Eastertide — Week 4

This is the Fourth Week of Eastertide—fifty days that extend the celebration of resurrection from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday.

 

Monday, May 13

Read: Matthew 28:16-20

Consider: Matthew’s last account of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples is a familiar one to most of us. It has come to be known as “The Great Commission.” We see it as Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples, and therefore, his vital instructions to us.

But there is one phrase in this passage that is very puzzling to me.

“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (28:17)

Some doubted? These were “The Twelve” (minus Judas). These were the ones who walked with Jesus before and after his resurrection. They saw him in the flesh. They touched the wounds of the risen Christ. He explained to them what had happened and why it happened. He opened the scriptures to them and showed them the prophecies that spoke about his coming, his death and his resurrection. How could they possibly doubt? What was it that they needed in order to believe?

Perhaps, rather than asking why they doubted, it would be more appropriate to question what it was that they doubted. Did they doubt that the resurrection had taken place, or did they doubt that it really would usher in the new kingdom of heaven on earth? Did they doubt the work Jesus had done, or did they doubt their ability to continue his work? Did they doubt what he had taught, or did they doubt their capacity to be his voice to those who had yet to hear? Did they doubt his healing touch, or did they doubt their own hands? What did they doubt?

What do we doubt? Most Christians would say they are convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. But do we really believe that God’s kingdom will be realized in this world because of that resurrection? And do we really believe that God will use us advance that kingdom—to see his will accomplished on earth?

Those are not easy things to believe. So, like those disciples, who had seen so much, we might also approach his final words with a question. Really? Can we really be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ?

Pray: Ask the Lord to help you believe in his resurrection plan for this world. Ask him to help you believe that he can and will use us in the fulfillment of the “Great Commission” that he has given us. Ask him to help you live in such a manner that his prayer will be fulfilled—his prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth (Matthew 6:10).

 

Tuesday, May 14

Read: Matthew 4:18-22

Consider: Yesterday we read Jesus’ Great Commission to us—his call to go and “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). But before we set about the task of making those disciples, it might be good to ask what Jesus meant by that term.

The word “disciple” encompasses the total life of the believer, so it’s difficult to put a precise definition on the term. But we do know that to be a disciple is to be a student of your leader and mentor. That means the disciple is always learning and growing. And to grow is to change. So, the disciple is always changing.

To be a disciple also means to be a follower of Jesus. We cannot follow in one place. So, the disciple is always moving—always entering new territory and seeing new things on this journey with our leader. The “eyes” and “ears” of the disciple—their spiritual receptors—gather new insights that bring the truth to life in an ever-increasing way. Discipleship is never static. It’s always dynamic.

Notice that Jesus did not command us to “make believers.” I fear that many think the task of the church is simply to convince others that Jesus’ way is the right way. They seek to create those who are convinced rather than those who follow.

No, Jesus did not say “make believers.” He told us to “make disciples”—people who would follow, learn, grow and change. That means that you and I must keep moving—we must keep in step with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We must continue to learn, grow and change, for how can we make followers of others unless we are following and keeping in step with Christ ourselves?

Pray: Praise the Lord that he has invited you to join the journey—he has invited you to follow him. Now invite him to stretch you, grow you and change you in any manner he wishes, to make you the disciple he wants you to be.

 

Wednesday, May 15

Read: Hebrews 10:23-25

Consider: As we read the New Testament letters, we keep running into the word, allélōn. The English translation is “one another.”

“forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13)

“live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16)

“offer hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9)

“encourage one another” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

Of course, these and the many other instances of “one another” are, in some measure, a restating of Jesus’ call to “love one another.” (John 13:34). These are communal words. You can’t keep any of the “one another” commands of the New Testament if you are not sharing life with other image-bearers of God.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). He’s calling us to make one another better disciples. This is part of the Great Commission that we’ve been considering this week.

It is clear from the New Testament that to fulfill the Great Commission—in order to make disciples—we must do it in community. Often Christians see the Great Commission as a call to evangelism. It is. But too often our view of evangelism is much too narrow. It is seen as simply helping people make a decision to follow Christ. But it is so much more. To “evangelize” is to spread good news. But that is not a matter of making statements or issuing proclamations. Christ wants to make our lives good news.

Real disciple-making means walking with one another as we follow Christ. Together we learn to follow, together we grow, together we are conformed to the image of our mentor, leader and savior, Jesus Christ.

So, the writer says, “Let us not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25). Let us not give up living in community. For it is in that environment that disciples are made.

Pray: Thank God for the community of faith—the Body of Christ. Ask him how you can help to strengthen us, and therefore, empower us to make disciples. Then ask him what “one another” you can fulfill this very day. As we go through this day with hearts and eyes wide open, we’ll see the opportunities he has for us, and we’ll step into them with joy.

 

Thursday, May 16

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:4-13

Consider: For the last three days we’ve been looking at Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). In the original language of the New Testament it is very clear that Jesus was speaking to his disciples collectively. In other words, he was not saying to you or me—as an individual—that one of us alone can make a disciple. The “you” is plural. He was telling his disciples—and telling us—that together, as a body, collectively, we are called to make disciples.

Later in the New Testament we read Paul’s words about the body, this amazing organism that is utterly dependent on the interactions of the various body parts. Without the parts working in interdependency, there would be no life. So, the call to make disciples is the call to live, move and function in the body. Therefore, my personal call is to discover how God wants to use me in his body—how I, as a body part, get to contribute to the work of Jesus Christ.

Of special interest is Paul’s statement…

“But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

You are not an accident or an afterthought. You are a part of the Body of Christ. And you are gifted in such a way that God can use you mightily. But that can only happen in concert with the other body parts. In the body your potential is amazing. God can use you in ways you never imagined. But to think that one body part can do anything without the rest of the body is delusional.

When I was a young theological student, I didn’t understand this. I had dreams of doing Christ’s work, but I was wary of the church. I thought I needed to keep an independent attitude so that the hierarchy and structures of the church wouldn’t slow me down or limit my dreams. But I came to see the foolishness and arrogance of that mindset. I came to see that to dwell in Christ is to dwell in his body. And that realization has changed my life in a manner for which I will always be grateful.

Pray: Thank God for the Body of Christ—the manifestation of Christ on earth. Ask him to guide your understanding as to how you are to function and serve within his great body. And do something today to strengthen the body. If you’re not sure what that should be, simply ask the Lord to reveal it to you.

 

Friday, May 17

Read: Ephesians 4:1-16

Consider: From his imprisonment Paul said…

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (4:1)

What is this calling? As we read the next few verses, we discover a two-fold calling. Central to it is the call to love and cherish the Body of Christ.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (4:2-6)

This is followed by the call to use our individual gifts—the gifts God has given us—in the body, to…

“…prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (4:12-13)

This beautiful, effective, world-transforming body flourishes, says Paul, “as each part does its work” (4:16).

To work in concert with one another—to be interdependent parts of the whole—is scary stuff. Most of us have our hands full learning to trust God and learning to trust ourselves. To give ourselves to God by giving ourselves to one another is not natural for us. Sure, we want community and fellowship, but we want to control it and keep it manageable. But a hand or foot or liver or lung cannot control the body. Christ—the “head of the body” (Colossians 1:18)—is in control. When we give up the myth that we are in control, we begin to learn to trust God by learning to trust one another.

Pray: Thank the Lord for the privilege of being part of the Body of Christ. As you prayed yesterday, ask him what you can do today to strengthen the bonds of his beautiful body.

 

Saturday, May 18

Read: 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13

Consider: For many years I studied spiritual gifts. I wanted to understand how Christ uses his body so that I could help guide myself and others in doing the work that the church is called to do. In my study and in my experience, I discovered that many people isolate the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians when trying to learn about the body and the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes in the body. But, of course, when Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, he didn’t write in chapters. It was a letter to people he loved. So, we cannot understand his teaching on the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, without reading chapter 13. Paul connected these thoughts by saying…

“But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.” (12:31)

What follows is one of the most beautiful and powerful expressions of truth that was ever written. It is Paul’s great discourse, which is conveyed poetically, on agápe — love.

Paul’s message is clear. What we should desire above all—above any gift that God may give us—is a heart and life full of love. Of course, Paul was not describing sentimentality or love that costs nothing. He was helping us understand that we are called to love like Jesus loves.

The Body of Christ is too precious for us to offer it anything less.

Pray: Thank God that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), then rose again to give her life. Ask the Lord to help you increase your love for his body. Pray for direction in how you can treasure, cherish, love and embrace Christ by treasuring, cherishing, loving and embracing his body.