Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Jesus First Word on Easter Morning

First words and last words are always significant. Dying people don’t tend to waste their words talking about trivia. They usually get straight to the point. Time is precious. First words are also significant. We took great delight the first time each of our children began to speak. The first words of Jesus publicly are ‘repent’, Matt 4.17. People needed to change their thinking. But they are not His first words after the resurrection!

In scripture there is a great deal of emphasis on the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus; for the resurrection is the inauguration of God’s new creation. Unlike the old creation which began with the making of the heavens and the earth culminating in the creation of man the new creation takes a reverse order Gen 1.

Jesus stands as the head of a new humanity. Those who trust him receive the Spirit which is the deposit and guarantee of the full inheritance – a resurrection body like His. And Paul tells us that creation groans, waiting for that day to take place, for it too signifies the release of creation itself into the glorious liberty of the children of God. In the new creation it is the cosmos that is the last thing to be put right and brought into order, Rom 8.18-23.

Given these facts what do you suppose would be the first words of Jesus to the women who came to see Him on that first Sunday morning? The women come to the tomb to anoint His body. They are shocked to find an angel sitting on top of the huge stone that had been rolled over the grave entrance days earlier. This heavenly creature is glorious; shining as bright as lightening. It must have been an intimidating sight. He invites them to examine the empty tomb and instructs them to go quickly to Galilee to tell Jesus’ disciples to expect Him.

On the way they meet Jesus. They are full of joy and fear. Joy, at the news that He is risen and fear, at the awesome encounter with the angel. This mixture of emotions is not difficult to understand. Anyone who been on a roller coaster ride feels a mixture of joy and fear. Bungee jumpers know the same mixture of emotions. That’s how these women felt. As they journeyed to find the other disciples they met Jesus. What would be His first words to these women? Matt 28.9 tells us. Jesus greets them with one word – rejoice!

Now some Bibles translate this word ‘Greetings’. This doesn’t do justice to the Greek word Chairo (see Strong’s G5463). In the NT it is translated ‘rejoice’ 42 times, ‘be glad’ 14 times and joy 5 times. Only in a total of 8 times is it translated as ‘hail’ or ‘greetings’. Yet even the old fashioned word hail carried a sense of a joyful greeting. The overwhelming use of the word meant to rejoice exceedingly and be glad. Imagine that. The first time they see Jesus after the Cross and He says one word – rejoice.

But this is consistent with the whole push of scripture. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”, Phil 4.4. He is emphatic. And he has reason to be so dogmatic. He is writing to the church at Philippi. Of all churches they understood that Paul lived by this principle for it was in that city that he and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Yet in these circumstances they chose to pray and sing hymns to God and the whole jail heard them.

God intervened into this situation by sending an earthquake that caused their chains to fall off and the prison doors to open. They were free. Yet they use the opportunity to witness to the jailor and bring him and his whole household to faith. And that is the point. Paul and Silas were being prophetic. They were rejoicing in the victory of the cross over all the power of the enemy even before they saw a breakthrough in their personal experience, Acts 16.25-34.

Consider the first chapter of Luke which records the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. They are cousins. An Angel has visited both women. Both will give birth to significant figures. One will be a forerunner of the Messiah, the greatest prophet ever; according to Jesus. The other is Jesus Himself, the Saviour of the world. When Elizabeth is six months pregnant Mary comes to visit her, for she too is pregnant. She ends up staying three months.

It is hard to imagine the incredulity Mary would have been faced with within her own community about being pregnant and claiming there is no natural father. There is simply no point of reference in Biblical history for anyone to turn to and understand this. No one could say, “Yes that happened to Sarah”. For sure there was a divine intervention in the birth of Sarah, just as there was with Elizabeth, but this was different; a pregnant teenager who has never been with man; it beggars belief.

Luke records the encounter in Luke 1.39-47. As soon as Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary her unborn son responded with a leap of joy, Luke 1.41,44. Luke wants us to know a number of things. This was not just a foetal response; it was a leap of joy. Unborn babies feel emotions! They are spiritually discerning of their environments and can respond, not with words, but definitely with action. He leapt for joy!

John was responding to the presence of Jesus. There are four people in this story; two women and two unborn men! And it is the unborn children that are impacting the adult women at this point. John leapt for joy at the presence of Jesus. But it doesn’t end there. For Elizabeth is now filled with the Holy Spirit. She is the first person in the gospel to be filled with the Spirit. And as she is filled, John is filled too; fulfilling the words of the angel in Luke 1.15. This isn’t Acts 2 but it does foreshadow of the Acts outpouring.

And so we have the first prophecy recorded by a woman in the New Testament. Elizabeth pronounces three blessings over Mary, Luke 1.42-45. Notice that she did this, “with a loud voice”, Luke 1.42.

1. Blessed are you among women
2. Blessed is the fruit of your womb
3. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord.

The first blessing is directed towards Mary personally. She is blessed among women. It says among and not over. Mary should be honoured for her role in bringing forth and nurturing the Messiah. It was no small task. But she was one among women and should not be worshipped as though she now has some special access to Jesus. Years later in His ministry Jesus would make this clear, even to her. For on one occasion she interrupted a meeting to speak with Him. Listen to Jesus response;
He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother", Matt 12.28-50 NIV.

The second blessing is over Jesus – the fruit of her womb. She pronounces a blessing over this unborn child and acknowledges Him to be her Lord, Luke 1.43. This shows amazing prophetic insight on her part. Unlike her husband, Elizabeth fully embraced what God was doing and has no problem believing that Mary would give birth to the Saviour of the world. She is the first to acknowledge the mystery of the incarnation.

Finally Elizabeth pronounces a blessing over Mary’s faith. It is her faith that connects Mary to her destiny and God’s purpose. That is true for us today too. Unlike Zechariah, Mary believed what the angel told her and embraced the will of God for her life. In doing so she was also embracing the carnal judgments of those in her community. This could well be the reason why she spent three months in the company of her cousin. Elizabeth believed and understood her situation. The first trimester, the most vulnerable period of a woman’s pregnancy, was spent in an atmosphere of faith and encouragement rather than criticism and unbelief!

All of this came from John’s response of joy to the presence of Jesus. The presence of Jesus should evoke joy to those who know and love Him. We are to celebrate and rejoice in His presence and like the story in Luke, it has the power to see people filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesy and built up. The impact was infectious; for Luke then records what has come to be known as the Magnificat. In it Mary declares; “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour....”. Her soul is catching up what her spirit has already done, rejoiced!

Often what we confess with our mouth is the overflow of what we think and discern in our hearts. Words follow spiritual perception. Mary allowed her soul to magnify God. It was the natural response given all that she and Elizabeth experienced in this brief encounter.

Let’s look at Luke 10. In this passage of scripture Jesus sends out the seventy (seventy two in some versions). He gives them authority to preach and heal, Luke 10.9. What is telling is what happens when they return, Luke 10.17-20. They are excited, boasting, rejoicing in the authority they have experienced over the enemy. Jesus begins by telling them He has seen the power of the enemy broken and goes on to give them more authority. So those who are given authority at the beginning of the chapter are now given more!

But then He says something that is key to success in ministry. He has heard all of their rejoicing and bragging and so begins to redirect their focus. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the demons are subject to you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven”, Luke 10.20. Rejoicing is good when we rejoice in the right things. Jesus is helping the disciples to get their focus on things that don’t change and aren’t affected by situations or circumstances. They are directed away from temporal reality of day to day life to the eternal reality of what is settled in Heaven. That doesn’t change.

If their focus stays on rejoicing over demons, what will happen when they go a week or two without casting out demons? What about the times that require perseverance, like Moses in Egypt? Ten times he made the same request, “Let my people go”. Six times he was refused and three times Pharaoh tried to get him to compromise. Only after the final plague did he see a breakthrough. If we become too focused on our experience then our joy and rejoicing will be conditioned by it. But if we focus on things that are true every day we have breath, then the changes in life cannot rob us of God’s joy.

Every day you can wake up to the knowledge that your name is written in Heaven. This is from the lips of Jesus. It is possible to know you are saved! You don’t have to wait ‘til you die! The first thing the Holy Spirit does according to Rom 8.15-16 is cry out from within, Abba, Father. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are children of God. This is something we can rejoice in daily. It is an unchangeable reality for those who have trusted Christ to be Lord and Saviour.

This is not a Roman census. It is written in Heaven! Seeing people healed and delivered is great. We can rejoice in all the good things God does. But to rejoice over the fact we have power over the enemy makes us conscious of us – our works and him, the enemy. God doesn’t want this. He wants us to rejoice in His greatness and what He has done for us. Listen to Paul again, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”, Phil 4.4 Our rejoicing is in Him, not in our power over the enemy.

In Luke 15 we have three parables told by Jesus of lost things; the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons (plural). In each story the emphasis is on the rejoicing and celebration that takes place once the shepherd, the woman and the father recover what has been lost. They are the ones who felt the pain of the loss. They are the ones who felt the joy of seeing them recovered. And their joy was a reflection of Heaven’s joy.

The challenge we face in church life today is to learn to rejoice in what Heaven rejoices in. When church members gossip over a fallen leader they are rejoicing in the wrong thing. David did not rejoice at the death of Saul. Rather he mourned. He was in touch with Heaven’s joy. When Abigail restrained him from murdering her husband Nabal for his stingy treatment of David’s men, David rejoiced at her wisdom and relented. Love always rejoices in the truth, 1Cor 13.6.

Jesus rejoiced at the wisdom of the Father who gave revelation to unschooled fisherman rather than learned Rabbi’s, Luke 10.21. He entered into Heaven’s joy. And so on Easter morning Jesus greets the women from the tomb and says to them, rejoice. Through the resurrection God had inaugurated the new creation. Jesus was proof that the corruption of the old creation was about to pass away. A new day is dawning. The old is making way for the new. To be in Christ is to be part of the new creation even now, 2Cor 5.17.

What will you choose to rejoice in today? What happens if your breakthrough is delayed as it was for Joseph? What if you are persecuted as David was by those who should really be championing you? Will you complain and become bitter? Will you blame God and focus on the temporal? Or by faith will you look up and get a bigger vision of Jesus? No wonder Paul tells us to set our mind on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, Col 3.1-2. For where our hearts are, there our joy is too. Why not show the world your joy is rooted in something bigger than your current situation and rejoice – always, 1Thess 5.18