Friday, August 28, 2015

In Christ (Ephesians 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)

I don’t know how long I have ended emails and other correspondence that I write to other believers with the words “in Christ” or even how long Robin and I have had it as the main part of our email address which has remained “jrbinchrist” regardless of the host server. What I do know is that it has been a long time. In using it I am constantly reminded that I not only have been saved and set apart because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, but that I have also been made alive in Him by His resurrection and placed in a body of other believers who share that same connection with Him and each other. I am alive in Christ, joined with other believers in His church, and am called to be faithful in response to Christ both in my individual life and as I build up and encourage others who are in Christ themselves.

Being “in Christ” is an incredibly rich truth with numerous facets and benefits. In just a simple search of the New American translation I found no less than 88 occurrences of the term “in Christ” and an additional nearly 20 references to being in Christ with the term “in Him.” This is far from exhaustive and does not include the wide variety of other phrasing used even in this letter which Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus. As we walk through this letter we will see many of the facets of being “in Christ” unfold.

Being “in Christ” is a big deal. Without getting any deeper, just in the next few verses we read that in Him we are chosen by God. In love God predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ. We are blessed in the beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood. In Him we have obtained an inheritance. In Him we were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, and this is just a quick and not-exhaustive run through the first chapter. But besides what it means to be in Him it also means a great deal not to be dead in my trespasses and sins (2:1).

Being “in Christ” means that I am 100% absolutely guaranteed by God that I have been forgiven of my sins and given eternal life. Jesus Christ is my Lord and He is the head of the church of which I am part of the body. The Holy Spirit has been given to me to be in me full-time to be my help from Christ. When any accusation comes against me, it is Jesus who intercedes and says that I am His.

Looking to the meaning of the word “in” I find that it is a preposition denoting position, and according to God’s unfailing promise I am firmly positioned in Christ and He will not let go. There is no greater gift and no greater hope that being called to be His.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13, NASB95) 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Saints – It’s who we Are (Ephesians 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)

In the majority of our modern translations we read that these believers in Ephesus were called saints. This is who they were. It was not because they had lived long lives and had proven themselves faithful doing great and miraculous works for God, but because God loved them and sent His Son to do a great and miraculous work on their behalf.

But “saint” may not be the best or easiest term for us to understand, especially when it is laid up against some other teachings concerning the word. Both the Old and New Testaments have words that are translated “saints” (from the Latin sanctus) almost exclusively used in the plural form referring to multiple people (and in the New Testament—the body of believers known as the church). But the same word is more commonly translated “holy” or “holy one(s).” In the Old Testament we read in Psalm 34, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.” (Psalm 34:8–9, NASB95) Here the word translated “saints” is the Hebrew word qadowsh. This same word, while translated twelve times in the King James or Authorized Version as “saints” is translated “holy” 65 times and “Holy One” (referring to God) 39 times. In the New Testament the corresponding word, hagios is used 229 times in the same translation with 161 of those times being translated “holy” compared to 61 times as “saints” and 4 times as “Holy One” (again referring to God). In both the Old and New Testaments the word means consecrated or set apart to God, holy, or sacred. And when it referred to people it more literally means God’s holy or set apart ones.

All Christians are saints. This is who we are according to the Word of God. As we read through the New Testament letters we even find that when writing to a group that has some significant spiritual defect that they are still referred to as “saints” who are called to walk in accord with who they are in Christ. This is true of the immature Corinthians believers to whom Paul wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NASB95) These believers were not saints because they lived like saints, but they were saints because of what Christ did to make them that way.

Understanding this is incredibly freeing. If our approval before God depended upon our actions we would never please Him. But because our approval before Him is based upon the action of Christ there can be no falling short. This, however, is not an excuse to continue living as though nothing changed. Paul wrote at length about this, adding that it is our reasonable spiritual response to give ourselves back to God as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). The apostle Peter wrote, “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:15–16, NASB95) God is holy and everything He does is consistent with who He is. Similarly, we are called to live according to who we have become. As ones called to be saints or God’s holy ones we are to increasingly live in such a way that we more closely match our position in Christ.

Remembering that while we were sinners Christ died for us. He did this for us even knowing all of the sins that we have yet to commit. He will never be blindsided or surprised by our actions, and God still chose us. Rather than being an excuse to continue in sin it gives us even greater reason to be more grateful to God who does not give up on us nor leaves us to muddle through things in our own power. We read in the Bible that just as we were saved by God we are also strengthened to live in the power which He supplies.

“strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:11–14, NASB95)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Faithful in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)

We read here that Paul is the author of this letter. We also see that the saints, and in particular the ones in Ephesus, are it recipients. But in addressing them we further read that it is particularly pointed to those who are marked as being faithful in Christ Jesus. Having said this, today we will focus primarily on Paul’s relationship with these Ephesian believers and leave the next couple of posts to explore them as “saints” and being … “in Christ.”

The first mention of Ephesus in the Bible is in Acts 18:19 where we read that Paul had left Corinth and set sail for Syria, bringing Priscilla and Aquila (a married couple who and shared faithfully in ministry) with him. And as much time as Paul had spent in many different cities establishing the local believers there as they came to faith, he did not do so in Ephesus, but leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind because of a vow he had made he continued on his journey. We read of his first recorded encounter with this city, “They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus.” (Acts 18:19–21, NASB95)

As we continue reading in chapter 18 we find that it was Priscilla and Aquila who stayed on in Ephesus even to correct the teaching of Apollos who was having a large impact in the area. Paul had a great affection for this couple, and he would later write of them that they had risked their necks to save his life (presumably in Corinth prior to arriving in Ephesus). In chapter 19 Paul returned to Ephesus, this time to remain for more than three years (according to Acts 20:31) where he first spent three months trying to reach the Jews in the synagogue but was rejected by their hard-heartedness and would then he began “reasoning in the hall of Tyrannus,” continuing for two years (Acts 19:8-10).

We read of this time that, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,” … “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” (Acts 19:11, 20, NASB95) But continuing with verse 21 we read that things changed, and after some rioting Paul spoke to the people of Ephesus and departed for Macedonia. “After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.” (Acts 20:1, NASB95)

Later Paul would have opportunity to return to Ephesus, but chose for some reason to sail past it to the city of Miletus from where he would send for the leaders of the church in Ephesus. When they gathered we read that he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” (Acts 20:18–38, NASB95)

Paul loved these men and they loved him, and it was a difficult parting he had with them knowing that he would not see them again. And it was after this parting that Paul would later write to them to encourage them from prison (Acts 28:16-31) probably between 60 and 62 a.d. Clearly we can see from the words of Acts 20 that Paul had many good things to say to the Ephesian leadership about their faithfulness, but he also had a very strong warning for them concerning keeping watch so that wolves do not enter and lead them astray. He knew his days were numbered, and he encouraged them not to let his imprisonment or even his death become cause for them to lose heart and hope. What he had told them was the truth, and he was entrusting them as faithful men to be on the alert and continue in the truth as they shepherded the church in Ephesus.

So, as we read Paul’s introductory comments in the letter to the saints at Ephesus we should not be surprised that he commends them for their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. Just as Paul was called by God, so were they called to be faithful to the ministry given to them which was to shepherd the flock and Paul reminds them of that as he writes this letter to encourage and shore up the work which they were given to do.

And as we read this encouragement to the leadership in Ephesus and his introductory words in chapter one of Ephesians we also are to be encouraged to stand strong ourselves. We live in a time when what was once considered right and normal and consistent with biblical ways of living is and has been for some years eroding in our places of power. We live in a time when being a Christian is becoming less and less acceptable in the public forum, where speaking for God and His truth is challenged as being narrow and unloving. These voices have grown in our culture, and sadly they have even grown as Paul warned in many of our churches. But our God calls us to be faithful, and He is the One who is faithful to make us stand when others want to see us crushed.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NASB95)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Called by the Will of God (Ephesians 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)

Ephesians is one of thirteen recorded letters canonized into our Bible which were written by Paul, and its authorship is proclaimed right from the get go. The very first word of the letter is “Paul” making that claim, and there is no reason to doubt him as the author. Paul was not like the other apostles. He was not personally called by Jesus to walk with Him during His years of ministry and preparation. He was not one of those that Jesus prayed in front of on that last night as being given to Him by the Father with none of them being lost other than the one given to betray Him. He was not a believer when Jesus died. Rather, Paul came later after Jesus’ resurrection. But Scripture records for us nonetheless that Paul was indeed called and set apart by Jesus Himself for ministry and used by God in an incredible way to record much of our New Testament as he was sent to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the Gentile world.

In Acts chapter 1, while waiting on the Spirit to come, the disciples took upon themselves to appoint another to replace Judas. In considering who would be a viable candidate they laid out these criteria, “Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” (Acts 1:21–22, NASB95) And using this as their guidance they prayed and then drew lots with the lot falling on Matthias (Acts 1:26) who was then added to the eleven. This is the last we then hear of Matthias. But as we move through the book of Acts we soon read that God had prepared and was drawing to Himself another. This other person was aware of Jesus, and in fact was one of His greatest foes after His death. It was the man named Saul who first appeared at the stoning of Stephen and was so zealous for persecuting followers of The Way that he sought special permission to arrest them and bring them back for trial. In Acts chapter 8 we read of him, “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3, NASB95) And then in chapter 9 we read, “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1–2, NASB95)

It was while on that road we continue to read, “As he [Saul] was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:3–9, NASB95)

Saul did as he was instructed, and he waited. In the meantime the Lord spoke to another individual (Ananias) and told him to “rise and go.” But Ananias knew Saul’s reputation and he questioned the Lord for sending him to one such as Saul. The Lord replied to Ananias saying, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15–16, NASB95)

Later, Paul would say of himself, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, NASB95)

Ephesians begins with the words, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….” Jesus appeared to Saul [Paul] and personally stopped him in his tracks. Jesus spoke to Ananias and told him to go to Saul who was waiting because “he [Saul/Paul] was a chosen instrument of Mine [Christ]” who was called with a purpose. As Paul begins this letter to these believers he established this unshakable truth that he indeed was who he was doing what he was doing not because of his own discovery of a better way, but because God had a plan for him and He revealed it to him so that he might walk in it. And it is with this confidence that Paul would write in various words in his letters that same instruction to each of us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)

Knowing this vital truth that God initiated the work in Him, Paul also knew that he was then expected to respond in obedience and faithfully live by the power which comes from Christ. One commentator wrote of this system of reciprocity, “…in the divine-human relationship God always has the initiative, humans always respond.” He later went on, “Further, when humans respond rightly, it is only because God has enabled them to do so” (Colossians and Ephesians by Charles H. Talbert, 2007, p. 24). Paul wrote in verse 1 of chapter 4 of this same letter,

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1–7, NASB95) 

The Gospel of John - the Disciple whom Jesus Loved

Last week I finished blogging through John. The entire series can be downloaded from this link in a Word file with an active table of contents.

The Gospel of John - blogging with the Disciple whom Jesus Loved

Thursday, August 20, 2015

“You follow Me” (John 21:20-25)

“Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:20–25, ESV)

I began this journey through John in June of last year, and it has been incredible. After many years of reading through the gospels and studying portions of them, taking time to work through this particular one has shown me more about the character of our Lord than probably any other study I have done. In doing it I have been greatly blessed, and I am so thankful to God for giving me His Word that is made alive anew in our hearts as we hide it there. It becomes fresh when we meditate on it, and it encourages us when we are tempted or become discouraged.

John did not continue his writing up to the point of Jesus ascension and returning to the Father, but he left it there on the beach. He didn’t even end it with the powerful reaffirmation of Peter as he could have as a reminder of the power of Christ to redeem lives and use them for the glory of God. What John left it with just before his powerful statement of his truthful words as an eyewitness was Peter turning to Jesus and asking what about John? It was John who referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and it was John who leaned against Jesus after He spoke of His betrayal to ask Him which one of them it was who was going to do such a thing. Obviously Peter and John had grown quite close. Jesus had just told Peter that he was going to live to become old, and Peter turned to Jesus to ask Him about his good friend John.

But Jesus did not make the same statement of a long life concerning John. Rather He looked at Peter and said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” That appears to be the end of the discussion, and for all intent and purpose it seems that the record of Jesus by John had ended with this question—what about John?

I had not thought about this question much until wrapping up this letter. But several years ago, when a church I was on staff with was going through some restructuring and decisions were being made about which staff were to remain and which ones were to go, the leadership could not come to a clear decision concerning me. I remember going to one congregational business meeting where what they had been working through was being updated and there a PowerPoint slide was put up on the wall. It simply stated, “What about Joe?”

I must admit that seeing these words really hurt, but it was the question they had been trying to answer and the one for which neither they nor Robin and I had a clear answer. They were not trying to force an answer, but were honestly trying to let the congregation know that this one big answer was still being awaited. They loved God and wanted to do His will. They loved us and they wanted our best. The congregation loved us and desired to know. But only God had the answer, and over the next couple of weeks God would make that answer known in part, assuring Robin and I that it was time to step aside and await His leading to a new position. This was not an easy thing to do, nor has it been an easy path to walk, and it is one on which I have struggled greatly at times.

But Jesus did not just tell Peter that it was none of his business. No, He added (in front of John), “If it is my will….” These are incredibly powerful words. They are the words that remind me that no matter what else is going on or what else might be pushing in that God is always in charge and He will do things just right according to His will. And if it was His will that John would remain until Jesus’ returns then it was really no one else’s decision but God’s. Jesus had told Peter to be faithful to follow Him, and to leave to Him the details about how the other things work out. We can all take great encouragement from this knowing that God has not given to us the charge to solve every issue out there or to have every answer. What He has given us is the charge to faithfully follow Him and to trust Him to order our days, making decision based in the wisdom that comes generously from Him (James 1:5).

Jesus said that He came to do the will of the Father. If I take nothing else from this study (which I know I have gotten so much more), it is my prayer that I might also be found faithful to follow Him all the days of my life.

This is the end of what John wrote. Though he could have written so much more, how fitting it is to end with the extreme affirmation that John knew that Jesus held Him firmly in His hands and that He was the one who held every day of John’s life. Regardless of what others thought it might have meant (as John indicated), God knew every detail to its smallest fragment. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, did indeed live longer than the other disciples. While we do not know for certain when or how he died, early church tradition speaks of him being released from his imprisonment on the island of Patmos where he received and recorded the book of Revelation, and finishing his final days in Ephesus where he might have died close to 100 a.d.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Three Times Affirmed (John 21:15-19)

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:15–19, ESV)

Before getting into this passage I think it appropriate to go back and read a couple of other passages. The first of them is found in John chapter 13 where Jesus gives a new commandment to His disciples. While it may be several chapters previous in John’s letter, it really only occurred a short time before. On the night in which he was betrayed, after Judas had left them, Jesus turned to His remaining disciples and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35, ESV).

Peter immediately picked up on His leaving and said that he wanted to go with Him. When Jesus responded telling Simon Peter that He couldn’t now but would follow later, Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37, ESV).  Jesus answered Peter saying, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:38, ESV)

Here Jesus had charged His disciple in His pending absence to love one another; just as He had loved them they were to love one another. And the way that Jesus was preparing to demonstrate His great love for them (and us) was to lay down His life for our sins. Having said this, it was just a few words later that He challenged Peter as to whether or not he would do the same thing, adding that He knew that before morning came that Peter would in fact deny Him three times. And of course we read in John chapter 18:15, 25, and 27 that this is exactly what Peter did. “Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.” (John 18:27, ESV)

So, after they had eaten their fill of fish and bread on the shore with Jesus, we read that Jesus turned again to Simon Peter and said, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these [probably referring to the fish they just enjoyed and Peter’s previous career path]?” Peter immediately responded saying, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” The discussion of John chapter 13 had been about them loving others as He had loved them. Here He asked Peter if he truly did love Him and Peter declared that He surely did, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Responding, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Because of Peter’s love for Jesus he was to demonstrate it by feeding Jesus’ lambs—those who would believe and be saved. In John 18:17 we have the first denial. Here in John 21:15 we have Jesus’ first handing over of His precious lambs for Peter to tend.

But once was not enough. We go on to read, “He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”” And again, Peter responded, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” And Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” In John 13:25 Peter betrayed Jesus the second time, and in John 21:16 Jesus again affirmed him by charging him to shepherd His own sheep. Sheep need a shepherd, and Jesus knowing that He would not be physically present to do this charged Peter to engage in that task on His behalf. What incredible trust Jesus put in Peter and what a demonstration of reaffirming confidence He showed Him.

This second question was not enough. Jesus again asked Peter for the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” This time rather than immediately responding, John wrote for us that Peter was grieved that Jesus had asked the same question still again. I can only imagine what Peter must have been thinking. “Doesn’t He trust me? Have I failed Him that badly that He must push me so hard? What else does He want? This time Peter replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Peter said that He knew that Jesus knew everything, and that in His knowledge of everything He must surely know just how deeply Peter loved Him. Peter did not directly say that He loved Him, but rather he went to Jesus’ own knowledge of that truth. To this Jesus responded to Peter the third time, “Feed My sheep.” What an amazing act of compassion. In John 13:27 we have the record of Peter’s third denial which was immediately followed to the crow of the rooster to drive the point home. And here in John 21:17 Jesus for the third time charges Peter to take care of His sheep.

With God nothing is wasted. Peter who stated his readiness to follow Jesus even into death, here is charged by His Lord whom he deeply loved to tend to His sheep in His absence. And rather than leaving him to believe that he might die soon as happened to Jesus, Jesus went on to tell him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” Paul added for us these words, “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.”

We don’t know exactly how the apostle Peter died, but it is suspected that he died in 67 or 68 a.d., some thirty-five years later, and from the words of John it is suspected that he might even have also been crucified with some saying by tradition that this was done upside down. This we simply do not know. What we do know is that according to Jesus’ own words Peter was going to live for many years of fruitful ministry, and when that time came for his death it was going to be by the hands of others who dressed him and carried him away to where he did not want to go.

Peter’s time of effective service had not ended. He was not to return to fishing as a humiliated follower of Christ. Instead he was to be used by God powerfully for many years to come. He even was to be the key mouthpiece on the day of Pentecost leading to many souls being saved who would then need to be fed and tended to. From what we see of Scripture, Peter took his call seriously and did it effectively as God enabled him.

What an encouragement it is to us who have struggled, even turning our backs at times, failing in various way, and having faltered in trust. Where we are week, God is infinitely strong. Where we struggle in walking by faith, God is always faithful. And when we don’t know what lies ahead, God knows what He has for us and He indeed is faithful to complete it.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV) 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sharing in the Catch (John 21:9-14)

“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (John 21:9–14, ESV)

Jesus had previously taken a couple of fish and some bread and divided it to feed over 5,000 men and countless women and children (John 6:1013). On this occasion when His disciples arrived to the shore we find that Jesus had already started a fire and laid out some fish on the coals along with some bread to await them. But rather than having enough for them to eat and dividing it in such a way that they could all eat until they were satisfied, He invited them to add to the fish already prepared with some of the fish that they had just brought in from their overly full nets. It is here that we read that Peter went back aboard the boat and hauled the net ashore to find that it was full of 153 fish, and fish of all sizes from big to small, but 153 large fish. Miraculously Jesus had given them a hand in bringing in an overwhelmingly top quality catch. What they had proven that they could not do, Jesus enabled them to do, and in doing this He even protected the net such that not one of them was lost.

I find it amazing how what Jesus had said and done with His disciples previously falls into place at times like this. I don’t think any of this was a mere happenstance of God, but orchestrated to move them forward in seeing His plan. Jesus had said to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men. When they could not catch a fish, Jesus spoke to them instructing them where to cast their net and they caught an overwhelming abundance of fish. When Jesus had shown them that He could take fish and bread and break it and hand it to His disciples to distribute, the bread and the fish fed the entire crowd until they were satisfied. And when Jesus took the bread here and gave it to them we also see from Scripture that this was not the first time and it served as a continuing affirmation that He would continue to do so.

What we do not see here is how Jesus appeared to His disciples and how His resurrection body must have appeared to them. From the previous encounters and this one it appears that He looked different, though His hands and His side bore the obvious markings of His crucifixion. But He also looked different in a way that we simply do not know. For some it was His voice or His precise words that stimulated their recognition, while for others it was the marks He bore or the works He did. What we do know is despite how He appeared His disciples recognized Him and knew Him to be the resurrected Christ—their Lord and now risen Savior. Similarly, we read here that Jesus did not have to identify Himself to them. John recognized Him from the boat, and in today’s passage we read that when He invited them to join Him for breakfast not one of them asked Him who He was for they all knew that He was the Lord.

When He had appeared to them the first time He told them, “Peace be with you.” And again He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”” (John 20:21, ESV) In this third appearance Jesus demonstrated in a very tangible way what could be done when they followed His instruction and obediently did what He told them to do. The catch of fish was truly amazing. In the years to come those 153 fish would probably seem small in comparison to spiritual catch that they would have been given the privilege to haul in. On that day they saw their nets filled with 153 large fish. On Pentecost after Peter would preach we read in Acts chapter 2, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41, ESV) Then in verse 47 after they had continued to gather for teaching, fellowship, and the breaking of bread we read, “… And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47, ESV)

What started with a handful of men chosen by Jesus has grown into a vast army of believers also chosen by God who He is continuing to use to add into a net that will never be broken. But the reality is that not all souls will wind up in this eternal net of life. God knows those who are His and those who will remain in judgment, and in His knowing this He has set us aside as His fishermen to go out trusting Him to provide the catch. In Matthew we read that as Jesus had looked out on the masses that had gathered, He then turned to His disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”” (Matthew 9:37–38, ESV)

Praise God that He has continued to add to the harvest through the faithful witness of those sent by Him. And by the simple virtue of our now being in the net now (if you’ve trusted Christ for your salvation), we also are charged and sent to spread to others that same good news. As we do this we are to be reminded that the disciples were faithful to cast the net, but God filled it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Filled Nets and Full Hearts (John 21:1-8)

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.” (John 21:1–8, ESV)

In Matthew chapter 4 we read about Jesus calling His first disciples. “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18–22, ESV)

Interestingly, just as He found them in the beginning He came to them at the end in His third appearance to them after His resurrection. At the beginning He found Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, who were casting their net into the sea when He called them to follow Him along with James and his brother Joh who were mending nets with their father. In this encounter here at the end Jesus again found that Peter after denying Him three times again returned to fishing with Nathaniel, and the two brothers, James and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). It was after a night of fishing and no catching that Jesus stood on the shore, without them knowing it was Him, and He called to them affectionately saying, “Children, do you have any fish?” Of course, Jesus knew the answer which was a big “No!”

Standing on the shore Jesus called out to them, telling them to cast their net on the right side of the boat, adding that they would find some fish there. While some may be tempted to respond sarcastically, saying, “What kind of idiots do you take us for? We’ve been fishing all night, and you have the nerve to tell us to cast it on the right side of the boat and we will catch some fish. Have we been doing it on the wrong side all night long?” That might be how some are tempted to respond, especially if they are big on their skills and frustrated by their lack of success. But this is not what we read happened. John wrote that they simply did as they were instructed, and the result was “they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.”

Seeing their catch and putting the pieces together, John looked at Peter and told him, “It is the Lord!” Peter didn’t question John for a moment, but quickly put on his outer garment and jumped into the water to go meet Jesus on the shore. That was so fitting for Peter. He always seemed to be out in front of the others. Even if it meant taking a wrong step Peter was all in for Jesus, and here he surely jumped all in to go and join Him on the shore leaving the others to finish the trip (about the length of a football field) hauling their huge catch of fish behind them.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have wondered if I’ve got God’s plans for my life right and if I was still on the right path. Maybe there have been times when you have encountered obstacles or things have not happened as you anticipated either. Maybe the ideas you had for how things might go have turned out vastly different and you’ve had to adjust your path. These men set aside what they had been doing for about three years to follow Jesus only to see Him crucified before their eyes. They had seen Him risen, but He left them again with them not knowing when they would see Him. Whether Peter and the others were taking a short respite or truly falling back to what they knew before setting a course to follow Jesus, I really don’t know. But what I do know is that in the midst of their empty nets and their lack of direction Jesus showed up to guide them and fill their nets. He did not abandon them, and in the verses that follow we will see again how He reaffirmed His promise to make them not fishers with abundantly full nets but truly fishers of men.

Our infinite God never has to readjust His plans. He knows the end just as fully as the beginning along with every second in between. We, on the other hand, are called to walk trusting Him to direct our steps. Sometimes those steps may seem more obvious, while there may be other times when we truly wonder what comes next. The big difference for Christians is that we can walk even the dark days knowing that with God darkness and light are alike to Him, and that He has scrutinized our path and our lying down. He knows every day of our lives and He encloses us before and behind (see Psalm 139). While our days may not be easy at times, it is a whole lot easier to trust our God who is infinite and eternal than to wander without hope as do those who do not know Jesus. Jesus makes all of the difference between emptiness and a life overflowing with joy in hope.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14–21, ESV) 

Friday, August 14, 2015

His Word is Enough (John 20:30-31; 21:25)

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” … “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 20:30-31; 21:25, ESV)

The last two chapters of John conclude with a statement by John that what he wrote is only a portion of what Jesus said and did. He wrote of only a fragment of what we could know about God, and as he wrote in the last verse of the book, there is more that could be written than even the rest of the Bible itself contains. He supposed that the world, as vast as it is, could not contain the books that could be written. John knew he was writing about the infinite God who loves finite man, and that man in his limitedness could only absorb so much. Just as the Jews were clamoring for another sign, he and the other authors could have continued to have been moved by the Spirit to record so much more. But God in His infinite wisdom knew what we needed, and what He has given us is His true and complete Word, and by being complete we know that it is what He intended.

Years ago in an evangelism training program I was taught how to get to the heart of the matter with people. When sharing Christ and receiving one objection after another, there was to be a point when I was instructed to ask, “Suppose all of the objections that you mentioned were not objections, is there any other objection that you have not mentioned that would keep you from making a decision?” I don’t remember the exact wording, though I could look it up, but you get the idea. Sometimes people throw out objections or demands for more proof not out of a desire to know, but out of a resistance to know. For them there is simply not enough that could be said for them to believe. For them, their hearts are still hardened to the truth and no amount of words are going to change that.

But for those of us who believe, we have been given the living Word of God that is powerful to change lives. Yesterday I quoted Romans 10:14-15 about the need for someone to be sent with the good news in order for others to hear and believe. That was not the end of what Paul had to write. He went on in verse 17 to say, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, ESV)

This is because our Bible is not a collection of the writings of a bunch of God followers, but it is the combined writings of a group of men moved by the Spirit speaking from God. This is what Peter tells us in “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21, NASB95) The writer of Hebrews wrote that the word of God is more than the static writings on people who died long ago. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, NASB95) And, the apostle John writing about the end of things added that this last book of our Bible is indeed from God and not to be altered by either addition or subtraction by man. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:18–20, ESV)

While we are told to study the word of God, to hide it in our hearts, to be ready to give an answer to the testimony which we have, and to seek to understand it as fully as we can, we are restrained from adding to it or taking away. God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave us His Word. He saw the fullness of it from the perspective of eternity, outside of time, and was not hindered by those things which may not have been conceived of by man at the time of their writing. God’s Word is not archaic or obsolete. It is not na├»ve concerning the issues of man today. It is as true, accurate, and powerful today as it was the day it was written. And when we go out to share it we can do so with the great confidence that what we have is truly God’s Word for man—even us. And from it we can learn more of Him as we worship our infinite God who knows all that we don’t. We can live with the certainty that He will indeed give us wisdom to negotiate uncertain times.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

“How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:103–105, NASB95) 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Seeing They Believed (John 20:24-29)

"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” (John 20:24–29, ESV)

Today I had the privilege (not my initial reaction) of revisiting this passage, having looked at it a few days ago and then storing my notes to the cloud only to find that when I went back to it that the cloud had dissipated. What I had saved was not saved. I am so thankful that those who Christ saves are fully saved without any chance of our salvation getting lost somewhere in a cloud or by poking a wrong key.

One week later Jesus again appeared to His disciples, and He did it again standing in their midst despite them being behind locked doors. But prior to this reappearance His disciples had found Thomas who was not with them the last time. In the interim that had excitedly told Thomas that they had seen Jesus, the Lord, but it was Thomas’ response that marked him in a unique way in biblical history. It even led to a title for those who do not believe the word of another, being a “doubting Thomas.” When Thomas heard the news from the others he didn’t believe, and he responded with the strong words, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” It is this statement of unbelief that marks him even today.

But Thomas was not alone in this. When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away she didn’t think, “Wow, He must be risen just like He said.” No, she thought someone had stolen the body. And when the supposed gardener spoke to her she affirmed belief this by asking him where they had laid His body, offering to take it away and tend to it properly. It was not until Jesus spoke her name that Mary recognized Him and believed. Even the other disciple did not fully believe Him to be risen either or if they did they did not expect Him to come to them. In the verses before these we read that they had gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. It was there that Jesus appeared to them and immediately spoke to them telling them twice, “Peace be with you.” This might have become a greeting, but at that moment it also served to calm their hearts. Evidently even they didn’t recognize Him because we read that Jesus showed them His hands and His side so that they might believe. So, when Thomas said that he would not believe unless he saw and touched, I really have to wonder if he was any different than the others to whom Jesus presented His physical wounds in order to prove Himself to them as well.

The difference is that Thomas mouthed the words of disbelief after hearing the testimony of his close friends and fellow disciples. He would not believe what they had to say, demanding proof instead. It was this disbelief that Jesus immediately confronted when He appeared to Thomas saying, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Jesus granted Thomas’ demand so that Thomas might move from disbelief to belief. What followed next was not Thomas doing what he said he would have to do to believe, but his recognition that it was Jesus who was standing before him speaking and offering to prove Himself. Knowing that it was Jesus, Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Before His crucifixion the Jews constantly followed Him looking for the miraculous signs that He was performing, and yet even seeing them many of them still did not believe. Mary believed Him, but it appears that even she didn’t expect His resurrection nor did she recognize Him until He spoke her name. When appearing to His disciples behind the locked doors on that first day He offered them His hands and His side as proof of his resurrection. And when appearing again to them and to Thomas He offered Thomas the opportunity to place his finger in the holes in His hands and his hand in the hole in His side. For them His revealing Himself to them was enough, and believing they were sent to tell others. Then as we read in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 there would soon be an occasion where He appeared to more than five hundred at one time. Every single one of these persons had the privilege of seeing with their own eyes the resurrected Christ, and their testimony remains for us today.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Oh, how thankful I am for that. I am so blessed to be one of those who did not see the risen Christ but who was shown enough of Him that I was moved to believe. I cannot imagine these disciples doing anything but believing having seen the face of their risen Lord, and I cannot imagine me not believing as the Spirit opened my eyes to see Him through those who reached into my life with this incredibly good news.

We have the record written for us to share to those who need to hear, and we have been called to share it. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”” (Romans 10:14–15, ESV) 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sent out of Hiding (John 20:19-23)

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”” (John 20:19–23, ESV)

I don't know if it was that Jesus was unexpected or that He appeared different in His resurrected body, but once again we read that He appeared and was not immediately recognized. Imagine being locked behind a door for fear that you might be arrested and have done to you what they had just done to your Lord, and then your Lord comes and stands right next to you. I imagine that He just appeared in their midst, and in appearing He spoke to them saying, “Peace be with you.” Those were probably very appropriate words. First of all, they were in hiding because of the fear of persecution, and then Jesus appears seemingly out of nowhere. What they thought was secure was proven not to be so. And not only did He appear in spite of their locked doors He then spoke to them and showed them His hands and His side to prove Himself. Both are amazing and unexpected feats; things for which they had no explanation. But in speaking to them and showing Himself Jesus immediately moved to calm their initial fears by assuring them that He really was their Lord Jesus who they saw crucified and who was now alive. He was not a spirit or a vision, but their real and living Lord.

They had been told by Mary and John and Peter, and now He was standing before them Himself. It was probably an understatement by John to write that they were glad to see Him. I can only imagine how their hearts were racing at that moment, and I would love to know exactly what they were thinking. Jesus had told them so much about His death, burial, and resurrection, but from what we see written in Scripture it appears that they obviously did not get it. But at that very moment they were presented with the undeniable reality of His resurrection and the joy of knowing Him to be alive.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” So, Jesus proceeded to speak to them again. The first time He had said, “Peace be with you,” it was most likely intended to calm their fears. This next time it was to reassure them of their calling. Proving Himself to be their risen Lord who conquered death, He restated that they themselves were to go out into the world to reach the very people He came to save. Having known the peace of God they were now to go out into the world to share the good news that in Christ others might know His peace as well, and because they knew that Christ had power over sin and death they could go into even the most hostile situations with at peace knowing that God had them firmly in His hands and that not even death could snatch them away. Surely they did not recognize all of this at that moment, but as we read from their own word later in Scripture they would come to know this with full assurance in the days and years to come.

We go on to read that after He had spoken these words that He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” We know from Acts chapter 1 that the Holy Spirit would not come in the way that Jesus had not spoken of until some days later. He said in Acts 1:4 and 8, “And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me;” … “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” (Acts 1:4, 8, ESV) So, what did John mean when He said that Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”? We can most likely assume that just as Jesus was sending them into the world so was He reaffirming His pledge that they would soon be filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit, and with that He also spoke of the power of the Spirit to give forgiveness and life to those who believe to withhold it from those who don’t. No man has the power to forgive sins. That power rests solely in the Father by belief in the Son through the inner working of the Spirit. But as His ambassadors they were being sent as His agents to proclaim this incredibly good news through the power of the Spirit who would soon reside in them. Because Jesus declared if to be sold they could boldly proclaim it with full assurance that what He said He would do He indeed would do. When the disciples would tell people of salvation in Christ they could do so knowing that salvation was found in Him and Him alone. Similarly, they could speak with equal assurance and boldness that rejecting the Son was rejecting the Father and in so doing assuring that only judgment awaited. There would be no forgiveness apart from Christ.

They were being sent in His name and empowered to speak with His authority. This is truly what it means to be an ambassador, and like the disciples we also are called as ambassadors as we read in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20–21, ESV) Paul wrote that it was as if God were making His appeal through us. Just as Paul and the apostles were set apart by Christ for this ministry, so are we called and charged to do likewise knowing that just as they were indwelt and empowered by the Spirit so are we.

As an extra, the question arises from time to time why Christians in large numbers gather to worship on Sunday instead of the Jewish Sabbath or Saturday. While there are Christians who do gather to worship on the Sabbath, the church in general has chosen Sunday as a memorial of the day on which our Lord rose from the dead, and in recognition of it also being the day that He appeared to Mary and the disciples. We will also read as we continue through the verses that follow that it was also on the following Sunday (as the Jews counted days the eighth day counting the day in which the counting started) that He appeared again to them again as they were gathered, this time with Thomas.

And then according to the instruction given through Moses the observance of Pentecost itself, the day on which the Spirit would come, was to be observed one day after seven weeks beginning the day after the Sabbath of Passover. This was to occur on the 50th day, the first day of the week, or Sunday. While there is no specific directive concerning a day upon which the church was to gather to worship, there is an establish practice based upon these and other historical biblical events. As we go on to read in Acts 2:1 on the day of Pentecost the disciples were again gathered together in one place when, “… suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit….” (Acts 2:2–4, ESV)

God’s plan is perfect. It happened just as He said, and He continues to work just as perfect today. We have nothing to fear. We are at peace with God and knowing His strong hand on us we are called to go into the world in the power of the Spirit to proclaim salvation, trusting that God’s Spirit is also in that process doing the work of drawing people unto Him.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Go and Tell—Jesus is Alive (John 20:11-18)

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “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.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:11–18, ESV)

John went into the tomb and believed when he saw the linens that Jesus was buried in laying there and His face linen neatly folded. He knew that Jesus truly was who He had said He was, and he then went away with Peter. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, stayed weeping outside the tomb. She was overcome with grief by the thought that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. It is not that she expected Him to rise again and that it was important that He be left untouched in order for this to happen, but it was quite possible that she found some level of comfort in knowing where His body was and that she could be there.

After Peter and John left we read that Mary went and stooped herself to look into the tomb, and when she did we read that she “saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” We read that she saw two angels, and I can assume that she recognized them as such but I can’t really be certain. But the verse reads what she saw was two angels and they asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  As amazing as it would be to see two angels and to know in some way that God was present at that moment, she responded with her focus on what she thought man had done saying, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Mary was so focused on Jesus’ body not being there that she totally missed the possibility that maybe God had done something incredibly miraculous and that maybe Jesus had risen just as He had said. Mary was so stricken by His missing body that she saw only the hand of man to do something with it, and when they asked her why she was crying, her response evidenced her thinking by saying that “they” had taken away the body of her beloved Lord and she did not know where they had placed it. Clearly she loved Jesus. Clearly she followed Him as her Lord, but what she had expected after His death spoke to the fact that she still expected to see a slain body.

We read that it was then that she turned around to look behind her (outside the tomb) to spot another individual who in her grief she supposed to be the gardener who was watching her. When she spotted him, he asked her why she was weeping and what it was that she was looking for. As amazing as it is to think that Jesus knew exactly why she was weeping and Who she was looking for, He spoke to her and asked her those questions. But hearing His questions and even His voice Mary did not recognize Him to be her resurrected Lord. She did not expect Him to be alive, and she did not recognize Him as being alive. This was not one of the options she considered. What she knew was that Jesus’ body had been laid there on Friday and now on Sunday it was gone. Supposing him to be the gardener Mary asked him if he had possibly taken the body of her Lord. Knowing that it was late on Friday when He died, and in trying to deal with His body before sunset they wound up laying Him in a borrowed tomb for expediency sake. Maybe she thought the owner had changed his mind or that the tomb was made available on a temporary basis until something else could be arranged. For some reason Hos body was moved and she asked the man if he had taken it and where he might have laid it. She even offered to take Jesus’ body away herself so that she could properly tend to it and take it off the gardener’s hands.

There is obviously a great deal of emotion involved here, and we can only guess to a limited degree what was going through Mary’s heart and mind at that moment. Clearly she loved Jesus, and clearly she wanted to make sure that His body was safe. If they did not want it there she would take it away. It seems that after answering the man, Mary again turned toward the tomb. We read that the supposed gardener then spoke again, saying her name, Mary,” and Mary turned back toward Him. This man called her by her name and instantly everything changed. He was no longer the gardener who moved the body of her Lord, He was her Lord standing there right before her eyes. Mary immediately recognized Him and cried out “Rabboni” which we read means teacher, but to her it surely meant so much more. Jesus, whom she loved, was alive!! I can only imagine the excitement with which she leapt toward Him and grabbed onto Him. It must have been a full and enduring embrace as Jesus then spoke to her, saying, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father….”

Jesus had been telling them that His going to the cross would precede His resurrection which would be followed by His return to the Father. Surely He had risen, but He reminded her that it was not finished yet. He still had not returned to the Father. He had not returned to glory, and His doing so would have to occur before the rest of them could join Him. Having told her that He had not yet ascended He instructed Mary to leave Him and go tell the others. She was to tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He was not just going back to His Father, but He was returning to their Father and their God. Jesus brought her and the rest of this disciples into the perfect plan of God which was to be brought into His presence where they would be with Him as their Father and their God forever.

Having received this instruction, Mary did exactly as she was told, announcing to the disciples, ““I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.”

There is so much in this, but the one that struck me the most today was that when Jesus spoke her name she immediately knew Jesus for who He is. As I thought on this I thought of other passages which tell us of how we are called by God, that He knows each one of us and He chooses us to be His. Earlier John wrote the words of Jesus in one of His many sheep/shepherd illustrations and parables, "…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3–4, ESV)

Jesus told Mary that He had to go before them, but having heard His voice they were to follow Him. Go and tell this to the rest of the disciples so that they might know as well.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9–11, ESV)

No one took Jesus body. This is the way of the thief. No, He had laid down His life for His sheep and He took it back up again so we might be saved and live.

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:17–18, ESV)

Jesus said this before He was crucified, and now Mary was an eyewitness of His truthfulness.