“But go and tell His disciples, and Peter, that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.” Mark 16:7
Once we accept grace as the key to understanding God then we begin to see it everywhere. It’s the light that begins starts at Creation, glows at Eden, comes bursting into full glory on the first Easter, and shines every day. It is the light that sets us free.
We need that freedom every day, because that’s about how often we find a way to let fear and doubt imprison us. So let’s take a look at the simple announcement of the angel in Mark, find the message of grace, and be a little more free.
The message from the angel was a simple: “Tell the disciples that Jesus is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Let’s ask a couple of basic questions about this text. The first question is this, “where was Jesus going to meet the disciples?” The answer is simple. Galilee.
Why Galilee? Is this simply a minor detail? I don’t think so for several reasons.
First, if Jesus had simply wanted to prove that He was alive He could have appeared to the disciples right there in Jerusalem. That’s where His followers were. That’s where He was crucified. That’s where the tomb was located, and that’s where He had just been raised. In other words, all the major players are in or near Jerusalem. Galilee was a region, like a state, some 60-70 miles to the north. So why travel? Maybe Galilee is significant.
A second reason we need to take a closer look at this detail is that all three of the other Gospels record that Jesus did indeed first appear to the disciples in Jerusalem. Apparently, however, He first mentioned Galilee through the angel. Mark is the only Gospel writer that notes that detail. Why? Maybe we have something here.
So let’s look at Galilee in the context of the Gospel of Mark. What occurred in Galilee? Well, that’s where the place Jesus began His ministry. He was raised and spent most of His life there, and the times were good. He taught, healed, exorcised demons and called disciples to follow Him while He was in Galilee. It’s a place of joyful life, successful ministry, and would have been remembered fondly by both Jesus and His disciples.
Then something happens in the Gospel of Mark. The tone changes in chapter 8, as Jesus began to make His final journey to Jerusalem. Along the way He taught the disciples that He would die there. And so it happened.
Now if you are a sensitive reader, you might begin to sense an important contrast in the text between Galilee and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a dreaded place, a city of rejection, suffering and death. But Galilee is place of life and hope and joy. Galilee is significant.
Now the second question: to whom was this message to be delivered? The answer is easy, but highly significant. The angel told the women to tell the disciples. The message was intended for the disciples.
I believe God guided the writing of the Gospels and allowed the interests and styles of the individual writers to come through. In the Gospel of Mark, when it comes to the disciples, Mark never missed an opportunity to show how clueless they were. I don’t have room to go into this here, but as my former professor Dr. Winbery used to say “In Mark, the disciples are dunderheads.” Love that word. And Peter comes off as the chief dunderhead.
It culminates in Mark with all of the disciples fleeing Jesus at His arrest. No one is at the cross in Mark or at the tomb the first Easter Sunday even though Jesus had told them plainly that He would rise again. They fail completely.
So in the Gospel of Mark we find a clear distinction between Jerusalem, the place of failure and death; and Galilee, the place of life.
Now if I were Jesus, I might have wanted to start over with some new disciples. The old ones embraced the hopelessness of Jerusalem. I’d want some that believed more strongly in the promise of Galilee. But that’s not grace. That’s performance oriented. If you do good enough then I’ll accept you.
Grace says I’ll accept you any way, and that is what Jesus did. So His message to the disciples was “Come back to Galilee. Let’s start over again.” Notice also that He singled out Peter. He needed to hear that invitation more than any of them.
Life beats up and breaks every one of us. Just about everyone I know goes through a time when they feel doubt, and fear, and maybe a little anger at God. Then it all morphs into a kind of self-loathing and we feel beyond God’s regard or care. We make our home in the darkness of Jerusalem.
I want you to hear this Easter Jesus’ invitation to start over: “Come back to Galilee.” It may have been a while, but the invitation stands, “Come back to Galilee.” You need light, life, and joy, and Jesus did everything to give it to you again and again. “Come back to Galilee.” God really does want that for you.
Dot Robertson, a dear departed friend from many years ago, had a cross-stitch from her daughter hanging on the wall that read, “I wonder if you realize how many times your faith in me has made the difference between giving up and trying again; How many times your love for me has helped me find a strength I didn’t know I had.” Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment from a daughter to her mother?
It can be our prayer to God who always says “Come back to Galilee. Come back to faith, and trust, and love. You’re not beyond my reach.” It may sound odd, but God has faith in you. And, of course, He has a deep, deep love for you. That’s why he can always plead with you, “Come back to Galilee.” He wants nothing more than to help you begin again.
So leave behind your self-loathing. It's time to begin again. Start the journey back this Easter. You won’t travel alone.
Dr. Terry Ellis
April 16, 2017