focus for Jesus followers today.

We may think the focus of Christianity is “how to get to heaven when I die.” We think, therefore, that the new beginning will be when we die. True, that will be a wonderful new beginning, but there is much more to it than that.

We are reminded of how Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What are we praying for when we pray that? Are we praying for the end of the world?

Here is one way to imagine “Thy kingdom come.” What do you imagine that future will look like, when we are with God in the age of resurrection?

Will there be poverty then?
No, so let us deal with poverty now. 
Will there be racism then?
No, so let us deal with racism now.
Will there be abuse, sexism, discrimination, bullying, war or…?
No, so let us deal with these kinds of things now.

Will people be suffering from mental health and depression then?
No, so let us help people who suffer from these things now.
Will people battle addictions or other kinds of inner battles then?
No, so let us help people who are facing these kinds of battles now.

Will there be a concern for truth then?
Yes, so let us pursue truth now.
Will there be justice then?
Yes, so let us pursue justice now. 
Will people feel free to be honest then?
Yes, so let us make space for people to be honest now.
Will there be a love for reconciliation, then?
Yes, so let us pursue reconciliation now.

Will we be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and things like these then? (See Galatians 5:22,23)
Yes, so let us open our lives to the Holy Spirit to be nurtured in these qualities now.

Are we waiting to die before things can get better, before we experience a true new beginning? There is no need to wait, Jesus is already king, we are his kingdom people now.

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

We are not done yet,

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)

This new beginning brought about a new normal which persists even today; the Holy Spirit is now running rampant in the world. This new beginning, this Kingdom, is not happening without God. It is not going to happen without us either.

In Conclusion.

With Jesus came a massive new beginning for the world. In Jesus God’s kingdom is both here and near. It is a massive new beginning that God is doing in the here and now, which will lead to something bigger in the there and then. It is a massive new beginning that we are invited to participate in. It changes the world, it changes our communities, it changes us, it changes everything.

Are you ready for a new beginning?