Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

Ascension and Pentecost IV: The Ascended Christ Sends the Indwelling Spirit

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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 1:7–8).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

(This is Part 4 of a series. Part 3 appears here.)

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Stained glass depiction of the Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso. By Lyricmac at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in an earlier message, Jesus breathed on His disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit on the night following His resurrection (John 20:22). This reception of the Holy Spirit was essential to their work of proclaiming the Gospel. He told them to receive the Holy Spirit; then they could go forth and preach. In Acts 1:4–8, Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them before going out to preach.

We often speak of Pentecost as “the birthday of the church” because it is the day when the disciples received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and began to fulfill the Great Commission (see Acts 2, especially verses 1–4 and 37–41).

Entire books have been written about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and the believer, so this will be a very brief synopsis (if the Lord allows, I will write a more thorough series about the Holy Spirit one of these days). This conclusion to this series will show how the indwelling Holy Spirit provides our connection with the ascended Lord Jesus Christ and enables us to observe all that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:19–20).

As I have written several times in this series, several key themes tie the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost together. Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit tie Jesus’ transcendent power and glory closely together with His immanent and permanent presence in the believer’s life.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

In the upper room discourse, Jesus said that He would ask the Father to send the Spirit (John 14:16). After His ascension, they would send the Holy Spirit to fill believers and empower them.

What does the Holy Spirit do in the life of a believer? Jesus lists these roles:

  • He dwells with believers forever, thereby providing a permanent direct link between the Christian and the real presence of God in his life (John 14:16–20).
  • He teaches us and helps us to remember what Jesus has said (John 14:26; 16:13–15).
  • He enables us to experience the peace of God (John 14:27).
  • He bears witness about Jesus to believers so that we are able to bear witness about Him to others (John 15:26–27).
  • Convicts the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11).

In Galatians 5:22–23, we read that the Holy Spirit also produces fruit in the lives of believers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

At the end of Mark’s Gospel, we read that several signs will follow the disciples while they proclaim the Gospel. According to several passages in the Acts, these signs are gifts from the Holy Spirit:

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15–18).

As mentioned earlier, this is just a brief summary. However, we can summarize the Holy Spirit’s work in a Christian’s life as follows:

  • He equips us to preach the Gospel to others.
  • He empowers us to serve Christ.
  • He brings the life of God into our lives so that we can live like beloved children of God, bearing God’s presence in our lives (the fruit of the Spirit).

Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised that He would be with us, even to the end of the age. The Holy Spirit brings the presence of Jesus into our lives. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He took a human body with Him. When the Holy Spirit enters our lives, we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9). While our bodies continue to preserve their human nature and the DNA we inherited from our earthly parents, we receive a sort of “spiritual DNA” from the heavenly Father Himself.

Ascension reminds us that Jesus is more than we can imagine. Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan is to make us more than we can envision. We are His children. Let us live like it. Let us rejoice in that special relationship we have with Him. Let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1), living a life of holiness, forgiveness, and grace that draws others into our spiritual family.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Ascension and Pentecost III. The Gospel of Forgiveness

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).

(This is Part 3 of a series. Part 2 appears here.)

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Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection. By William Hole (1846-1917), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On the night before Jesus died, He gave a final “pep talk” to His disciples, often referred to as “the upper room discourse” (John, chapters 13–17). During that discussion, He went into some depth about a few topics that He had touched on over the past three years: Serving one another; loving others; the promise of everlasting life; the coming, presence, and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life; and the believers’ responsibility to spread His Gospel.

 

Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would go into greater detail on some of these topics. A few subjects that received passing mention earlier in the Gospels take greater emphasis during the 40 days after His resurrection. At that time, He gave them final instructions for continuing His work after He ascended to heaven. On Pentecost, He gave them His Holy Spirit so that they could fulfill those instructions. A few key themes continually arise in His final instructions.

One of the most important, and in many churches least emphasized, elements of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching is the message of forgiveness. Yet, it is central to Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples, and it should be central to our message. As He prepared them for their forthcoming ministry, He said, “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 20:21–23).

Churches debate what this means. Some Roman Catholics will point to this passage to defend the practice of sacramental confession: according to them, this passage authorizes the priest to pronounce forgiveness of sins to those who confess their sins and request absolution. Some Protestants will say that this is little more than authorization to preach the Gospel so that people may receive forgiveness by believing in Jesus.

The Catholic view I described is definitely an exaggeration of that passage’s teaching; in fact, it is actually a caricature of Catholic teaching about forgiveness (from what I read in a few books and learned from a few devout Catholics). On the other hand, though, the Protestant view above (that Jesus was merely authorizing His disciples to preach the Gospel) seems a little inadequate. He did not say, “If you tell people they are forgiven, they might be forgiven”—but that really is the essence of much evangelical teaching on this subject. However, Jesus implies that the disciples had some kind of authority to extend OR withhold forgiveness in such a way that it is counted that way in heaven. God honors that forgiveness as if He extended it Himself. (I will add that this is an application of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:19, when He told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This had everything to do with preaching and teaching with divine authorization, and nothing to do with “naming and claiming” health and wealth for yourself. It also seems to be related to Matthew 9:8, where, after Jesus healed a paralytic by forgiving his sins, the crowd “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”)

How do we, as ordinary twenty-first century Christians, exercise this authority to forgive? That is a complicated question, but here I offer at least three ways we can extend God’s forgiveness with His authority.

First, we need to actually live the message of forgiveness in our own lives. We need to live, think, and speak as people who know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but who have been fully forgiven of our sins through faith in Jesus. We must live as forgiven people.

Then, we need to forgive others as He has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Instead of harboring bitterness and resentment, we should forgive. Instead of gossiping about the sins and indiscretions of others, we pray for them, with a heart of forgiveness, seeking God’s mercy in their lives. Instead of looking down on those who sin differently than we do, we should forgive and love them, looking on them with mercy and compassion.

We see this in the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As he was being stoned to death, his last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). On the basis of John 20:23, it is a safe bet that none of them would have found the sin of killing Stephen held against them when they stand before God’s judgment seat. Furthermore, one of those people whom Stephen forgave (Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul) would experience the forgiveness of Christ and become one of its greatest spokesmen.

Finally,  we must proclaim a message of forgiveness:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-47).

The Gospel we are called to preach contains a few key points: Jesus died for our sins; He rose again; in response to that, we repent of our sins; on the foundation of all that, we receive His forgiveness. St. Paul would later describe it as a “free gift.” If Christ’s work on the cross is absent, it is not the Gospel. If repentance is absent, it is “cheap grace” that tramples the Son of God underfoot (Hebrews 10:29). If forgiveness is absent, we are without hope, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

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In “History of the World,” Moses drops one of the tablets, thereby losing five commandments and leaving us with 10. It seems like many Christians try to add new commandments. Jesus summarized them in two.

The Gospel is not a new set of rules, designed to make us act like we are better than others. The Bible has enough clear commandments: We do not need to add “Thou shalt not listen to this music” or “Thou shalt not dance” (or some of the other extra-canonical commandments that some Christians place on equal footing with the clear teaching of Scripture). In the Mel Brooks movie, “History of the World,” Moses initially comes down from the mountain with three stone tablets, containing 15 commandments, and accidentally drops one (leaving us with 10). Many Christians try to make up for this fumble by adding 666 new sins to the list. Jesus simplified it for us (and yet, in some ways, made it more intensive) by summarizing God’s will in the two commandments to love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40).

 

The Gospel is not a self-improvement program either. We do not accept Jesus Christ, then try to fix our lives to make ourselves acceptable to God, out of fear that He will reject us when we fail. We do not improve ourselves to make ourselves acceptable to God. Instead, God accepts us as we are when we come to Him in faith, and then He changes our lives on His own schedule.

This is the Gospel we are called to preach. Jesus died to forgive us. We come to Him to receive that forgiveness. That is why He came, and that is our source of confidence that we will enjoy eternal life with Him. If forgiveness is not at the center of your message, it is the wrong message. And, if the person is responsible for improving himself, it is not the Gospel; Scripture tells us it is the work of the Holy Spirit to improve us.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Ascension and Pentecost II: The Mystery of the Incarnation in Heaven

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:44-51).

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

jesus_ascending_to_heaven(This is part 2 of a series. Part 1 appears here.)

Immediately after Jesus ascended to heaven, while His disciples tried to make sense of all that had happened, two angels appeared with the most important message about end-time prophecy: Jesus will return in exactly the same way He left.

It is important to note that Jesus went to heaven with more than He had before He came to earth! From before the creation of the world, Jesus had been fully God, eternally begotten of the Father. He was the Word who was with God, and who was God (John 1:1). However, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced God’s will for her to be the mother of the Messiah, the most incomprehensible moment in the history of the universe occurred: the fullness of deity dwelled bodily in a single-celled zygote making its way through her reproductive system into her womb (Colossians 1:19). That single cell grew to become the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, who grew up to be baptized by John the Baptist, to face temptation in the wilderness, to preach the Kingdom of God and perform miracles of healing, and eventually to die for our sins on the cross.

Throughout the approximately 33 years of His life (plus the nine months He grew in Mary’s womb), His deity was hidden or suppressed. Philippians 2:7 tells us that He “emptied Himself.” During that time, He appeared to be an ordinary man. Ancient church creeds summarize this paradox by saying that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” Although He remained divine throughout His earthly life, it was His humanity that was most visible.

At His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, He returned to heaven with that human body. According to Revelation, He bears the scars of His crucifixion even as He rules and reigns at His Father’s right hand in heaven. He came down as a spirit and took on a body; He lives forever in this glorified state. I realize this is hard to explain and can easily raise doubts in the skeptic’s mind. The same creed that says Jesus is fully God and fully man also says that God is “incomprehensible.” I dare not say (as some do) that this faith is “illogical” or “irrational.” I believe it is, in fact, “hyper-logical” or “super-rational.” It is beyond human comprehension, trapped as we are within the confines of space and time and the limits of our own perception. No matter how hard we try to explain it, or how diligently we struggle to address the paradoxes, we still find ourselves reaching a point where logic and wisdom must surrender to faith. However, I believe that in heaven it will all make sense. I expect that one of the first things I will say in heaven is, “So, that’s how You can be three-in-one. It all makes sense now!”

This truth ties together the core of Christian teaching: That Jesus Christ is fully God (the eternal Son of God) and yet fully human. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a human baby who was, in fact, had existed since before the foundation of the world as the Son of God. During Holy Week, we remember how the Son of God, now manifesting His full humanity, yielded Himself to death on a cross. On Easter, we remember that thanks to His divine nature, He conquered death and rose again. On the Feast of the Ascension, we remember how He ascended bodily into heaven, to completely reclaim His divine glory. And finally, on Pentecost, we celebrate how Christ has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within His followers, so that we may be partakers of the divine nature.

(Part 3 of this series appears here.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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Ascension and Pentecost I: A Unified Gospel Message

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven (Luke 24:44–51).

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6–11).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

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Jesus’ ascension into heaven, by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815), public domain painting via Wikimedia Commons

On the traditional church calendar, the Easter season lasts 50 days, beginning with Easter Sunday and ending seven weeks later with the Feast of Pentecost. Easter and Pentecost are not merely bookends on a cycle of Scripture readings for Sunday worship. Along with the Feast of the Ascension (on the 40th day of Easter, 10 days before Pentecost), they provide a significant unified summary of the Gospel and its impact on the Christian’s life. This series of articles will examine the message of Ascension and Pentecost, with particular emphasis on how the key themes of these days intertwine.

The passages from Luke and Acts above give the biblical accounts of the Ascension. Jesus had appeared to His disciples periodically during 40 days after His resurrection. Throughout His post-resurrection earthly ministry, His teaching focused on a few key points which are summarized in the above passages (and repeated in the other post-resurrection accounts in the Gospels).

It is helpful to discern the context of these passages. Many Christians think of Matthew 28:18–20 (commonly known as the Great Commission) as an account of the Ascension. However, I think this occurred some time earlier: first, because it occurred in Galilee (Matt. 28:16), which would contradict Luke 24; and second, because Matthew does not mention the Ascension here. Matthew 28:18–20 simply presents some of Jesus’ final instructions for His disciples. It is possible (though uncertain) that this could be the appearance to 500 brethren that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:5.

Luke 24:50–51 tells us that Jesus ascended to heaven from Bethany, a village close to Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. A more in-depth summary of those verses appears in Luke 1:6–11.

Some of Jesus’ key points in His post-resurrection teaching (to be more fully discussed later in this series) are:

  • The significance of the cross in light of Old Testament prophecy
  • The message of forgiveness
  • Jesus’ exaltation, authority, transcendence, and immanence
  • The authority of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the Church

You may note that I do not list “end-time prophecy” here, since Jesus specifically told His disciples that the timing of His return was not their concern (Acts 1:6–7). Far too many churches violate Jesus’ clear biblical mandate here by spending too much time claiming to have figured out the entire order of the second coming of Christ, while ignoring the core teaching of the Gospel that Jesus calls us to preach. However, Jesus used their question to focus on the disciples’ role: to receive the Holy Spirit and be His witnesses. I know some Christians who, whenever I ask them what they are studying at church or in their small group, will bounce between “The Book of Revelation” and end-time prophecy. This overemphasis is unbiblical. Our core message, especially to the lost, should be Christ’s work on the cross and the forgiveness of sins. Let us not forget the message He has entrusted to us.

(Part 2 of this series appears here.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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The Annunciation: Saying “Yes” to God

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

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“The Annunciation,” by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Many churches will observe the Feast of the Annunciation on April 9, 2018. This is usually observed on March 25 (nine months before Christmas) but, since that date fell during Holy Week this year, it was moved to the first available day after Holy Week and Easter Week. On this date, we commemorate the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary, announcing that she has been appointed to be the mother of the Son of God.

Some churches, in reaction against Roman Catholicism’s emphasis on Mary, choose to downplay her. This is unfortunate. She and Joseph had been entrusted with a mission like no other: to bear and raise the Son of God. God the Father entrusted His Son to their care. To those who think Mary was nobody special, let me ask when God entrusted anything that important to their care!

Christians are so familiar with the story of Gabriel’s appearance to Mary that it seems so simple and sweet. An angel appears to Mary. He tells her that she will be with child, and the baby will be the Son of God. Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin.” The angel responds that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, so that she will be pregnant with this holy Child.

The story sounds so sweet and spiritual. But, let us imagine this from Mary’s perspective. First, we do not know what she is doing at the time, but it seems like she is alone. Nowadays, teenage single girls might get uncomfortable if some strange man pops up out of nowhere and starts talking to them, but that was even more unacceptable in her society. While Gabriel was speaking to her, she probably thought, “Who is this creep? How did he get in here? How can I get rid of him? I should probably call Dad, but he might hurt me if I scream.” At some point, Mary must realized he was an angel. Still, his announcement made no sense. How can she become the mother of God’s Son while she is a virgin? The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:35, 37).

It sounds like this clinched it for Mary, but I am sure it was not that easy. She had already raised her question about how this was possible for a virgin. Even after being persuaded that God could do what seems impossible in her life, other questions must have run through her mind. “What will Joseph think? We have never been intimate. He will know it’s not his baby. He will most likely assume that I have cheated on him and slept with another man. Everybody else will think I slept with somebody. They’ll blame Joseph if I do not say it was somebody else and tell them who that is. Nobody’s going to believe me that God is the father! If I say that, they’ll stone me for adultery AND blasphemy!”

Somehow, Mary found the faith and courage to say yes: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The Bible does not tell us how she found the courage to say yes to God. It does not tell us how she and Joseph were able to handle the whispers and gossip, even though it seems such suspicions persisted about Jesus’ birth continued throughout His lifetime. In John 8:41, some members of His audience said, “We were not born of sexual immorality,” possibly taking an accusatory pot-shot at Him.

In spite of risk, uncertainty, potential shame and danger, Mary had the courage to say “Yes” to God and devote her life to His will. The last quote we read from her in the Bible is at the wedding at Cana, where she enlists Jesus’ help when the wine runs out. She tells the servants to “Do whatever He tells you.”

We might be tempted to treat Mary’s words as if they related only to her situation. However, in speaking to the angel, she speaks FOR all true disciples of Jesus: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Let this be our prayer: That we can be faithful to God, obeying Him and doing His will regardless the circumstances and risk, trusting Him to work all things out. In speaking to the servants at the wedding, she speaks TO all true disciples: “Do whatever He tells you.” As she has surrendered herself to the will of God, we can now entrust ourselves to His will. When God speaks, we listen, obey, and trust Him. Then, we can be called blessed, even as all generations now call her blessed (Luke 1:48).

Today and every day, let us join Mary and say “Yes” to Jesus, willing to do whatever He tells us.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Children of God and Siblings of Jesus

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 20:17–18)

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Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. By Heinrich Hofmann, published on bible card (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart27.htm) [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday morning, a new day had dawned. The old order of God’s relationship with mankind ended as Jesus breathed His last on Friday evening. Sunday brought a new beginning. Mary Magdalene would be the first Christian to hear the good news about our new relationship with God. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers obtain the right to be called children of God (John 1:12–13).

“Go to my brothers,” Jesus said. Mary seems to have immediately understood what Jesus meant here. She did not seek James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, who were apparently His biological brothers (Mark 6:3). She realized that Jesus meant the disciples.

A few days earlier, He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). At one time, they were servants or disciples; they had become His friends. Now, they were family. They were His brothers.

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father.” For three years, the disciples have heard Jesus refer to God as “My Father” and “the Father.” Now, He sends Mary to emphasize to them that God is their Father. Every disciple of Jesus could now call God “my Father” with the same certainty Jesus expressed when He used those words. It is now deeper than “Our Father who art in heaven.” He is now “my Father”–in an immediate and personal, not generic or abstract, sense. (I imagine that Mary Magdalene ran off thinking, “That means God is my Father too, and I’m Jesus’ sister!)

Jesus had mentioned this family relationship before. From the cross, He told John, “Behold, your mother;” to Mary, He referred to John as “your son” (John 19:26–27). With His final dying wish, He instructed John to care for her as his own mother; He accepted John as His brother, not merely a friend.

Many Christians do not grasp the full significance of our relationship with Jesus. We think that Jesus died merely to purchase fire insurance for us. We may assume that He is thinking, “Okay, I’m keeping you out of hell. I hope you’re happy. It really ticks me off when you keep doing the sort of stuff that should put you there. Better get yourself in line or else!”

No, Jesus is not our insurance agent, looking for a loophole in the policy that will nullify our coverage. He is our big brother, ready to stand by us. He died and rose so that we may be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Who is usually the heir in a will? The family of the deceased, particularly his or her children. A “fellow heir” receives a share of the inheritance. Jesus has inherited a kingdom from His Father. We are his fellow heirs; we have inherited a share of that kingdom!

This Easter, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us gain a greater vision of our identity as members of Jesus’ family. Many of us are tempted to accept the labels that Satan and society place upon us. We may view ourselves as failures, sinners, or “worms.” We may think of ourselves as mere animals with an exaggerated self-image. We claim these negative titles, but as children of God we are so much more.

Satan loves it when we label ourselves according to our greatest weaknesses or past mistakes. Yes, you have sinned. There is probably some sin or shortcoming you still struggle with. It may at times bring incredible guilt and grief. However, that is not your identity. You are God’s child. Jesus is your big brother. You are Jesus’ brother or sister. If you are a follower of Jesus, believe those statements, because Jesus Himself said that is who you are.

If you are not a disciple of Jesus, let this be the day that you are born anew and adopted into the family of God as one of His beloved children. The good news about the Christian’s identity belongs only to those who have received His free gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. Those who are not Jesus’ disciples cannot claim to be children of God, even though He created them and loves them. They cannot claim the other privileges of the Christian life. However, they should not despair. Jesus’ arms remain open, inviting all to come to Him. You may pray a prayer like this one to begin your new life as a child of God:

Lord Jesus Christ, I need You. I admit that I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. There is nothing I can do to save myself. Please come into my life and heart, forgive me of all my sins, and make me the person You want me to be. Thank You for dying on the cross for me and inviting me to be a child of Your Heavenly Father. Amen.

Let us go forth to live as children of God eager to see Him glorified in our lives. Let us rejoice in the new life we receive through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Thank God It’s (Good) Friday

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24–26).

Many who work a Monday–Friday, 40-hour workweek know the feeling. If we greet our co-workers with “Happy Monday,” it must be sarcasm. At 9:15 AM on Monday morning, many workers feel like the weekend was too short. However, by the end of the week, “Happy Friday” is almost a holiday greeting. We have borne the pain and suffering of the week and look forward to the weekend. We work for five days, but we act as if our real life takes place during the weekend.

Music and pop culture celebrate the weekend as if it is the center of our existence. The late 1970s gave us the disco-craze movies “Saturday Night Fever” and “Thank God It’s Friday.” A popular 1980s song declared that “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.” We act as if the weekend is a grand festival and Friday is its major kickoff event.

Now, we come to Good Friday, and we wonder why we call it good. Most Fridays can be highlighted by happy hour. Those who do not drink still find it to be a good opportunity to go out for dinner or see the newest movie. However, the Friday before Easter emphasizes Jesus’ death. The shadow of death hovers over Good Friday.

Good Friday reminds us that the world’s idea of good conflicts with God’s idea of good. The world views Friday as the victory of leisure and pleasure over labor and drudgery. Good Friday reminds us that the true victory is Christ’s victory over hell and Satan, of life’s victory over death, and the victory of God’s mercy and forgiveness over sin and condemnation.

As we observe Good Friday today, I invite you to join in some of the prayers that the Book of Common Prayer links to Friday:

On Friday mornings:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On Friday evenings:

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.

For Good Friday:

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch, at Graymoor Retreat Center, Garrison, NY, March 2016

A prayer of the Holy Cross, especially suitable for Fridays:

Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I admit none of these prayers ooze the enthusiasm of a celebratory dance-party song. However, in each prayer, the shadow of the cross points us to the light of the Resurrection—both Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday and the believer’s resurrection to eternal life when his life on earth is over. Good Friday is good because it points to Christ’s victory: A victory which all believers in Christ Jesus may share:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1–3).

Happy Good Friday, one and all! May it be a reminder of the celebration we anticipate as we prepare for our ultimate rest in heaven.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Triumphal Entry, Worship, Betrayal, and Abandonment

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:7–10, ESV)

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Scene from a Passion Play in Trafalgar Square, London, UK, on Good Friday in 2010, re-enacting the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Stephen Craven – geograph.org.uk/p/1782823

Most churches celebrate Palm Sunday by distributing palm fronds to the congregation. Some churches may process, marching around either inside or outside their building. Others will simply wave the palm branches while singing a song with “Hosanna!” (a Hebrew word meaning, “Save!”) in the title or lyrics. In doing so, we join our worship with the exuberant celebration of the crowd that greeted Jesus and His disciples as they entered Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover celebration nearly 2000 years ago. We now refer to this as “the triumphal entry,” but we can easily forget how quickly things changed in Jesus’ life within a week.

On Sunday, the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” By Friday morning, many of these people were in a mob shouting, “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:18–21).

Judas Iscariot was part of the group entering Jerusalem with Jesus. Perhaps his cloak was on the colt’s back, providing a saddle for Jesus. By Thursday evening, he would betray Jesus.

Peter was there too. I can imagine him leading the way, announcing that the Messiah Jesus was coming and urging the crowd to cheer for Him as He entered. On Thursday evening, he vowed he would stand by Jesus no matter what happened (John 13:37). A few hours later, he tried to fulfill that vow—relying on his natural impulsiveness and machismo rather than the virtues Jesus had taught for the last three years—by whacking someone’s ear off during Jesus’ arrest. After that, it was all downhill. Probably less than 12 hours after declaring that he would die with Jesus, he denied three times that he even knew Him. In Jesus’ greatest hour of need, His so-called “best friend” left Him hanging (John 18:15–18, 25–27).

Ten of the other disciples, all of whom (like Peter) swore they would remain faithful to Him, ran into hiding as soon as He was arrested. As He stood trial and was crucified, the only disciple who stayed with Him was John. He was accompanied by a few women, including Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene.

Christians know the story so well that we can miss the point. We can learn a lot from the disciples because they are terribly human. They are a lot like us. Sometimes, they show us heroic faith that we hope to imitate. At other times, they show us just how badly we can fail. People were willing to stand by Jesus when things seemed to be going well. When times got tough, they turned on Him or abandoned Him. Sadly, none of us are immune to that temptation.

We may worship Jesus when we are in a crowd with others who are shouting and singing His praises. Do we continue to praise Him when the establishment and the culture revile and reject Him? Or, do we join in rejecting Him: If not in word or deed, do we reject Him in our hearts?

Do we sell Jesus out when financial gain is a possibility? Will we compromise our faith or ignore His commands when there is money to gain.

We can boldly profess our faith and devotion to Jesus in a church or Bible study. Do we continue to do so when surrounded by those who have not accepted Him, or do we suddenly hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:15) and pretend we are not Christians?

Holy Week ends Lent, a season which many Christians devote to self-examination. As Easter approaches, are we ready to share the resurrected Christ with those around us? Are we willing to remain faithful to Him?

Let us prepare our hearts to sing Christ’s praises in good times and bad, when others join in song and when they refuse Him. As we wave our palm branches, let us continue to lift Jesus up so that He may draw all people unto Himself (John 12:32). As we shape our palm branches into crosses, let us take up our crosses to follow Him.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

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Jesus fasting and praying: “Christ in the Wilderness,” by Ivan Kramskoi [1837-1887, Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Those who fast during Lent reflect on Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism in the Jordan River. As Jesus prepared to begin His public ministry, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and ate nothing for 40 days. At the end of those 40 days, Satan tempted Him to use His divine power for personal gain, daring Him to turn stones into bread. Jesus responded, as He would to each temptation, by quoting Deuteronomy, responding to the first challenge by saying “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

That verse highlights one of the lessons learned during fasting, a lesson God taught the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering after they escaped from Egypt. Fasting calls our attention back to God, and reminds us of our need and His provision.

The wilderness wanderings were a time for the Israelites to learn how to live out their covenant relationship as the people of God. It did not start well. Even though God protected them during a series of plagues, until Pharaoh let them leave, they grew fearful as soon as they saw the Egyptian chariots chasing them at the Red Sea. Despite God’s previous signs, they would not believe that He would rescue them this time.

After God parted the Red Sea so they could escape, they complained at the waters of Marah, believing God would not provide clean drinking water. He provided it anyway (Exodus 15:22–27).

Soon thereafter, they complained that they did not have enough food, and accused Moses of leading them into the wilderness to starve. God provided bread from heaven, “manna” (Exodus 16). Before long, a miraculous (and free) supply of bread was not good for them; they demanded meat, so God provided quail (Numbers 11:1–15, 31–35). However, the quail came with divine discipline, as God sent a plague among the people while they were eating.

Much of this was probably on Jesus’ mind as Satan tempted Him. Jesus answered all three temptations by quoting from chapters 6 or 8 of Deuteronomy. He probably spent a lot of time during those 40 days meditating on the first few chapters of that book.

God had tested the Israelites, to give them a chance to trust Him. They failed each test. Every time, God provided opportunities to remember how He had provided for them in the past. Every time, they failed.

Many Christians can relate. How often do we immediately worry when a problem arises? Do we have faith to cast all of our cares upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)? Do we remember the times He has been faithful in the past: the times He answered our prayers, healed our illnesses, or provided for our needs? Or, do we anticipate a catastrophe and forget that He even exists?

God wanted His people to learn to look to Him for all their needs, and to recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). The testing was designed to prepare them to remain grateful all of their days (Deuteronomy 8:11–18), so that they would remember to thank Him for all that He provides.

Yet, they failed the gratitude test. Manna was not good enough for them; they demanded meat. God’s provision was not sufficient: It was too boring, the same thing day after day. They wanted something exciting, something new, a change of pace. So, they told Moses that God could do better.

Ingratitude, distrust, and disbelief showed they were not ready to claim the promised land. God extended a trip that should have taken less than two weeks and forced them to wander for 40 years.

As Jesus prepared for His ministry, He must have reflected on these lessons. He had to remember who He was, why the Father had sent Him, and what He would do. He would look to the Father to protect, provide, and direct over the next few years. Every step in His ministry would be guided by the Father and would bring Him glory. At no point could Jesus afford to grow impatient or seek an easy way out.

For those of us who participate in a Lenten fast as we follow Jesus, the following questions are significant. Let us each reflect on them:

  • When difficulties arise, do I trust God or gravitate towards doubt, unbelief, fear, distrust, and anxiety?
  • When has God met my needs in the past?
  • Are the things He provides sufficient for me, or do I crave more? Do I demand more from God than He provides?
  • What mission, passion, ministry, or calling has God placed on my life? How can I pursue it His way, rather than trying to do things in my own strength?
  • Will I be grateful for His goodness?
  • Will I remember God’s mercy in good times, or will I forget about Him when life gets easy or comfortable?

Not long after His season of fasting and temptation, Jesus would travel with His disciples through Samaria, where He would minister to a woman with a troubled past and, most likely, a questionable reputation (John 4). When His disciples arrived with food, He did not have much of an appetite. It was as if He had already enjoyed a feast. He knew a satisfaction in the soul that natural food could not meet.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

As Jesus’ soul was nourished by doing the work that His Father required, may we be satisfied in His blessings, provision, and the joy of serving Him.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transfiguration, Glorification, and the Christian Life

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:2–9).

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,… (II Peter 1:16–21).

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“The Transfiguration,” by James Tissot (1836–1902).

Some denominations celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday (others do not observe it at all, whereas in some churches it falls on August 6). As I have recently reflected on the Christian’s call to reflect the light of Jesus (see my recent posts here, here, here, and here), I believe this can provide a good focal point for my Lenten observances this year.

Christians in many denominations commit to some kind of low-grade fast during Lent. Many will abstain from meat (allowing themselves fish) on Wednesdays and Fridays. They may also give up a favorite food and/or hobby during the season. Ideally, we should find a way to fill that void with things that will draw us closer to Christ: Perhaps we will devote more time to prayer, Bible study, worship, or service to others in Jesus’ name.

The goal, however, is not to lose weight or go on a self-improvement program. (Those may be secondary benefits, but not the primary goals.) The goal is to draw closer to Jesus, removing some of the obstacles that keep the life, glory, and light of Jesus from shining through in our lives.

It is easy to focus on the fast itself. Many of us can obsess about what we will not eat until Easter. Let us look deeper, though: We have been called to live as partakers of the divine image (2 Peter 1:4) and the seed of God abides in us (1 John 3:9). Those who have come into a living relationship with Jesus Christ by faith have the Holy Spirit within them. We hear this so often that it can almost sound trite or insignificant. Perhaps this Lent can be the time when some of us begin to more intimately comprehend what God is truly offering us.

Instead of a detailed discussion of the Scripture, I will just take this opportunity to encourage each of you, between now and Easter, to reflect on God’s promises to glorify His children. Perhaps the great lesson of Lent is that we miss out as we continue to devote our time, resources, and energy to trivial things, when God is eager to pour out His blessings upon us and conform us to His likeness. We are His children: may we come to look more like Him as we lay aside the things of the world and grasp a foretaste of our inheritance in Him.

I encourage you to reflect on some of the following passages in the weeks to come:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:11–14).

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:5–7). (Better yet: Just read the entire book of 1 John. It is a short letter of exhortation, but it has a lot to say about walking in the light of Jesus and living as children of God.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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