************ Sermon on John 20:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 16, 2004
"Returning to my Father ..."
Ascension Day 2004
I I Have Not Yet Returned
A couple of weeks ago we heard the wonderful news about Thomas Hamill, the civilian contractor who escaped his Iraqi captors.The family and friends of Thomas Hamill had every reason to believe he was dead. After all, 4 others in his convoy were killed by the Iraqis. No wonder they were so happy and ecstatic to get the news that he was alive.
Thomas Hamill, kidnaped during an attack on his supply convoy April 9, escaped from a house south of Tikrit and ran to a nearby U.S. patrol.
Hamill's wife and children were unbelievably happy and ecstatic and could hardly wait for him to come back home.
The whole town was buzzing about Hamill being safe, said Kenny Miller, who said he grew up with Hamill and was a lifelong friend.
"I was really worried about him - finding him alive- but he's free now and that's wonderful," said Miller, who works at a hardware store.
"I'm proud for his family. I know this has brought our community together. Everybody around here had prayers for him again last night."
Their reaction was very similar to Mary's in our Scripture reading. Mary thinks Jesus is dead. But when she realizes He is alive, she reaches for Him.
B We also have to see Mary's actions in light of what Jesus said at the Last Supper. First, Jesus announced that He was leaving. This, of course, filled the disciples with grief (16:5,6). Then, Jesus announced He will return (14:18). "I am going away and I am coming back," He said (14:28).
As far as Mary is concerned this has now happened: Jesus has left and now Jesus has returned. When Mary sees Jesus, she thinks He has returned as He promised and now He will stay with them forever. Jesus had said,
(Jn 16:22) ... I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. Mary is filled with that joy because Jesus has returned as He has promised. Mary reaches for Jesus as the source of the promised joy. Of course she is reaching for Him. She doesn't want to let Him go. She wants Him to stay with her forever. Mary is so happy and so excited. She can hardly believe Jesus is here with her so soon after His death.
C When Mary reaches for Him, Jesus says to her, "Do not hold on to me ..." What does He mean and why does He say this? Is Jesus now like the holy ground in front of Moses' burning bush – so holy that no mere man can touch Him, so holy you need to take off your shoes? That can't be the answer because Jesus later invited Thomas to touch Him.
"Do not hold on to me." In actual fact, what Mary is doing is clinging to Jesus. She has already grabbed hold of Him and will not let Him go. She has thrown herself at Him and is holding Him with a kind of desperation.
D "Do not hold on to me." Jesus says why she isn't supposed to cling to Him:
(Jn 10:17) "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father."Do you realize what Jesus is saying? He is saying, "Mary, Mary, you are mistaken. You think I have returned, but in actual fact I have not yet left."
"Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father." How can Jesus say this when we know for a fact that He has been with the Father since the moment of death? Do you remember what Jesus said on the cross just before He breathed His last: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46)? Jesus was with the Father when He died. He was with the Father between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He was with the Father when He arose. So how can He say, "I have not yet returned"?
In the Gospel of John the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and crowning of Jesus are all different stages of Jesus being lifted up. He was lifted up on the cross, He was lifted up from the dead, He was lifted up into heaven, and He was lifted up on to a throne. Part of the lifting has already been completed, but not all of it. Jesus has not yet returned to the Father.
This is what Mary doesn't understand. Jesus said, "I am going away, and I am coming back" (14:28). He said "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (14:18). Mary thinks this will happen and has happened in the flesh when Christ arose from the grave. But Jesus is not talking about the flesh. Rather, Jesus is talking the glory of heaven and the coming of the Spirit (Jn 7:39). Mary has forgotten that in speaking about His going and coming Jesus said, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth" (Jn 14:16). And, "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).
"Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father." Jesus is telling Mary that things have changed. Before Jesus' return to the Father His presence with Mary is in the flesh; but after His return His presence is in the Spirit. Before Jesus' return to the Father it is His physical presence which gives joy, hope, comfort, and strength to Mary; but after His return it is His spiritual presence which gives joy, hope, comfort, and strength. Mary doesn't understand that, so she clings to a flesh and blood Jesus.
E "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father." To make sure you understand what Jesus is saying here, let me ask you a question: would you rather have Jesus in the flesh or Jesus in the Spirit? Let me hold the two sides before you:
On the one side:
-you can walk with Jesus beside the Sea of Capernaum
-you can sail with Him on the Sea of Galilee
-you can hear His Sermon on the Mount
-you can watch Him call Zacchaeus down from the tree
-you can witness His many miracles
On the other side:
-you have the Spirit and the Word
"Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father." Jesus is telling those Christians who are forever hankering for His earthly presence, who talk romantically about Capernaum and Galilee, that they are being blind, deaf, and dumb to God's progress. We are not to cling to a flesh and blood Jesus. In fact, with Jesus in heaven we are better off; it is to our advantage that He complete the process of returning to the Father (Jn 16:7).
II Children of God
A Why are we better off with Jesus in heaven? Why is it that Jesus must return to the Father? For at first glance you would think it is better to have Jesus on earth. A flesh and blood Jesus, one that we can see and touch and feel, wouldn't that make it much easier to believe, to have faith? However, think of the Pharisees, the scribes, and the Sadducees. They saw, they heard, they witnessed – and they did NOT believe (cf Lk 16:27-31).
Yet, I have to admit there is something about us humans that prefers flesh and blood, something real and tangible, something that can be weighed and measured.
Topic: PresenceThe caller hung up because he preferred Roosevelt in the flesh to God in the Spirit.
Subtopic: Of God
One Christmas Eve the telephone rang in the office of the pastor of the church in Washington, D.C. that President Franklin Roosevelt attended. "Tell me Reverend," the voice inquired, "are you holding a Christmas Eve service tonight?" When advised that there would certainly be a service that evening, the caller asked, "And do you expect President Roosevelt to attend your church tonight?" "That," explained the Pastor patiently, "I can't promise. I'm not sure about the President's plans for this evening. But I can say that we fully expect God to be in our church tonight, and we feel secure in the knowledge that His attendance will attract a reasonably large congregation."
B So why is it that we are better off with Jesus in heaven? Why is it that Jesus must return to the Father? This is where the second half of our text comes in:
(Jn 20:17) Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
Jesus is telling us about relationships – new relationships. That's the benefit of Jesus' full return to the Father. Jesus' full return to the Father means a new relationship between the believer and Jesus, it means a new relationship between the believer and God, and it means a new relationship between believer and believer.
First of all, Jesus' full return to the Father means a new relationship between the believer and Jesus. Jesus said to Mary, "Go ... to my brothers." Before this point in time they were always called disciples. But now they are called "brothers."
What is the connection between Christ's return to the Father and this new relationship between Him and His disciples? One day Jesus was teaching and someone told Him His mother and brothers were standing outside, waiting to speak to Him. Remember His reply?
(Mt 12:48-50) "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" (49) Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. (50) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."A brother of Christ is someone who does the will of God. But that's something us poor, sinful creatures can't do on our own. That's something us poor, sinful creature can do only with and by and through the power of the Spirit.
Topic: Holy SpiritIn the same way, the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Dove, leads and directs us in the way and will of God. By the Spirit's power, then, we are brothers of Christ.
Subtopic: Leadership of
Title: The Dove Man
It is said that a certain guide lived in the deserts of Arabia who never lost his way. He carried with him a homing pigeon with a very fine cord attached to one of its legs. When in doubt as to which path to take, he threw the bird into the air. The pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and thus led the guide accurately to his goal. Because of this unique practice he was known as "the dove man."
Imagine that: being a brother or a sister of Christ! Imagine that: claiming Christ as your brother! Usually, we don't think of Jesus as a brother. We think of Him as Lord and Head. We think of Him as Savior, Christ, and Messiah. We think of Him as God. We think of Him as Son. We think of Him as Light, Shepherd, Comforter, Bread, and Life. But calling Him "brother" seems somehow to demean Him, as if we are trying to bring Him down to our level. According to our text, what is really happening is that our brother Jesus is bringing us up to His level. Through the Spirit He is making us like Himself – people who do the will of God.
B Secondly, Jesus' full return to the Father means a new relationship between the believer and the Father. Jesus said to Mary,
"Go ... to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"The pattern that is being followed is one we first hear on the lips of Ruth, the Moabite. Ruth, if you remember, was urged by Naomi to stay behind in Moab. Ruth, however, insists on going along. She said, "Your people will be my people and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16). Similar to this, Jesus is saying He is returning to His Father Who now becomes the Father of His disciples too.
"I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Like the new relationship between believer and Christ, this new relationship between believer and God also requires that Jesus return to the Father. At the beginning of the Gospel we read these words:
(Jn 1:12-13) Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- (13) children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. Children born of God, as Jesus tells Nicodemus, are children born of water and the Spirit (3:5).
Imagine that: being a child of God! This means we have the rights of children: we can call God "Father"; we are given a place we can always call home, a place where we can find comfort and security and love; we are heirs of God and thus, with Christ, can lay claim to all the treasures of our heavenly Father.
Imagine that: being a child of God! This means not only privilege but also responsibility. Listen to what the Apostle John says:
(1Jn 3:8-10) He who does what is sinful is of the devil ... (9) No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. (10) This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.Those who are children of God, who share the same Father as Jesus, resist the devil, the world, and the flesh.
C Thirdly, Jesus' full return to the Father means a new relationship between believer and believer. People who share the same brother – Christ – and the same Father – God – are brothers and sisters of each other. Which means believers everywhere form one big family.
Imagine that: having more brothers and sisters than one can possibly count.
By Chinese law, families are limited to one child each. Those who have more than one child lose their jobs, educational opportunities, medical care, pensions, and other government controlled benefits.Try to imagine being an only child – with no one to play with and no one to share with. But because of Christ, believers have many brothers and sisters.
Imagine that: being part of a family beyond number. This too is not just a privilege but also a responsibility. As Jesus makes clear in more than one place, this means we are to love and be loved by those who our brothers and sisters (15:9-13). Believe me when I say that the communion of saints is one of Trinity's strong points. Members go out of their way to greet one another, to express interest and concern, and to lift one another up in prayer.
Jesus had to leave so that the Spirit could come. The result is our gain: a new relationship with Jesus, with God, and with each other.
(Jn 20:17) Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
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