Saturday, March 29, 2014

Don't Touch Me!

After Christ’s resurrection, why did He tell Mary Magdalene not to touch Him when He appeared to her at the empty tomb? This seems to contradict Hs instructions to Thomas and the other disciples shortly thereafter, when He told them to “handle” Him and to feel His side.

John 20:17 Jesus saith unto [Mary], Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
…27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

It seems that in both these appearances, Christ was in His glorified resurrection body, and not a disembodied Spirit. Mary did not recognize Him (v. 14) until He called her name (v. 16), but there must not have been anything ghost-like about His appearance, as she assumed He was the gardener and asked Him questions about where they had taken her Lord (v. 15).

Some suggest that this was a gender issue – that it was not appropriate for Mary to touch the risen Christ, whereas Thomas and the apostles were permitted to do so. But during His earthly ministry, Jesus did not rebuke the sick woman who touched the hem of His garment for healing (Luke 8:43-48), nor did He prohibit Mary from anointing His head and feet with oil and drying His feet with her hair (Luke 7:37-39; Matthew 26:7-13). According to social standards of the time, Mary’s lavish physical acts of worship would have bordered on scandalous, but He did not deny her this intimate contact. He knew that her motive was not fleshly lust, but pure adoration of her Lord,

Clearly His glorified resurrection body was different from the physical body He inhabited during His time on earth, but would that alone have prevented contact? He told His apostles to “handle” Him to see that He was made of flesh and bone (but not blood; Luke 24:39-40), and He ate in that body (Luke 24:39-40; John 21:15). Yet He was able suddenly to appear and to vanish, apparently instantaneously passing through solid walls (Luke 24:31,36; John 20:19).

Jesus in His risen body told Thomas to thrust his finger into His nail-scarred hands and his hand into His pierced side. The other apostles had already seen these wounds and believed Jesus had risen (John 20:20), but Thomas demanded a tactile experience (John 20:25), which the Lord did not deny him.

At first reading of John 20:17, it might seem that between Christ’s appearances to Mary, and then to Thomas and the others, He ascended to His Father. If that is the case, it might be that Jesus had to present Himself to the Father to verify His completed work on the cross (John 19:30; Hebrews 2:14-15), and He had to remain pure of earthly contamination until then. This does not seem sensible to me, as even stepping on the ground might be a form of contamination – particularly the ground around a tomb, which would be unclean by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 10:10; Numbers 19:11,14,16).

To me, it makes more sense that as His physical body perished, His Spirit went immediately into the hands of the Father (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46) and was in Paradise that same day (Luke 23:43). Three days later, as foretold by the prophets and by Himself, He rose from the dead and appeared to His followers in His glorified resurrection body (Luke 24:7,21,46, 1 Corinthians 15:4; etc.).

Scripture tells us that Christ ascended into Heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:2-11), being observed by the 11 remaining apostles and by angels. “I ascend” in John 20:17 therefore seems not to mean “I am at this moment completing the act of ascension,” but rather, “I am in the process of ascending, or about to ascend, which will not be completed until 40 days later.”

Yet something important and wonderful had clearly changed since Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day, as He told Mary to tell the news not to His “apostles,” or “disciples,” or even His “friends,” (John 15:13) but rather to His “brethren!” (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17) He was their Lord and Master (Matthew 10:24-25; John 13:13-14), but because He had now paid the price for all our sins and redeemed us from sin and death (Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27), all who trusted Him became His brethren (Hebrews 2:11,17).

As Jesus Christ would later reveal to Paul, believers in Him were now His joint heirs, adopted children of the Father (Romans 8:14-17); and even His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Yet Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16), and the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36), which is why He made the distinction between “my Father” and “your Father” and “my God, and “your God” (John 20:17).

The best explanation for why Jesus told Mary “Touch me not,” may center on the word translated “touch” in the KJV. Some other versions translate this as “cling to” or “hold fast,” which may be closer to the Greek word haptomai, which some commentaries say means “grab hold of.” We see the other women holding the risen Jesus by the feet to worship Him as they realize Who He is (Matthew 28:9).

What was Mary’s reaction as she realized her beloved Jesus was not dead, but standing beside her? Any of us encountering a loved one we had given up for dead would have the same reaction – to want to fling our arms around them, clasp them tightly, and embrace them as if we would never again let them go.

But Jesus did not rise from the dead to give earthly comfort to those He loved during His ministry; He rose to give all who trust Him eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:12-26). He wants us to cling to Him, abide in Him (John 15:4-7), and remain in Him (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2; etc.) – not physically, but spiritually.

Not until we reach Glory will we have the awesome privilege of not only seeing Him face to face, but of knowing Him fully as He now knows us (1 Corinthians 13:12). Not only may we fall prostrate at His feet and feel His healing touch (Revelation 1:17), but He will tenderly wipe away every tear from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; 21:4). I believe He will embrace us lovingly as He did the children brought to Him for a blessing (Mark 10:13-16).

I believe Jesus was telling Mary, in effect: “Don’t try to keep me here with you, as much as you want to, but know that I am going to my Father so that all who love me can abide in me spiritually until I come again to bring all of you to myself. I have walked the earth with you for three years, but now you must learn to walk by faith, not by sight.” (John 14:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:7)

So why did He allow Thomas to perform a physical examination of His wounds? Thomas’ motive for touching Jesus was different than Mary’s. She wanted to cling to Him out of love, blended perhaps with fear that He would again leave her. The other disciples trusted their vision to know that Jesus’ wounds proved His identity, yet Thomas doubted their account and needed tactile proof. Even though Our Lord was merciful in allowing Thomas the evidence he needed, He said that those with greater faith, who did not need sensory evidence, were blessed indeed ((John 20:25-29). 

That would be all of us who have faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6), based on His Word, without the luxury of having seen or heard Him in person! Praise God that Jesus Christ did not remain on earth, but instead ascended to the Father, where He continually intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), and where He is preparing a special place where each of us will spend eternity with Him! (John 14:1-3) Praise God that He ascended so that He could send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14:16,26; 16:7), to live within each believer’s heart! 

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

What Do You Treasure Most?

Photo from CNN

A few days ago at a flea market in the Midwest, a scrap metal collector going through tough times bought a decorative gold egg containing a watch. The purchase price was $14,000, way beyond his means, but he thought he could get at least twice that for the weight of gold in the item, and he leveraged all his remaining assets to buy it.

But he had overestimated the weight of the gold, and he realized that his profit after melting it down would only be about $500 – hardly enough to rescue him from his dire financial straits. In desperation, he Googled “egg” plus "Vacheron Constantin," the name inscribed on the watch, and was amazed to learn he might be holding a rare collectible.

He took it to an art dealer who immediately recognized the great value of the piece, not for its gold content, but for its design, craftsmanship and beauty. The dealer realized it could only have been the work of Peter Carl Faberge, jeweler to the last Czar of Russia, and it fact it matched the description of one of the eight missing Imperial eggs that was designed in 1887 for the Czarina. 

Although the Czar had commissioned 50 of these jeweled eggs throughout his reign, to be given as Easter gifts to his family, only 42 had been retrieved after the bloody revolution in which the Royal Family was assassinated.

The price paid by the art dealer to the scrap metal collector was undisclosed, but the last Faberge egg to be sold at auction (in 2007) fetched over $30 million, even though it was a non-Imperial egg and therefore less valuable than those commissioned by the Czar. So even though the scrap metal dealer sold all he had to purchase the egg, it was by far the best investment of his lifetime.

It reminded me of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven, which is like treasure found and hidden in a field so that the man burying the treasure could buy the field (and the treasure!) by first selling all that he had. Jesus then told of the merchant who looked for expensive pearls, and when he had found one pearl of great price, sold all that he had to buy it (Matthew 13:44-46).

If we are not willing to sacrifice all that was once dear to us, how can we invest our life in serving Him? Only then can we experience the priceless rewards He longs to give His children (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). If we were to own the whole world, it would mean nothing if we were to lose our soul to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 16:25-26; Mark 8:35-37).

The tale of the Faberge egg got me thinking about how we measure value. At a flea market, very few bargain hunters, even the most shrewd, would dream of spending $14,000 on any purchase, no matter what the potential value. Why would the flea market vendor sell the egg so “cheaply,” without even researching the price of the gold alone? What if the scrap metal dealer had failed to realize what an invaluable treasure he held in his grasp?

And what if the Czarina could tell us of what that egg represented to her – a symbol of her family’s power, lavish lifestyle and opulent wealth? A token of her husband’s deep and passionate love for her? Did the beautiful watch within the golden egg mean that the Czar wanted to give her the gift of time, wishing their happiness would last forever? Or, as it was an Easter gift, did it remind her of the most precious gift of all: Our Savior’s death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), so that all who trust in Him would have eternal life in Heaven (John 3:16), where time can no longer be measured?

Much of the decoration of this art object suggests its religious significance. It is fashioned of gold, fit for the King (Matthew 2:11), and contains a timepiece, which is appropriate to the One Who controls time (Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:7). It is adorned with three sapphires and three golden garlands, which could represent the Trinity. A diamond is the opening mechanism revealing the watch, reminding me of the sapphire and diamond on the high priest’s ephod (Exodus 28:18; 39:11).and the jewel-like brilliance of Christ seated on the throne of glory (Revelation 4:3). The Faberge egg sits upright on an elaborate gold stand supported by lion paw feet, which might be a reference to Jesus Christ as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5).

On the night that I heard this news I dreamed, ironically, that I really needed to sleep, because of important and taxing commitments I had the next day. But in the dream, I kept waking up because of a CD player. The first time I was sure I had shut it off before going to bed, until I was surprised by Charles Stanley’s voice preaching. This was no time for a sermon, I thought with irritation, because sleep was now my first priority.

In the dream, I flipped the power switch to “Off” and once more drifted into restless sleep, when I again heard God’s Word as delivered by one of my favorite preachers. But in my annoyance at being awakened once more, my thoughts toward him and his message were not exactly charitable. This time I yanked the power cord from the wall and resumed my tossing and turning.

But to no avail. I again “awoke” (still dreaming!) to the sound of Scripture, this time not read by Charles Stanley but in tones so rich and pure they sounded like crystal resonating. Fascinated, I followed the sound to a golden egg, which appeared to contain not only a timepiece but a musical movement playing Bible verses. I tenderly cupped the egg in my hands and pressed it to my chest, letting the Word resonate through my very being.

No longer dreaming, I arose feeling blessed and inspired. But then I shuddered to think how many times I had shut out my Lord’s voice because of concerns that seemed more pressing, unaware that I was quenching and grieving the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). Sleep is valuable and necessary (Psalm 127:2), but how much more precious if He would speak to me! (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

What an awesome blessing when He awakens me with songs or visions in the night (Job 35:10; 4:13; Psalm 42:8; 77:6; Genesis 46:2; Daniel 7:13), perhaps laying a burden on my heart to pray for someone’s specific need, or giving me the long awaited solution to a problem, or even a new direction to follow

How often do we put God’s voice on “pause,” or “off,” valuing the empty chatter of the world more than His Word that is our daily bread and guiding light? (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3; Psalm 119:105) Even worse, what if we place more worth on our independence than on our relationship with Him? If we attempt to disconnect from our ultimate Power source, we will be as useless as branches yanked away from the True Vine (John 15:1-8).

What do we value most? Do we worship the idol of wealth accumulation (Luke 12:15-21), only to have it stolen or corrupted (Matthew 6:19-20), or to find that we have no time left (James 4:14; Job 14:1) to enjoy our hoard? Do we pour all our energy into making a living rather than seeking new life?

We should not worry about our physical needs (Psalm 37:25), for He is the ultimate Provider (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13; James 1:17). All we have to do is seek Him first, and we will give us His Kingdom and all that we need (Luke 12:22-32), granting us the desires of our heart as they align with His perfect will (Psalm 37:4).

Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Praise God that at the moment of salvation, His Holy Spirit enters our heart (2 Corinthians 1:22;5:5; Ephesians 1:14), which is the most precious gift imaginable. If we allow Him, He will write His mercy and truth on the tablet of our heart. His wisdom far outshines gold, silver and jewels, adding longevity, riches and honor to our life (Proverbs 3:13-16).

He makes us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), transforming us from scrap metal fit for the junk heap to His finely crafted workmanship, destined for His ultimate purpose (Ephesians 2:10). No longer need we fear time running out on our earthly days, for He has conquered death (1 Corinthians 15:26,55-57) and given us eternity with Him!

May we always hide His Word in our heart that we might not sin against Him! (Psalm 119:11) May we treasure Him above all else!

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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