Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2001
Dear Friend in Christ:
As we prepare our hearts for this wonderful season of celebrating Christ’s Resurrection, I want to share some thoughts with you this that I pray will bring you peace and encouragement. I have been struck recently by the faith of Mary Magdalene and how it relates to us here in 2001.
“The last and the first”…that is how I would describe Mary Magdalene. She was among the last to be with Jesus at the cross and at the tomb, and among the first to see the empty tomb and the risen Lord (see Matthew 28:1-10).
Mary’s devotion to Jesus is very evident, and the Gospel of Luke gives us one of the reasons in chapter eight, verse two. He had delivered her of seven evil spirits. From that time on, she had been a disciple, and continued to be, even at the cross.
Others had left the scene of the trial and the crucifixion. Perhaps the men felt more endangered; but for whatever reasons, Mary never left, even until the time when Jesus was anointed for burial. But her second visit to the grave was rewarded by witnessing the empty tomb, and being the first to see the risen Lord. Even more, she was given a message from Jesus:
- Do not be afraid
- Go and tell my brethren
- Go to Galilee
- They will see me there
Let’s look together at those four statements from Jesus, and see how they can encourage and speak to us in these days.
DO NOT BE AFRAID
Jesus often said, “Do not be afraid,” whenever He saw His disciples caught up in fear. But now, there really did seem to be significant reasons for everyone to be afraid: the earth had shaken and an angel had appeared; the stone was rolled away, defying the Roman seal; guards were stunned into speechlessness. In the middle of all of this, the very atmosphere was charged with the glory of God. Heaven had intervened in earth’s history. The radiant, risen, Eternal Christ was now standing before Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who fell before Him in worship.
“Do not be afraid,” He said. Jesus had a message for her to deliver, and in order to hear it and tell it, she would need to be unafraid. In fact, fear and even death itself had been defeated! He wanted others to know that.
Fear remains a factor for many people. It keeps some from hearing, and others from telling the Good News, and multitudes are imprisoned by it. Fear of ridicule, persecution, or some other fears bind so many would-be evangelists. Even as Jesus spoke, the disciples were locked behind closed doors for fear of the same people who had crucified Him.
Mary addressed her fears at the cross, at the tomb, and now again at the feet of the risen Christ. He had a message for her and for the world that would address the fears of the other disciples and millions more who would hear it.
GO TELL THE BRETHREN
The Resurrection is of such magnitude that it commands telling_not just celebrating. It is too significant to be kept a secret or even merely an event about which we rejoice. “Go tell,” was Jesus’ message to Mary and to us. As believers and disciples, how could we not tell it?
It is very significant that Jesus called His disciples “brethren.” They had denied Him and fled in the very hour of His trial and crisis. Nevertheless, He had seen it coming, and understood their weakness. But He would not forsake them now in their hour of trial; He would redeem them from both fear and failure.
The Good News is bigger and more grand than human failure. Indeed, the Gospel is God’s antidote to human failure. It overcomes pettiness, recrimination, faultfinding and unforgiveness; it overcomes our sin. In Christ, we all get a new start–and we must be willing to give one to others.
Jesus has made atonement for sin, taken our judgment, defeated death, and taken the keys of hell and death from our adversary, who would imprison us in sin, guilt, and hopelessness. Mary was not sent by Jesus to tell the disciples, “I told you so,” or “I’m so disappointed in you.” And neither are we sent with that message. The message is, “Jesus is alive! We have been set free!”
Who are Jesus’ brethren? Certainly the disciples were, but in Mark 3:35, Jesus said that all who did His will were His brothers and sisters. Then later He said, concerning the naked, imprisoned, sick and hungry, “the least of these,” were His brethren (see Matthew 25). The Lord Who could forgive His crucifiers from the cross was reaching out to all who would believe, even in their failures, and call them His brethren.
When He says to us, as He said to Mary, “Go tell My brethren,” whom will we tell? Our kin, our friends, our neighbors, the needy…maybe the question is, who wouldn’t we tell? And doesn’t “brethren” imply a relationship? Does this mean that we should relate broadly in an effort to communicate this profound message? If Christ is our example….the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
GO TO GALILEE
Jerusalem had been a nightmare, a horror for the disciples; it seemed too much for them. “The system” had rejected Jesus and them; it was time to go home. Forty miles north was a place that was familiar; it was home–less legalistic, less political, less “intellectual”…and for them, less dangerous. Galilee was a life that they understood.
Their failures in Judea and Jerusalem had shaken the disciples’ confidence and they needed to go back. “Going back” is not a good move, but sometimes people have to go back; back to their beginnings, back to their salvation, and back to the time when they were first called. Jesus sent them to that place. Later, He would send them back to Jerusalem to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but first they needed to go to Galilee.
THEY SHALL SEE ME THERE
John 21 tells us what happened there. They did just as Jesus said; they went to Galilee. Furthermore, they went fishing just like the old days–even after the Resurrection! They had been so deeply affected by the trial, the cross, and their failures, that they went back to the place of “non-involvement.” They were well past the place of excitement, enthusiasm, and easy answers; they took a break.
This trip to Galilee was not about unbelief; it was about inability. They just did not “have it” anymore. So Jesus would come to them; He would “see them there.”
But for the disciples, it was too much like the old days. They fished all night and caught nothing. They failed at the thing they knew best. That was the place where Jesus would meet them.
The call came to them early in the morning as they sat on their boat: “Do you have any fish?” Jesus was but a silhouette on the shore shouting to them as the sun cast its early light upon the lake.
“No!” they shouted back.
“Throw your net on the right side of the boat! You will find fish there!”
Probably with some reluctance, they threw their wet net with tired arms. It was heavy…very heavy! But in the water, it was a “back breaker.” It was almost a net-breaking haul. Large fish flopped in the net as it was being pulled to the surface.
John looked back to the silhouette on the shore as memories flooded from the past. Then John cried out, “It is the Lord!” He turned to Peter who was quickly shucking off his outer garment and diving headlong into the water. The others followed, dragging a net full of large fish.
When they arrived, Jesus was already cooking fish. “Bring some of yours and we will cook them too.” They counted 153 large fish.
It was after breakfast when Jesus looked at Peter and asked, “Do you love Me?” Each time Peter answered, “Yes,” but was grieved that Jesus had asked three times, once for each of Peter’s denials that night at the trial. And each time that Peter answered “Yes,” Jesus told him to tend His sheep; to feed and care for them. Jesus didn’t ignore their failure, but neither did He remove their gifts and callings. In fact, failure was part of the process that prepared them to forgive sinners and tell the message.
LESSONS FROM THE MESSAGE
Today, we celebrate those truths that were given to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples, and to the world. Jesus is alive, and He wants His “brethren” to know that. While He is mindful of our weakness, He will meet us where we are and renew our call to His mission. The message that we have received will deliver all who believe it…from fear, sin, guilt, and even death itself. I hope that we can be faithful to that message, even as were Mary Magdalene and the apostles.
Also during this season, I want to sincerely ask you to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving. When you support this ministry, you are helping us share the same Good News that Mary Magdalene shared with the disciples…which they in turn shared with the world. You are also helping us to equip and encourage effective Christian leaders in more than 70 nations.
There are so many encouraging testimonies I could share about how your prayer and financial support is making a profound difference across the globe. Please visit our regularly updated website at www.csmpublishing.org. We’ve recently added a number of features_One-to-One™ E-magazine , streaming audio, testimonies, important news, and much more – to serve you better.
May the Lord continue to bless you and yours in these days!
Charles V. Simpson
Scripture Reference: Matthew, Mark