April 5: Easter Sunday!

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 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. –John 4:11-18

What a fascinating and unexpected passage! Angels who talk, a crucified man who lives, and a woman of questionable repute are the characters of this passage. The angels didn’t seem to be there when John and Peter visited to the tomb. Perhaps they were but only visible through the tears of grief Mary was shedding. They ask a plain question and her answer is as poignant as it is plain, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” I feel a little jealous that I don’t get to express that kind of selfless, unpretentious yearning.

Then she says what I’m tempted to skip over as incidental detail. She supposes him to be the gardener. We all know she was wrong and it was an honest mistake given the circumstances. But on another level—perhaps a better level, she was right. This is the new creation and Jesus is the beginning of it. When Pilate said, “Behold the man!” I suspect he was far more correct than he could ever realize. Behold the new Adam, the gardener of the great garden of God. He brings shalom to the chaos of God’s creation. He uproots thorns that the cypress may come up; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.

Make no mistake, for this Gardener, even the trees will clap their hands. That’s quite a gardener, and that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16

It was not until I was in seminary that it occurred to me that Jesus is still a human being. He is fully and gloriously human right now this very minute. He did not stop being human at his death to return to a spirit-state. Think of it: he rules the world right now as a human king!

This is important because he represents us before the Father and he isn’t peering down from a great high place having to demean himself to care about us poor creatures. He can truly sympathize because he became one of us, he’s been here, and he knows exactly what it’s like.

The passage above says that as our “great high priest” he “has passed through the heavens”. That means that he has died and been raised from the dead, exalted, and ascended through the different layers of the heavens right to the heart of God. In his eternal rest, he is very active in his father’s inner courtroom to represent us and intercede for us. Let us hold fast our confession!

And so when we pray, we are not having to garner the attention of someone who is indifferent or unable to relate to us. Instead, we can draw near with confidence through Jesus to “receive mercy and find grace” in our time of need, which is pretty much all the time. What an offer! And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. –Hebrews 4:11-13

Verses 12 and 13 above are among the Solid Gold Top 40 scripture memory verses. I memorized them in my youth and have recalled them many times. And without question, I applied these verses to the bible. The “word of God” that is “living and active” means the bible.

Giving it a little more thought, plenty of the Newer Testament books weren’t written yet when Hebrews was being written and it’s unlikely that the writer knew about most of those books that were already written. I realize that ruins the assumption that so many people make, but it’s simply the fact of the matter.

So what then is the “word of God” sharper than any two-edged sword? Is it the Older Testament books? In a sense, yes. But there is a more specific answer. Instead of making a general statement about the bible (as most people tend to take it), the writer is referring to the scriptural texts that Hebrews has been using, notably the Psalms of the last few chapters. Most recently he used Psalm 95, which especially has a way of cutting right to the heart.

That makes a lot more sense of the verse coming right before. We must strive to enter rest. That sounds a little contradictory: striving and resting. The thrust of this passage is a warning but also leads to great encouragement. If you have the choice between being cut to the heart now as a living person so that the surgery of the Word of God (“piercing souls and spirit; discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”) will lead to unassailable faith, or having it cut you to pieces in the Judgment (“naked and exposed” when “we must give account”), surely now is the better of the two options!

If you open yourself day by day to the message of scripture and allow the faithful preaching of Jesus and his victorious work to soak you through and through, you’ll enter God’s rest. You are not on your own with your creative ingenuity and stalwart will power. Instead we have God’s word, living and active. And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” –Hebrews 4:1-8

Those first century Jewish Christians in Rome were in a very similar situation to the wilderness Jews in Israel. The passage above says that both groups heard the gospel and in both cases some of God’s covenant people heard with faith and others did not. Those who believed entered God’s rest in both situations and those who did not were excluded from the rest. They are parallel peoples.

We too have had the gospel preached to us. Those First Century baptized people have heard the gospel yet are considering returning to the blood of bulls and goats, which could never really take away sins. There is still a “today” and as long as there is a today, there yet remains hope of entering the rest of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Just as God created all things and then rested, so Christ re-created all things, and then rested (He sat down at the right hand of Majesty). After each, the rest was ongoing. But there is something that is difficult for us to grasp: we are to be diligent about entering that rest. Diligence and rest are not often thought of together, but this is covenantal life—the way God has chosen to relate to his people. The scandal here is that the true diligence was Christ’s accomplishment for us and our diligence is simply to believe it. For the blood of bulls and goats could never really take away sins, but Christ shed his blood for you, putting your sins as far from you as the east is from the west. And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!