By Pastor Glenn Pease
Pat Boone in his book A Miracle A Day Keeps The Devil Away tells of some very spectacular examples of the hand of God in history. His friend Tay Garnett, who is a film director, was showing the stunt driver in a mountain chase scene what he wanted. He drove the car right up to the edge of the cliff, and then at the last second he cut the wheel to veer away from the disaster of a 700 foot drop to the rocks below. The only problem was the car didn't veer, and while the crew stared in frozen horror he plunged over the edge. He was a believer, and all he had time for was to pray, "God keep me in the circle of your love."
Four hundred feet below there was one tree growing out of the side of the cliff, and that was the only tree for hundreds of yards in any direction, and Tay's car fell right on to it. The impact demolished the car and injured Tay's back seriously, but he was alive. It took hours for a rescue team to get him on a stretcher and back to the top, and then to a hospital where a surgical team repaired his back. But a few weeks later he was back to work where he was not bashful to share his faith in a God, who for all practical purposes, brought him back from the dead.
He was a dead man flying off that cliff, but God in his providence spared him. He was not literally dead, of course, but neither was Jonah literally dead in the belly of the whale. But he was as good as dead, and his only hope was a resurrection. That is why Jesus used the experience of Jonah as a sign of His burial and resurrection. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus draws a parallel, but there was a major difference. Jonah was only as good as dead, and Tay Garnett was only as good as dead, and many have been as good as dead, and yet restored to life. But Jesus was totally, absolutely, and unequivocally dead. He was not merely rescued from a near death experience. He was resurrected from a clear death bondage. It is important that we see this event for which we celebrate Easter as unique and distinct from all the other miracles and wonders of history. It is in a category by itself.
There were other resurrections of the dead, but none of them was a cure of death. Lazarus was raised after being clearly dead and decaying, but it was not a cure. It was only a remission of the disease of death, for he had to die again, as did all the others who were raised. The resurrection of Jesus was the only resurrection that could be called a cure, for it was a permanent victory over death, and, therefore, the resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate healing.
If death is the worst thing that can happen to the body, then conquering death is the best thing that can happen to the body. Everything else Jesus did for the body was only temporary. All the diseases He healed, and the miraculous recoveries He brought about did not cure any of those diseases permanently. But when Jesus rose from the dead He performed the miracle of all miracles, the wonder of all wonders, the ultimate in healing, for He raised from that tomb on that first Easter a body that would never never die again; a body that would never suffer again; a body that would never be subject to sin or any of its consequences. In other words, Jesus by the power of the Easter miracle healed a human body permanently; not just for time, but forever. That is why Easter is the greatest Christian celebration, for it is the celebration of the only miracle that lasts forever.
Miracles just do not last. The feeding of the multitude kept them satisfied for a few hours, but they had to supply food again for their next meal. The stilling of the storm only lasted until the next wind came up, which could have been the very next day, or only hours later. The miraculous catch of fish did not set up the disciples for life. They had to fish again. On and on you could go through the miracles and see that they just do not last. You cannot count on the miracles for security. But when you come to the resurrection of Jesus all is different. Here is a miracle you can count on. Here is a foundation that will never be shaken, and never be changed. Here is the Rock of Gibraltar of the Christian faith. Here is the miracle that is forever.
History is loaded with great men and women who have discovered medicines to cure diseases, but nobody has ever found a cure for death. They can often delay it, but there is no antidote to this poison that sin brought into the world. Shakespeare said, "By medicine life may be prolonged, yet death will seize the doctor too." Easter is the celebration of the greatest physician in history, for He alone produced the antidote that heals from life's worst disease-death. There is no higher level of health than eternal life. It is health on a level where man can experience all God meant for him to experience.
I never linked Easter with healing before, because I never looked at Easter through the eyes of one looking at Jesus as the great physician, even in His resurrection. Your perspective as you approach the Scripture has a great deal to do with what you see. I want to point out just how clearly Easter is surrounded with the healing theme. Not only was the resurrection of Christ the ultimate healing, it was the center from which all other healings were to come. Look at how clearly Mark reveals-
THE EASTER-HEALING LINK.
First of all in verse 9 Mark reveals that the very first person Jesus appeared to in His resurrection body was Mary Magdalene, one of the great trophies of His healing power. She was a woman out of whom He had cast seven demons. She was a very sick woman, but Jesus healed her and set her free from her bondage. She was saved physically, mentally, and spiritually. She was one of the most healed people in the New Testament, and she is the first to see the ultimate in healing-the resurrected Christ.
It has been noted all through the centuries that women were the first at the tomb that first Easter morning, but few have ever pointed out the role of healing in why this was the case. Doctor Luke in his Gospel tells us that Jesus had a strong following of women who supported Him financially. The interesting characteristic about these women was that they were women that Jesus had healed. Luke 8:1-3 says, "The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out, Joanna the wife of Cuza, the managers of Herod's household, Susanna, and many others."
This group of women had experienced the healing miracles of Jesus in their bodies and minds. They had experiences that the 12 disciples did not have. There is no record of any of the 12 having demons cast out, or of being healed by Jesus. They saw all of His miracles, but these women had actually experienced the wonder working power of Jesus. The result is, that when Jesus was crucified the two sexes traveled two different roads in how they dealt with their grief. The males went the route of despair which paralyzed them. They were frozen into inaction. Whereas the female followers took the road of devotion. They were just as convinced as the men that Jesus was dead, and that His ministry was over, but they were still so grateful for what He had been to them that they were determined to minister even to His dead body. Let's focus on this theme:
I. THE DEVOTION DISPLAYED BY THE WOMEN.
It is not likely any of these women had a very restful Sabbath as their Lord lay in the tomb. Everyone of the Gospel writers indicates they were up at the crack of dawn, or even earlier while it was yet dark. They were on their way to the tomb by sunrise to anoint the body of Jesus. They do not come harboring any hope of the resurrection. They would not have spent money for spices if they had any hope He would be alive. They acted in the belief that His body would lay in the tomb until the resurrection of the last day. They were going to honor the body the best they knew how.
The despairing disciples probably would have considered this as a sentimental waste of resources. I must confess as one stuck with a male mentality, I do not know if I would have voted to spend more money on devotion to a dead body. Most men have this male mentality of practicality. That is why all of the extravagant gifts of honor and love that Jesus received were from women. Some unknown woman gave Him His seamless robe, Mary of Bethany anointed him with expensive perfume, and the men complained of the waste of it, and now these women are going to give His dead body expensive spices. The women are being sentimental and wasteful in their devotion, but in doing so they are the first to encounter the reality of the risen Redeemer. The men do not make a move until they are compelled to respond to the testimony of the women. Even then it is a reluctant response of skepticism.
Not a single woman was ever rebuked by the risen Christ, but in verse 14 all eleven of the Apostles are severely rebuked for their lack of faith and stubborn refusal to believe the women. It has always been hard for men to listen to women. Remember ladies, you could have been married to an Apostle and still not have a husband who would listen to you. So what we see that first Easter is that there is a reason why women were the first to be in on the Easter Gospel, and why Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Christ. These things were not just incidental or accidental. Jesus could have appeared at any time to anyone. He could have come to the despairing disciples first had He chosen to do so. But He chose to honor those who showed the greatest devotion.
Jesus prizes the devoted heart. They were not doing anything so marvelous or profound, or even sacrificial, but they were displaying their love, and for that they were richly rewarded. In the silent stillness of that first Easter dawn Jesus was delighted, for one of the first things His risen eyes saw in the world of the living was this great display of devotion. That meant so much to Jesus, and it means so much to Him yet. If these faithful female disciples were so devoted to Jesus when they were sure He was dead, how much greater was their devotion to Him when they knew He was alive forever?
What our risen Lord most loves is to see disciples, male or female, who expressed their devotion to Him; for those who love Him will love all whom He loves, and this is the power that fulfills His purpose. The power that heals in this world is the power of love. Jesus saved these women and healed them, and they in turn love Him because He first loved them, and they express that love by giving of their resources. Their time and their treasure was devoted to Christ, and though it is not referred to, we can assume that any talents they had were also a part of their devotion. That which pleased the risen Redeemer on the first Easter is that which pleases Him every Easter-the devoted heart. Thomas Moore wrote,
As down in the sunless retreat of the ocean,
Sweet flowers are springing no mortal can see,
So deep in my soul the still prayer of devotion
Unheard by the world, rises silent to Thee.
The women shine brightest in the realm of devotion, and they always have, but they would not be the public defenders of the resurrection and proclaimers of the Gospel in their culture. This was the role of the stubborn male disciples who were finally convinced by overwhelming evidence. We focus now on-
II. THE DOCTRINES DECLARED BY THE MEN.
The men went everywhere proclaiming the good news of Jesus, and He confirmed their message by His resurrection power. He did signs such as healing miracles to convince people that He was alive and well, and active in the world. The Great Commission to go into all the world was not given until after Jesus rose from the dead, and the reason is clear. There was nothing really to tell the world until death was conquered by Christ. The world already had the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. That was an ancient doctrine, and pagans all over the world believed it. What the world did not have was the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. This is the unique doctrine that made Christianity a distinctive faith.
If you think it is easy to be of sound doctrine even with the fundamentals of the Christian faith, you are wrong. You have to work like crazy to avoid being pagan in your thinking. For example, let me tell you the story of the brother and sister and the two little birds. The sister found the bird nest with four speckled eggs in it. One day she returned to see them again, and they were all broken. She began to cry because the beautiful eggs were spoiled and broken, and she was sad. Her brother heard her and assured her they were not spoiled at all. The best part he told her has taken wings and flown away. That is how it is with death. The body is left behind as an empty shell, while the soul which is the best part has taken wings and flown away.
Now this is a touching story with a powerful analogy that sounds pretty good to all of us, and not just to children. The only problem with it is that it is completely pagan. It teaches the immortality of the soul, which is, and has always been, pagan theology. This is not what Christian thinking is all about at all. The Christian doctrine is not the immortality of the soul. It is the resurrection of the body, and the immortality of the total man, and not just the so-called best part. The resurrection of Jesus is not about the soul of Jesus. It is about the body of Jesus. Easter is the celebration of the healing, not of the soul, but of the body. It is the body that dies and is held captive by death, and it is the body that needs to be delivered from this its greatest enemy. That is what Jesus did in conquering death, and He thereby opened up the door for all men to experience with Him the ultimate healing.
Because the body is important to God, it is one of His finest works of art, and so He sent His Son into the world to save it as well as man's lost soul. And because it is important to Christ and His mission in the world. He makes it clear in His great commission here in Mark that the body is to ever be a focus of the Christian church. He did not say just go and preach and teach, and thus reach men's souls only. He said also to get the body involved and baptize them. Baptism is a symbol of the resurrection, and a reminder that Jesus intends to save the whole man, and raise the body to live forever.
Jesus goes on to say some strange things about the physical signs that are to follow those who believe. The body stands out as the key field of activity. We are not going to stop to deal with the very strange idea of the snakes and the poison. We just want to make the point now that the body of believers are to be involved, and not merely spectators in the plan of Christ to reach the world. Sick bodies are to be healed, and these signs have been a part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission all through history. Jesus did not suddenly turn into a super-spiritual Savior after His resurrection. He was concerned about the bodies of men all through His earthly ministry. It was still His concern after the resurrection, and that concern is a part of His will for His church for all time. To care about people's souls and not their bodies is pagan and anti-Christian.
It took no power to have His soul live on eternally. He committed His soul into the Father's hands just before He died. If immortality of the soul is all you care about, the story of Christ could end at the cross, for what happened to the body would be of no consequence. But the New Testament story is not over until the body of Jesus is raised to life, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. If you cut the body out of the story, you cut the heart out Christianity, and leave it on the same level as most pagan religions. There is no Christianity in the New Testament sense without the resurrection of the body.
God, in the Easter story, is saying, lets get physical. Jesus is saying to His church, lets get physical. The body matters, and not just some, it matters a lot. It matters so much that without it you do not have Christian doctrine. The old time mobsters knew the importance of the body. That is why they spent a lot of creative energy in figuring out how to get rid of it. A body, even though dead, is a blabber mouth. It tells too much. The autopsy can tell often when and where and how the man was murdered. Professionals, who are keenly aware of how talkative a dead body can be, use to toss them into cement mixers, and so humanize our highways, or use some other imaginative way to get rid of the evidence. Some made arrangements with a funeral director to slip their victim underneath the other body in the coffin and by this double decker play solve the problem of a dead body squealing on him.
Getting rid of the body has been the big challenge also for those who would murder Christianity. If you can eliminate the body of Christ, you can, for all practical purposes, eliminate the Christian Gospel. The Jews said the body was stolen. The heretics said the body was never really dead. The liberals said the body does not matter, for His spirit lives on in history. There is no escaping this fact: What you believe about the body of Jesus is the key doctrine that determines if you are a Biblical Christian or not.
The New Testament women display devotion to the body of Jesus. The New Testament men declared the doctrine of the resurrection of the body of Jesus. Anything less than this is sub-Christian. Immortality can mean as little as the idea that a man's ideas and ideals survive death. But the resurrection of the body says that man himself in all his being survives death in Christ. Jesus did not save half of man, but all of man. And He demonstrated that on the first Easter by raising up His own dead body to life. This is the ultimate healing. Easter is what Christianity is all about. It is about the salvation of the total man, and Jesus is the only physician who has the power to heal the total man.
One of the best descriptions of Easter theology is that of a 3 years old Sarah, daughter of Dr. W. M. Anderson, who told this true account in a lecture. Her grandfather was paralyzed before he died, and this was her explanation of what happened. "Pa's body was sick, and it hurt him, and as long as he lived in it, it would hurt him. Jesus loved him and didn't want him to hurt. So he let Pa move out of his body and come up there with Him. We put Pa's body in the ground and covered it with flowers. Jesus is going to come back and get it, and fix it, and Pa will put it on again, but it is never going to hurt him after Jesus fixes it." This is pure Christian theology from the mouth of a babe, and is as good a description as you can ask for of the ultimate healing. The body is fixed to never hurt again.
He appears to His own, shows His hands and His feet,
As they wonder with fear and great joy;
He talks, and He eats in that body of flesh,
The body Death sought to destroy.
But it did not succeed, for what did succeed was the Easter message-the message of resurrection power that produced the ultimate healing. If you want to be well forever, and be in perfect health perpetually, you need to let the great physician be your doctor, and invite Him to make a house call, and enter your life to stay. By the simple prayer of asking Christ into your life you can begin the process that will lead you to experience the ultimate healing. Jesus is a specialist; the only specialist there is in ultimate healing.