If you woke me up in the middle of the night and put a gun to my head and said, “Tell me your favorite Bible verse,” I think I know what I would say.
In the resurrection account of John, the apostle includes these words of our Lord, right after Jesus reveals himself to Mary as resurrected: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (Jn. 20:17).
Stop reading this, and just think about that for a minute.
Jesus’ first words as a resurrected man weren’t about theology. They weren’t about philosophy. They weren’t the cerebral doctrinal formulations some of us like, or the practical “life tips” others of us prefer. He wasn’t talking about predictions of the end of the age, or denunciations of his enemies, or even the canonical context of resurrection.
Instead, his first words were about sending this beloved woman, his sister, on a mission to tell something to his “brothers.”
Those words are being formed by a tongue that only days earlier had stuck to the roof of his mouth in dehydration as he screamed out for his Father. Those words are coming through teeth that days earlier were scraping together as they were pummeled by Roman fists. Those words are spoken by a mouth that just hours before was a mass of dead tissue, discarded in a Middle Eastern hole in the ground. Hear what he says.
Remember: these men he calls “brothers” were at that very moment sniveling in exile. They were, at best, cowards and, at worst, passive insurrectionists against the kingdom he’d proclaimed. They were hiding in a room somewhere, listening for soldiers’ feet. They’d walked away from Christ and him crucified. They were ashamed of the gospel.
But he wasn’t ashamed of them.
Jesus calls them his “brothers,” a word the Old Testament Scriptures refers to as the fellow people of God, one’s kinsmen by blood and by covenant. He speaks of his Father as their Father, his God as their God. These unfaithful and fearful disciples, so quick to return to the fisherman’s nets where Jesus found them in the first place, had no reason to approach a holy Creator as their God, much less to call him “Father.” After all, they’d abandoned his purposes, his plan, and, above all, his Son.
But Jesus keeps the story he’d told them earlier of the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to search out for that one wandering animal. I bet they never dreamed they’d be the one, and not the ninety-nine.
They (and we) are Jesus’ brothers. And, if so, then his Father is our Father; his God is our God. He is not ashamed.
But that’s hard to believe, especially for folks who are wrestling with the memories of their own failures and disappointments, maybe from fifty years ago or maybe from a split-second ago.
This Easter season take time to remember what those words must have sounded like from a grave-triumphant Christ, and how liberating they are two thousand years later. Jesus took on everything from blushing skin to firing adrenal glands to sweating pores to a dying gasp because he “had to made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17).
And, speaking of us, our Lord Jesus—the only One in the universe with the natural-born right to cry out “Abba”—is “not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11).