Archive for category Easter
Here’s a glimpse of our wonderful celebration of our first Easter in our new building!
[Following the Resurrection] “When the apostles met together with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus said to them, “The times and occasions are set by my Father’s own authority, and it is not for you to know when they will be. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After saying this, he was taken up to heaven as they watched him, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They still had their eyes fixed on the sky as he went away, when two men dressed in white suddenly stood beside them and said, “Galileans,why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.” Then the apostles went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is about half a mile away from the city” (Acts 1:6-12).
The cross and resurrection of Christ was the strange and paradoxical way God chose to begin restoring his broken world and advancing his Kingdom of peace, love and hope. In another startling move, God then chose a rag-tag group of nobodies to be the vehicle by which he would spread the message and mission of this Kingdom throughout the entire world. The book of Acts tells the story of the trials and triumphs of this small, persecuted, grassroots Jesus movement as it made its way across the expansive Roman Empire.
Sound exciting? Well it was. The life of the early church looked much different from many of our experiences of the church today. Yet, early on they were faced with three threats that still tend to plague the church today — and they can be identified in the one bold question this angelic man asked the disciples immediately following Jesus’ ascension:
Why are you STANDING there LOOKING up into the SKY?
As Christians today strive to faithfully advance God’s Kingdom on earth we must be vigilant to avoid being a church of STANDERS, LOOKERS, and SKY-GAZERS.
1. STOP STANDING. God has called us to “GO and make disciples of all nations.” In the passage above, they all stood paralyzed, amazed at the power of God as he took Jesus from their sight. They had just asked whether it was the time for God to restore His Kingdom, and Jesus’ indirect answer is often taken to be a “no.” However, I believe Jesus intentionally changed the subject from WHEN to exactly HOW this Kingdom was to come. The disciples all expected a military revolt and overthrow of the Roman imperial forces. Jesus however seems to hint that it will begin to come when God pours out his Spirit on the disciples at Pentecost and they begin spreading a taste of His Kingdom to the ends of the earth. The Book of Acts is not a book of beliefs, doctrines, laws or ethics. It is what it says — a book of “acts.” As we read we are swept up into the wild and adventurous MOVEMENT of the Spirit, and we travel along with Peter and Paul and the rest. The message of the Gospel MOVES thousands of miles from Jerusalem to Rome in only 28 chapters. The church today needs to become once again a people on the move, a forward-marching Kingdom-advancing church who take an active role in spreading God’s love, joy, peace, forgiveness, grace, healing and hope “to the ends of the earth.” There is too much standing around. “Go, therefore, and make disciples…”
2. STOP WATCHING. It is also easy to become a spectator in the church today. In fact, the way we have designed our “services” often encourages a multi-media presentation where the pastors and worship leaders DO everything and the rest of us sit rather passively in the audience observing the service, watching the pastors, receiving a message (i.e., “being fed”) and then leaving. Outside the Sunday service, we can also easily hide in the shadows watching others volunteer for service projects, go on missions trips, teach Sunday School classes, volunteer in the nursery, etc. Many of us generously give money toward the work of the Kingdom so that we can avoid actively getting involved in the nitty-gritty work of Kingdom-building. The mission of the church in and for the world is a truly hands-on project that involves real, messy involvement. We are called to be not only “hearers of the Word, but doers also.” Remember James’ rather pointed reminder: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you” (Jam 2:14)? Let us stop watching, and start actively engaging in the work of advancing the Kingdom.
3. STOP SKY-GAZING. Finally, the disciples in this episode were fixated on the sky (“They still had their eyes fixed on the sky” v. 10), as if that was where all the action was to be. Granted, you don’t see a man ascend into the clouds everyday, so we should probably cut them some slack. But 2,000 years later there are entire strands of the church who are still staring into the clouds awaiting rescue. I speak of all escapist, dualistic versions of Christianity where the entire goal of the Gospel is to wait for Jesus to come back and take us up (“rapture”) into some heaven in the sky for all eternity. Many today are realizing the folly in this gnostic-like view, and are again placing their hope in the God of Creation whose desire it is to bring the New Jerusalem down to earth, to “make all things new,” dwell once again with his people (cf. Rev 21:22-25), and finally establish his righteous, restorative reign “on earth as it is in the heavens” (Matt 6:10). We are to partner with the God of Creation and to become wise stewards of his beautiful world that is “groaning for liberation” even now (Rom 8). God is coming — no doubt about that! Yet, as we await our savior from a high, we are to be focusing our eyes on those around us who are filthy with the dirt and grime of this world, and bring God’s love, hope and healing to them. We need to stop staring at the sky, and start bringing a little taste of heaven to those suffering here on earth.
So, as we move away from Resurrection Sunday to business as usual, let us make sure we are not still “standing there looking up at the sky.” Let’s get busy announcing and building the Kingdom!
1. Which of the 3 errors do you personally tend toward? Are you a STANDER, LOOKER, or SKY-GAZER?
2. Which of these 3 postures most accurately describes the American church today?
3. Do these 3 categories help classify the particular weaknesses of various denominations of the Church?
“And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.” (Matt. 27:36)HIM THERE! Who put him there? To answer that literally, we must say, “The soldiers”; the army of occupation. Technically they were Romans, and the centurion in charge would most probably indeed have come from Rome. But the soldiers themselves may have come from anywhere in the empire. It was the custom, on conquering a country, for Rome to transport the young men of that nation to serve in another. In that way there was less chance of rebellion. So, for the soldiers, far from home, this was just another duty. “Number five platoon, you’re on crucifixion today. Fall in; quick march!” All they knew was that there were three; two robbers and a man accused of treason. He claimed to be a king, and you can’t do that and live, with Caesar on the throne. He must be mad; and madmen were always good for sport. So they had their fun. The purple robe, a bulrush in his hand, and for a crown – a ring of thorns. “Your majesty!” They’ll bow before him again one day. Then out to the site, bang in the nails and heave the cross-bar into position. But he was different – “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” So literally, yes, it was the soldiers who put HIM, THERE! But they were simply obeying orders. So was it Pilate? after all, he was in charge. No execution could be carried out except on his authority. Here we see the issue stark and clear. He had examined Christ and found no fault in him. Justice demanded he be set free. But what was expedient? Ah, expediency! Pilate knew complaints about himself had already gone to Rome, and he was anxious to avoid adding any more. If it should reach the ears of Caesar that the Jews had found a man claiming to be king, and, bringing him to Pilate, had demanded he be put to death, and Pilate had set him free…! Justice and expediency… and expediency had won. So Pilate too, as surely as the soldiers, put HIM, THERE! But what of the Jewish rulers; the priests, the Sadducees? It was they who pushed Pilate into it against his will. Read the rest of this entry »
We spent a beautiful evening at The Depot at the Mound Beach gathered by candlelight at the foot of the cross meditating on the passion story. About 25 people showed up for our journey to the cross. We read, reflected and prayed through the passion story, sang a couple hymns, and marveled at the spectacular full moon shining down on Lake Minnetonka just a few feet from us! One of those attending shared afterwards, “I first gave my life to Christ 33 years ago under a full moon identical to this at a Bible camp; tonight I met Him once again.”
As we slowly extinguished the final candles around the cross and looked up at the bright moon, I couldn’t help but think of John 1:5:
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!”
See you at the empty tomb on Sunday as we usher in the Rising Son!
Jelly Bean Prayer
Red is for the blood He gave,
Green is for the grass he made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright,
Orange is for the edge of night.
Black is for the sins we made,
White is for the grace he gave.
Purple is for his hour of sorrow.
Pink is for our new tomorrow.
A bag full of jelly beans is yummy to eat,
It’s a picture, a promise, a special treat,
To help us remember Jesus’ work complete,
Gives us hope beyond any earthly sweet.
“And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.” (Matt. 27:36)HIM THERE! Him! As we think of him, let us try to picture for a moment, how he would seem to them – the ones with whom he’d shared himself. You see, for us, our minds are coloured before we start. We are told from the outset, “This is God.” And whilst we may not go as far as to picture him a stained-glass saint with a halo round his head, we feel we must approach him with a sense of awe. He is the ‘Son of God’; not really one of us. But to those who lived in Israel then, who knew Joseph as the carpenter and Mary as his wife, and young Jesus as their son; to them he would be nothing special. They would have no sense of awe. It seems most likely he would follow his father’s trade, and learned to fashion things from wood; a yoke, the handle of a plough, a table or a chair. But no one would have asked him for a cross; you do not need much skill for that, although it’s made of wood. It’s strange to think that wood and nails were such familiar things to him all through his life. And, in the end, it was wood and nails that took that life from him. Read the rest of this entry »
The Garden of Gethsemane was the Garden Decision — of sacrifice, of abandonment and suffering, of temptation resisted, where the Last Adam chose God’s will over his own. This was the garden where the savior’s blood began to pour out for the sins of the world.
But the story doesn’t end in either of these two gardens. There’s another garden and gardener on the other side of Golgotha’s darkness. Read the rest of this entry »
“And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.” (Matt. 27:36)HIM THERE! Words are strange things; for their size they carry so much meaning, especially when they are put together, as in the present case:- HIM THERE! Why, there isn’t even a verb, and yet those two little words using only eight letters in all, contain the greatest mystery this world has ever known. Him There. HIM! … THERE! It’s putting them together, of course, that gives the wealth of meaning. If we spoke only of ‘HIM’, there would be no surprise, for he could be anywhere; All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. It is his world, he made it, and so he might be anywhere within it. And if we spoke only of ‘THERE’, that would be no surprise. It wasn’t an every-day occurrence, but common enough; after all two others were THERE, on their own crosses; one on either side of him. What causes the astonishment is that it should be HIM, THERE! And what about in heaven? Were the angels watching? They came and sang at his birth, were they there at his death also? There was one angel, of course, who knew of it. Luke records that he came to the garden of Gethsemane to strengthen Christ as he prayed in agony. But did the hosts of heaven know? If so, they must have been in dread and awe to see their Lord, their King, upon the cross. To see HIM, THERE! Read the rest of this entry »
“Now it was the custom at the Festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.”Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:16-9).
Remember Barabbas? The crowd cried for his release and sent Jesus to be crucified. Did you know that some of the Greek manuscripts reveal his full name: Yeshua bar Abba which translates roughly to “Jesus son of the Father”? That’s right. If these manuscripts can be trusted then the crowd was choosing between two different sentenced men named “Jesus.”
Many have speculated on the significance of this name. Tony Campolo, in his short book Which Jesus? highlights the key differences between the two men and their missions. Jesus Barabbas was notorious criminal, most likely a political revolutionary or Zealot – “a terrorist” (CEV) – who was fighting on behalf of the Jews to violently overthrow Roman imperialism. He was condemned to be crucified for his revolt against the state. Campolo calls Jesus Barabbas’ way to freedom “the way of power.”
On the other hand we have Yeshua bar Joseph which translates to “Jesus son of Joseph.” Jesus is also arrested under suspicion of being an enemy of the state — not a violent revolutionary but a messianic figure claiming to be the “King of the Jews.” This Jesus’s mission is also to bring freedom to the Jews. Yet, the freedom he is bringing and the kingdom he is restoring to Israel does not come through violent, national militarism. Campolo calls Jesus bar Joseph’s way to freedom “the way of love.”
Two very different Jesuses. Two very different paths to freedom. As we reflect upon the Cross this Good Friday, we do well to ask again the question: Which Jesus do we trust today? Which path do we trust to move the Kingdom of God forward in the world today? Do we believe God is accomplishing his purposes in the world by power and militarism — the way of Jesus Barabbas? Or do we believe God is still accomplishing his greatest works through acts of sacrificial, cross-shaped love — the way of Jesus bar Joseph?
Which Jesus do you follow? Which Jesus do you trust?
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the POWER of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”(1 Cor 1:18).