He Lives, As He Said He Would
He Lives, As He Said He Would
There's one long sentence in Mark 16 that caught my imagination. It's the angel's words to the women: "Go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' " It's that final sentence within a sentence that fascinates me: "... as he told you." The angel says to the women, "He is alive." Notice, Jesus of Nazareth is alive. There's no mistake about it. It's not the Christ of faith or a phantom-spiritualized-Christ the angel is talking about. It's Jesus of Nazareth. This is the historical name of our Lordhis name, plus the city, Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is alive. He has conquered death. He will meet his friends in Galilee, as he said he would. "Do you remember what he told you? It's all true." That's what the angel said. Jesus kept his word. I want to reflect upon the amazing fact that Jesus kept his promise.
A promise kept is one of the great experiences in human life
Do you know that a promise kept is one of the great experiences in human life? I'm grateful for the legacy of having parents who told me the truth. As I grew up, my mother and father both meant what they said and said what they meant. With my father, what you see is what you get. My father is 87 years old, but if you don't get in there fast with a firm grip, you end up with a broken hand. He believed in a firm handshake and taught me your shake should be as good as your word. You shouldn't need a document to prove you're telling the truth. If you shake on it, you're going to tell the truth. That's a good legacy. I remember when I was a young pastor just starting at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. The chief custodian, Bernie Olson, had been there for a number of years. When I'd been there about six years, Bernie brought a big cake to staff lunch and said we were going to celebrate. Then he told us a story that hardly any of us in the room knew anything about. Fifteen years before, he had been a general contractor who went bankrupt. He and his wife both went to workhe as the custodian at the churchand they had been paying back every single creditor. You don't have to pay your creditors when you go Chapter Seven. People do it all the time. Every eleven years you can do it. Some people regularly wipe out their debts that way. But that wasn't the way Bernie felt. He had made a promise to all those suppliers, and he paid every nickel back. Then he had a celebration with the rest of the church and said, "I paid it all back."
When you experience a person who is a truth teller who keeps promises, it's a life-changing experience. It's true historically, too. Some of the great historical moments have been truth-telling moments. In May of 1942, when the United States evacuated Corregidor, a submarine came to take General MacArthur and his staff to Australia. Before MacArthur got on that submarine, he made a very famous promise: "I shall return." MacArthur had a great sense of the dramatic, but it went deeper than that. When the war in the Pacific turned, American troops began to fight their way back toward the Philippines. Some advisers in the Pacific theater felt it was foolish to try to go back. "Just bypass the Philippines," they said, "and go on." But MacArthur felt a sense of historya promise had been made. He went back to Leyte Gulf, and you may remember the famous Life magazine photograph as MacArthur, with his adjutant at his side, stepped on the beach at Leyte to keep a promise. Historically, it was an important moment for the Republic of the Philippines. They still remember it with great fondness to this day. After Philippine independence came, almost every American-named street in Manila was renamedexcept MacArthur Boulevard. It's still MacArthur Boulevard.
A promise kept has tremendous significance. This is also true in literature. Probably the greatest American novel ever written was Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Huck Finn had a worthless father. I say to people, "If you had a bad father, read Huckleberry Finn. Your dad can't possibly be as bad as Huck Finn's father." He must be the worst father of all time. He beats his son and ties him up in the house. He is a pathological liar, and Huck Finn never heard one true thing said by his father. When Huck Finn runs away, he floats down the Mississippi River with a new friend, a runaway slave named Jim, who tells the truth always. Jim never tells a lie. He's a truth teller and a promise keeper. Of course that's what makes the story work. It's Huck Finn's antiphonal sides: the father who is worthless and the friend who tells the truth.
In Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, the same dynamics are present. Sonia, the Christ figure in the novel, tells Roskolnakov, the murderer, that he must confess his crime. He must kiss the earth and say, "I am a murderer," to the north, south, east, and west. It is Sonia who convinces Roskolnakov to confess to the crime even though someone else was convicted for it. When Roskolnakov confesses, he is sent to Siberia for punishment. Sonia had made a promise to follow him to Siberia. She keeps him alive, although it almost costs her own life. She ends up sicker than he, but she brings cabbages and parsnips to keep this man alive, because she promised she would. And that's what makes the story so great and brings the resurrection scene at the end of the novel. It's true in great children's literature, too.
One of my favorite children's story writers is Dr. Seuss. The best character in Dr. Seuss has got to be Horton the elephant. I love that guy. Remember that flaky duck mother who left her egg with Horton and said, "Would you watch this egg please?" She leaves that egg and never comes back. Horton stays with that egg until it hatches. He's a wonderful mother. Remember that great line Dr. Seuss gives to Horton? He says, "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent."
Have you had experiences in your life where people told you the truth? You know how exciting it is to meet a Horton or someone who tells you the truth, like Jim on the Mississippi River. Or have you had experiences where people told you what's not true? It's devastating. Are you a person who's made it worse in your life by telling lies? You've kidded yourself and your children, and you've kidded your wife. You're telling lies right and left. Is that how you're making it all work? If you want to be free of all that, you came to the right place. I want to tell you the whole point of this marvelous event we have just read: Easter morning is an event about truth telling. The source of all truth telling is God himself. He is the supreme truth teller. There's not a lie in the whole Biblenothing at all. In fact John, in his great letter, 1 John, describes God in the following fashion: "God is light; in him is no darkness at all." Our Lord Jesus Christ is a truth teller. In the Sermon on the Mount, he gives some advice on truth telling. By the first century, the Jews were fascinated with discovering a means to discern whether someone is telling the truth. They had all kinds of tests. They had the famous Nazarite vow, where you guarantee to tell the truth by taking a vow and shaving your head. Everybody was concerned with proving somebody was telling the truth. It was an issue among Jesus' disciples. So they asked Jesus, "How do we prove that someone is telling the truth?" Our Lord's answer was specific. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, "I'll tell you how to know if someone is truthful. Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No.' " End of discussion. What a letdown to the disciples! Of course, Jesus could advocate that because that's the way he himself was. What you see is what you get.
The resurrection shows that all God's promises are true
Now in the most important single moment of all human history, the triumph of Jesus Christ over sin and death and the Devil, it becomes one more instance of Jesus telling the truth. Don't you love the way the angel puts it? It's so matter of fact, so simple. The angel says, "You're looking for Jesus of Nazareth? He's not here; he's alive. Now tell the disciples and Peterdon't forget Peter, because he is so down now. Tell Peter that Jesus will meet them in Galilee as he promised." I can see how some of the monks in the second century would say, "You know we've got to have a better ending to the book than that." One of the strange endings in the last few verses of Mark says, "You'll hold rattlesnakes, and if they bite you, they won't kill you." That was thrown in during the second century. It's not in the original text. It was put there by someone in the second century who thought the message needed to be beefed up. It doesn't need to be beefed up. Let your yes be yes, and your no, no. Jesus Christ has conquered death, as he said he would. It's that simple. He kept his promise.
It may be you are discouraged because people have told you lies. Here's someone who tells you truth. He always has. He told the truth when he said he would conquer death, and he did it. When it dawned on the early disciples that Jesus keeps his promises, it must have been one of the most exciting parts of the Resurrection experience. That's what it was all about. In fact, that's how I interpret Luke's incident on the road to Emmaus. Luke tells us about some disciples who met Jesus. They didn't know it was Jesus at first. The text says Jesus took them through the Old Testament, showed them the promises, and said how they were all fulfilled in Christ. The promises had been kept. Their hearts burned because they were so excited. Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to the early disciples to realize that all the promises Christ made are for real? I can now call in all those chits. I can call in those promises. He means to keep them. He kept the biggest one of all; he conquered death. On this Easter I want to reflect on four of those promises. Think of the promises we now know are true.
First, what he said about ourselves and our worth is true. He validated it. My mind goes back to the Sermon on the Mount, and that marvelous scene when Jesus says, "Consider the birds of the air. Your Father knows about them, every sparrow, and yet you're worth more than that. Consider the lilies of the field. Even Solomon isn't as beautiful as they are, they are alive one day and in the oven the next. Your Father knows you. Seek first the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours." What a profound and deep insight Jesus gives us! What a promise he makes about what we're worth and how much we mean to him! We can call that promise in. It's true! Christ validated it.
Think of the promises Jesus made concerning himself in the New Testament. One comes to my mind from chapter 8 of the Gospel of John. After the woman caught in adultery is thrown at Jesus' feet, our Lord saves her from a mob that would have stoned her. Remember the line he said to that mob? "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." From the oldest to the youngest, they walked away. He was left alone with the woman. He called her to the way of righteousness and said, "Woman, where are your accusers?" She said, "They're gone." He said, "I don't accuse you either. Go and sin no more." The very next line, in chapter 8, verse 12, Jesus said to them, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." What a tremendous promise! What a promise about Christ's integrity! He has already shown his love. Now he shows who he is. I can call that in now. I can count on it. I can put my weight down on it.
Then he made a promise about his plan that we should live forever. That promise is at the close of the Nicodemus incident. Nicodemus comes to him at night. They have a long discourse, and at the end of that discourse, our Lord concludes with Nicodemus by making a summary statement. John's gospel records it in chapter 3, verses 16 through 17. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus and says, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." That's God's will for your life. You can count on that promise.
Finally, think of our Lord's mandate to the disciples in John 20:21. In the very night of his Resurrection, in the upper room, we're told he met the disciples and said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." That's a promise in the form of a command. The fundamental question about Bad Friday is that when our Lord dies on the cross, he is really struck down as the Great Shepherd. But even in his dying, he makes promisesright to the very end. Two of the most moving promises our Lord ever made are made while he's dying. One is, "Father forgive them; they know not what they do." The other is made to a thief. The most beautiful of all promises is made to one other human being: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Now the big question that we have to ask theologically is about the promise Christ made to the thief. Was it the sentiment of a dying man trying to cheer up another dying man, or can Jesus keep that promise? That's the question.
Our Lord made many promises. This is certainly the most moving of them all. Does he keep his promises? Is he as good as his word? Does he mean what he says, and does he say what he means 100 percent? That is the message of Easter. He is risen. He lives, as he said he would!
Earl Palmer is pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington, and author of Mastering the New Testament: 1, 2, 3 John and Revelation/Volume 12 (W Publishing Group, 1991).
(c) Earl Palmer
Preaching Today Issue #90
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Earl Palmer is a writer and speaker for Earl Palmer Ministries, and author of Mastering the New Testament: 1, 2, 3 John and Revelation (W Publishing Group).