Journey to the Risen Christ

“The Journey to the Risen Christ”          Easter, 4-9-23    Matthew 28:1-10, Acts 10:34-43
By Pastor Teddie McConnell
Matthew began the story of the resurrection with the two Marys going to the tomb. The earth rumbled and shook as an angel rolled away the stone from the entrance. The women were scared witless by this mighty display of power. The angel showed them the empty grave, then instructed them to tell the disciples about it and to meet Jesus in Galilee. As the women were on their way, their fear and astonishment turned to joy when Jesus appeared with the same message. Imagine their relief to discover that their friend and rabbi, the Messiah, was alive again! In this telling, the women were given the privilege of bringing the good news to the men before everyone headed to Galilee to see the resurrected Christ.
The four gospels have differing accounts and details of Easter morning. Who went to the tomb first? Did Jesus talk to Mary Magdalene, or was it an angel or two glowing strangers? Eye-witness testimonies are notoriously inconsistent when it comes to the smaller details, and these stories were written down years after the fact. As a woman called to preach, it gladdens my heart to be reminded that Jesus told women to proclaim the Good News of His resurrection. I’m so grateful that God gave me the chance to repeat it to you with great joy! Christ is risen!
The bottom line is that the variations between the accounts in the four Gospels really don’t matter. The news of the resurrection is too amazing and miraculous to be contained in a single telling. This reminds us, too, that each of us has a unique way of telling others about the Gospel and how we have witnessed God’s miraculous mercy and grace. Each person’s story is different and special, yet contains the same elements – God’s love, forgiveness and power have changed us, have directed our lives, and continue to equip us for the journey.
Even after the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, God chose to save us in ways that are incredible, including using unlikely people like fishermen and peasants to create the Church. Despite hardships and persecution, the story spread and is still spreading. Now there are Christians all over the world. According to Wikipedia, Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with over 31% of the world’s population and 2.382 billion believers. What a marvelous miracle!
Here’s an insight that theologian Scott Hoezee wrote about Matthew’s version of the resurrection. Instead of meeting Jesus in Jerusalem where He died and rose, the disciples were directed to see Him in Galilee, which is about 90-100 miles north of Jerusalem, a trip that would have taken them at least 2-3 days of walking with pauses to eat and rest along the way. The resurrection happened in the same city, but they had to make a long trip to be reunited with Jesus. Why?
Jesus could have appeared to everyone in Jerusalem, wearing glowing robes, mortifying the people who killed him and convicting them by his presence of their massive mistake. A modern-day publicist would have been aghast that Jesus refused the opportunity to make a splash and show everyone the truth of His divinity in the city that was the center of the Jewish establishment. But just as Jesus returned to Galilee after John baptized Him, He went back to that same out-of-the-way place to be seen by the people who cared about Him most. He wasn’t looking for the attention of the world at that moment. He didn’t even talk about sin or salvation. He did tell the disciples to tell others about His resurrection. Meeting them in the melting-pot culture of Galilee also emphasized that the Gospel is a truth for all people, not just the Jews. Although Peter was a devout Jew, God showed him in a dream and by personal experience that everyone is welcome in the kingdom of God and led him to preach to the Gentiles.
There is power in the fact that the Christian message is spread by the testimony of believers, by word of mouth and through the Bible, to people of every background, not just the Jewish people.  Jesus relies on us to follow the Great Commission and preach the Gospel to every creature, each in our own way. That message is life over death, love over selfishness, joy over sorrow, relief over grief, and confidence in God’s loving provision over fear.
The first Easter began a long journey for the disciples, and it was undertaken with joy and excitement because they knew Jesus would be there in Galilee to greet them. The trip also gave them the opportunity to reflect on their failure to believe Jesus when He told them He would rise from the dead, and to realize that Jesus had forgiven them and wanted to see them again. It gave them time together to remember and marvel at the miracles He did and the stories He told them about God’s love and mercy.
Faith itself is a long and winding journey that has hills and valleys, times of strength and courage and times of weakness and fear. Sometimes we feel equipped to take on the challenges we face, and sometimes life overwhelms us. As we move through this life, we need to remind each other of who Jesus is to us, and that He forgives us and waits for us at the end of the journey. We must remember to pray and invite the Holy Spirit to walk with us every day, every minute, giving us the power to keep going and the insights to support and serve each other. Asking for help from others is okay, in fact, it’s a blessing, because it gives them an opportunity to use their own gifts to serve God by uplifting us.
Here’s another analogy for the faith journey that came to me many years ago. Imagine that we all live on an enormous, planet-sized stained-glass window, so large that none of us can see past the particular section on which we live. We’re so small compared to the window that we’re like ants crawling on it. The light coming through the window is God. If we never move away from the piece of glass we started out on, we never perceive God as having any other color. To get from one part of the window to the next, we have to travel over the lead strip that connects the pieces, where the only light is what shines over the edges. Those are the darkest times in our lives, the times when we wander away from God or think God is far away. But when we arrive on the other side, we have a new vision and appreciation of who God is and how God works. One day when we see God face to face, we’ll also get to see the whole picture in the window.
Some people get irate about when they hear folks who live on another part of the window talking about how they see God differently. Tragically, wars have been fought over this. It’s the same God, just a different view. Non-believers are stuck on the lead strip and must be gently persuaded to move toward the light. Some must be reassured that they’re still welcome, even though they may have strayed into the dark.
I myself was raised in the Presbyterian church, but drifted away as a teenager. After marrying my ex-husband who was an agnostic, I decided to return to church and raise my two children in the faith without his help. Over many years and with the support of my church friends, my faith grew to the point where I felt led to become a pastor, and here I am. God has been with me through it all, in good times and bad.
The journey of faith takes work, grit, determination, persistence, and mutual support. And it takes the courage to share our faith with people who may not receive it well, may even mock us for it. That’s okay. Worse things happened to Jesus. It takes multiple exposures to the Gospel for non-believers to come to Christ, some more than others. Your input may be one of the reasons that a particular person eventually accepts Jesus as Savior. If God can start the church with unlikely people like fishermen and peasants, God can use unlikely people like us to keep it going. The good news is that once a person decides to follow Christ, the journey to Jesus’ loving arms is instantaneous. Then their faith journey begins
We travel this life with other fallible and flawed human beings. Every time we forgive someone, whether they ask for it or not, whether they deserve it or not; every time we treat someone the way Jesus would have, even when they treat us badly; and every time we proclaim the goodness of God in Christ Jesus, we demonstrate the love of God and bring the world one step further on the journey to the risen Lord.
We are the latest links in a long chain of testifiers to the truth of God’s amazing grace and love for humanity through Jesus Christ. We can’t let that chain come to an end, not if we’re really following the Great Commission. Our gratitude for our redemption leads us to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love, including the personal ways that we’ve experienced it. Even though we’ve heard it over and over, it’s worth remembering and retelling and even getting fresh goosebumps from the miraculous nature of it. The journey, even though long and sometimes trying, will bring us home to the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that anyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

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