No if or buts … Jesus Christ died for you – that’s good enough
John 20: 1-18 – The Empty Tomb
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So, she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
“So, Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Editor’s note: This is part eight of a Journey to the Cross devotion from April 5 on Palm Sunday through April 12 on Easter. It includes a scripture reading from the gospels as we walk with Jesus. Please join me each morning when a new devotion is posted.
Journey to the Cross – No. 8 – April 12, 2020
Each summer at the Montgomery Advertiser, we would send a reporter and photographer to a field in rural Autauga County, the intersection of Highway 14 and Autauga County Road 33.
It was almost like an annual rite of passage. At the site sits 42 acres of sunflowers.
The sunflower is an amazing creation of God.
They literally follow the sun. Each plant together in unison.
Even long after the sun sets, sunflowers continue tracking the sun’s direction.
Through 360 degrees they ensure that they are always oriented in the direction of the sun. It’s a process called Heliotropism.
The flower’s unity is dependent on one thing. Their relationship to the sun.
On Easter, our unity depends on one thing … our relationship to the SON, Jesus Christ.
Our Lord and Savior, who died on the cross for our sins and in three days rose in victory over death providing us eternity with Him.
But do we all – like the sunflowers do in relation to the sun – turn in unity and orient our lives in the direction of the SON … Jesus Christ?
Sometimes our vision or sense of direction gets cloudy. We’re not paying attention. We’re not focusing on the right things.
Look what we are living through right now with Coronavirus? It’s upended our routines … how we greet people … our jobs … finances … how we spend free time … how much toilet paper we really need?
But for many of us, it’s called into question how we are living our lives for God under duress and chaos. When things get hazy it's hard to see the whole message.
That's how it was for Mary Magdalene. She went to the tomb to grieve. Death had won over her Savior. So, when Mary stood outside the tomb, she’s convinced it was over. Maybe that’s why things got confusing.
The stone had been rolled away. And when she didn't find a body inside, she assumed someone took it. What more must she endure?
First, the arrest in the garden. Second, the trials before Herod and Pilate. Third, Jesus's flogging, whipping and cruel death on the cross.
Running back to the disciples, Mary told them what she had seen: “They have taken Jesus' body. I don't know where to find it.”
No one expects the dead to rise. No one believes it can happen.
Often we get to this point in the resurrection story and we act like we know it all: “I can’t believe Mary didn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead. If it was ME, I would have known that Jesus was alive!”
But we’re not any different than Mary. Before we criticize her for her unbelief, we need to take a long look at ourselves.
We are just like her. We see all the signs and yet fail to believe.
We can be surrounded by people in whom faith abounds in deeds of kindness and love, and yet fail to understand what faith means for us.
On Resurrection Sunday, our minds don’t think clearly. Did He die for me? Did Jesus submit himself to the most horrendous death imaginable for my sins? For your sins?
Did He conquer death – rising from the dead to life – so you and I will experience salvation and be in union with God for eternity.
All you need to do is think clearly and accept this unfathomable gift.
Romans 10: 9-10 says: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Do you believe that?
Do you run around every day shouting … “JESUS IS LORD! HE SAVED ME! HE DIED ON THE CROSS FOR MY SINS! HE DIED ON THE CROSS FOR YOUR SINS! HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD SO I CAN BE IN HEAVEN WITH HIM FOREVER!”
I’m not just talking about smiling … and admitting that yes, I believe it … but running, jumping and screaming the same way you would if you won the $400 million powerball … “I WON THE LOTTERY! I WON THE LOTTERY!”
You did win the lottery – God’s lottery – but you don’t go around acting like you did while having it change who you are inside and out. Why?
Is it because you think it’s too good to be true? Like one of those voice messages saying you’ve won a lot of money and all you need to do is give your account information. There’s got to be a catch, right? … If it sounds too good to be true that means it is.
“I didn’t earn it. How could I get a gift like that? Have you seen how I’ve lived? Have you seen the sins I’ve committed? The people I’ve hurt.”
There are times when we don't feel like we are good enough.
Are you a “but” parent by how you reacted to your children?
You know, no matter what your kids did good, you instantly revert to it’s great that you did that BUT you could have done that better.
I was not that way with our daughter. How could I be?
She received A's her entire life … kindergarten through earning her master’s degree. We moved into Wisconsin one year in February – and despite being in school only three months – she earned the junior high school’s top citizenship award for caring for others.
She went to college at age 17 and in five years earned her associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working a full-time and a part-time job.
My son had big shoes to fill and is amazing. He aced Algebra and trigonometry at the high school while in eighth grade, graduated high school with 3.8 GPA and was named the top sports management program graduate as a senior at Troy.
But regarding sports for my son I was the BUT parent … Little League, football, YMCA basketball, soccer, tennis … "You fielded four ground balls and threw the guy out at first BUT that one in the fifth inning got through your legs … you need to get in front of it …"
"You led your football team to victory as a quarterback, didn’t turn the ball over BUT when you pass the ball you’ve got happy feet … keep your feet still before you throw the ball."
Being so heavily involved in sports, I knew the right way and the wrong way to practice and execute properly and I let him know it.
I didn’t realize how bad it got until once during his junior season playing tennis at Prattville.
In high school tennis, the winner is decided by the first person to win 10 games.
I showed up from work and Anton was leading his match 8-0. He saw me arrive and proceeded to collapse … he lost the next 10 games to lose the match 10-8.
He was so concerned with me watching him, he couldn’t even function and play up to his ability because I was there. I stopped being the BUT parent …
I would still show up to watch him play but I would hide in the trees and make sure he didn’t see I was there. After the match, I didn’t say anything other than offering encouragement.
Jesus Christ isn’t the BUT parent … He’s saying come to him. Accept this gift. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what sin you’ve committed … how far you have strayed off the path … Christ is there reaching out for you.
Ephesians 2: 8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The funny part with Anton … hours after the match where I only offered encouragement … he would eventually come and talk about ALL the things I would have raised previously.
“I struggled serving the ball in the third game tossing it high enough going into the wind, I spent much time trying to guide the ball rather than completing the stroke … I should have charged the net more rather than waiting …”
Isn’t that what Jesus wants from us? To come to Him with our struggles? He already knows all our failures but he just wants you to come and sit with Him, talk about them.
He doesn’t want you to STAY the same. He wants you to be changed by your encounter of accepting the loving grace of Jesus Christ. But there’s nothing you’ve got to do to earn it.
No checkmarks you must cross off a list … no mountains to climb, no rivers to cross.
There’s nothing you can do and there's no need to justify yourself.
This is what the empty tomb means to me.
At times of death and heartache, I know there’s a larger story.
That sacrifice Jesus made was for everyone who accepts this gift he offered. They will be reconciled with God to spend an eternity with Him. Our time here is a temporary assignment.
This is what the empty tomb means to me.
At times of a life crisis, God has a plan – one I may not see or know is possible, but he knows it. He’s got a perfect design set for my life. He has a perfect design set for your life.
That’s often hard for us to realize in tragedy or confusion. But that doesn’t make it any less true. I have faith in an all-knowing, loving God who sacrificed his only son for my sins.
And, when faith weakens, because of our human frailty? We have His truth in the Bible to encourage, instruct, uplift and motivate us.
This is what the empty tomb means to me.
At times when you are having doubts about your faith, God is there patiently waiting and providing answers to give you peace.
All of us have issues and doubts. He continues to pursue us – even when we make it clear by our thoughts and actions that we are doing everything in our power to turn away from him.
The Resurrection light burns through any fog of doubt that we create.
Stop wondering if you are good enough … Stop trying to be a Christian ...
There’s no ifs ands or buts about it … you are His. Turn to the SON.
Allow the radiant light of Christ to reorient you – just like those sunflowers do each day following the sun – to a whole new life.
Brad Zimanek is the Associate Pastor at Mulder Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. He worked in sports journalism for 32 years prior to answering the call to full-time ministry.