“He Sticks to Us”
22 August 2004
Texts: John 20:11-18 24-29; and 21: 7, 15-17
Jesus sticks to us better that we stick to Him. That’s great good news because it means that He is willing to overcome misunderstanding, doubt and even denial on the part of believers. Of course, our predicament is that we are given to all three of these enemies of faith on an ongoing basis--with God and even with one another. But Jesus never fails to delivers those who trust in Him.
We’ll begin with Mary, the woman out of whom Jesus cast seven demons. Some commentators believe that this refers to seven deliverances, and does not represent a single event. She was, apparently, a fairly troubled lady on any account. We are not told explicitly what her demons were--but we do know that she was a victim of sexual confusion and we know that she was not the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. That Mary was the sister to Martha and to Lazarus. But Mary Magdalene is our concern here and we find her outside the empty tomb of Jesus. She is grieving because the body of her Lord is not where it’s supposed to be. She doesn’t take very much notice of the two angels seated there even though they have a brief exchange. Now her weeping is taken by them as a sign of her misunderstanding so they say, “Why are you weeping?” The implication may be something like “Why are you not rejoicing?” Here is bone fide evidence of the resurrection and she doesn’t get it at all. This reaction is testimony to the fact that the resurrection was a new thing, a stupendous event, both unprecedented and unexpected. Furthermore, her very human reaction of grief blinds her to Jesus’ presence. He is standing there. With a point of wonderful detail, we are informed that she supposed Him to be the gardener, the keeper of the graveyard. When Jesus calls her by name, when He reminds her of their personal history, she cries out with recognition, “Rabboni!” (John 20:17) This is our first instance of Jesus sticking with someone, a person who is blocked by misunderstanding. What follows is an announcement of a mini-ascension --this is not the ascension which occurs after Jesus‘ work on earth in bodily form is completed, but it is a renewal of connection with Father God. This event appears to precede the resurrection appearance of our Lord later that evening. Then Jesus will appear to the disciples and He will remind them of their commission to be the-sent-out ones. Then there occurs a mini-impartation of the Holy Spirit--but not the major impartation of Pentecost which again falls later in the historical narrative.
This brings us to folk who, like Thomas, are blocked from a full relationship with Jesus by doubt. Thomas, who is not present when Jesus makes His first appearance to the disciples, declares that he will only believe if he sees for himself, if he actually touches the wounds of Christ. On the next Sunday, eight days later, Jesus, who was not physically present to hear Thomas’ terms as stated earlier, answers Thomas point for point. For the doubter it is important to know that Jesus both knows your doubts and He is able to answer them precisely. There is no better way for the doubter to be restored to a confident faith--indeed some are brought to saving faith when they are shown this kind of demonstration. Good for Thomas that he was unwilling to trust merely on the basis of the experience of others--we need to know for ourselves, we need first hand belief. What a tribute to the unflinching honesty of God’s word that we have here another testimony of Jonah, an admission of hardness of heart on the part of a godly man who nevertheless went on to serve the Lord with power, and to His glory, when once he had turned again. For in God’s economy the doubting of Thomas may be no better, or worse than Mary’s misunderstanding, or even the denial of Peter. To be sure, Thomas may have been blinded in part by His grief, but his refusal to believe without seeing earned him a sharp reproof: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But Jesus hung in there with Thomas and when He reappeared, He dealt straight way with Thomas.
Thirdly, we come to Peter’s restoration. The Lord had to overcome the barrier of denial. Now before there is a public restoration, as we read, there is a private one. Peter reaches the beach ahead of all the others. This embrace is hidden from our sight but whether Peter was checking out the words of John (“It is the Lord!”), or simply rushing to the welcome of His arms, the fact remains that the Lord and Peter had this moment prior to the others arriving with a huge catch of fish. It is after breakfast that the Lord asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Again, treasure is hidden in the details, for the word that Jesus uses for love the first and second time is agapeo but the third time He uses phileo--the first word is apt for holy love, the love of God and the kind of love that Christians are to have for one another. This word, agape, is free from the associations of the third Greek term for love, eros. Erotic love is too often confused with agape love--especially in a culture that promotes a sexualized imagination. Phileo love is also non-erotic; it’s the kind of love that comes from friendly association over time--such as in a family setting, or in a church community. When Jesus moves from agapeo to phileo, it is as if He were saying not, “Peter, do you love me. . .but are you even my friend?” That shift in meaning could go a long ways towards explaining Peter’s response of grief in verse 17. Beyond pointedly addressing Peter’s three explicit denials (at the time of Jesus’ arrest and trial before the high priest), the kind of love Jesus calls us to, of God and of one another, is a holy and precious thing. That’s is why divorce and separation and division are so painful to God. Too often we remain on the level of moralism when where we need to get to is the level of grief. Jesus sticks to us so that we will have an attitude of contrition, sorrow over the lack of love we have for God and one another.
Peter denied the Lord out of fearful self-protection. As humanly understandable as that is, when we hear commands of the Lord to love, to forgive and to be reconciled, we are prone to stake out the same territory for ourselves. Forgetting that self-protection is sinful when it leads us to deny Christ, or to avenge ourselves on those who have hurt us, we must face the awfulness of the gospel’s demands:
Mat 5:43 "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy.' Mat 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you Mat 5:45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Mat 5:46 "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? Mat 5:47 "And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Mat 5:48 "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Luke 6:27 "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
Luke 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Paul echoes this in Galatians 5 and in Romans 12:
Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Gal 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Gal 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. Gal 5:17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.
As it is with God, so it is with one another. We are blocked from the fullness of love in relationship by misunderstanding, doubt and sometimes denial. Let our responses be like Mary’s--turn to Jesus; unlike Thomas’--let us believe without demanding to believe only what we can touch and see; and like Peter’s whose denials faced led to a release of power, truth and grace.