Easter has come and gone. The passing of Easter isn’t the end of the story.
Through the Easter season we have been thinking about events that happened almost two thousand years ago. If Jesus died in ad30, then he rose from the dead exactly 1986 years ago.
We live today in the period between his resurrection and his return. What happened next is what is still happening now, today, here in Jinju and around the world.
Let’s turn to verse nine. It’s a verse that is guaranteed to make some people uncomfortable. Who did God select as the first person to tell the Good News? God chose a woman who had been possessed by seven demons. This woman was Mary of Magdala, a thriving, populous town on the coast of Galilee about three miles from Capernaum.
Over time the idea developed that Mary was a prostitute, but there is not an iota of genuine evidence to suggest such a bad reputation. When the Bible mentions the woman caught in adultery it carefully does not name her. When Luke tells the story of an immoral woman who anoints Jesus with expensive perfume, he does not name her. All the men around the table mutter that she is a sinner, but the Bible refuses to shame her by naming her. Forgiven is forgotten for God, and so it should be for us.
Mary of Magdala was a good woman with the means to travel with Jesus.
God honoured her by choosing her to hear directly the Good News and tell it to others.
Mary Magdalene is mentioned fourteen times in the gospels. She is often mentioned first in lists with other women. Mary Magdalene had a prominent place in Jesus’ ministry. There was a strong prejudice in those times against allowing women to speak. Men did not believe they were trustworthy. God has other views. Today still there is great prejudice against women, and I dare say that today God still has other views about asking women to spread the Good News.
If you are a man, learn to listen to women. If you are a woman, be confident that God wants to speak through you.
Look at Jesus’ disciples in verse 11. When Mary told them the Good News, “they didn’t believe her.”
In verse 12 we read about two disciples out on the road going out into the countryside away from Jerusalem. Maybe this pair are the same two mentioned by Luke on the road to Emmaus.
Jesus personally greeted them. After meeting Jesus, they were suddenly inspired.
They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.
We keep seeing stubborn disciples who refuse to believe. Again and again, they reject the Good News. I find this confirming. These are not emotionally unstable people who are easily swayed. They are not people who are going along with the crowd. When the disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead, it was because they had been genuinely persuaded. The evidence for them was substantial. And that means, for me, that their testimony is reliable.
I can have confidence that when the disciples said Jesus was alive, it was because they had powerful evidence. They weren’t saying something they wanted to be true, but were telling how their hearts and minds had been changed.
How is it with us today? When I was young I used to imagine how I’d be the first one to recognise Jesus. I wouldn’t be like those silly disciples. But in fact, I’m very like them. How many of you would recognise Jesus if he walked up to you in the market?
In verse 14 we see Jesus telling these disciples what he thought of them.
“He rebuked them for their stubborn unbelief because they refused to believe those who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead.”
If you find it hard to believe, you are in good company. It’s not sensible that a man tortured to death and then speared to death and buried would be walking around. The natural reaction from people when you tell them this is to scoff at you. They are not inclined to believe what you say. It may be because you are a woman. It may be because you once had seven demons cast out from you. It may be because they are stubborn and hard hearted.
What we learn from this is that we need to be ready to encounter Jesus anywhere. We need to have our eyes open to recognise him when he comes to us, because he will not be as we expect him to be. We need to listen to everyone because any person could have a word for us from God at any time.
This is the story in which we live. Every day is an adventure. Every day can be the day when a women shares with you a truth from God. Every day can be a day when a man in the street has a message for you from God. God broke with convention all the time. He still does. God does not restrict himself to speaking in church buildings through special people with particular job titles.
Mark says that once we have listened and believed we have a duty.
After Mary realised she was talking to the risen Jesus, “She went to the disciples, who were grieving and weeping, and told them what had happened.”
We are called to tell others what has happened to us. It isn’t private. It isn’t personal.
The disciples out on the road in the countryside “rushed back to tell the others”.
Repeatedly the same reaction. The person who listens to Jesus moves swiftly from stubborn to enthusiastic. The change is dramatic.
This kind of change was not just for the few days while Jesus was on earth after his resurrection. Two years later he was again on a country road talking to a traveller. Jesus came to Saul and spoke to him. No one was more unlikely to believe, but after he listened to Jesus Saul was filled with enthusiasm.
Does this still happen? Oh yes. In our time too, people you would not expect who allow themselves to listen to Jesus are changed. In our times of Islamic terror, Moslems are being converted by personal experiences of the risen Jesus. Communists in China are being converted by encounters with Jesus. North Koreans are having experiences that they cannot explain until they read the Bible and recognise Jesus.
What happened then and is happening now is simple. When we listen to Jesus, he opens our minds. Our minds are closed, and without help they will stay closed.
Paul explains in Romans 1:21 – “They knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.”
The only way out is faith. To start with you only need enough faith to stop and listen.
Luke 24:45 says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”
Jesus is the one who creates open minds. The only people with open minds are those who follow Jesus.
After Jesus had opened their minds, the disciples went everywhere and preached, and the Lord worked through them, confirming what they said by many miraculous signs.
I encourage you this morning to listen to Jesus and tell others what he says. This is discipleship. It is how we should be living all the time, not just on Sunday.