Eastertide — Week 6

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

 

Monday, May 27

Read: John 15:1-4

Consider: Seventy times in his New Testament letters Paul spoke about being “in Christ.” It was one of his favorite—and most powerful—ways of communicating what it means to be a Christian.

We often use the term “Christ follower” to describe what a disciple is. That’s a good designation. I like it. But I also know that it can’t go far enough in describing our journey with Christ. This life exceeds following the teachings of Christ. It even goes beyond following Jesus’ example—which is vital to real Christianity. To be “in Christ” is to take the journey to a new level. We don’t simply walk beside him. We dwell in him. And he dwells in us.

Of course, this concept was so important to Paul because it was exactly what Jesus taught.

“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (15:4)

This way of thinking takes us beyond the normal use of language. If we try to reduce these statements to their literal meaning, or even their cognitive meaning, we come up short. That’s because truth cannot always be contained in words.

The passage we read today is part of Jesus’ explanation of what the coming of the Holy Spirit would mean for the disciples. He was assuring them that they would not be orphaned (14:18), that they had nothing to fear (14:1, 27), and that his intimacy with them would intensify—becoming deeper and richer—even though he was physically leaving them (16:7).

So, we are left with the amazing opportunity to stretch our faith and believe what we cannot fully understand. No wonder Jesus said that we must worship the Father “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). Some truth cannot be accessed by the mind alone. It can only be known in our spirits and by the leading of his Spirit.

Pray: “Lord, I cannot fully comprehend it with my intellect, so teach me what it means to ‘remain’ in you. My task is not to figure out what it means for the years ahead, but to embrace its meaning for this day—even this moment. And I know I must learn it in my spirit from your Spirit. Thank you for the gift of your presence.”

 

Tuesday, May 28

Read: John 15:5-8

Consider: I’m an activist at heart. I’ve always wanted to engage in the work of Christ. My prayer has been, “Lord, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. You just give me the word, because I’m ready to go!”

Since my emphasis has always been on doing, I like active verbs. I want to hear Jesus tell me to go, to serve, to work, to create, to change, to grow, to…well…you get the idea. So, when Jesus tells me to “remain” in him (15:4), it can be hard for me to process. “Remain” is not an active verb, but a passive one. And to me, my faith can’t be passive. It’s got to be active.

Which means I have some growing up to do.

Yes, Christ calls me to do, but first he calls me to be. That’s because I can do a lot of things without being who he wants me to be.

Sometimes doing is easier. We can measure what we accomplish. We can take pride in what we’ve done. We can find self-worth in knowing that we did something for Jesus. But when we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that measuring ourselves, taking pride in what we’ve done, and constantly pursuing self-worth will destroy us.

Jesus did have a mission for his disciples. But before he sent them out—before he focused them on doing his will—he taught them how to be what he called them to be. He told them that their task was to “remain” in him.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t want my work to be motivated by my need for affirmation. I don’t want my service for you to be motivated by duty or guilt. I don’t want to chase my own needs when I’m called to serve you by serving others. I want the work that you do in me to be what spills out of my life into the lives of my family and those you place in my path. So, please teach me how to remain in you.”

 

Wednesday, May 29

Read: John 15:9-17

Consider: Before Jesus told his disciples to “love each other” (15:12, 17), he instructed them to “remain” in his love (15:9). There’s that word again, the one that we saw yesterday—remain. “Remain in me…remain in my love…”

Active verbs are easier to follow. “Remaining” feels like sitting still. It feels like postponing the work to which we’re called to do.

Some of Paul’s New Testament letters were written from prison. One of the letters that we call “Prison Epistles” is a letter written to the Ephesian believers. Within that letter he wrote these words…

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

Did you catch that? Paul is saying, “I’m living the call that I have received and right now my call is to sit in prison. What’s your call?”

To be honest, if I was in prison or physically disabled or seeing limited action for some other reason, I would probably be lamenting that I can’t do the will of God. I would be asking God why he chose to put me on a shelf, why he didn’t want to use me. But Paul saw it differently when he found himself in a very passive state—one that demanded him to simply “remain” in Christ. And Paul’s calling to “remain” gave birth to the Prison Letters that God has used down through history.

Love is active. When Christ loves through us, he disrupts our lives and takes us to new levels of sacrifice and humility. But if our activism is simply that—our activism, our will and ego will dominate our lives and we’ll miss the opportunity to be the presence of Christ in this world.

I need to learn to “remain” in his love so I can learn how to love like he loves. I want to learn to be what he wants me to be so that I can do what he wants me to do.

Pray: “Lord, please slow me down. My mind and my heart are so busy trying to do your will that sometimes I’m in danger of missing out on what you want to do in me. Teach me how to remain in you and remain in your love.”

 

Thursday, May 30

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6

Consider: Yesterday we looked at Paul’s task of “remaining” in Christ and in Christ’s love as he sat in prison. At that point in time, it was his calling from God. He was charged with being, even when he was limited in his doing. And from that place, he challenged us to “live a life worthy of the calling” that we have received (4:1).

What is our calling? What are we supposed to be? Discovering that is a journey that spans our lives on earth, but Paul did give us a starting point. As we continue to read his words, we see that among the things that God calls us to do, the most basic call is to love and cherish one another.

“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.” (4:2-3)

During Eastertide we often think about what our responses would have been if we had seen Jesus after his resurrection. Would we have believed the reports of his resurrection before we saw him? Would we have run to him and embraced him when he appeared? Would we have been so stunned that we simply didn’t know how to respond?

I’m guessing that after our original reactions, we would have been filled with joy, gratitude and awe. We would have wanted to be in the presence of the resurrected body of Jesus and to love him because of how he loved us.

Sometimes we forget that we still have that opportunity. The New Testament is very clear in teaching us that we are now the Body of Christ. His Spirit lives in us and through us. Just as we would have stood in awe of him then, we can stand in awe of him now—now as he lives in us.

Let’s never forget to love, cherish and protect what God has created, what Jesus has redeemed, and what the Holy Spirit has filled.

“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.” (4:4-6)

Pray: “Forgive me, Father, for the many times I have not seen you in your people—your body. You are in us and among us, but sometimes I’m so blinded by me that I can’t see you. I give myself to you by giving myself to your body—the manifestation of your presence on earth today.”

 

Friday, May 31

Read: Acts 17:16-32

Consider: Paul was a brilliant scholar and linguist. His knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, his logical mind and his mental toughness gave him the potential to be a very influential rabbi. As he shared in one of his letters, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age…and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).

Because of his intelligence, he was respected and listened to by other intellectuals. That is, until he talked about the resurrection. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens were open to this scholar—this Hebrew philosopher. After all, they lived in a culture that worshipped multiple gods, so they were willing to listen to something new, especially when Paul told them that he wanted to talk about what they called “An Unknown God” (17:23). But their minds slammed shut “when they heard about the resurrection of the dead.” They “sneered” at the very thought of it (17:32).

Why would they be willing to believe the outrageous stories of their gods and goddesses and then laugh at the thought that the Unknown God could raise the dead? Well, there were a number of reasons, but what stands out to me is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a new starting point that brings change with it, not just a slight change in our outlook, but a sea change—a transformation of all that is real.

Let’s be honest. Most people are frightened by change, especially when it points to an unknown future. Even the women who found the empty tomb experienced fear at the good news—they “hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy” (Matthew 28:8).

But sometimes our hunger for change will overcome our fear. Even among the Greek philosophers, there were some who wanted to know more about this God who would die for us, and by so doing, would conquer death. And some placed their faith in the Risen One (17:32-34).

Pray: Thank the Lord that you were told the good news of the resurrection. Ask him to help you have the courage to change. Ask him to open your mind about the future he has for you as you follow him without reservation. And thank him that he went before you to conquer the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).

 

Saturday, June 1

Read: Acts 1:1-11

Consider: Luke ended his gospel with a simple account of Jesus’ departure. Jesus told the disciples to stay in the city until they had “been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Then…

“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.” (Luke 24:50-51)

Luke then opened his second book—The Book of Acts—right where he left off in his previous work. But this time he gave us more detail about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit.

In his gospel, Luke taught us that God came in the flesh, lived in the flesh, died in the flesh, rose in the flesh, and ascended to heaven in the flesh. Then, in the Book of Acts, Luke unfolded the story of this new Body of Christ—the church—that turned the world upside down.

But before Luke shared the early acts of those apostles, there was one more “in the flesh” that Luke wanted us to grasp.

“He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11)

He will come back “in the same way” that he left. What does that mean? I interpret it to mean “in the flesh.”

Down through the centuries, Christians have held on to the hope of the bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth. We believe in the first resurrection and we believe in the final resurrection. That means new bodies and a new earth. When Christ returns, he will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

In the meantime, we have that newness of life right now. Resurrection happened two-thousand years ago. It will happen again at the fullness of time. But it also happens today when we allow him to give us new life.

Pray: Tomorrow is Ascension Sunday—the day that Christians around the world celebrate the truths we read today from Luke and Acts. Allow this weekend to remind you of the promise that Christ will complete his work in his cosmos and in you. Thank him that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).