The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me” (Matthew 28:1-10 NIV).
It was still dark but the first signs of dawn had begun to brighten the eastern sky and the women would not wait. Mary of Magdala took the lead as they walked down into the garden graveyard. By common consent they had met at the foot of the cross, its eerie shadow pointing down the path as the small group of women made their way to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid.
For almost a whole day, they had done nothing more than grieve and weep at the thought of their beloved Master dead and buried in a stranger’s tomb. Now they were on their way to the sacred burial ground bringing spices with which to anoint him. The spices would not be necessary.
All at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow.
Gabriel was being as gentle as he knew how but the guards were still so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. It was necessary for a while to incapacitate these guards so that the witnesses could come forward and see the empty tomb. He wasn’t opening the tomb to let Jesus out, but to let the witnesses in.
It had already begun. Jesus was being transformed into a resurrected being, with a new body, strong and beautiful.
Gabriel rejoiced to see it, for it was a demonstration of his power over the decaying forces of death. He was the Lord of Life and all authority would be given to him in heaven and on earth. Already he was risen and would soon present himself before the Throne of God as the Lamb that was slain and in his royal train, his triumphal procession would come the souls of the righteous dead who would live in the Presence of God forevermore.
There had been four of them, but the other three had been incinerated by the blast of light that had exploded from the tomb. There was no warning and his brothers had been instantly sent into the Abyss. The earthquake came a moment later and sent the Roman troops into the dirt to lay like dead men but the demon was already fleeing.
This was supposed to be a quiet assignment but the arrows of light that had descended from Heaven, which he saw as he looked back in terror, could only mean one thing.
But it was more than that. He was driven by a nameless fear of something mighty and majestic. A Presence he could feel behind him, back there at the tomb and he wanted no part of it.
He flew as quickly as he could toward the palace to make his report. His report? What would he say? They would tell him to go back and find out what had happened, but he would never go back there, and he would never, under any circumstances, look into that tomb. Send someone else.
But who was there to report to? Now that Tundrac had gotten himself killed, there was no one clearly in charge. The Evil One had left suddenly on other business and had been too preoccupied to appoint someone to take Tundrac’s place. Now the captains were locked in a battle for power among themselves and it was dangerous to be around them. Nothing was getting done, and there was really no one to whom he could tell his story. Was there?
Slowly but surely, the demon was convincing himself to forget what he had seen, or what he thought he saw, and just leave the whole thing alone. But he fretted nervously all the same. Sooner or later, this would get him into trouble. He just knew it. Perhaps he should wait and choose a more careful moment to make his report. Especially when he had a better idea of who was in charge.
The women had not yet arrived at the tomb when the earthquake shook the earth. They were frightened and slow to recover but they got to their feet and made their way down the hill, the procession strung out as they finally arrived. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But when they looked they could see that the stone – which was very big – had already been rolled back.
The women trembled with fear and confusion at the bodies of the guards lying on the ground, wondering if they were dead but too frightened to go near them. All that mattered to them was the empty mouth of the tomb as it beckoned them to enter and see what mischief had happened here.
Mary of Magdala had not waited. Seeing the dead soldiers and the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb, she was filled with a nameless fear that somehow the body of her beloved Master had been stolen. She went running to Simon Peter and the other disciples, the one Jesus loved, who were hiding in the Upper Room just inside the city walls.
Yochanan had finally found Peter and had convinced him to join the rest of the disciples for mutual encouragement. Peter agreed but was quiet and refused to speak to anyone. Yochanan did not find it unusual for they were all quiet with their grief and fear. It would not be long before the authorities would come for them as well.
Into that den of sorrow, Mary of Magdala stumbled breathlessly to add her own fears. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she said, “and we don’t know where they have put him.”
Their shock and concern for Jesus overcame any fear they had for themselves. Quickly it was decided that it was too dangerous for them all to go and see what had happened at the tomb, so Peter and Yochanan, both insisting that they go, were chosen. Mary would go along, if she could keep up.
Meanwhile the other women were startled by the appearance of a young man in brilliant clothes and they were frightened out of their wits.
But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, “There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay.”
It was a fearsome invitation but not one that they could resist. Thankfully, the stone had been rolled some distance away, the angel upon it, as if a mighty Divine hand had tossed it aside as of no consequence. They entered the tomb slowly and discovered that the body of the Lord Jesus was not there.
As they stood there not knowing what to think, two men in brilliant clothes suddenly appeared at their side.
Terrified, and with no place to run, the women lowered their eyes.
But the two men said to them, “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen. Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee: that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day.”
Yes, they remembered Jesus’ words but could scarcely believe that they were true. He was alive! Jesus was alive! They had to tell the disciples, and quickly the women began to climb out of the tomb, frightened but eager to tell their story.
Before they could leave, Gabriel appeared to them outside the tomb for he had one more message for them. Knowing their eagerness to go, he said, “go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee. It is there you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples. But they said nothing to a soul on the way, for they were still afraid of what all this might mean.
For a moment an unearthly silence fell over the tomb as the sounds of the women leaving and shouting to one another in their joy faded into the distance. Slowly, one of the guards drew his knee up, his toes digging into the dirt for a better purchase. Then he bent his elbows slowly and carefully, with his palms down ready to push himself upwards. His face was still in the dirt, his eyes wide open in terror at what he had seen. He was still unsure if it was safe to move or if he could move at all without getting himself killed.
Slowly at first and then in more haste, the soldiers got to their feet, constantly looking behind them to keep an eye on the empty mouth of the tomb. They grabbed their swords and helmets and quickly ran up the trail towards the city. There was no marching, no discipline, no respect for themselves as soldiers or Romans. There was only fear and the overwhelming desire to get away.
As they put rocks and boulders between them and the tomb, they looked at each other and wondered what to say. Then they realized two things at once. That no one would believe them and that they would be killed. They began to discuss among themselves what they should do. They had deserted their posts and they would be killed. It was as simple as that. No matter that they had the best reasons in the world, no one would believe them. They were doomed.
Perhaps the religious leaders would believe their story. They were the ones that had gotten them into this mess, maybe they would be able to get them out. It was their only hope. While some of them went into hiding, two or three others would go into the city to tell the chief priests all that had happened.
Immediately the chief priests called a meeting with the elders of the city and asked the guards to wait for their reply. After some discussion, they finally asked the guards to come into the chamber.
“First of all, we want to thank you for coming directly to us with your story. It will save us all a lot of embarrassment.” Annas was being polite to the Roman soldiers, an event unheard of in the Sanhedrin, but there was no choice.
“Not for a moment do we believe your story, at least not as you’ve told it to us.” He paused while the guards fidgeted uneasily not knowing what to say. “But something obviously happened. While we do our investigation, we would like this to be kept quiet. There is no point in spreading your version of the story since it most certainly must be incorrect.”
One of the guards, more concerned with whether he would survive to see another dawn, cut in a bit roughly at the implied threat and said, “What about the governor? What do we say to him? He will have us killed if he finds out that we deserted our posts.”
“You did not desert your posts,” Annas replied just as roughly. He turned toward one of the elders and nodded his head.
The elder came forward and handed a considerable sum of money to the soldiers with these instructions. “This is what you must say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”
While we were asleep? Are you kidding? The soldiers almost laughed out loud, knowing that no one would believe it, but then Annas was speaking again.
“And should the governor come to hear of this, we undertake to put things right with him ourselves and to see that you do not get into trouble.” It was a tempting proposition and they had no choice really. Although it would be hard for anyone to believe that a band of fishermen could overcome a crack guard detail of Roman soldiers, even if they were asleep, it was better than allowing the soldier’s version of the story to get out.
The soldiers took the money and carried out their instructions, not having any other choice and hoping that the chief priests would keep their promise. Otherwise they were dead men. In the meantime, they had money to spend. It was some recompense for their morning of terror. After all, what did they care about these Jews and their superstitions?
The demons had done their work well, creating deception and confusion while they themselves tried to figure out what was going on. The report finally got to the palace but there was only fear to greet it. No one knew what to do.
When the other women arrived at the Upper Room to tell their story to the apostles, they were not believed. Mary of Magdala had come telling her story of grave robbery, and now the others came with stories of angels and the Lord being alive.
The women kept insisting that they were telling the truth and that the Lord expected them all to go to Galilee and wait for him there.
Their story seemed pure nonsense, and the disciples did not believe them. They decided to wait until Peter and Yochanan returned with their report before they made any decisions.
Peter set out with Yochanan to go to the tomb. They ran together, both of them filled with their own thoughts as their feet pounded the ground in time to the fearful pounding of their hearts. As they drew near to the garden graveyard, Yochanan, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first.
He bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, just inside the tomb, but did not go in. He was gasping for breath. It was holy ground, his mind told him and already he was filled with a wondrous hope that he could not yet define. He wanted to stop for a moment and think as he stared at those linen cloths. What did it mean? His heart told him that this was not a grave robbery, but he wasn’t sure yet what else it could be. It had something to do with those linen cloths. What was it? Yochanan stayed there for a moment, deep in thought, panting and trying to regain his breath, his arm above the open hole of the tomb while he stood to one side and looked in.
Simon Peter, who was following, now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head. This was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. He looked but he did not understand.
Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in. He saw and he believed. It came to him in a rush, and he turned swiftly to Peter in his excitement and blurted out the truth. “He is risen. He is not dead. He is risen!”
But Peter still looked confused.
“You can’t steal a body without the grave clothes!” Yochanan almost shouted with his enthusiasm. “The strips of linen would have dried and caked on by now.”
Yochanan picked up one of the pieces of linen, clean and like new, and showed it to Peter. “They would have been next to impossible to get off, but why bother if you were stealing the body? He is risen!.”
Peter looked at Yochanan with a look of cruel agony written across his features as hope and grief and guilt fought within his soul.
For a moment Yochanan was confused but his mind was racing with a thousand thoughts and could not be distracted for long. “Don’t you remember what he said …”
He began to remind Peter of what Jesus had told them because until that moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture that he must rise from the dead. All the way back home they discussed it, Yochanan in his excitement not noticing Peter’s unusual quietness as he pondered these things in his heart.
Just before they entered the house where they were staying with the other disciples, Peter stopped Yochanan with a gesture and said, “I’m going back.”
“Back? What do you mean?” asked Yochanan.
“I’m going back to the tomb. You go in and explain to the others but I need some time alone to think,” replied Peter.
Yochanan looked at him for a long moment and then nodded. Then he turned and bounded up the stairs and pounded on the door, his excitement building again as he thought of the look on the faces of his friends when he told them his story.
By the time Mary arrived back at the tomb, Peter and Yochanan had already left, taking another route back into the city. Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. She was exhausted with her running and had arrived tired and depressed and upset. She did not want to go in to the tomb to confirm her fears but she could not avoid it. It was as if the empty tomb beckoned her, compelling her to enter and look for herself.
So, still weeping, Mary stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet.
They said, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Her grief so overwhelmed her that she did not understand the meaning of the two angels sitting there, but Gabriel knew that her tears were a special tribute to his Master and Jesus wanted to give her a gift in return, to tell her himself.. So Gabriel said nothing further.
Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognize him.
Jesus said, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” These were ordinary questions in a situation that was anything but ordinary. Jesus rejoiced in the love she had for him, Gabriel knew. He had freed her from seven evil spirits, he had forgiven her many sins, and those who are forgiven much also love much.
Supposing him to be the gardener, though she was hardly able to recognize anyone through her tears and grief, she said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.”
Gabriel smiled at that, wondering how she would ever move a heavy, dead body by herself, but that wasn’t the point and he knew it.
Jesus said, “Mary!”
The sound of her name and the tone of his voice was the sweetest music she had ever heard, but even that was drowned out in the symphony of wonder that he was alive. He was alive! She could hardly believe it. But she knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbuni!” – which means Master. She fell to the ground and grasped his feet, the bony reality of them a soothing ointment for her troubled soul. He was real. He was alive!
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. I must present myself there at the throne of the Majesty before my transformation and work is complete. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her.
In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. They were discussing the day’s events among themselves wondering what it all meant. Peter and Yochanan were silent, full of their own thoughts. They had told their story and Yochanan had eloquently testified to what he believed, but there was no proof. It was simply too difficult for them to accept.
“I know what Jesus told us,” said Philip, “but it’s still hard to believe if you don’t see it with your own eyes.”
“What about Mary of Magdala? She saw the Lord.” It was a question as much as a statement.
At that there were some protests, one of them louder than the rest. “That sounds like something the Pharisees would say, not Jesus. She saw him and I believe her.”
But even as more arguments were brought up, Peter lifted his hand and said to them, “I have something to tell you.”
The room became quiet and Peter looked at Yochanan for a moment the tears forming in his eyes until he had to look down at the floor. His fingers played roughly with his great red beard in his nervousness.
It was a difficult moment for him but it had to be done. “Do you remember the night we ate together in this very room with him?” he started. It seemed so long ago and yet it had only been a few days. “I made my boast that I would not betray him, that I would die with him?” He said the words harshly as if they were a disgusting memory.
Heads nodded as they remembered.
Peter went on almost in a whisper. “Do you remember what he said to me that night?”
Yes, they all remembered for it was also a part of their own shame, their own betrayal. In truth, they wished they could forget.
Peter paused for a long moment. “He was right, I denied him three times that night.” A single sob escaped that great body, as he confessed his sin and then, as if a torrent of guilt and shame had been released with those words, he rushed on to tell them everything that had happened that night in the courtyard of the High Priest.
It didn’t matter that he had been crazy enough to be in that courtyard only hours after they had tried to arrest Jesus and the rest of them. Peter was crazy! Of course he denied Jesus – who wouldn’t have?
But that wasn’t the point, and Peter knew it. It was a question of love not excuses. Peter had betrayed his beloved Master in a more personal and damning way than any of them. They were all silent, lost in their own thoughts.
Peter paused for a few long moments in the telling of his story, not wanting to eclipse his sin and betrayal with the wonderful news that he was about to share.
The statement hung in the air for an instant while the disciples absorbed the shock of it. Then came a rush of questions and demands for further explanation.
“What do you mean?”
“Did he say that he actually saw Jesus alive?” the disciples asked one another.
Peter raised his hand to silence them and then said, “Yes, I saw him but he did not speak. He didn’t have to. It was enough that he was alive and that he had granted me this grace, this divine visitation to include me and to forgive me my sin.”
And Peter sat there, with his legs drawn up, his arms upon his knees, his hands clasped together as if in prayer and he bowed his head and smiled a sad, joyous smile at the treasured memory.
Just as the questions began again, there was a loud pounding at the door and immediately the room was quiet and no one moved. They were not expecting anyone, especially at this time of night. It might be soldiers or the Temple guards. Their fear was a tangible presence in the room.
In the silence they heard the voice of Cleopas. “Let me in,” he yelled, “I have news.”
But Cleopas was too excited to listen and started talking loudly, telling his story, competing with the disciples telling him at the same time to be quiet.
Finally, Peter stood up and intervened with a bellow, telling them all to be quiet. He asked Cleopas, “What are you doing here? We did not expect you tonight. I thought you were on your way home to Emmaus?”
“Yes, yes, we were but we saw the Lord!” Cleopas replied excitedly. “That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you.”
Immediately the room erupted into another rush of questions and Peter had to quiet them again. “Ok, now tell us the story from the beginning.” And they all moved back into the room while Cleopas told his strange tale.
They had not recognized him at first, this stranger who was no stranger at all. They had met him on the road and at first he seemed not to know what was going on in Yerushalayim. But when they told him, in response to his questions, what had happened to Jesus, this stranger said to them, “You foolish people. So slow to believe the full message of the prophets. Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?”
Then, starting with Mosheh and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself. The rebuke was a surprise but the teaching a greater surprise still.
Later, while they were about to eat together, this stranger had taken the bread and given the blessing. Then he broke it and handed it to them.
At that moment their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he had vanished from their sight. “So we decided to come back to Yerushalayim immediately to tell you that the Lord has risen.”
“Yes, it is true,” Yochanan said, confirming their report. “The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon, as well.” And the room was filled with the excited questions and speculations of people who hoped and yet did not dare to hope.
Then, without warning, Jesus, himself, stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you!”
In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. A few of them stepped back in fright, tripping and knocking over utensils and food from the table, but nobody cared. They were truly frightened; it was so unexpected and sudden.
For one long moment, no one said a word. He simply stood there and they stared, trying to come to grips with the enormity of it all, the fear and doubt in their hearts sadly winning the battle against faith. It must be a ghost.
But he said, “Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet. Yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves. A ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
As he said this he showed them his hands and feet.
Slowly, as they came forward to reassure themselves of the truth, their touches turned into tears of joy and cries of “Master,” and “Rabbi.” But some were still speechless. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumfounded.
So he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
Jesus repeated his message to them to go before him to Galilee and meet with him there. There were still things to be said, questions to be answered, proofs to be made. They were to be witnesses, but not only them, also more than five hundred of the disciples would see Jesus alive with their own eyes. For forty days he would be with them and for forty days they would be filled with great joy as they bathed in this Divine visitation.
As the word went out, the disciples of Jesus throughout the city began their exodus, leaving the city in small groups, headed for Galilee and the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.
But before the Eleven could go, they had to convince Thomas. He had not been there and he would not believe them, feeling left out and afraid that he would not be allowed to witness it first hand, in the flesh.
So he said, “unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” It was rash and harsh, but there was grace even for the doubt of Thomas.
Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said.
It was a graceful repetition for the sake of Thomas, and Jesus came directly up to him and spoke to him.
“Thomas,” Jesus said, “put your finger here. Look, here are my hands. Give me your hand. Put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.”
Thomas looked up from Jesus’ hand into those eyes he could never forget, and he sunk to his knees and cried out, “My Lord and my God!”
And Gabriel said, “Amen. So it will be.”
The clash of their swords rang out in the Halls of Heaven in eerie counterpoint to their movements, almost a ritual dance, a deadly ceremony that would end in defeat for Lucifer. He knew it.
He could feel it in the power of Michael’s sword arm. He could sense it in the fierce look of certainty in his young eyes as they blazed at him from between his golden locks of hair, wet and matted with the sweat of battle. But Lucifer could not avoid the conflict. Heaven was determined to throw him out, to shut his filthy mouth once and for all, to stop his accusations, to give no room for further appeals to the Justice and Holiness of Almighty God. His hypocrisy would no longer be tolerated.
Lucifer had been thrown out once before, at the beginning. He and his demonic hosts had been denied entry into the presence of the Majesty when they had chosen to rebel. They no longer lived in Heaven but upon the earth and beneath the earth. Only Lucifer had been allowed back into the presence of God because of God’s love for His people. Lucifer’s alliance with the children of dust was thin protection but it was enough. God may have tolerated Lucifer and his accusations for a time but only until His plan had been fulfilled. It was now time and Lucifer would be thrown out of Heaven once and for all.
Step by step he was driven back. Bloodied and scarred, he fought on but made few gains against this new power and authority in his angelic opponent.
Glancing quickly behind him in desperation, Lucifer could see the portals of Heaven and, beyond them, his hordes of demons waiting to enter the battle. They could not pass those gates, and Lucifer realized that his only hope was to turn and flee to the relative safety of his troops. But, as he turned to go, his sword was knocked from his hands and went spinning out of the gateway. Angrily he berated himself for his lack of concentration, but he was powerless now and had to endure his shame in silence. He knew he would not be killed – yet. The vision had other things for him to do first.
Quickly Michael grew in stature to tower above him. He grabbed Lucifer by the back of his neck where his wings entered his back and bodily lifted him from the ground. Michael turned to look at the throne of God but there was nothing to say. He had his orders and Heaven had no mercy for this Evil One and his horde of demons. With a swinging heave of his mighty arms, Michael threw Lucifer unceremoniously out of Heaven to land humiliated upon his face in front of his own troops. Heaven did not bother to laugh, for it was not a laughing matter.
Before Lucifer could collect his wits, Michael pointed his sword at the great mass of demons, rose into the air and then flew straight into the middle of them with a ferocious speed, shouting, “For the Lord and his anointed!”
Like a mighty swarm of bees, the heavenly armies followed him. The ranks of the demonic army were split into a thousand fragments as the forces of evil scurried out of the way of Heaven’s fury. The angels now had authority for open warfare and they would give no quarter until the Evil One and his army, were destroyed completely.
In Heaven, the vision in the sky held one more chapter, the final chapter of doom for Satan. Gabriel knew that sooner or later Lucifer would read these words for himself since Yochanan would write it as a testimony to the whole earth. For it has been decreed that, on that final day, fire will come down on them from heaven and consume the armies of Satan.
No doubt the cold chill of his ultimate defeat would fuel his anger even more as he battled the forces of Heaven and the warrior-church of God on earth. It would be a fight to the finish.
In Galilee, upon the mountain, they gathered more than five hundred strong to hear his words. There would be time for each of them to talk with him, touch him and worship him for this was the foundation of his warrior-church. They were astounded by his teaching for his death and resurrection gave them a whole new vision of the purpose of God for Isra´el and now for the church.
Yes, they nodded in agreement, but Jesus could see that they still did not fully understand. Many of them were simple people although they knew the Torah as any child of Isra´el did.
He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Yerushalayim. You are witnesses to this.”
It was an awesome responsibility, and, although they were eager to please him, Jesus knew that they would need help. He was about to ascend into heaven and take his place at the right hand of the Majesty upon the throne and rule the nations until his physical return on the final day. In his human form he would be limited in his dealings with the church, so he would leave and, instead, send Ruach HaKodesh to live in their hearts and guide them until the Day when they would all meet face to face once again.
“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.”
Was it really as simple as that? Some of them were still confused. Some thought that he meant that they should only talk to the Jews in every country throughout the world, others were adamant that he meant to include the Gentiles as well. That was an argument that Ruach HaKodesh would solve later.
“These are the signs that will be associated with believers. In my name they will cast out devils. They will have the gift of tongues. They will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison. They will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.”
Good, good, the disciples nodded in agreement. Just like before but better. In my name, he had said. Yes, he is the Lord of Life. But where is He going?
This sounded too much like a farewell sermon to Peter, who was growing more and more desperate to stop Jesus from going. He would be left in charge, and, more than anyone else, he felt the burden of responsibility for this Great Commission that the Lord was placing upon them.
Peter did love him. Deeply and desperately, he loved him. And, in his grace, Jesus had asked Peter three times to declare his love as a spiritual counterweight to the three denials he had uttered in the courtyard of the High Priest. Afterwards a great weight had been lifted from his soul to be replaced with this burden of love. But it was a burden and Peter was afraid that he would let his beloved Master down once again. It was too much for him to do alone. He was merely a fisherman, a follower, not a leader.
Jesus looked right at Peter and then swept his eyes over the rest of the crowd and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of Ruach HaKodesh, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”
Those last words were especially for Peter. He would not be alone, but there was no way to explain adequately the transformation that would happen when the Spirit came upon them. They would have to trust him and experience it for themselves. Still Jesus tried to give them some comfort.
Jesus paused, looking for the words to explain. “He will convict the world of sin. He will give you the power to prove your good news with signs following. He will help you remember everything I have taught you. He will give you comfort and help in your darkest hour. You will never be alone.”
But Jesus could see that they still did not understand why he had to go, now that they had just gotten him back. Peter held on to his tunic tightly, as if he were afraid that Jesus would slip away at any moment.
“You will understand when it happens,” Jesus told him gently. “You must go back to Yerushalayim and I will go with you. I must talk with James who will lead the church in Yerushalayim and I will talk with you all once more. Then I must go, but you must wait in Yerushalayim for what the Father has promised.”
Jesus paused and then said mysteriously, “Yochanan baptized with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptized with Ruach HaKodesh.” And the sound of it filled them all with eager anticipation and they worshiped God in that place.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God…..
Lord, I am also excited to hear about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now I am looking forward to Pentecost and the celebration of the birthday of the church. Lord, I need your promise that you will always be with me no matter what unto the end of the age but I also know that I cannot divorce that promise from the command to make disciples. Lord, I want to do your work and, in doing your work, together, I will experience your presence every day. Thank you, Lord. In your name I pray. Amen.