Saturday, May 7, 2016

Triplets of Fulfillment: Mary’s Ministry After Christ Arose

A lost sinner must reach the depths of despair over his own wickedness before he can experience the relief, peace and joy that come from being born again, from trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Once we are saved, God may allow us to pass through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), knowing that He will elevate us to heavenly places thereafter (Ephesians 1:3, 2:6), and the victory in Him (1 Corinthians 15:57) will be all the more sweet.

So it was with Mary, mother of Jesus. The most dismal prophecy had been fulfilled: the sword that pierced her Son’s side had pierced her own soul also (Luke 2:35). She watched, grieved and prayed as her Son was betrayed, tortured, and put to death. Having a child die is said to be the worst life event one could ever suffer, and the circumstances of Jesus’ death and Mary’switnessing it were unimaginably cruel.

Yet God did not abandon Mary in this ordeal. Jesus had appointed His beloved disciple John to be as a son to her (John 19:25-27), and now God sent her an advocate to help her with the burial arrangements, as He had already called her husband Joseph home.

This man, Joseph of Arimathaea (Mark 15:42-47), had three admirable character traits: he was honorable; a counselor, meaning that he had influence and could effectively assist Mary; and he was a man of faith, waiting for the kingdom of God, believing in the Messiah Who would rule eternally on the throne of David (Luke 1:32).

Joseph of Arimathaea came to Pilate’s mansion, went in boldly to see him, and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate responded by being shocked that Jesus was already dead, by confirming that with the centurion, and by then giving the body to Joseph.

Joseph claimed custody of the body of Jesus, bought fine linen for the burial, and took His body down from the cross, which in itself was no doubt a great relief to Mary and the other women. He wrapped the body in the linen, laid the body in a tomb never used before, most likely his own family tomb, carved out of a rock cave, and rolled a stone across the door of the tomb, sealing it.

Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene were thus granted the peace of seeing the body of Jesus respectfully laid to rest, rather than being thrown on a pile of human remains, as would be the custom for criminals who were crucified. The Gospel of Mark tells us of three who were present to witness the burial and sealed tomb: Joseph, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, mother of Jesus.

After the Sabbath, during which it was unlawful to anoint a body, had passed, three women returned to the tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of Jesus, and Salome, bringing sweet spices (Mark 16:1-8). They came very early, at daybreak on the first day of the week, illustrating the fact that if you seek God first thing, He will never disappoint you. They asked themselves who would roll the heavy stone away from the tomb, actually voicing their need to God as we should do in prayer. And then they looked to see God’s answer, for He had already rolled away the stone!

As they prayed, watched and waited, God answered their prayer exceedingly abundantly (Ephesians 3:20) beyond what they could ever imagine! A young man, robed in white, sitting within the tomb on the right side, gave them amazing news, yet they were terrified.

Who was this young man? Scripture does not tell us directly, but it may have been one of the two, presumably angels, described in Luke 24 as men in shining garments. Or it may have been Jesus Himself, His brilliant white garb reminiscent of His appearance at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2), and His sitting on the right side symbolically representing His position at the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1,5, Mark 12:36, 14:62).

What was his good news? That Jesus, Who had been crucified, was risen, and was no longer on the burial place! He gave the women three instructions: go, tell the disciples and Peter that He would meet them in Galilee, and see Him there. But still overcome by fear, the women fled from the tomb, trembled in amazement, and were too afraid to tell anyone.

According to the similar account in Luke (23: 55-56; 24:1-11), the women came with Jesus from Galilee, followed Him to the cross, and observed His body laid to rest in the tomb. They then returned to Jerusalem, prepared the spices and ointments for His burial, and rested on the Sabbath so as not to break the law of Moses.

At dawn on Sunday, they came to the tomb, brought the spices, and entered the tomb. They found that Jesus was not there, feared when they saw the two angels, and bowed down on their faces before them. The angels reminded the women that Jesus had said that He would be handed over to His captors, be crucified, and rise again on the third day.

Then the women remembered what Jesus had said, returned to the disciples, and told them the Good News! If we keep the Word of Christ in our heart, soul and mind, (Psalm 119) we will eagerly tell all (Matthew 10:27; John 4:28-29) the miracle He has done by saving us!

At first it seemed that Mary’s witness, and that of her companions, was ineffective, because the disciples thought their words were just “idle tales,” and they did not believe their story. Thankfully, God commands us only to tell others of Him, and He does not hold us responsible for their reaction, for only the Holy Spirit can change the hearts.

Often our witness seems to fall on deaf ears, yet the miracle of conversion takes place much later. In this case, the disciples ultimately did believe what Mary and the others had told them. Peter soon went to the tomb to see for himself (Luke 24:12). The disciples on the road to Emmaus recounted how the women had come to them, told them of what they had seen, and astonished them with the implications (Luke 24:22-23).

But Mary did not rest on her laurels and stop being the handmaiden of the Lord now that she knew Christ had risen!  No doubt she cherished the last words He spoke (Acts 1: 8) before ascending into Heaven  – that the Holy Spirit would empower His followers to be witnesses in our local sphere of influence (Jerusalem and Judea), to cross prejudice barriers in our witness (Samaria), and to witness to the far corners of the earth, as begun by the first missionaries and now made easier through the power of the Internet.

Upon returning to Jerusalem, the disciples continued His mission in unity, with prayer and supplication, joined in their ministry by Mary, mother of Jesus; the other women, and Jesus’ siblings (Acts 1: 14). What a joy it must have for Mary to see her other children, who had initially rejected Jesus as Savior (Matthew 13:57), now born again! What a blessing to know that her faithfulness to Our Lord, her witness, and her prayers had all been part of the seed sown in their lives!

What fulfillment to know that she continued her Son’s work long after He had ascended into Heaven, no doubt until He brought her home! May we all follow her Godly example!

© 2016 Laurie Collett
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Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
The resurrection of Jesus Christ physically from the dead must be the most important event ever to take place in history, I would say, more important than creation itself.
It also answer the question with clarity: Which religion is the true faith?
No religion can boast of the resurrection of their founder, whether its Buddhism, Islam, or Jehovah's Witnesses!
Only Jesus Christ, the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, can make this claim, and despite Mary having her soul pierced with the sword, it must have been a wonderful privilege for to to be that the right place at the right time.
A very edifying blog. God bless.

Frank E. Blasi said...

I apologise for the bad text above. I was meaning to say:
"it must have been a wonderful privilege for her to be at the right place at the right time."
That's better!

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
Amen! The resurrection is the single most significant, paradigm-shifting event in all history. How people respond to it determines their eternal destiny. Praise God that we serve a risen Savior! Among all the world religions, only Christianity can make that claim. Mary truly was blessed among women to have carried, nurtured and raised the Savior, despite the unimaginable pain she experienced at His cross. Thanks as always for your uplifting and Christ-honoring comments.
God bless,

Laurie Collett said...

I always admire your writing, and I see that you are a perfectionist also!