Monthly Archives: April 2018

“We Are Witnesses”

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)

These are the words of Peter to a large crowd that had gathered, wondering what was happening at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost.  They were hearing the sound of a roaring wind and the disciples praising God in various languages.  Peter was testifying to Jesus’ resurrection and the fulfillment of his promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had appeared to the disciples a number of times and to “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time” according to St. Paul. (1 Cor. 15:6)

The disciples of Jesus were witnesses of his resurrection, to his physical appearances with them and to his explicit instructions. 

  • He showed them his pierced hands and feet. (Luke24:39; John 20:20)
  • He ate broiled fish in front of them. (Luke 24:43)
  • He opened their minds to the scriptures. (Luke 24:27, 45)
  • He showed them where to catch 153 fish. (John 21:11)
  • He appointed Peter to take care of and feed his followers. (John 21:15-17)
  • He instructed them to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19), and to preach the good news to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
  • He stated that they were to be his successors when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
  • He told them, “You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48)
  • Finally, he instructed them not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Father’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4)

This past Saturday I attended a memorial service for my brother, Jay, who died two weeks ago.  At a dinner following the service, numerous men from his church’s fellowship and Bible study shared about Jay’s witness to Jesus and the salvation that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has brought us.  A number of them said when their discussions would get off track, Jay would always bring them back with the question, “Is this about Jesus and his salvation?”

Like Peter and the disciples, we are all called to witness to Jesus and to his resurrection, life and teaching.  He gives us the opportunity to experience his risen presence in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Scripture scholar N. T. Wright says in his book, Surprised by Hope, that we are called to partner with Jesus in the larger project of renewing creation and rescuing people from the way the world is now.

Partnering with Jesus includes witnessing to his risen presence in our lives as did the disciples and my brother Jay.  We can do this through the example of our lives in loving and serving God and others, in standing up for the truth of God’s ways, and in sharing his word when the opportunity is given us.

Eternal Life is not a Cliché

IMG_1039Year after year as we celebrate Easter we are reminded that Jesus’ death and resurrection has brought us eternal life.  If we are not careful the constant use of the words “eternal life” can become overly familiar and transformed into a mere cliché.

What can bring us back to the real meaning of eternal life is to experience the death of a loved one.    

Eternal life is not a cliché to my brother, Jay, who passed from this physical life last Friday morning at age 83.  Although suffering for more than a year with a weakened heart and the constant pain of an inoperable broken hip, he died in a supremely restful state, surrounded by his wife and three adult children.

My brother fully embraced the promise of Jesus, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgment he has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24 JB)

Over the last several years God blessed my brother and me by leading us to become brothers in Christ as well as brothers by blood.  Because of a five year difference in age, we were not necessarily close when growing up together.  We were also different in a number of ways.  He was athletic, lettering in three sports in high school.  My interests involved music and debate.  He was good at math and became an engineer.  My favorite courses were history and English, and I became a lawyer.

As we moved into adult life we competed indirectly, he working for Exxon and I for Mobil, but God had a longer term plan.  Ironically, our two companies merged into ExxonMobil and we became retirees of the same company.  In the same way, God drew each of us into a closer relationship with his presence, and thereby into a closer relationship with one another.

When someone close to you dies, a little bit of your life dies as well.  But because of God’s promise of eternal life and the resurrection, we can expect full restoration of what has been lost.

While my brother’s body no longer lives, his love for his wife, children and grandchildren continues.  His love for the men in his Bible study and fellowship lives on.  His good works for God’s kingdom will accompany him into the resurrection, according to Anglican Biblical scholar, N. T. Wright. 

God created all living matter with an instinct to live and not die.  For only his human creation, did he join its physical nature with a spirit and soul capable of life beyond the death of the physical nature.  As the Psalmist says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13)

Rest well, my brother.  For God loved you so much that he gave you his only Son, that as you believed in him, you have not perished, but will live forever. (John 3:16)

God’s Restrained Announcement

Empty-Tomb-Picture-07We have just celebrated the most important event of our Christian faith – Jesus’ resurrection. Yet, as significant as this event is for us and human history, God appeared restrained at the time in bringing it to people’s attention.

There was no proclamation from a choir of angels like at Jesus’ birth announcing that “A Savior has been born unto you.” (Luke 2:11) In fact, God kind of let Jesus’ followers stumble into what had happened. On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, we have a couple of angels asking the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)

The angels went on to explain that Jesus had risen from the dead just as he said he would, but the women did not understand. For them, the only conceivable explanation was that someone had taken Jesus’ body. Peter and John, upon hearing the women’s report had a foot race to the tomb only to find that the linens which Jesus had been wrapped in were neatly folded in two different places. Neither did they understand, although Luke reports that Jesus did appear later to Peter. (Luke 24:34)

Jesus also appears to Mary Magdalene, and two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but there was no recognition of who Jesus was until he called Mary by name and broke bread in front of the disciples.  Even though the risen Jesus had met with the apostles on two separate occasions, they didn’t seem to immediately recognize him later on the seashore after they went back to fishing. (John 21:1-14)

In spite of all the times that Jesus told the disciples before his crucifixion that he had to suffer death and rise from the dead, they did not understand.

Why?  It was not until they had personally encountered the risen Jesus and were anointed with the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost that they began to fully comprehend what Jesus’ resurrection meant for them and human history. St. Paul reports that Jesus appeared to more than 500 at one time. (1 Cor. 5:6)

Realizing that the resurrection was not only for Jesus, but also for them and their followers radically changed the way they lived, modeled on the way Jesus lived.

Like the disciples and the early Christians, we too, need to personally experience the presence of the risen Jesus and the anointing of the Holy Spirit before we can comprehend the effect of his resurrection on our lives. No announcement, no teaching by itself will get the job done.

That was true for me 40 years ago on an October evening when I had a personal encounter with Jesus. Through God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit he opened my mind and heart to the reality of his risen presence in my life.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)