Posts Tagged With: forgiveness

God’s Righteousness and Justice. II: Justice and Mercy Together

One mistake a Christian can make is to emphasize one of God’s attributes while ignoring others. God is a Personal Being, and sometimes His actions can seem complicated or paradoxical. As we consider God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot forget His love and mercy. As James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). God’s judgment is present alongside His mercy.

The Israelites learned that lesson after crossing the Red Sea. They rebelled several times after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They worshiped a golden calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. They frequently complained about how God fed them.

On one occasion, they seemed almost ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses sent 12 spies to survey the land. When they returned, 10 gave a bad report, saying the Israelites would be wiped out by the people of Canaan if they tried to enter. As a result, the Israelites threatened to kill Moses and return to Egypt.

God’s glory appeared, and He had another idea: He could slaughter all the Israelites, spare Moses, and start over with a new nation descended from Moses.

“But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now’” (Numbers 14:13–19).

Moses meets with God. Sometimes, he had to pray for God to have mercy on the people. Image from the Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible Illustrations, in the possession of Philip De Vere, published under a Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons

Moses intervened and asked God to preserve the people who had just threatened to kill him. They did not deserve mercy. God had already forgiven them several times. This was not the first time Moses had to stand in the gap for them. It would not be the last time, either. The people of God have always been flawed humans—from the time God first revealed Himself to Abraham, through the Exodus and ministry of Moses, throughout the rest of the Old Testament, into the New Testament, and throughout church history until today. We have always needed God’s forgiveness, and we always will. We do not deserve it, but He forgives us anyway.

God most clearly reveals His glory and power through mercy and forgiveness. Moses reminded God of an earlier occasion when He appeared to him. At that time:

“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:6–7).

As God pronounced judgment upon the nation, Moses recalled these words. He did not have to coerce God. He simply recalled how God had revealed Himself. God promised that He would be merciful and forgive. Moses took God at His Word and prayed that He would remain faithful to it. God responded by forgiving the people: not because they deserved it but because forgiveness is one of His specialties.

Yet, God made it clear that His mercy was not an excuse to sin. God forgives, but there can be consequences. Sometimes, the effects of that sin last for generations as he “visits the iniquity…to the third and fourth generations.” A few hundred years after Moses’ time, Israel’s ruler, King David, committed adultery with a married woman named Bathsheba and murdered her husband. God forgave David, but the child died. Despite that, his next child with Bathsheba, Solomon, became Israel’s wisest king and an ancestor of Jesus. Despite David’s sin, he was forgiven and mankind was blessed with salvation. There were painful consequences, but God’s mercy triumphed even amid judgment.

When Moses prayed for the Israelites, God spared them. However, there were consequences. The people thought that even God could not get them safely into the Promised Land. Therefore, God held them to their word. Only two of the adults who left Egypt eventually entered the Promised Land—Caleb and Joshua, the only two spies who believed God could give them victory. God forgave, but there were consequences for the people.

Today, we cannot separate God’s mercy from His righteousness and justice. God still forgives. However, sometimes He will leave us to face the consequences of our sin. God may forgive us, but we suffer just the same. Perhaps we may bring pain and suffering to our families. He may forgive us if we commit sexual sin, but we may have to accept the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, disease, or wounded reputation. God can forgive us for sins committed in anger, but we may have to endure broken relationships. He can forgive us if we steal or otherwise break a law while sinning, but we may have to suffer the legal consequences.

God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, but His great desire is to write His law in our hearts so that we can reveal His righteousness, justice, and goodness through our lives. Let us thank God and trust Him to remain merciful, allowing His love to propel us to be more like Him.

Has God ever shown you His mercy while correcting you with His justice and righteousness? How have you seen God’s mercy in your life? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St. Mark: The First and Final Word

“Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

St. Mark, by Emmanuel Tzanes (1610-1690). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In traditional churches, April 25 is the Feast of St. Mark. I may be posting this article one day later, but Mark’s ministry and message remain timeless. His Gospel is probably the oldest of the four in the Bible, and God continues to speak through the account he wrote.

That is impressive when you consider that Mark probably spent most of his career in the background, assisting more prominent leaders. Also, his ministry nearly ended early. Mark’s life is a good reminder that failure does not have to be the final word in your life.

We first meet Mark—or, more precisely, John Mark—in Acts 12:12. Christians were meeting and praying in his mother’s home while Peter was imprisoned. Paul and his mentor, Barnabas, were in town, delivering an offering from the church in Antioch to assist the congregation in Jerusalem during difficult times. Mark joined them on their return trip. He would then travel as their assistant when they left Antioch for their first missionary journey.

Mark did not stay with them very long. After some successful ministry in Cyprus, he left the team. Acts 13:13 simply says that he left them at Perga and returned to Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts, gives no explanation. One could think it was a minor detail. However, Paul did not consider it minor. Some time later, he and Barnabas started planning a second missionary journey and had to decide who would travel with them:

“Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark.But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus” (Acts 15:37-39).

Until this point, Paul and Barnabas seemed inseparable. Barnabas had taken Paul under his wing when no other Christians trusted him. Now, he wanted to give Mark a second chance. For some reason, though, Paul refused. Mark’s departure from the team seemed unforgivable to Paul. After years of ministering together, Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas gave Mark a second chance and took him along. Paul recruited a new assistant named Silas.

Mark is never mentioned again in Acts. However, his name suddenly pops up again in 2 Timothy 4:11. Paul was now an old man, imprisoned, awaiting his execution. Mark was now “useful to me for ministry.” Just as we do not know the circumstances that led Mark to abandon the first missionary journey, we do not know how Paul had this change of heart. He had been abandoned again by many others, and Luke was the only person to stay with him. One can expect the sting of abandonment and rejection to tear old wounds open, but Paul held no grudge now.

Over the years, Paul had probably matured. Mark probably matured as well. Both had probably grown wiser. Scripture’s silence about Mark’s departure and the eventual reconciliation paints a curious picture. I imagine Timothy and Mark arriving to meet Paul and Luke after receiving the letter. Luke is aware that there is some kind of “history,” so he asks, “What happened at Perga? Why did you leave?” (Luke is taking notes, preparing to write a book about all of this.) Paul answers first: “Forget about it! It’s all in the past.” Mark quietly adds, “Yes, let’s just forget about it.” Luke never gets his answer. The Holy Spirit knew what to reveal to those who would write the Scriptures.

After Paul died, Mark’s ministry continued. Tradition says that Peter came to Rome to preach after Paul’s execution, and Mark served as his translator. It is very likely that Mark’s Gospel is based almost entirely on Peter’s preaching (although, for all we know, he may have copied some of Luke’s notes).

Mark’s life gives all Christians some valuable lessons:

  • Remain faithful. God can work through your life, whether you are an ordained minister, church leader, or one who serves quietly in the background. Mark spent a lot of time in the background, assisting others while they preached the Gospel. He spent decades serving in the background while Barnabas, Paul, and Peter got all of the attention. However, people have read his book for centuries, coming to know Jesus. He probably had no idea that God would continue to speak through him long after he was gone.
  • Failure does not have to be the final word. Mark’s departure at Perga may have been a serious issue, but it was not the end. Proverbs 24:16 tells us that “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.” If you fall, get back up. If you fail, try again. If you sin, confess it, repent, and return to God. Do not give up.
  • Offer second chances. Has somebody you know failed? Give them a second chance. Barnabas accepted Paul when no other Christians would. He gave Mark a second chance. Just imagine how short the New Testament would be if Barnabas had not been willing to offer mercy and second chances to those who did not seem to deserve them.
  • Forgive. There is power in forgiveness. When we forgive, God works through it. God can use you to bring healing and hope to someone who has failed.

“John left them” (Acts 13:13) could have been the last word about him in the Bible, but it was not. Failure was not the final word in Mark’s life. Do not let it be the final word in your life. Rise up, press on, and keep following the Lord. When a fellow believer falls, do not let failure be the final word in his or her life. Lift him or her up; invite him or her to take a second chance. Forgiveness is the first word God speaks to a believer’s heart. Do not accept failure as the final word.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Unforgivable? Jesus Says “No”

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31–32; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15).

American media is a bastion of bitterness. In recent weeks, news outlets and the internet fumed over an encounter involving a pro-life high school student from Tennessee (attending the March for Life in Washington, DC, with his classmates) and a Native American activist; their “interaction” generated a myriad of hostile comments with people on both sides accusing the other of committing an act of hate. Some people threatened the student and his school, while others sought other ways to destroy his future.

Sollok29 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Over the past week, Democrat Virginia governor Ralph Northam sat in the hot seat. After a week of controversy, during which he announced his support of late-term abortions (and even infanticide in some cases), a photograph from his medical-school days emerged, purportedly showing him posing either as an African American (wearing blackface) or as a Ku Klux Klan member. After initially claiming to be the one wearing blackface, he later denied being either person, although he admitted that he once darkened his face to dress like Michael Jackson in a talent contest.

Congratulations, Governor. You found a way to enrage most of America in one week. Conservatives were eager to drag your name through the mud after you expressed extreme pro-abortion views. Now, even many liberals were calling for your resignation. I think President Donald Trump most accurately expressed a prevailing view among the American public when he called your actions “unforgivable.”

I decided to address this topic for a few simple reasons. A big reason is that many conservative Christians defend or parrot everything President Trump says. Some seem to use Scripture merely to defend their political party’s platform, instead of weighing the platform against Scripture. With all due respect to the president, the word “unforgivable” is biblically unwarranted here. The Word of Jesus trumps the word of the president, the Republican Party, the Democrat Party, and all news organizations and websites. The Word of Jesus even supersedes the word of any church or denomination that claims His name.

We the people of the United States have become very good at vilifying those we oppose. We have become masters of criticism and judgment. We have become experts at demonizing those whose actions, lifestyles, and beliefs run contrary to our own. Yet, Jesus calls us to become masters of love and forgiveness. He wants us to become experts at shining His light in a dark world.

There is a difference between “unrighteous” or “inexcusable” and “unforgivable.” Abortion is unrighteous; it is inexcusable. It is evil to kill babies inside or outside the womb. “You shall not murder.” Racism is also evil, unrighteous, and inexcusable.

Several months ago, Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh (still a nominee at that time) was accused of committing sexual assault while he was in high school. Although legally exonerated, many people think he was guilty. Most will agree that the things he was accused of doing are evil, unrighteous, and inexcusable; the great debate is whether he actually committed those acts or was falsely accused. (Kavanaugh’s actions are covered by another of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” which later Scripture expands to other forms of sexual immorality. False accusations are condemned by the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”) Some still call them “unforgivable.”

Again, these sins are inexcusable and unrighteous. They are wrong. Abortion, murder, sexual assault, racism, and lying are wrong. However, they are not unforgivable. Reasonable persons—especially reasonable Christians—should be appalled when we are ready to destroy a person’s life because we disagree with them, or because they were accused of doing something wrong, or even if we have ironclad evidence that they are guilty of doing something wrong. This is especially true when we go on witch hunts to find stupid things people did in their youth. Many of us did embarrassing, stupid, or bad things in our youth that we regret later. Do we know for certain that there has been no repentance, or at least an attempt at self-improvement, since the moment of stupidity?

Jesus said there is only one sin that is “unforgivable.” While many sincere Christians disagree about what “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” means, most agree that it is one that will keep a person from coming to saving faith in Jesus. It seems to be a level of such utter opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit that it prohibits faith in Jesus. (Note to those who think they may have committed the unpardonable sin, let me assure you that if you are even giving it any thought, it has not happened yet. As long as you are concerned about your sins, the Holy Spirit is still working on you!)

Is racism evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is abortion evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is sexual assault evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is creating false accusations and committing slander evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Some of you may have suffered horrible mistreatment at some time in your life. Forgiveness may be difficult. It can be the hardest thing God calls you to do. But, forgiveness is necessary. Spiritually, it is a life-and-death decision. Make the decision to forgive those who have hurt you. You may not feel like you have forgiven them initially; you may have to resist the temptation to continue harboring bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment. Forgiveness does not make the abuser’s behavior right, nor does it mean you have to allow yourself or others to be hurt again. It does mean that you leave judgment to God Almighty, who is able to forgive all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

Jesus said that only one sin is “unforgivable.” Remember that the next time someone tells you another person’s actions are “unforgivable.” Remember that the next time you tell yourself or others that you will never forgive another person. Oh yes, remember that the next time you refuse to accept God’s forgiveness for you.

This post copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.)

jesus_appears_to_the_disciples

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).

e1ff60471a99dc34eedc050c48533f10

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.

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

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).

jesus_ascending_to_heaven

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.

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

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