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.

God’s prepositions

…All this took place to fulfill what
the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel”
(which means “God with us”).
– Matthew 1:22-23

In the birth of Jesus, we see God coming in weak and vulnerable human form. God chooses to share our location and condition.
God is with us.

In the death of Jesus, we see God present in suffering human form. God chooses to take our part instead of being our enemy.
God is for us.

In the resurrection and ascension, we see God in victorious human form. In this form, insinuating Himself into the depths of our very being…
God is in us – as the Spirit of Christ.

…Here is what God is really like. He is the God who is with us, the God who is for us, and the God who is in us.

::– –::– –::

Days of Grace through the YearI just had to share this, my daily reading from Days of Grace Through the Year, a book of meditations drawn from the writings of the late Lewis Smedes. It not only connects with Advent-Christmas but with the entire church calendar as it follows the life of Jesus. Casting Crowns beautifully captures these truths about God in their Christmas song “God Is With Us.”

“God Is With Us” by Casting Crowns

The rest of the story

This past Sunday I spoke at Trinity CRC on the Heidelberg Catechism’s Lord’s Day 17 Q&A 45 and mentioned my surprise at how briefly the catechism treats Jesus’ resurrection. It takes eight questions and answers to cover Jesus’ suffering and death but only one question and answer to explain the resurrection. If the resurrection stands at the center of faith, you’d think the church’s teachings on it would be a bit more thorough.

Well, in my research for Sunday’s message, I was reminded how the Heidelberg Catechism was not split up into Lord’s Days when it was first published; the only divisions were the 129 questions and answers. Maybe it’s helpful not to see a big break between Lord’s Day 17 and the ones after it: Everything beyond Q&A 45 can be read in light of Jesus’ resurrection! The rest of the whole document – Q&As 45-129, each one – works out in greater and greater detail what it means that Jesus lives!

Isn’t that kind of how the New Testament reads? Each Gospel clearly attests to Jesus’ resurrection and begins to reveal its implications. From there every book in the New Testament makes at least a passing reference to it, many places actually delving deep into its significance. In fact, by word count, the Bible says more about the resurrection than the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

Lord’s Day 17 summarizes the Bible’s teaching of how the implications of Jesus’ resurrection explode in our lives. His resurrection changes everything! We “share in [Christ’s] righteousness,” we’re “raised to a new life,” and we have “a sure pledge … of our blessed resurrection” after we die. In other words, the resurrection is a historical fact for our salvation that brings renewed purpose to life today and gives us hope for the future.

It might not take a lot of words for the catechism to describe this, but it’s Good News that fills entire books and fills all of life.

Empty grave graphic found via Google

Joseph 6: “My Son Was Dead and Is Alive Again!”

Fun!

I don’t know what other word to use to describe discovering so many connections between the Joseph of the Old Testament and Jesus’ resurrection! At the climax of the story of Joseph as well as on Easter Sunday, we witness God transform death into life.

Father Jacob was convinced his son had been dead for years, probably decades. But it turns out Joseph is actually alive and has risen to power in Egypt! I am reminded of the father of the lost sons in Jesus’ parable inviting the older son to come into the house to feast and celebrate when the younger son returns from the far country, saying, “We [have] to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” I can hear Jacob saying, This son of mine was dead as far as I knew, but now he’s alive again! Joseph is alive, and Jacob at long last is at peace.

Empty grave graphic found via GoogleOn Easter we celebrate that God’s Son is alive. Unlike Joseph, who was only presumed dead, Jesus truly was dead. He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. But, as we sing, “death cannot keep its prey,” and “up from the grave He arose!” And unlike Joseph, who was ruler only in one particular country, Jesus rules over the entire world. Jesus is alive and He reigns, so I can be at peace.

Finally there is joy in the story of Joseph. Yet it really only foreshadows the even deeper joy I have in the risen Christ. You’re welcome to read more about that in my Easter message based on Genesis 45-46. And consider giving thought to this question: What difference is Jesus’ resurrection making in my life?

Good news for all creation

An unexpected word shows up in the Great Commission as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. In the more familiar version in Matthew, the risen Lord Jesus instructs His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark, the language is even more inclusive: Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

All creation? Does that include “hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light?” Preaching to people is one thing, but how do you preach to things?

I don’t think we’re supposed to begin expecting plants and animals to respond to the Gospel in rational, human ways, but I do think this verse reminds us of how the Good News of Jesus impacts literally everything. The apostle Paul writes of how “creation has been groaning.” In some way, shape, and form, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into … freedom and glory” in part as God’s people go about their work and in whole when Jesus returns. When it comes to redemption, God has His eyes on all creation, on everything He has made – from enormous blue whales swimming the oceans to infinitesimal quarks within an atom. God’s purposes in bringing new life has an impact on a universal level.

It makes me wonder… Is the way we tenderly care for our pets an expression of Christ’s life-giving presence in us? If God’s purpose is to redeem creation, are we cooperating with that purpose on our farms, or is God going to have to make a lot of repairs because of the ways we’re using His animals and land? Can we make connections between recycling and celebrating the resurrection? Creation graphic found via GoogleDo our industries “preach” to the environment God’s good, life-giving intentions for His world?

In addition to the image-bearing humans God puts in your life, what other parts of creation are you going to bless because the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is alive and working in you?

I originally wrote this for Trinity’s CRC’s “Grace Encounters” newsletter, a publication of our Outreach Team.

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.