Chapter 5

Desperate Joy

I was on Kanawha Terrace in St. Albans, West Virginia—my boyhood home. It was late afternoon, and I had been collecting for my paper route, my tenth-grade job. I had just stopped at the Sunoco station on the corner of Kanawha Terrace and Walnut Street and was enjoying the fruit of my labors—an ice-cold Pepsi. As I stood at the corner, I heard a growing roar, and as I turned, a flash went past me and I turned to see a fairly out-of-date Oldsmobile speed through the red light at the corner. Going at least eighty miles per hour in a thirty-five-mile-per-hour zone, the car flew down the street. One block later, another car pulled out of the side street, and the two cars collided in a huge crash. Bodies went flying in all directions, and I ran to see if everyone was okay. They weren’t. Two people were killed and seven hospitalized. To this day, it was the worst wreck I have ever seen. As it turns out, I was the only eyewitness to the accident, and I spent the next weeks as a fifteen-year-old kid giving depositions to lawyers and insurance representatives. They asked me a million questions, and I told them what I saw and how it felt.

That is what a witness does. Witnesses simply state the facts of what they saw and how it felt. Interestingly, the Greek word for witness is marturos—from which we get the word martyr. Why? Because Stephen was martyred as a result of witnessing about what he had seen and felt as a result of faith in Messiah Yeshua—Jesus Christ. Events in history are viewed as credible or falsified based on the integrity and character of the witnesses, and on this day, it is a wonderful blessing to know that the resurrection of Christ has many witnesses!

Events in history are viewed as credible or falsified based on the integrity and character of the witnesses.

In fact, over five hundred people saw the risen Christ at one time in only one of several post-resurrection events. The testimony of those witnesses and others, as well as the witness of two thousand years of changed lives, still declares that Jesus Christ is risen. Mary Magdalene was but one of those witnesses—but, once more, she was the first: “Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and that He had said these things to her” (john 20:18).

Not only was she the first to see, she was the first to tell. Mary Magdalene was richly privileged because she deeply loved. And she ran back to the disciples and did what we are now to do—she told what she saw, and she told how it felt. He is alive, and because of that we have life forevermore! Joy has come where weeping had endured, for Jesus was—and is yet today—alive!

For two thousand years, men, women, boys, and girls have stood up—for many of them on pain of death—to be witnesses for Christ. We are invited to join them in this grand, eternity-transforming enterprise of telling people of the risen Christ. Like Mary, our call is to go into the world and tell them what has happened in our lives because Jesus conquered death. Like Mary, we are not called to eloquence, brilliance, or cleverness. We are called to tell what has happened and how it felt.

In the movie Meet Joe Black, Death comes to life (an odd phrase, don’t you think?) in order to, simply put, try to understand what the big deal is all about. He compels a man with a potentially fatal heart condition to instruct and mentor him in life, to understand why human beings cling to life with every ounce of strength they have. In the end, the character that represents Death discovers love and life and realizes the power that life has—but he nevertheless returns to being Death—a taker rather than a giver of life.

When Jesus Christ came into the world, He declared that His mission statement was not about death but about life! Hear His words:

• “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (john 10:10, emphasis added).

• “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (john 11:25-26, emphasis added).

• “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (john 14:6, emphasis added).

The Christ kept His Word and provided the rescue He had promised. In fulfilling His mission, He did the impossible by taking dead people and making them living persons. This is the victory of Calvary. The victory of love and the victory of life-changing grace is secured and made possible by the love that holds us in its arms and won’t let go.

It was George Matheson who wrote the hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.” Of his hymn of devotion, Matheson wrote:

My hymn was composed in the manse of Innelan (Argyleshire, Scotland) on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.

That is the heart of George Matheson, and it is the heart of Mary Magdalene as well. Her identity may have been misrepresented over the years, but her witness is clear, and her devotion is unmistakable. It is a declaration of the glory of the cross and the power of the resurrection. It is the wonder of the Christ and what He does to change one single, individual, eternal life. And that is the pulse of the powerful witness Mary gives of the Savior who died and rose again that we could have forgiveness and life. Matheson’s hymn ends:

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

“Life that shall endless be.” Not death—life. May we, like Mary Magdalene, go forth to be living witnesses of the living Lord Jesus Christ who killed death dead so we could live life alive.

Lord of life, I thank You for Your victory—and for making Your victory my victory. I praise You for life-giving power that can only be measured by the stretch of eternity, yet can only be comprehended by the tiny sanctuary of the human heart. I rejoice in the privilege of life and celebrate in Your presence the marvelous truth that the Christ who is alive forevermore has killed death. Give me courage to live in that life, to walk in that love, and to tell. Give me courage to let others know. In the grace of Christ I pray, amen.

Study Question: Mary was the first resurrection witness, but she was not the last. Look at 1 Corinthians 15. Who are the listed witnesses? Why is the diversity of those witnesses important?

Reflection Question: The hymn we have considered throughout this booklet, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” is an expression of a heart compelled by the love of Christ. Do you sense that deep pull to Him? If not, why not? What obstructs it?

Application Question: In what ways can you bear witness to the risen Christ? By words, by life, by heart—living out His resurrected life can influence others to embrace the Savior.