The Light of Dawn

Zach Keele
Tuesday, July 1st 2014
Jul/Aug 2014

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5). On the chilly nights of our pilgrimage, this promise’for which David praises the Lord’is an electric blanket for our faith. With it, the Lord assures us that his faithfulness endures forever and that his mercies are new every morning. Yet, when the nights of our suffering grow long, believing this promise is not so easy. Suicide, car accidents, overdoses’how can joy ever pierce these dark nights? Sin and evil tragedies can cloud not just our days, but our months and years. The fog of depression refuses to let the morning dawn. Some evils are so horrendous that they murder the hope of joy. This was the shadow that covered the disciples on the Sabbath when Jesus was dead in the grave.

In the death of our Lord, the disciples lost much more than a beloved friend. The disciples' faith had embraced Jesus as the Messiah, their Savior. Peter confessed that no one else had the words of life (John 6:68). After being freed from seven demons, Mary Magdalene would not turn from following Jesus. James and John were counting down the days to sit at the right and left hands of Jesus. But with his crucifixion and burial, all these hopes were dashed. The disciples' weak faith and misunderstanding erased any expectation of resurrection. What else were they to think at Jesus' death? It was all over. Death was the great finale. Death sealed everything in an unrecoverable past. There were no resurrections in the books of the law and prophets from which they could draw hope. Therefore, as the first day of the week dawns, the disciples were convinced that the sun was not going to shine.

Yet the same grief that smothered the disciples' faith inflamed their love. With the Sabbath over, Mary Magdalene could not even wait for the sun to rise (John 20:1). She had to mourn for her Lord, to be next to him, even if it was just his corpse. So in the early hours of the morning, Mary set off for the tomb. But upon arrival she encountered the worst imaginable sight: the stone was rolled away. Mary's bruised love could read this only one way’"They took Jesus' body." Maybe thieves stole him; maybe the authorities moved him to the common grave for criminals. Did it really matter? All Mary had left of Jesus was taken. Her dismay did not even give her permission to look inside the tomb. Instead, she ran. She sprinted to get help. Her report to Peter and the beloved disciple was a demand to help her find Jesus. The news set them off like gunpowder. With a sprint, John was at the tomb in no time flat. He looked inside and saw the empty grave clothes. Huffing and puffing, Peter brought up the rear and charged into the tomb. All he found were empty grave clothes and a folded up shroud. But no one would move a body and leave these behind. Mary could not be right.

Such obvious signs of resurrection, however, did not penetrate the disciples' sorrow. The beloved disciple saw and believed, but this was explicitly not faith in the resurrection (John 20:9). John remembered what Jesus said at the Last Supper, that he was going to the Father. This was what John believed: Jesus went up to be with the Father, and John was not going to see him anymore. The cloud of sorrow blinded their eyes to the morning joy of the resurrection.

This is clear because Peter and John just went home. They did not tell Mary the view inside the tomb. Limping in depression, Peter and John abandoned Mary bawling at the tomb with her mistaken theory. A lot of help these men were! Mary's love, however, did not give up. She would not budge until she found Jesus, and she accepted no substitutes. Mary finally peered in the tomb and saw two angels. Most people, if they see an angel, react. Angels typically drop people to their knees, but not Mary. Instead, she bossed them around. There was no mistake about her implication: "You better help me find my Lord." Mary's love must be satisfied.

And then the Lord himself came to comfort her. Mary sensed something behind her. She turned, she looked, and, behold, there stood Jesus. Dead men do not stand. Jesus stands! But in her sorrow, she did not recognize the very Lord she was seeking. Even when Jesus questioned her, she could not see past her tears. Jesus even lured Mary to say his name: "Whom do you seek?" But Mary's tongue only found pronouns, pointing at the tomb, "Him…him…him" (John 20:15). Yet Jesus did not grow impatient. As the Good Shepherd, he said her name, "Mary." The risen Shepherd called by name and his sheep recognized his voice. In the saying of her name, scales fell from her eyes. Mary received back her Savior. Mary's love exploded in faith as she cried, "Rabboni!" John honored her by not translating her cry. If someone is bilingual, in times of extreme emotion, they always revert to their birth language.

Can you imagine being reunited with a dead loved one? To feel their warm touch again, to gaze into their eyes and to hear their laugh; this would be almost too much to take in. But this is precisely what Mary received, and not just from a loved one, but from her Lord and Savior. He who died now lived and would be alive forevermore. Death was swallowed up through his death and resurrection. Grief's obituary has been written. In his resurrected glory, Jesus Christ showered the light of his undying joy upon Mary.

The greatest story has received the best imaginable ending. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our morning joy. It is Christ's resurrection, and Christ's resurrection alone, that reminds us that our present long nights do not compare to the eternal day to come.

Tuesday, July 1st 2014

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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