Going Up!

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53 NASB)

Luke’s book, the Acts of the Apostles, throws me off.  I keep thinking that stuff about the resurrection is in a Gospel, but then I can’t find it in Matthew, Mark, or John.  It’s frustrating.  For instance, I thought that it was odd that Matthew and Mark have instructions from Jesus (or angels) for the disciples to go to Galilee and Luke doesn’t.  John doesn’t have instructions, he simply has them in Galilee fishing.  But then I realize that neither Matthew, Mark, nor John have an account of Jesus’ ascension (John mentions it in passing).

So, even though I thought there were two Gospels describing the ascension of Jesus, there’s one, and Acts, both of which are Luke’s writing.  Then the 40 days Jesus hung around with the disciples is missing from every Gospel.  Turns out it’s in Acts.  So, the return of Jesus into heaven is described only by Luke.  That’s weird to me.  I would think John would describe it, at least.  But in Acts I think I find the reason the others don’t describe it.

In Acts, after Jesus ascends, two angels appear to get the disciples moving off the hill top.  But they say something interesting, “This same Jesus you saw taken up will come back in the same way” (Acts 1:11).  That’s obviously not in the other Gospels as well.  Here’s why I think they left it out: What if Jesus visits before the “cloud appearance”?

In Matthew and John, Jesus just appears wherever and whenever He likes.  This happens in Luke as well.  Mark simply ends with the angels giving instructions to the women, like “reader-response literature” or something.  And Matthew and John really say little about any sort of return to the Father, at least not post-resurrection (except for Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Garden).

I think this is because they know, or suspect, that Jesus comes and goes to the Father at will.  And that they believe He can, and will, continue to do so.  Think about this, there is no mention of a Second Coming of Jesus in Scripture, only the Appearing.  So, He’s coming in the clouds one day, that is clear.  But I believe that Matthew and John also believe that He can, and probably does, visit from time-to-time.

Now, I get that such a possibility sends dispensationalists into apoplectic shock, but I consider that a bonus.  On the other hand, considering the numerous “Angel of the Lord” appearances all through the Hebrew Scriptures, it shouldn’t shock anyone.  The God of the entire universe in human form would be Jesus, wouldn’t it?  Who do we think visited Abraham just before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah?  Whoever it was enjoyed a meal with Abraham while they talked about Isaac’s eventual birth.

So, be cautious about criticizing those movies and books about God Almighty, or an impressive carpenter who goes to the Vatican.  It seems we find it so easy to believe in seeing angels, but not Jesus.  It’s very possible that we make an error there, possibly a very embarrassing one.  Why not just be gracious because we simply don’t know?  Would it kill us to be hospitable to someone randomly showing up with a message from God for us, especially if it actually were God?

No one ever seems to believe it at first.  Not even in Jesus’ days of ministry did they believe it, not at first.  So, it’s necessary and natural to be somewhat skeptical.  But let’s be hospitable as we listen.

What do you think?  What’s your view through your knothole this morning?


Great Commissions

“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.  (Luke 24:49-53 NASB)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 NASB)

Have you ever been bored?  When we consider that we’ve got all the people-groups of the world in whom to make disciples, how could we be bored.  And yet, I’m bored more often than I care to admit.  How can that be?

The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28 has a counterpart in Luke24.  While the one in Matthew is familiar, we often miss some important elements.  For instance, we’re supposed to go and make disciples.  If you would like some clarity on what that means, check out my blog entry on the topic of disciples here.  It’s not as nice and easy as it might sound.

In Luke 24, the commission sounds slightly different.  In verses 47 through 48, the commission is to proclaim repentance into forgiveness of sins to all nations in His name.  The concept of “disciples” isn’t mentioned.  That the proclamation goes into all nations is consistent.  In reality, though, repentance is what disciples do, and do for the rest of their time here on earth.  So, actually, the two commissions have more in common than appears on the surface.

All this to come back around to my original question.  Have you ever been bored?  As I mentioned, I am bored in a shameful frequency.  The sad truth is that those living close to me are probably not disciples, nor have they had “repentance into forgiveness” proclaimed to them.  At least they haven’t heard this from me.

I’m simply thinking that I can’t be bored while my neighbors haven’t heard.  If they’ve heard and reject, that’s one thing.  But if I haven’t even tried, then why would I be bored? If I really believe Jesus is all I teach in this blog, then I should be busier telling others about repentance into forgiveness.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Open Minded

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” (Luke 24:36 NASB)

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are 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 He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”  (Luke 24:44-47 NASB)

Understanding is elusive.  The moment it is achieved, awareness of more that is unknown accompanies it.  The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.  Bible study is like that.  There’s always another question.  But there are two things from this encounter with Jesus that help.  In fact, they are what make Bible study possible.

The most obvious is that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”.  He opened their minds.  It was something that happened to them.  They didn’t simply “have an open mind”, their minds were opened.  So, understanding of Scripture comes from God.

If this is truly and experience we can have, then there’s no room for pride in what we find.  On the other hand, it’s very common to focus on what God shows me, when it’s not about that either.  That’s a Western Cultural problem of a self-centered focus and paradigm.  It is more true, or more often true, that God will use His people to help deepen and broaden our understanding of Scripture.  And in that sense, what He shows us is not just for us.

The other, less obvious, thing which helps our understanding of Scripture is Jesus’ statement when He first arrives:  “Peace be to you.”  Peace, or the traditional Jewish greeting of “Shalom”, is what Jesus says.  This peace isn’t the absence of strife.  This peace is a wholeness of being.  Peace is not being divided in purpose, or fractured in spirit.  It is more than serenity, or, perhaps, it is serenity divorced from the circumstances, immediate or remote.

When the peace from Jesus characterizes us, then study of Scripture is much easier, and more effective.  Sometimes, in order to regain this peace, prayer must replace the time spent in study.  In other times, the peace enabling study drives us to pray.  In either case, this peace of God is tied inexorably to prayer.  Jesus shows up and brings peace.  If we want Him to “open our minds”, then we must be in His presence.  The surest way to know that we are in His presence is to sense the fruit of His Spirit, one of which is peace.

Years ago, my Master called me His servant, but also His “knight”.  Later He revealed to me that, as His servant and knight, I am to wait, worship, and walk before Him.  It sounds simple, but consider that a knight is called to strife, yet to be in His presence instills peace.  In order to walk before Him, I must live prayer.  The result of this is a life characterized by peace.  This peace, which should characterize me, is the context in which I fight as His knight.  The only reason this sounds contradictory is that we have different definitions of peace and strife from God’s definitions.  The challenge is let Him redefine my understanding of both.

As you study, what view of God do you gain through your knothole?

A Walk Through Scripture

One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”  And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.  But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”  And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:18-27 NASB)

What if the worst of all possible outcomes, actually wasn’t all that bad?  What if what you thought was the end, wasn’t?  Do you still hope?  Can you?  Should you?  You could be disappointed again.  Do you really want to come crashing down again?  Hope is one of the more dangerous of emotional states.  And yet, for followers of Jesus, absolutely necessary to follow Him.

This challenge to have courage enough to hope once more is what Jesus addresses on the road to Emmaus.  It isn’t that they don’t get it, or weren’t told.  It’s not a problem solved by explaining.  They still didn’t get it after Jesus explained it.  They didn’t lack information, they lacked hope.  And without hope, there can be no faith.

Surely you’ve been there; that place where everything seems to have gone so wrong, here there is no possibility of restoration.  Perhaps in a marriage, a friendship, in another sort of relationship.  Maybe with your job, or church, or among fellow believers.  You look at it, and it’s hopeless.  There are no more good outcomes possible.  Those options have passed, and nothing more remains but to mourn what could have been.

It’s into that dark place this account of Jesus shines.  These guys had an opportunity to claim the hope back.  They opted not to.  It was too much, too expensive emotionally.  It was too crazy to hope in the face of such utter defeat, such crushing disappointment and disillusionment.  Ironically, it is their illusions that obscure the hope.

In your times of dark hopelessness, as you walk along in your life, a stranger walks up and asks, “What’s up?”  Your vision is obscured by hopelessness, and you’re prevented from recognizing the stranger.  And as you explain your hopeless situation, the stranger chuckles, and shakes his head.  And then, with gentleness, as you walk along together, he begins to re-frame your hopeless situation with the framework of your Creator.

Hope, illusive and dangerous, ignites in your soul.  You’re not sure, you’re not comfortable, and you hesitate to embrace it.  As you walk, as he speaks more about the power of God at work all around you.  As you nod, and things in your mind shift, memories rearrange, another picture emerges from the puzzle pieces.  You begin to grasp that you had them in the wrong place and intended picture was lost.

And then you’re at your destination, and the stranger continues, but you must hear more.  The picture still isn’t complete enough to calm your fears.  And he stays!  Hope flares more brightly!  He comes in and eats with you, and you suddenly realize Who has walked with you is He in Whom you lost hope.  The hope wakens fully to fill your soul with the warmth of light and life.  He disappears from your sight, but remains burned into your mind.  You must share, for others have lost hope as well.  So, you rise up, and run home.

Have you been on the Road to Emmaus, thinking you were headed into an episode of the Twilight Zone?  That sign post up ahead probably doesn’t say what you think it does.  As you go your way, remember to talk to strangers.  They often have something hopeful to share.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Surprisingly Empty

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”  And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.  (Luke 24:1-9 NASB)

The worst of a possible outcomes has come about.  The Master has been killed.  In mourning, spices have been prepared, and aromatics collected.  The Sabbath was less a day of rest, and more a day of deep sorrow and despair.  Joy has been turned to sadness, and hope to hopelessness.  The expectations of a small group of followers have been dashed, and the enemies of God sleep in peace.  It isn’t just a tomb that defines a hollow space in the earth.  Jesus’ followers feel one in their souls as well.

But the stone is rolled away.  It’s not just the cool morning air and mist.  The heavy stone is no longer before the door.  The problem they discussed on the way is found already solved.  But who?  Has someone come to do as they have come to do?  Or has something awful, on top of the unimaginable which has already happened, come about?  Has the worst of all possible outcomes just gotten unbearably worse?  They rush to the open tomb to find out.

They enter the open door.  It is, and isn’t as they expect.  While it’s true that His body is gone, the wrapping is still there.  Who would take the corpse without the linen?  And why isn’t it “unwrapped”?  It’s simply…empty.  Their hearts beat faster as their minds try to grasp what they see.  It makes no sense, and fears rise within them.

Then the semi-darkness of the tomb is suddenly lit by the presence of two “men”.  Their clothes shine as if they are clothed in light.  The details of the scene are brought into stark, sharp clarity.  But it’s too much for the women, already shocked by what they have seen.  They collapse, bowing toward these two terrifying figures, probably trembling, and crying in layers of fear.

But then the voice, deep and gentle, the sound of a smile in the tone and timbre, fills the tomb.  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Now their minds race, and their pulses quicken. The hope, destroyed and scattered by witnessing their Master tortured to death, breathes deeply within them.  “He is not here, He has risen!”  No, but, please, yes!  It can’t be, but let it be.  The hope within them struggles through the gloomy shroud of death they have wrapped it in, struggles to be free and in the light once more.  “Remember…”

It comes flooding back; the confusion, the fear, the struggle to grapple with Jesus’ as Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ!  The Messiah doesn’t die!  Yet He did.  The Messiah can’t be hung on a tree, cursed!  Yet He was, they saw it happen.  But He had kept saying something like this would happen.  It was impossible then, shoved from their minds by the terror and incomprehensibility of what was happening this Passover.  The frame Jesus had built, in which to understand the Messiah of God, began to slip into place, shoving the frame, used by their culture and traditions for centuries, roughly to the side.

The old frame collapsed, crashing into a heap of trash, and joy ignited, lit by hope, now free from the shroud of despair.  They remembered His words.  Something new had come, much more brilliant than the two men’s clothes.  These women, wrapped in grief that morning, now emerged from the tomb, now more alive than they had ever been!  Their own resurrected lives began by running, ignominiously for such women, through the streets of Jerusalem, to tell the people who needed this hope the most!

My hope lives.  It hasn’t always.  Even as a “believer”, I have, at times, lost my hope.  I have taken my “eyes off Jesus”.  There have been times when my circumstances ruled my view, and all I could see was the defeat.  I’ve been there, as I said, even as a believer and follower of Jesus.

And, in those times, my Master calls to me, asking why I mourn what lives?  The shroud of despair around my hope is actually empty.  The tomb in the depths of my soul is not where my hope is found, that hole has nothing inside.  Why do I look for the living among the dead?  The question penetrates the fuzzy emotions of my depression.  Why am I looking here for my hope?

The old frame crumbles as Jesus’ new frame slides into place.  The new window is clear, the images I see crisp, and the truth floods in like light.  My hope is kept by my Master, and can never be found in holes in the ground.  I don’t define my hope, for my hope is a gift, a treasure, held in safekeeping by my Master.  Jesus, my King, holds my hope, and His Spirit is my redemption ticket.  I am forever connected to the One who has saved me.

Because the tomb is empty, I too live.  Because the grave could not hold Him, hopelessness cannot hold me.  What do I have to fear if death itself is dead?  I cannot die, since death is to be separate from my Master.  And now, nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus!

What do you learn from the empty tomb this morning?  What is your view through the knothole?