Acts 10:34-43 – Alive with a New Vision

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (New International Version)

Peter’s Vision

The Apostle Peter, a Jew, was told by God to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. God had given Peter a vision of unclean animals, saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  While Peter was wondering about how to make sense of this, men came to retrieve Peter and take him to the house of Cornelius the Centurion.

The death and resurrection of Christ is universal in its scope. It effects every person on planet earth. God shows no favoritism. The cross of Christ is for all kinds of people from every nation, race, and ethnic group. Peter invites us to have a perspective on the cross which delivers us from all wrongdoing and misguided living. The Apostle encourages us to interpret the resurrection of Jesus as a new lease on life to millions of people. Peter’s message is to view the life and death of Jesus and see it as our redemption.

My Vision

For the first seventeen years of my life, I grew up in a nice family, a nice church, and attending a nice school. I heard the facts of Jesus, and the story of Jesus. I heard and understood that Jesus lived on this earth; lived a holy life; was a loving and good teacher; that evil persons had him arrested, tortured, and killed on a cross; that after three days he rose from death; and, that he now lives with the Father in heaven. I simply took all these Christian facts for granted. And yet, I never looked at those facts from my own perspective.

I did not see that as a teenager I was metaphorically speeding down a gravel road about to hit a t-intersection and face spiritual death. I did not interpret those events of Jesus from the angle that it was all done for me.  After all, there are all kinds of needy and lost people in the world, and I was living in Christian America. It’s all good for me, right? 

But it wasn’t all good. My heart was dark and unable to see the good news that Jesus did it all for me. Then, not too unlike what God did for Peter in seeing the world a new way, I saw that Jesus died for me. It totally changed my life.

“For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6:9-11, NIV

Suddenly, I saw life around me as if it were a new world. I began seeing and experiencing God’s love. I started to see the beauty and grace of God everywhere. I began to experience peace. These are the very things the gospel does for us – changes us from the inside-out.

When Peter preached his message to the household of Cornelius, they both were changed. Peter gained a brand new perspective on Gentiles and on God’s grace. And Cornelius began to interpret Jesus in a way that brought hope and life. 

A Cosmic Vision

In forty years of proclaiming the message of God’s peace through Christ to others, I have seen that the gospel is for everyone – poor and rich, the paranoid schizophrenic and the well-adjusted, addicts and non-addicts, those without much education and the highly educated, mean people and nice people.

One of the interesting things about the book of Acts is that it ends quite abruptly. We have all these wonderful stories about the good news of Jesus changing people’s lives, and then, in the middle of one of those stories with the Apostle Paul, the book of Acts just ends with chapter 28. The wise way of interpreting the abrupt ending is to see that God is still writing a story. The Lord is still active in the world, helping people to see Jesus in new and life-giving ways.

Today the right and proper way to interpret the story of Christ is that he is alive!  Because he lives, we live, if we direct our faith squarely toward Jesus. There is forgiveness through the cross. Since Jesus is alive, we are alive. Alive to the grace of God that has taken care of the guilt and shame issue once for all through the cross. Alive to the possibilities of what God wants to do in and through us. Alive to the people around us who need Jesus. Alive to one another. Alive in Jesus. 

God Almighty, thank you that Easter is for all people, that your love and salvation are for all who confess with voices and heart that the tomb is empty because Jesus is risen so that we might know forgiveness, and be reborn through Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

John 14:18-31 – I Will Come

16th century depiction of the Last Supper

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. Come now; let us leave.” (New International Version)

Grief Amongst the Disciples

“He’s leaving!? What!? Huh!?” Although Jesus had tried to prepare the disciples for his impending cross and resurrection, they didn’t quite catch on. It was in the Upper Room, in their final meal together, that Jesus made it plain he was leaving – going back to the Father. (John 14:1-17)

There was both confusion and distress amongst the men. Anticipatory grief had suddenly smacked them like a golf club upside the head. Dizzied and dazed with thoughts their Lord would no longer be with them, Jesus then sought to assure them that this would be temporary. He is coming, again. In fact, they will experience more than one.

Christ is Coming Again, and Again

Three comings were to be realized:

  • Rising from death and appearing to the disciples.
  • Sending the Spirit as the continuing presence of Christ on earth.
  • Returning at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus was caring for his followers, including us, by providing future hope.

That is just what happened with the first two comings. Christians everywhere celebrate the rising of Christ from death, his ascension into heaven, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Christian tradition holds that the Spirit – the Paraclete, Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor – is now presently with us.

Although the world no longer sees Jesus, believers see him with eyes of faith, hope, and love. Christians intuitively perceive another spiritual dimension in which Christ is beside them in the person of God’s Spirit. Some things can’t be intellectually explained. They just are.

Meanwhile, while Christians everywhere await the return of Christ to this earth, they are busy loving their Lord through obedience to his commands. And his command is to love one another as he loved them. Love and obedience go hand in hand. To know the love of God in Christ is to willingly give oneself to obey such a merciful Being.

The Spirit’s Help

We are not left alone to fumble around on this earth, trying to love in our own strength or ability. The Spirit is present, helping us to do loving work. There is real spiritual assistance in applying Christ’s teaching to the practical aspects of life in the here-and-now. Such constructive down-to-earth support gives Christians a sense of peace and integrity of living.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Jesus (John 14:27, NLT)

Unlike worldly peace, which typically uses war to try and end war, has merely the absence of conflict as its goal. However, the peace of Christ is intensely personal. It is his very own peace. Through Christ’s suffering and death, he absorbed in himself the malice and hatred of others and introduced peace – a new harmony through love.

The profound absence of love, the rebellion of humanity against concern for the common good of all, and the shame of selfishness that damns the world is overthrown by the obedience and self-sacrifice of Jesus. The world will learn this – either by discovering the love of Christ now or, at the end of the age, with the return of Christ.

Jesus has come, is here, and will come again. These comings are for us and for our deliverance from all that is unjust and broken in this world. We are not alone. There is ever-present help. This is the basis of the Christian’s confidence.

Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful with divine love. Come as the wind that blows, come as the fire that refines, come as the dew that refreshes. Convict, convert and consecrate us until we are wholly yours, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Acts 4:1-4 – The Message of Resurrection

La Resurrezione by Italian sculptor Pericle Fazzini (1913-1987)

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so, the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. (NIV)

There’s nothing quite like upsetting the status quo. And that’s exactly what the apostles Peter and John were doing. Creating trouble, causing a stink, disturbing the peace, and making waves. At least, that’s how the ruling authorities saw the upstart Christians’ activity.

At the heart of the disturbance was the authorities’ deep concern of potential social disorder. After all, the Roman Empire with all its great strength was firmly ensconced in Judea. It was already hard enough trying to maintain Jewish customs and religious practices. Now, these rabblerousers come along with their unorthodox teaching and threaten the very social fabric of Jewish life. No! Get them out of here!

So, off to jail Peter and John went. That’s how the politics of fear typically works. Being afraid of change leads to removing the object of fear. Stuff the apostles in the gulag. Shut and lock the door. Maybe if they are out of sight they will be out of mind to the people.

The rulers were too late. So many people heard the message of Christ’s resurrection that the number of believers in Jesus swelled into the thousands. Well, now, everyone’s really in a pickle! Except the church. Each time the Christians get squelched and silenced, more of them show up. Oh, my, goodness. They’re multiplying like roaches!

It doesn’t help the ruling authorities that these religious bugs continue to interpret their own whippings and jailtime as a positive thing – enjoying the solidarity of suffering with their Lord. Ugh. What’s a decent Sadducee to do?

Turns out nothing can stop resurrection. It cannot be chained, bound, or imprisoned. Once life gets into the hearts of people, there’s no getting it out. The message just takes over and consumes the whole person. Then it spreads to another, like some infectious disease.

Before you know it, the entire social order is off kilter. What a bunch of weirdos. Following a dead guy who they say isn’t dead. Walked right out of the grave, they say. Sheesh. Pull yourselves together. So many unhinged delusional people believing in resurrection!

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Rob Siltanen

It’s easy for some Christians to be hard on non-Christians, just as it was easy for the ancient Jewish rulers to be hard on others leaving their fold. Sometimes we followers of Jesus forget whence we have come. We can get so upset and worked up in fear. Could be our underwear is too tight. More likely, we take the prideful stance of believing our status quo is best for everyone. So, there’s no listening, paying attention, or teachable spirits.

Peter, John, and the other apostles just went about proclaiming good news with joy. And the gospel spread. Jesus became known first to thousands, then tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, there are 2.5 billion Christians in the world. That’s a lot of people. Christianity has had two thousand years to create their own status quo, some of it good, some of it not so much.

Yet, at the heart of it all, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. It’s a message that still speaks to billions. And it’s a message Christians need to come back to whenever they are fearful of others challenging their hegemony.

All the hopes and expectations of Christians everywhere are realized not in maintaining some Constantinian sort of Christendom but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ the dead. The former does a lot of handwringing over social and cultural issues. The latter has a lot of joy, celebration, and renewal which works itself out in both personal and systemic redemption.

Because the good news of Easter can hardly be contained in a single day’s celebration, it’s message of new life in Christ is like a bright sun of inexhaustible grace to people everywhere – still warming the earth all these centuries later.

The Apostle Peter went on to pen a letter to struggling Christians facing hard circumstances in a world not yet dominated by Christianity, reminding them of the heart of Christian faith:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9, NIV

May we come back repeatedly to Christianity’s message so that our faith is strengthened, the church is edified, and the world is blessed. Amen.

Mark 16:1-8 – On Big Rocks and Even Bigger Questions

Deposition, Burial and Resurrection of Christ by Guy Roddon (1919-2006)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomband they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was exceptionally large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (NIV)

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” So asked the three women on Resurrection Sunday when they came to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Turns out they didn’t need to find the security officers, so to speak, to come and unlock the door. The tomb was already open. What is more, lo and behold, the women did not find a dead body. Jesus was not there – he is risen!

I sometimes find myself asking the same kind of question the women were asking each other: 

Who will move this huge object (or objection!) to what I want to do? 

How can I get to Jesus so that I can do something for him? 

Who will take care of the immovable obstacles that stand in my way? 

I must admit, these are questions born more of a small faith and a limited understanding than of knowing the power of God.

It also turns out the plan the women had for taking care of Christ’s lifeless body was completely irrelevant. Which causes me to ask even more questions of myself:

Are my questions completely off the mark?

Do I have my ladder up against the wrong wall?

Is my plan of caring for Jesus an adventure in missing the point?

Is it Jesus who plans on showing up and caring for me?

Perhaps it all comes down to our expectations. The women were most certainly not expecting a risen Lord! They had absolutely zero expectation of encountering an angel who would tell them Jesus is alive. They did not anticipate their question would end up being completely unnecessary. 

Maybe believers and lovers of Jesus are asking a set of misguided questions based in our puny creature perspective on life, church, and world. Perhaps we are not grasping what God’s power has already accomplished and/or what God already has up his sleeve. 

It could be that all we really need to realize is that God has gone before us, clearing all impediments so that people can see and experience the risen Christ. Methinks our expectations are far too low for a God who has the power and will to raise people from death…. 

Because the way has been opened to a new and vital relationship with the Lord Christ. That massive immovable boulder has already been moved. Whereas we thought it was some big issue to deal with, just by showing up at the tomb we clearly see that isn’t the issue, at all.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

So, here I go again with another set of questions:

How many times have we gotten things all discombobulated in our heads and misinterpreted what’s going on just because we didn’t show up and find Jesus is not dead but alive?

When have we severely underestimated the power of God by believing we must operate in our own power and do things for God because Christ is as good as dead to us?

Are we still expecting Jesus to care about buildings, budgets, and butts in the pew because those things (we think) are within our power and control?

Do we even bother to ask Jesus what he cares about, or do we simply superimpose our wishes upon him as if they are his?

Are you yet sick and tired of me asking questions and offering no answers?

That’s because the answer is already there. Jesus is not where you are expecting him. There is power at work for which you are unaware.

The truth is that we can now encounter and explore a fresh reality with Jesus as the Author and Pioneer of our faith. We need only listen, follow, and leave the moving of big rocks to God.

When our faith stands at the grave, grieving for a stone that’s rolled away, forgive us, Lord. When our faith is short of understanding though the truth is there to see, forgive us, Lord. When our faith, beset by doubt, sees no further than an empty tomb today, forgive us, Lord. Bring to our minds the cry of Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” and grant us faith to believe! Amen.