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Cadet Erin Metcalf on “Love without Boundaries”

By salvation Category Easter Ministry, Latest News

Metcalf, EDeath was defeated, hope was restored, our debt was paid.  New life has come. He is Risen! (He is risen indeed!) I wonder if you recall a movie that came out several years ago – a movie called “Forrest Gump.”  As you may remember, this movie was about a man, named Forrest Gump, who tells his life in little vignettes and at the end of each vignette he says, “well, that’s all I have to say about that.”  It was a way of ending his stories, a way of saying, that this particular moment that he is talking about is complete and there is nothing more to say.  A comical but profound way of ending each and every story he tells.

This morning I am speaking from the Gospel according to Mark Chapter 16 verses 1-8.  I love the beautiful simplicity of Mark. I love it because with this particular Gospel, the original manuscript ends at verse 8 … once the resurrection story is told, it is simply the end.  The story is complete.  An additional ending was added to Mark at a later date, and each of the other Gospels contain longer endings where Jesus appears to his disciples. Each account of the resurrection is important to read in order to get the whole picture … but there is something that I have always loved about Mark 16:1-8.  It is as if the writer  of Mark tells the story of the empty tomb and then says “that’s all I have to say about that.” The Resurrection is all we have to say!

Part of what draws me to this passage in Mark is the shift that takes place between the utter despair that the women are feeling on the way to the tomb – the despair that is felt by all who knew and loved Jesus – and how this despair changes almost in an instant with the words: “He is Risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6)

The resurrection story is a familiar story.  So much so that perhaps we no longer identify with the profoundness of the text. We may find it difficult to relate back to that first resurrection morning and be fully aware of the absolute “newness” that was created on that morning.  In our present context, our understanding of Easter often draws parallels with the world around us to help us understand new life – greenery, spring, baby birds, and the earth waking up from a long slumber of winter. We draw these parallels today because we know the story … we have the text in our hands and we have read and understand the story of the Cross and the Resurrection in its entirety.

But on that first Resurrection morning – that day after the long Sabbath when no one knew what was going to happen next, the disciples, the women, and the followers of Jesus … they didn’t have a story in front of them. There was no text. They did not know the ending. When we are able to look again with fresh eyes at the absolute “newness” brought into being on that morning we can once again rejoice at the wonder of that day and meet the resurrected Christ. We can touch the nail pierced hands and feet and see the wounds in His side.  And for us, it can bring a new awareness of the importance of this day above any other day.

You see, before that morning, all the world knew was death.  Before that morning there was only sadness.  Jesus had been crucified.  He was laid in a tomb.  The disciples hadn’t even had time to properly attend to the body as Sabbath arrived at sundown on the evening of the Friday Jesus was crucified.   Jesus lifeless body was taken down from the cross, and were it not for Joseph and Nicodemus intervening for the body of Christ, “acting boldly, the body of Jesus might have been disposed of like rubbish.”[1]

Nothing but sadness and despair and hopelessness was on the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers. Nothing but questions and doubts.  How could this have happened?  How did this man who was called Messiah, Saviour, Son of God, who talked and taught of the Kingdom being “at hand”, of “new life” and “the way” … be dead?  Nothing was adding up and death was so final.  Final because no one had ever heard of resurrection.

Early in the Gospel of Mark, in Chapter 1:14-15 we are given the proclamation of Jesus – the point of his ministry.  We read: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” When Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan and is anointed with the Holy Spirit he is empowered by his Heavenly Father to preach the Good News to the nations.  This good news is that the Kingdom of God is near. That NOW – and not some distant time in the future – is when God will start to make things right.  God will begin to set right what is wrong in the world.  To bind the brokenhearted.  To free the captives.  To open blind eyes.  Brokenness would be made whole.  This was the message of Jesus and it was happening NOW (or rather, then!).

So imagine the disciples’ confusion … after following Jesus around and watching him perform miracle after miracle.  Pointing people to His Heavenly Father through the signs that he was doing – healing, restoring, and loving.  Imagine the disciples being a part of that joyful time. That time of restoration and teaching.  Of healing and gathering.  And then imagine them following Jesus into Jerusalem only to watch him be arrested, tortured and crucified.  A sinners death upon a cross.

What the disciples saw was that God didn’t come to save Him.  Jesus died. It says in Mark 15:37 “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.”  There was no doubt.  Jesus’ lifeless body was removed from the cross and laid in a tomb as his final resting place.  In the book “Give Them Christ” Stephen Seamands says this of the death of Jesus “… everyone in Jerusalem had said No to Jesus. The religious authorities tried and convicted him, Pilate condemned and sentenced him, the common people scorned and rejected him, and his own disciples betrayed and deserted him.  God seemed to have abandoned him too.  The fact that he had been nailed to a cross, experienced horrific pain and suffering, and died as a sinner under God’s curse confirmed their verdict on Jesus. It proved this Galilean peasant was no Messiah, but just another pretender in a long line of pretenders.”[2]

The disciples were left to wonder what it was all about and what they should do.  The women who loved him and his followers; all were left to wonder what it all meant.  Sabbath arrived and they were forced to simply wait.  Wait in darkness and despair.

Our world is broken.  Every time I turn on the news or look at my Twitter feed (I usually only have news updates on my twitter feed) I am forced to come face to face with the utter brokenness of humanity.

I can be passionate about a lot of things but one of my biggest passions is Human Trafficking.  More specifically, I am passionate that the Salvation Army as a body of believers and as an International Organization, needs to continue to do all it can do to stop the buying and selling and transportation of women and children from country to country for the purposes of exploiting them.  It is my opinion that this is one of the worst violations in all of humanity.  To remove someone from all they know and love and force them to be powerless, alone, humiliated, broken, stripped of all identity and dignity and then lost or discarded is, in my opinion, pure evil.

It is, I believe, a perfect example of people who are living “outside” of the boundary of Jesus …

Let me give you some context for what I mean by “boundary.”

When Jesus gave up his last breath on the cross and was laid in the tomb, His disciples, His followers, they didn’t know or understand that there was another part coming … something else was just around the corner. Although they had been told by Jesus what was going to happen – Mark 10:33-34 contains Jesus’ very words describing all that was to take place in Jerusalem.  Jesus ends with “Three days later he will rise.” Even though they had been told his death would not be the end, all they knew is what they saw. They saw death.  Death was the end.  They saw Jesus, the one called the Messiah, defeated.  The grave had claimed him.

And then, three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome, arise as the text says, “very early on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:2) These women rise very early on the morning following the Sabbath to finish rendering the last services to the body of Jesus. “Sabbath had intervened and the women who wished to anoint the body had not been able to do so.”[3] The women were there to administer the Jewish custom of last services and anoint the body of Jesus.

I wonder if you can do something with me … can you close your eyes and picture these women walking up towards the tomb.  Can you picture them carrying the spices, tears in their eyes, despair in their hearts as they grapple with all that has happened.  And then as they begin to talk about the task ahead of them it occurs to them that they have no way to get into the tomb.  In order to get to the body of Jesus they have to remove the large stone that was customarily rolled in front of the tomb.  Imagine with me if you can another layer of despair … of frustration … of overwhelming grief that they have set about a fruitless task as they can’t even get into the tomb.  They are separated from Jesus because of death and now, again, further separation because they realize they cannot even get to the body … a large rock will be blocking the entrance.  A wall of stone. A boundary.  And yet they continue to walk towards the tomb anyway … unable to turn back.

Imagine with me if you can as they approach the tomb.  Perhaps they walk a little further up the hill and raise their eyes … and they see the stone is rolled away….

Now, I used to read this and think – they must have been so relieved! The heavy stone was gone! But the truth I’ve come to realize is, they must have been so very afraid.  What would they have thought in those moments?  Was his body taken?  What if someone broke into the tomb to cause more damage to the body of Jesus?  Having watched the horrific events leading up to the crucifixion it’s not hard to imagine that some of these thoughts may have been going through the minds of these women … Everything that they had been taught by Jesus, all that they loved, had been shattered on the cross … and when they saw the stone rolled away they faced the possibility that there may be more pain and suffering waiting for them in the tomb.

What was going through their heads?  I can almost picture them creeping up to the tomb, peering in and slowly entering.  And then they see a young man in white.  We can assume the women were terrified as the first thing this messenger says to them is “do not be afraid” (my translation says, “Don’t be alarmed”) – and he says to them:  “Don’t be alarmed … You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen! He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6).

Don’t be afraid, don’t be alarmed. He has risen!  He is not here.  I wonder how those words were felt by the women that morning … He is not here … Jesus of Nazareth is no longer in this tomb.  He has risen!  Not only had the rock been moved away, removing the boundary, but, in fact, He was not there at all!  Because He was alive.

Jesus spent his time on earth restoring people, healing people, teaching people about His Father in Heaven and of His Kingdom.  Jesus was sent to restore people to their whole life, their whole selves as God had created and intended for them to live.

Over and over again in scripture, when someone approached Jesus, it was almost always an outsider. And over and over again what did Jesus do? Jesus always brought them close to Him and restored them to a place of wholeness and inclusion.  And how did He do this? He did this through healing.  He did this by spending time with those who were on the outside of society.  In fact, one could argue that all of the miracles Jesus performed on people resulted in them being included back into society.  Think of the woman who touched the hem of his garment, the blind man by the side of the road, the leper, the paralytic, raising Lazarus from the dead.  Even the simple act of eating lunch at the home of Zacchaeus was an act of inclusion.  Jesus constantly bumped the boundaries of acceptance out just a little bit further. During His ministry, Jesus was about including the excluded.  Pushing out the boundary.

The problem is that no one really believed he was the messiah, save for perhaps his disciples and close followers, and a handful of people who heard him speak and watched him perform miracles.  And even then, his disciples, those that loved him most – abandoned him in his final hours.  When Jesus died on the cross it was as if the world heaved a groan that death had won.  Jesus had been defeated.  With His death died all that he taught and all the miracles and signs that he performed during his ministry.  Because, if He is dead, He is not the Messiah.  If he is not the Messiah, than His teaching doesn’t matter.  His teaching becomes nothing more than words.

BUT – when the women came to tend to the body – very early in the morning – when all hope was lost and darkness was all around, they found the tomb empty. They are told: He is NOT here! The tomb is empty.  Christ is no longer dead – he is risen!

Jesus, who was given up unto death, the final act of being separated and outside, is no longer on the outside in a tomb.  He is alive.  Once again, and once and for all Jesus bumped the boundary out until it encompassed all of humankind.  Every man, woman and child is now included in that boundary because in the resurrection something “NEW” happened that had never happened before.  Death was defeated. Jesus won!  Jesus defeated death.  Jesus turned it all upside down.

There is a story that a Pastor named Harry Pritchett tells and it is captured in book by Charles Swindoll:

“It is the story of a young boy named Philip. Philip was born with Downs Syndrome. He was a pleasant child – happy, it seemed – but was increasingly aware of the differences between himself and other children.  Philip attended church at the local Methodist church and was in a Sunday school class with other 8 year old kids.  Philip was rarely accepted and included by the other children.  He was not really a part of the group of boys who played and laughed and learned together. Philip didn’t want to be different and he didn’t want to be excluded, but he just was.  That’s the way it was for Philip.

One Sunday, following Easter, the teacher of the Sunday school class decided it would be fun to have the children do something a little different.  So, he managed to find a bunch of big, empty, plastic eggs (the kind the pantyhose used to come in – we don’t have them in Canada anymore I don’t think but I can remember my Mom buying them!).  These eggs came apart in the middle and so they were perfect for putting things inside.  The teacher instructed the kids to go outside and find something that represented new life.  Anything at all.  With great enthusiasm, they ran outside and began hunting around the church grounds for something to put into their eggs.  Once they had their treasures, they ran back inside – their eggs concealing their items.

One by one the teacher opened the eggs that had been dumped into a pile on the table.  One had a flower inside – the kids all oohed and aahed. Another had a butterfly – again, more excitement at this rare find.  One egg contained a rock and this brought laughter as one boy proudly claimed it as his own, exclaiming that he wanted to find something different – the other kids joined in the laughter and the teacher shook his head and said something to himself about the profundity of children.  And then he opened the next egg …. And there was nothing there.

The teacher felt a tug on his sleeve …. It was Philip.  “It’s my egg!  That one’s mine!” He said.  The other kids laughed at him and scolded him because he never did anything right.  “It’s empty Philip” they said, “You didn’t do it right!”

Philip looked at everyone and said, “I did so do it.  I did do it.  It’s empty. The tomb is empty.”

A profound silence settled over the group of children and their teacher.  Philip got it.  The tomb is empty.  That is new life.

And on that Sunday an amazing thing happened.  The boundaries were bumped out a little further in that Sunday school class.  Philip went from being on the outside to being on the inside. Philip was included from that day on.”[4]

The tomb is empty!  He is not here.  He is risen!  Because the tomb stands empty – there is new life.  Because the tomb is empty all that was hopeless and full of despair is reversed.  With the resurrection, all that Jesus taught and preached and all the healing and restoration – it all made sense in light of the resurrection.  “God reversed the grave injustice inflicted upon Jesus and pronounced that the rejected, crucified Jesus was in fact the righteous one.”[5]

You see, Philip did GET it.  Because he saw the power in the empty tomb he was NO LONGER ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN – HE WAS ON THE INSIDE.  INCLUDED.  There was a significant change that took place that day and that change meant that Philip was a part of the body of children in that Sunday school class.

It is no different for each of us.

We live in a broken world.  There is death all around us.  Hurt, despair, loneliness.  Our world is hurting.  We as individuals are hurting.  We long to be included and loved.  We long for community.  It doesn’t matter where we are.  It doesn’t matter if we are a lost young girl who has spent the entirety of her life as a slave at the hands of another person.  It doesn’t matter if we are facing the golden years of our life and maybe now coming to realize that we don’t really know this resurrected Jesus.

The Easter message is for each and every one of us.  The empty tomb, the resurrection of Christ Jesus means that no one needs to be on the outside of his redemption plan.  The gospel is that all can be saved. Not some. All can have eternal life.  All can be a part of the family of God.  Now.  The tomb is ALREADY empty.  He is NOT there.  Jesus is very much alive and where he IS, is sitting at his Father’s right hand.  He paid the price.  He bumped the boundary.

We have only to respond to this gift that God, through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, offers to us.  Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” He brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  Brought in.  No longer on the outside.  If we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and that he is Lord of our lives we can all live within the boundary, restored and whole.

In “Take Time to Be Holy” – Samuel Logan Brengle says, “Jesus came into the world to reveal the Father and to do the will of the Father.  He also came to save lost humanity from our sins and from ourselves.  He came to bring us into reunion with God.  He came to make us holy, happy, dutiful, unafraid children of the Father once more.  And the Resurrection was the final stone in the everlasting foundation on which this work was to be built.”[6]

He wants to restore us.  He wants to love us and he wants us to enter into relationship with Him.

Jesus bumped the boundary out so that every man, woman and child would be included and no one would have to live on the outside any more.  “He is risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6)  The tomb is empty and life inside the boundary is available to all who accept Jesus Christ.

There is a chorus I would like us all to sing.  Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.  Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, he holds the future.  And life is worth the living just because he lives.  Because HE LIVES – we can face tomorrow and because HE LIVES, all fear is gone.  We don’t have to live life on the outside, broken and separated, in fear or shame.  Because we know HE holds the future.  And He has made life worth living just because HE LIVES.

I don’t know where you are this morning. I don’t know if you are living inside the boundary of Jesus Christ and His amazing grace.  Perhaps you’ve been standing outside the boundary for a while, not really sure how to get “in.”  I want you to know this morning that the work has already been done.  It has been accomplished for you.  The boundary of the love and grace of Jesus includes everyone, you need only acknowledge Him as the Saviour and Lord of your life.

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, New Testament, (Colorado: David C. Cook, 2007) p 134.

[2] Stephen Seamands, Give Them Christ¸(Illinois: IVP Books, 2012) p 116.

[3] William Barclay, We Have Seen The Lord! The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, (Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) p 113.

[4] Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, (Illinois: Thomas Nelson, 2003)  

[5] Stephen Seamands, Give Them Christ, Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return, (Illinois: IVP Books, 2012) p 116.

[6] Samuel Logan Brengle, Edited by Bob Hostetler, Take Time to Be Holy¸ (China: The Salvation Army, 2013) p 106.