Author: Ron Graham
As we read the accounts of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, we come across three questions asked by Jesus or angels of certain disciples who has been close to Jesus.
These three questions start with the words "Why do you...?" They have in them something of a chiding tone, albeit kindly. The men and women who were asked these questions were disciples of good heart and of great faith. They were among Christ’s closest friends. Even they needed to grow in faith and understanding. How much more do we?
On the night in which Judas was to betray his Master, Jesus had explained to his disciples that he faced betrayal and death, and they faced severe testing. He had gone to one of his favourite places of prayer, The garden of Gesthemane at the Mount of Olives. His disciples followed him. Jesus told them to pray. He himself withdrew just a stone’s throw from them, to pray by himself.
After he had prayed very fervently, Jesus came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, exausted by grief. He awoke them with the question, "Why do you sleep?"
The question is answered before it is asked. They were exausted. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Jesus was disappointed, however, that they could not find that extra strength at this critical hour to stay awake. He was concerned that Satan had obtained permission to test them, but that they might not obtain the strength to resist the tempter.
I suppose most of us have sometime, like the disciples, fallen asleep while we were praying. Or perhaps we have suffered the same embarrassment of Eutychus and fallen asleep in church if not out of the window! (Acts 20:7-10).
I once heard someone mention to a preacher that she sometimes fell asleep while praying and was troubled by it. The preacher put a positive spin on the matter. "I can't think of a better way to fall asleep." That was a nice comment, but we all still sometimes get concerned at the weakness of the flesh and the ease with which emotion and labour can exhaust us. The best solution in the ordinary course of life, is to approach God when our bodies and minds are rested.
There are times, however, when the ordinary course of life is suspended, and we face unusual trials. I suppose most of us have experienced, at some special time, the rising up from within us of a great strength that enabled us to overcome exhaustion and despondency, and to do what had to be done. We seemed to be embued with a great strength of courage and purpose, and extraordinary stamina. Sometimes this ability of the spirit to energise an exausted body and mind is truly amazing.
Of course, we cannot live that way daily, or we would soon burn ourselves out. However such an experience shows that God has sources of extraordinary strength that we can draw upon in times of great need. Whether this extra strength is supernatural, or a natural reserve for emergencies, I do not know. But it is there, and on rare occasions we should draw upon it.
Mary and other disciples, who came to the tomb of Jesus, had found Him missing. Two angels were there, and one spoke to them. "You are looking for Jesus...Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen..." . The disciples were confused.
Now Mary lingers outside the tomb. She is crying. She stoops to look into the tomb. The angels are still there. "Woman, why do you weep?" they ask. She tells them why. "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have laid him."
Then something makes her turn. She sees a man whom she takes for the gardener. He repeats the angels' question. "Woman, why do you weep?" She begins to plead with him to tell her where Jesus had been taken, but her eyes are not on him. Gently he speaks her name. "Mary!" Again she turns to look at him, and now recognises her Lord. "Rabboni!"
She clings to Jesus, perhaps as though she fears to lose him again. "Don't cling to me. I haven't ascended to the Father yet.". In other words, "I'll be around for a while yet". So Mary could dry her eyes, and part company knowing that her Lord was alive and she would see more of him before he departed this earth.
Mary and the other disciples were close to Jesus and strong in their faith. Yet they had trouble understanding that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, just as the scriptures had indicated he would, and as he himself had promised.
In our weakness, and in our troubles, it is easy to see the black side of things and not understand the bright things which God can cause to follow. God, however, "causes all things to work together for our good" (Romans 8:28). Of course we weep. But should we let our tears blind us to the goodness and glory of God who always brings us joy out of our sorrows?
Even though our sorrows last a lifetime on earth, the joy of heaven will be unending. One day we will look through our tears and see the bright face of him who will end all our weeping forever. And we will say, "Rabboni!"
Following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus spent forty days more on earth, appearing to his disciples and teaching them about the kingdom of God. At the last of these gatherings, Jesus was lifted up into the sky and disappeared behind a cloud. Then the disciples were asked, "Why do you stand gazing up into heaven?".
Unlike the other two questions, this one is not answered, because the answer is obvious. Wouldn't you be doing the same if you saw someone ascend into heaven?
When I was a lad, my friends and I would occasionally play a little prank. We would stand on a busy Melbourne street and gaze up into the sky. Presently a number of other people would be seen gazing up into the sky too! Of course, the joke was that there was nothing up there. These disciples, however, had witnessed a truly great and marvelous event. Who could blame them for gazing at the sky? They were amazed. However, a great task was ahead of them. It was now time to get ready for the work of making others amazed and helping others to believe.
We are often greatly surprised by God too. He does much more than we expect, although perhaps we should expect much more than we do, for we know he is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. When God does surprise and amaze us, we may naturally need a little time to behold his work and take it in.
It is easy, however, to become self indulgent and do nothing else but gaze at God in wonder at what he has done for us. We may be inclined to mistake this state of mind for faith and religion. But God-gazing is not faith. It is merely surprise, or at most awe. Faith is getting over the surprise and coming to grips with the task God has set us.