Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.9
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…

Luke 24.22-25
In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

John 20.19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

*This Easter week as we shelter in our homes due to COVID-19, we may feel more like the fearful gathered disciples than we ever have before. We will look this week at the appearances of Jesus, who comes to stand in our troubled midst and say, “Peace be with you.”

Reflection: Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

“Firsts” are important in the scriptures. So we cannot imagine that it is a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus appears first to the women. 

One reason Jesus may have done this is that they, along with John, were with him to the end. They were the last faces he saw as he gave up his spirit. It makes sense that he would honor them to be the first to behold his now glorified face, raised by the Spirit’s power.

Jesus did this despite knowing that no one would believe them. A woman’s testimony was considered invalid in court. Today, a woman’s testimony counts according to the technicalities of the law, but still counts for less in the general culture. All these centuries later, we still have problems in our society taking a woman at her word.

If the gospel accounts had been written late, with intentional warping of the facts to make plausible an extraordinary claim, the women’s testimony, which not even Jesus’ closest followers believed, would have been deleted and replaced with that of Nicodemus or someone else with moral standing. (See more on the trustworthiness of the Resurrection accounts here.)

Instead, Jesus not only appeared to women first, but gave his most personal resurrection greeting to a woman shamed by her culture for having been demon-possessed. Mary Magdalene is also (probably falsely) accused by history of having been a prostitute. 

Jesus was intentionally exalting the humbled, by placing the women, and scorned outcasts, at the center of the narrative in an irreplaceable and immovable way.

He also was intentionally confronting the disciples with their cultural blindness and propensity to doubt. This was not to pile shame on them, but to build faith in them. He was weaning them off of faith by sight, knowing that soon they too must believe in him without seeing him.

Faith by sight, is faith limping along on a crutch. Faith by sight dies in the dark. Faith by sight is blind to the Spirit, for it never looks beyond the physical. But the worst thing about faith by sight is that even it still fails.

What is extraordinary about humanity is not that we are capable of believing without seeing. It is that we are capable of seeing, and still refusing to believe.

Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen -2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen -1:38)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is not a happy ending. It is a happy beginning.

Read more about A New Day :: Worldwide Prayer
May we follow the example of the first witnesses: the women who were more faithful than the betrayers, braver than the soldiers, and the first to believe in and spread the gospel.


Figs Out of Season

Scripture Focus: 1 Thessalonians 5.14
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

Mark 11.13-14, 20-21
Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it…In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

Reflection: Figs Out of Season
By John Tillman

The fig tree Jesus cursed was unfruitful because it was out of season. 

The fig tree was a picture of the Temple that Jesus had cleansed the day before. The Temple (whose massive edifice the disciples were enamored of) bustled with activity but produced none of the spiritual fruits of righteousness that it was intended to produce. It produced robbery rather than righteousness and pridefulness rather than humility.

The withering of the fig tree represented what Jesus consistently predicted would happen to the Temple in about 70 years. “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 13:33-35; Luke 19.40-44

Regardless of the season of the year, in the presence of the Messiah, fruitfulness is possible and expected.

It is not possible to know for certain, but Paul may have had the image of the cursed fig tree in mind when he wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4.1-2) to produce spiritual fruit “in season and out of season.” 

In this season, Holy Week may feel strange and divorced from our normal spiritual activities. We will not gather as normal. We may not eat as normal. We may not celebrate as normal. It may feel impossible to produce fruit in a time such as this. We may even feel that we are experiencing the chastisement of Christ that the out-of-season fig tree experienced. We may feel withered and diminished. 

But the other side of the living (or perhaps dying) parable of the fig tree is that union with Jesus makes all things possible. The disciples are encouraged that the command to the fig tree is nothing compared to what is possible for those of us who believe.

In a time of crisis the faithful are empowered by grace to respond with what is needed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives we are able to produce fruit in supernatural abundance and beyond our natural abilities.

As Paul prayed for the Thessalonican church, so we pray over ourselves. May we not be disruptive or negligent, lazy or self-interested. Instead, may we focus on being encouraging, helpful, and patient. May we be fruitful, carrying out good and beneficial actions in our communities.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 26 (Listen 2:37) 
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen -2:37)

Read more from Light Shines in the Darkness
The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy…

Read more about The Cultivating Life
When we partner with him and cultivate the soil of our hearts, we ensure that Christ’s power will take root in us and bring forth a harvest of the fruit of the spirit.

In the Face of Grief

Mark 16.6-7
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Reflection: In the Face of Grief
By John Tillman

It is ironic that Christ’s resurrection—a event he directly predicted over and over in the scriptures—is the miracle the disciples seemed the most unprepared for. 

They continued with the normal obligations of life. They continued in societal expectations. But inwardly they carried a deep sorrow. And it is in this sorrow that Christ visited them.

Mary’s veil of tears concealed Christ from her, and he parted it by calling her name.

Peter’s experience after the tomb left him doubtful as opposed to convinced. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to Peter specifically and Peter’s experience on the shore with Jesus after returning to fishing for fish instead of men showed the raw and sensitive reality of his emotional state. Peter’s fear of failing (again) paralyzed him, but Christ re-called him, reinvigorated him, and continued transforming him from Simon to Peter, the Rock.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus were described as downcast. They were headed the wrong direction, too grief-stricken to follow the instruction to travel to Galilee. Jesus enlightened them intellectually and changed their direction and purpose.

Mark’s account gives us the unique detail that the disciples in the upper room were gathered, weeping and mourning before the women reported to them and Christ appeared.

None of Christ’s followers had to leave their sorrow behind for Jesus to come to them.
They didn’t have to defeat their crippling fear before they were worthy of Christ’s presence.
They didn’t have to know the theological answers about why Christ died or where he had been for all this time.
They didn’t have to be in the right place. (Only the encounter after fishing is in Galilee, where Christ, through the women, told the disciples to meet him.)

The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving. Why then do we seem to assume that this stopped when he ascended?

Every instance of grief in our lives will not be met with the miraculous reversal of a resurrection. But in every instance of grief, we can be assured that Christ will come to us. He will call our name as he did Mary’s. He will seek to transform us he did Peter. He will change our direction and our purpose as he did Cleopas and his companion.

In the face of grief, seek the face of Christ. He is coming to you.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us.  —  Psalm 67.1

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:47) 
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more from Remember Jesus Christ
Remembering the good news of the risen Christ provides perspective for our lives. Remembering the resurrection also recalls Christ’s suffering and reminds us that we may experience suffering, too.

Read more about Recalling the Failures
The disciples are slow to believe and understand what has happened, even after seeing Jesus alive. The resurrected Jesus is patient with them…he slowly and lovingly works to overcome their doubts and fears and reissue his call on their lives. And he is lovingly patient with us as well.

In the Face of Mockery and Shame

Mark 15.29-31
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!

Reflection: In the Face of Mockery and Shame
By John Tillman

Most dictionaries define crucifixion with a mention of Jesus. But to some crucifixion is simply extreme punishment and to some it is specifically tied to undeserved or unjust punishment. But crucifixion carries another, important implication—shame. 

The mockery of the passing crowds was not by accident, but part of the punishment’s design. Despite the many artistic depictions of loincloths, victims were hung naked in a public place specifically for the purpose of shaming them.

Crucifixion was common and so was public shaming of the crucified. It would be an unusual day in Jerusalem if there was no one for the crowds around Golgotha to mock.

The same is true today. It is an unusual day when social media does not hoist on a hashtag a victim for our mockery and derision.

Mockery and shame is an industry, and like any industry on the rise, growth is based on demand. The industry of shame might not have replaced the industry of journalism yet, but it has disrupted the market. Journalism, staring down the rise of shame-based tabloids, has blinked, and adjusted their business model.

We, as a culture, demand to shame others. We seem to think it is our right. The mob justice of destruction and vengeance through shame is the only system of justice our culture trusts. 

When preachers (or devotional writers) talk about sin and culture it is natural for Christians to first think of the sins of others. Take captive those thoughts now. Don’t allow yourself to engage in spiritual “whataboutism.” Brush aside thoughts of others’ wrongs. The Holy Spirit comes to help us see our own sins. If you are reminded of others’ sins, you aren’t listening to the right spirit. 

Focus on how Jesus responded to shaming and mockery.
Hebrews says that Christ “scorned the shame” of the cross. This is not a reference to “clapping back” at accusers. Christ did not scorn the shamers.
In the face of all the mockery and pain, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

When we remove mockery and shame as options, many of us will be at a loss for how to communicate in our world. This is why we must ask the Holy Spirit to convict us and respond on our behalf, making us salt and light with words of truth and love.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 45 (Listen – 4:10) 
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about The Soul of Shame :: Readers’ Choice
Shame is the emotional weapon that evil uses to corrupt our relationships with God and each other and disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.

Read more about Weaponized ShameChristians have the opportunity live as salt and light in a bland, rotting, and dark digital world. What we click, how we respond—if we we respond at all—shares a testimony to the world.

In the Face of Betrayal

Mark 14.18-19
While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”

Reflection: In the Face of Betrayal
By John Tillman

Jesus was familiar with the entire spectrum of betrayal. 

He was betrayed on a national level.
Jesus was the rightful king. The Messiah. But he was never accepted by those in power. He was the rejected king, the rejected cornerstone. In some ways, he was never truly allowed to return from exile in Egypt, being forced to live his entire life in obscurity. Even at the height of his popularity he stayed in out of the way places to avoid those who wanted to kill him. He only returned to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry for the purpose of being rejected and killed.

He was betrayed on a broad, societal level.
Jesus experienced Twitter-storm levels of betrayal. The religious leaders, just a few days prior, wanted to arrest and kill Jesus but refrained for fear of the great crowd that supported him. In a matter of hours, the crowd that was his protection, became the engine that drove the wheels of government to crush him.

He was betrayed on an intimate and personal level.
Even though Jesus knew betrayal by Judas was coming, the intimacy of it—the sign of the kiss—still shocked him. And Peter’s betrayal, cursing and denying Christ after so boldly claiming that all could fall away and he would still not, is one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the New Testament. The account in Luke contains the cinematic detail of Christ, in the midst of being beaten and accused, hearing the cock crow and turning to catch Peter’s eye just after what Peter had done.

Pause right now and film this scene in your own mind. Imagine Christ’s face looking at Peter in that moment.

Imagine his face looking at Judas.
Imagine his face looking at Jerusalem.
Imagine his face looking at the crowds berating him and calling for his death.

The look you imagine on Christ’s face in these moments says a lot about what you believe about who Jesus is and what his character is like.

Imagine his face looking at you.

Our sins are an intimate betrayal. Yet still Jesus looks at us with longing. He weeps for our mistakes and sins, but longs for our repentance and return.

Look full in his wonderful face this week. Do not despair over your betrayal as Judas did. Weep over it as Peter did. And wait. Jesus will lovingly come to you.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me. — Psalm 69.18

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen – 4:38) 
Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Recognizing our True Position
Stone and King Rejected
Rejected stone.
Rejected king.
In our sins, alone,
Exile stings.

Read more about The Abandoned Savior
God, we abandoned you. Eternal unity broken by our sin. Truly we would have been counted among your disciples that night.

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