In good company on a mission

Clouds picture found via Google

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are Good News. This is a season in the church calendar for joy: I’m filled with joy that Jesus lives and reigns; I’m filled with joy that sin and death no longer have the last word.

But this is also a season emphasizing mission: As Dale Bruner points Matthew - A Commentary (Vol 2) The Churchbook by Frederick Dale Brunerout in his commentary on Matthew, every appearance Jesus makes to His followers after His resurrection includes a call to mission. The Holy Spirit of the living Lord sends me on a mission to where I work, go out for ice cream, and even travel on vacation.

When this sounds overwhelming to me, I remember I’m in good company with the first followers of Jesus.

Maybe I don’t feel bold enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m in good company then. Jesus first gives His commission to go and tell that He’s alive to a group of women who have been (understandably) frightened by a dazzling angel. He later commissions scared disciples hiding in the dark and sad disciples who will watch Him ascend to heaven. The truth is that Jesus equips and sends fear-filled people to free people from fear of alienation, sin, death, and hell.

Maybe I don’t feel qualified enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m still in good company. Jesus appears to and commissions 11 disciples – an incomplete number following Judas’ tragic death. In the Bible, 12 is a perfect number, not 11. But the truth is that Jesus equips and sends imperfect people to do His perfect work.

Maybe I don’t feel official enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Guess what? I’m in good company. The Gospels refer to the disciples being commissioned by Jesus – no mention (yet) of specific leaders, church officers, or even the more official title of apostles. It’s simple people known as disciples who Jesus sends on mission. And that is all a Christian should ever want to be – a disciple. So the truth is that Jesus equips and sends ordinary people to do His extraordinary work.

Maybe I don’t feel spiritual enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. By now you’re not surprised to hear I’m in good company. Jesus first commissions a group of doubters. It’s not just Thomas, but a bunch of them who have doubts mixed in with their worship. But Jesus remains patient and forgiving: He does not divide up His disciples into two groups – commissioning those who believe and worship while telling those who fear or doubt to come back later when they have their acts together. No, in the Gospels, all are commissioned, leading me to see how Jesus’ sending power is far greater than His disciples’ faults and failings. The truth remains that Jesus equips and sends unsure and uncertain people to do His sure and certain work.

Maybe I don’t feel authorized enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Again, I’m in good company with those feelings. I think about how the very first people to be sent on mission by Jesus are women. Today that’s no big deal, but in Jesus’ day, a woman’s testimony did not count in the law courts of the land. Women were not allowed to stand as witnesses. Everyone would’ve said that as women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are poor choices as the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet the women are the first ones commissioned by the angel at the tomb to go and tell. Then they meet Jesus Himself who again confirms they are indeed the ones to go and tell the Good News. Throughout the Gospel, Acts, and the letters, we see women serving and proclaiming the Good News in wonderful ways. Still today the truth is that Jesus equips and sends all His sisters and brothers of all ages and cultures to do His work that enfolds everyone regardless of gender, age, and culture.

Jesus is raised from the dead and now reigns over all. This fills me with joy. It also sends me and all Jesus’ followers on a mission. The command “Go and tell” is for each of us. That’s joy and the mission of this resurrection and ascension season.


Unpacking John 3:16

Tomorrow at Trinity CRC, I speak on John 3, which includes the most famous verse in the whole Bible:

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In his commentary on John, Frederick Dale Bruner shares how he once saw John 3:16 laid out. It helped me read this well-known verse afresh again!

John 3.16

Jesus needs better P.R.

I can understand why people question the sorts of things Jesus does (and doesn’t do) when He appears to His followers after His resurrection. For example, each of the Gospels agree that it was a group of women who discovered the empty tomb. And Matthew and John specifically report that it was to Mary Magdalene and other women that Jesus first appeared. Why couldn’t it have been Pilate who discovered the empty tomb and encountered Jesus? Can you imagine the resurrected Jesus saying to Pilate, “Remember me?” Imagine the power of Pilate’s testimony! But Jesus chooses to only appear to His followers and, firstly, to some of the women who were part of his entourage.

The Risen Lord Appears by He Qi

Recall that in Jesus’ day it was a man’s world; women were seen as less important than their male counterparts. Religious teachers believed that teaching women was a waste of time. Women could not even be witnesses at a court trial. Jesus came into a world where, as one writer puts it, “the cards were stacked against women.”

So when Jesus appears for the first time following His resurrection to women, it’s tempting to think Jesus should have first consulted with a public relations expert who might have directed Him to instead dazzle the influential movers and shakers of society (read: men!). Even John Calvin ponders how “it may be thought strange” that the Gospel writers “do not produce more competent witnesses.”

Well, it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that I believe Jesus knew what He was doing. Among other things, Jesus affirms that women are equally capable as men of encountering the risen Christ. And Jesus affirms women can be entrusted to proclaim the Good News of Easter. In a culture that consistently did the opposite, Jesus honors women by ensuring they are the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection.

In addition, that the Gospels report that Jesus first appeared to women helps me believe that the stories are in fact true. If the early church made up this story, why would they have chosen women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection? No ancient author would have done that! I like how Frederick Dale Bruner puts it in his commentary on the Gospel of John:

The very fact that our four Gospels all attest to precisely women as the first witnesses to the Empty Tomb shows the newborn Church’s serene confidence in the credibility of the fact of the Resurrection – and its respect for women. For if the Church had wanted to fortify her faith in the Resurrection, she would “found” male witnesses to The Gospel of John - A Commentary by F. Dale Brunergive the first testimonies to the Empty Tomb. The initial female witnesses in all four Gospels solidifies, paradoxically, the credibility of the Church’s faith in the Resurrection and her calm assurance of the Resurrection’s factuality. (pp. 1144-1145)

I guess Jesus doesn’t need better P.R. after all.

Artwork: The Risen Lord Appears by He Qi.
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his art and faith here.