Monday, May 5, 2014

The Primacy of the Resurrection

Life of Christ 79

          We left Jesus, last time, west of Galilee along the Mediterranean coast line. We find Jesus, this time, east of Galilee, again in Gentile country, this time around the area called Decapolis. This region took its name as an association of ten cities, under Roman control of course. There were Jews in it but it was largely another Gentile area. Along the way on this trip we find the story of the feeding of the four thousand, and more miracles of compassionate healing.
          I highly doubt that Jesus took the direct route between Tyre and Sidon and Decapolis, as that would have involved traveling straight through Galilee. Instead, I believe He followed the northern arch above Galilee, through the Tetrarchy of Philip, and then down into Decapolis along the Jordan River.
          We can see that Jesus is making a conscious effort to avoid both Judea and Galilee. I will discuss some of the particulars behind this fierce opposition in my next post, but for the moment let us just realize that He is being attacked on all sides. Farrar, the 19th century Anglican divine, whose theology is suspect but whose abilities as a religious historian and scholar are not, said it this way:

Every section of the ruling class - the Pharisees, formidable from their religious weight among the people; the Sadducess, few in number, but powerful from wealth and position; the Herodians, representing  the influence of the Romans, and their nominees the tetrarchs; the scribes and lawyers, bringing to bear the authority of their orthodoxy and their learning - were all united against Him in one firm phalanx of conspiracy and opposition, and were determined above all things to hinder His preaching, and to alienate from Him, as far as was practicable, the affections of the people among whom most of His mighty works were done.
          Following this continual circuit of mini-exile around the circumference of Galilee, Jesus and His Apostles take shipping back east across the Sea of Galilee, and touch briefly, for reasons known only to them, the little known town of Magdala. It is so little known that no one seems to know exactly where it was, although many have speculated that Mary Magdalene was from there.
          I find it fascinating that when He arrives in Magdala the Pharisees and Sadducees are waiting for Him (Matthew15.39-16.4). This indicates either that they have been following Him all along, dogging His footsteps as He travels completely around the circumference of Galilee, or else that the Pharisees and Sadducees have put their adherents on notice to watch for Him in every little hamlet of Israel. In either case, it shows the ferocity of their dedication to attack Jesus at every opportunity wherever He was to be found.
          When they arrive in Magdala, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, yoked into an unlikely alliance by their mutual hatred of Jesus, approach Him and ask Him to do a miracle. Jesus knew there was no valid reason to do one. He had just done a bunch of them on the circuit of His trip around the border of Galilee, but there was no need for His compassion here. There was nothing of a struggling faith that needed strengthened in spite of its doubt. And He is done, now, doing miracles of display to authenticate His claims as Israel has already clearly rejected those claims. Instead, there was only the presence of an active rebellion against Him and a virulent hostility. Remember, the Pharisees are the group that propagated the theory that He did His miracles because He was possessed of Satan. In a sense, then, what they are really doing is seeking to throw His miraculous ability smack into His face.
          His response, in this situation, is to give the folks in this little seaport community a weather illustration that they would all understand. When you are on land knowing the weather is largely a matter of convenience, but when you are on the volatile Sea of Galilee it was largely a matter of life and death. Due to its geography, which finds the Sea of Galilee hundreds of feet below sea level, cold air would often times flow from the year round snowcapped Mount Hermon down the ravines that fed the Jordan River, and stir up sudden ferocious storms on the relatively shallow Sea of Galilee. We see this illustrated in the Gospels repeatedly when the experienced fishermen that made up some of the Apostles were caught in flash storms on the lake.
          'He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day; for the sky is red and lowring' (Matthew 16.2-3).
          What He is saying is this: you can look at the sky and see how that points to the weather because it is important to you, but you refuse to look at what is happening around Me spiritually, the fact that I can clearly do miracles, and what that points to about Me, and this is actually much more important to you than the weather. 'O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, but can ye not discern the signs of the times?' (Matthew 16.3).
          Jesus came looking for belief. Increasingly, He is find a rebellious hostility that mockingly asks Him for a miracle that, even if He did it, would not soften hearts a whit. So He points them to the one miracle that will be completely unanswerable – the Resurrection. 'A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas' (Matthew 16.4).
          What is interesting about this is that we see in Jesus a pattern here, and when we notice Him repeating something it behooves all of us to sit up and take notice. Not long before He had done the exact same thing.

Matthew 12. 38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
39  But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
40  For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

          Why does He do the exact same thing again? In my opinion, He is beginning to establish the absolute primacy of the doctrine of the Resurrection. As we move forward into the last year of His life we will find Him referencing it again and again and again, and what we see here is the beginning, or infancy, of the establishment of its importance as a doctrine.
          We must remember that at this time in His ministry He is primarily focused on preparing the Apostles to run the Church in His absence. Well, they clearly got the idea that the Resurrection was important for it runs from one of their writings to the other. Peter's sermon at Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover of Jesus' death, refers to it twice in Acts 2. Peter's next sermon, in the Temple days later, refers to it twice in Acts 3. Peter's next interaction, this time before the Sanhedrin, refers to it in Acts 4. Peter's next interaction, again with the Sanhedrin, refers to it in Acts 5. It is also found in Acts 10, 12, 13, 17, 23, and 24. It is found in Romans 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10. It is found in I Corinthians 6 and 15, and in II Corinthians 4. It is found in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, II Timothy, and I Peter.
          The Resurrection is one of the two primary doctrines that mark Christianity as being different from the way in which every other religion in the history of humanity is the same. Christianity offers salvation by grace through faith while every other religion demands some semblance of good works, and Christianity is the only religion in the world with a founder who walked away from His own tomb.
          One of the wonderful things about spending so much time looking at the life of Christ in one year is that you get to see the themes of His ministry take shape, the things that are emphasized again and again. Jesus came looking for belief. His ministry was marked by compassion. He is after our heart. His outstanding characteristic was His obedience to His Heavenly Father. And one of those things that gets repeatedly emphasized is the Resurrection.
          Let us give it a place of primacy. Let us thank God for it. Let us look to see Christ live out His life in ours.

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