Tag Archives: Apostles

Mary Magdalene at the The Cross/The Tree of Jesus

Easter Sunday sermon:  The scriptures are embedded in the text, but I would also like to share that I am sharing some of the music from Jesus Christ Superstar during the service, also.  Please listen to Mary Magdalene’s song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the final song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at its inclusion.  I was fortunate to see the Broadway production in 1972 with my high school classmates on our senior trip.  The fact that it is going to be a live performance this Easter Sunday on NBC will be a dramatic ending to this Easter Sunday.  

Let me introduce you to Mary of Magdala.  Her image is the final one in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  She is sitting on a stone, weeping and alone—at least the artist has her pictured this way in the window.

The trial and the crucifixion is over and the very same people who were standing along the road cheering as Jesus arrived on a donkey one week earlier are now in hiding.  Mary of Magdala is not.

Mary stayed beside Jesus as he hung on the cross and died. Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and places it in his personal tomb late Friday just before Sabbath began. The first opportunity Mary and a few other women have to complete the burial practice was Sunday morning:

It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odors. . . . The hands and feet were wrapped with linen clothes (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound.  It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body.  The Jews did not use coffins and did not embalm. [Accessed on 3-29-18 at http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/burial.html.]

 

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary of Magdala is first introduced by Luke earlier in the story of Jesus’ ministry found in Luke 8:1-3:

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.

 

This introduction immediately follows the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet while at a dinner with the Pharisees.

But who is this Mary and why did she stay beside Jesus only to be the one who witnessed and recognized his resurrection first?

Research shares insight into the character Mary Magdalene, but the reality of this woman cannot be definitively identified with factual details.  The possibility of her relationship with Jesus being more than a disciple is the subject of movies.  The research cannot refute it, but the fact does not change the importance of Luke’s and John’s reporting of her presence at the resurrection.  And, if the possibility of the intimate relationship with Jesus is true, the morning of the Resurrection may actually be more believable.

The Gospel of John reports the morning’s events to the earliest Christians:

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

     Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

     11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

      14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary came from the city of Magdala, a trade center, and probably was a successful businesswoman in the textile industry. She was afflicted with seven demons according to the scripture.  The story does not explain, but you know the demons that can cause one to lose focus. Maybe she was mentally struggling with manic depression.  Maybe one demon was physical pain from something like endometriosis or rheumatoid arthritis. Maybe she had a strawberry birthmark that caused her embarrassment.

The demon does not matter, but what the story tells us is that Jesus loved her unconditionally and healed her from the demons. Such unconditional love is the message that Jesus delivered.  Mary chose to accept that unconditional love and responded in a manner that she became a disciple—maybe even one of Jesus’ inner circle, an apostle.

Put yourself in Mary’s place on that Sunday morning. Would you have been sitting on that rock weeping?  Or would you have been one who had gone into hiding?

Mary’s story continues as she arrives at the tomb early Sunday morning.  Her sorrow keeps her steps slow and heavy.  Her head remains downward.  She carries the supplies she needs to complete the burial ritual.  There is no joy in her heart, in her step, nor in her expression.  Her eyes are red from the tears shed over the past several days.  Her hair is a mess.  She has no reason to fix herself up.  She is raw.

And as she reaches the tomb, she looks up.  The stone is rolled away from the opening! The exhaustion she feels turns into agitated confusion.  Why is the tomb open?  Why is the tomb empty?  New tears begin flowing now from confusion and uncertainty and even fear.

Then she turns and sees a figure.  Out of context.  Out of a mind.

And the figure speaks to her. Only when he addresses her in that familiar tone she knows so well, “Mary”, does Mary of Magdala recognize Jesus.  In John, the story continues:

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Tears turn to joy!

Mary carried the news to the other disciples.  She knew where they were.  She knew the importance of reporting what she saw—who she spoke to. The story of Jesus’ ministry must continue and she who may have been the most emotionally connected to Jesus now had to take a new role—deliver the message of his resurrection.  He still had work to do and even though she wanted to hold him, she couldn’t.  Her faith caused her to move into action.

In a male-dominated culture, where Jesus treated the women equally, Mary Magdalene recognizes the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive and all the disciples now must carry the story forward.  They must live as Jesus taught them.  You, too, even 2,000 years later are to join in the task of telling the good news, living the Christian lifestyle, and loving one another as you want to be loved.

Why did Jesus speak to Mary that Sunday morning?

Because he lives.  [Conclude with the music, Because He Lives.]

Closing prayer

 

Dear ever-loving Lord,

May we experience the joy

Mary of Magdala did

As Jesus called out her name.

May we hear God call our names

As Mary Magdalene did

Knowing we, too, are with you

Now and forever.

Guide us to understanding.

Guide us to commitment.

Guide us to serve

One another in love,

Unconditional love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

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Stages of Faith: Impossible to Believe

given on Sunday, April 30, 2017:  Stage 1 of the 4 stages of faith 

Scripture connection: Luke 24:13-35 (NLT)

The Walk to Emmaus

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,[b] he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.[c]

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

Reflection:  Impossible to believe

Easter is over. Or is it?

The Story continues beyond one annual holiday celebration. The Story never ends. The Story is about life eternal and that is impossible to believe. Or is it?

Turn to John 20:1 and just think about the story:

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.

 

Jesus’ life ended on a cross. Everybody saw it with his or her own eyes; they could not deny that Jesus was dead. But on that Sunday morning, reality changed. The Story continued and continues yet today. Only one problem, the empty tomb simply seemed impossible to believe. Or is it?

Look at the calendar and you know that right now, right here The Story is well over 2,000 years old. Any study of history or even a geological or archeological study can methodically and scientifically explain the experiences     of humanity. Very little remains mysterious, yet The Story hinges on the empty tomb, and explaining that is a problem for those who need concrete evidence to believe.

Faith is believing what you cannot see. Faith is knowing The Story of Jesus Christ and believing it to be true. But what happens when the belief in the story is filled with uncertainty and questions?

Think about this statement:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like Mary and the disciples, they may pass through four stages of belief. (1) At first, they may think the story is a fabrication, impossible to believe [John 20:2]. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened [John 20:6]. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally are they able to accept the fact of the Resurrection [John 20:16]. (4) Then as they commit themselves to the risen Lord and devote their lives to serving him, they begin to understand fully the reality of his presence with them [John 20:28]. (19912346-2347)

 

Reading that study note answers some of my own questions, but not completely. This week the lectionary includes the reading from Luke 24 and I discovered an almost identical study note:

People who hear about the Resurrection for the first time may need time before they can comprehend this amazing story. Like the disciples, they may pass through four states of belief: (1) At first, they may think it is a fairy tale, impossible to believe. (2) Like Peter, they may check out the facts and still be puzzled about what happened. (3) Only when they encounter Jesus personally will they be able to accept the fact of the Resurrection. (4) Then as they commit themselves to Jesus and devote their lives to serving him, they will begin fully to understand the reality of his presence with them. (19912270)

 

The scriptures throughout the four gospels all include the story of Jesus’ walk to Emmaus, but the Mark version only covers two verses, Mark 16:12-13:

12 Afterward he appeared in a different form to two of his followers who were walking from Jerusalem into the country. 13 They rushed back to tell the others, but no one believed them.

 

The reference to the walk is not nearly as specific in Matthew 28:16-17:

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

 

All four books mention Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road, but two accounts provide more details and that may be due to the audience that the writers were addressing. John was written to the newest Christians and those looking for answers, Luke was written to the Gentiles who did not know the prophecies. Mark was written for the Roman citizens who were now Christians while Matthew was written for the Jewish people who were familiar the prophecies and were anticipating the complete story of Jesus.

Who are you? Are you one of the faithful long waiting to have Jesus come and save your people? Are you one of the Roman citizens who is learning the story for the first time? Are you a Gentile, someone who knew nothing about the Jewish faith but were neighbors? Are you looking for answers and you have heard about Jesus and are curious, wanting to know more?

Sometimes placing one’s self into the story is difficult, so consider who you are in today’s culture:

  • Are you one of the many who was born into a Christian family and have always attended church in the traditional way—baptized as an infant or child, went to Sunday school, always attended church, got married in the church, and then raised your family in the same manner? You are reading Matthew with a historical understanding and are expecting Jesus to save you in this world.
  • Are you an American citizen who has learned that Christianity is a faith system that matches your understanding of how laws work to make a society that is productive and nurturing of freedoms? You are reading Mark and seeing how Jesus’ one commandment makes sense in today’s world.
  • Are you a non-believer who is just learning about this Christian faith and need to be convinced that it is a lifestyle that makes a difference and will ‘save’ you providing you eternal life? If so, then you are reading Luke to academically learn and understand what Christianity is and how it works in your life right now.
  • Are you a new Christian, born again, or someone who is seeking to find answers about how to live a happy, productive, even successful life in today’s world? Reading John makes sense to you. It is not overly wordy and it is to the point. No nonsense in telling this story of how Jesus was born and lived.

 

Yet, the story is impossible. Or is it?

What is the rest of the story? As a child of God and the rest of The Story is your story. You are writing The Story with your life, so learning what you believe and what you do is important as you keep Christ alive.

The concern is how to take a story that seems so impossible and follow the message today. How can one live and believe something so old in today’s world? How can something that sounds like a fairy tale make any sense today?

First, remember that literature has a timeless message for all of humanity. Good writing shares ideas that apply in any setting, among any peoples, and at any time in history. Themes in literature never become outdated. The theme of the Bible really boils down to Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees question in Matthew 22:36, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Remember, Matthew was written for the Jewish people who knew God’s prophecies and were historically prepared for Jesus’ coming. The question demonstrates the skepticism even the faithful had concerning the reality of Jesus. The Pharisees’ interrogation shows how they could not believe what they were witnessing in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ answer combined the Jewish faithful relation with God to a much simpler, inclusive commandment:

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[e] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[f] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

 

The Story continued in Matthew’s gospel. The answer seemingly addressed the Pharisees’ own disbelief, yet change for those people was difficult if not impossible. The threat to the Jewish way of life lead to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

But The Story did not end with a human death. The Story continues as Jesus left the tomb—resurrected from death. Impossible to believe? Even to those who were eyewitnesses to the three days the resurrection was not real.   If even the eyewitnesses struggled to believe, so do so many in today’s world struggle to believe.

Stage 1 in faith is to hear the story, want to believe, and then accept the story as real. Beginning to believe has to hear the message of the gospel and then start practicing the commandments to love God and to love one another. As Christians, disbelief in The Story is just part of developing one’s faith. What sounds impossible to believe yet appealing, too, opens the door to discipleship.

Discipleship calls us to follow Jesus’ commandments. As we shift our lives into a Christian lifestyle, the impossible becomes believable. When we test God’s lifestyle against those lifestyles existing around us, we discover the reality of God’s grace not only for ourselves but also for others. The impossible to believe story leads to answers in living the challenging lives we live today. Discipleship includes study of the scriptures as well as application of the lessons shared in those words. The Story that seems impossible to believe comes alive as the words turn into actions. Now the impossible is possible.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Forgive us for our disbelief in The Story.

Help us hear you speak to us

In the words shared by your earliest disciples.

 

Forgive us for our uncertainty of The Story.

Help us to practice the simple law

Jesus taught and the disciples preserved.

 

Forgive us for our skepticism about The Story.

Help us test the commandments daily

As The Story becomes real even today.

 

Guide us in our discipleship,

So we may discover the truth

And find the joy of living

In the ‘Sonshine’ of Easter morning

When the impossible became real.

 

In the name of God,

Creator, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Lent 2017: Who do you say I am?

 

given on Sunday, April 2, 2017 as the 5th in a series for Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness. . . 

Lent, a season of mindfulness: Each Sunday of Lent a memory verse and a challenge will be given as an exercise in mindfulness. The memory verses are selected from O. S. Hawkins’s book, The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code. This book has 52 verses from the Joshua Codes and 52 verses from the Jesus Code recommended to commit to memory. In Hawkins’s introduction, he states, “Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power.” (p.11)

Review of the memory verses for Lent 2017

  • Week 1: Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  • Week 2: Who am I? (Exodus 3:11)
  • Week 3: If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened?   (Judges 6:13)
  • Week 4: Who among you fears/reveres the Lord? (Isaiah 50:10)
  • Week 5: Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)

Scripture connection:

John 1:35-39, NLT

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

John 1:40-50, NLT

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”

Matthew 16:13-18, NLT

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Matthew 16:19, NLT

And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Reflection: Who do you say I am?

Week’s memory verse:  Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15, NLT)

Week’s challenge: Check you license to see when it needs renewing. Then check to see if you need to renew your relationship with God either through communion or a renewal of baptism. (Baptism review/class begins Tuesday, 4-5 pm)

 

Just in case you might wonder, I do have a drivers’ license. You have to believe me that it is valid, even though I have to renew it this month. The drivers’ license is one document that explains who I am. There are a variety of ways to identify who I am, but sometimes I do not carry them and others must depend on my word or the word of someone who can vouch for me.

In ancient times, identification may not have been as simple as producing a drivers’ license to verify who you were. Word of mouth or the personal knowledge of someone else might help identify you.

Today’s memory verse is included in the story of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. These men were the first chosen by Jesus to learn the new covenant, how to live under the new law, and how to spread the good news. Jesus had to know whether or not they honestly could state that he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God or, as Peter states, the Son of the Living God. Answering the question correctly served as the final test to become a member of the inner circle of disciples, the chosen apostles.

The scripture in Matthew includes two references to the question: (1) Who do they/the people say I am? (2) Who do you say I am? The first question refers to what the Pharisees and other people are saying while the second question is directed to the disciple himself. The second question calls for a personal response. Jesus is checking that Peter has realized that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, not John the Baptist, not Elijah, or some other prophet.

Imagine Peter’s nervousness as Jesus asks him to identify who he was? Jesus did not tell Peter that he was being tested, nor did Peter anticipate the challenge.   The conversation among those around Jesus probably started when someone said something they had overheard in town or along the roadside. Jesus was part of this conversation and was asking about others when he turned to Peter and focused just on him.

Do you remember how nervous you were when you got your drivers’ license? Growing up on the farm, I knew how to drive. I had driven tractors, the pickups, the cars, and even the stock truck. I was not worried that I could actually drive a car, and I even took drivers ed; so when I walked up to take the written test, I was confident I knew what I was doing. And I did pass the written test. Then I immediately asked to take the road test. Again, I was confident that I could do it. But when the driver instructor got out of the car, he had a surprise for me: Come back in two weeks and then take the road test again.

Final test questions are scary even if you know what the right answer is. I expect Simon Peter was surprised when Jesus turned to him and asked that final question, “Who do you say I am?” I suspect there was a bit of shock on his face wondering just why Jesus was asking him because he was one of those hand picked to follow him. Wasn’t he sitting right there and going with him wherever Jesus went?

The scuttlebutt was running rapid and now Jesus is asking what he personally believed. The pressure was on him to answer quickly and correctly. And Peter did answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Whew! Jesus approved the answer and even renamed Simon as Peter, the Rock. Jesus not only approved, he identified Peter as the foundation of the entire movement—the church. Peter was given a license to drive the movement forward.

“Who do you say I am?” is a question each Christian must answer. Regardless of how we were introduced to Jesus, the question is how personally convinced we are that Jesus is the Son of God, our Messiah, our Savior. Answering that question honestly can be difficult. Living in our culture, we are taught not to trust our gut instincts or word of mouth or hear say. We are taught that reality or truth is something that can be scientifically, concretely proven. Personally knowing God just because we “think” he is real probably is not going to win many arguments.

Hal Knight, a Wesleyan theologian, has focused on discipleship in his monthly column in The Missouri Methodist. He first explains that (1) discipleship is not simply attending church, and (2) discipleship is not just learning information. Being a disciple means knowing and following Jesus and that comes through establishing “. . . a relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. . . . not just know about him (Knight 2017).” (emphasis added.)

In Matthew, Jesus responds to Peter’s answer as a truth revealed to Peter by God. In John, even though Peter’s brother is attributed as the one who tells Peter and Nathanial who Jesus is, Jesus does not ask if they know who he is; instead, he tells them what they were thinking even before they came to find him. The disciples knew who Jesus was through the Holy Spirit.

Today we join together at the table to partake of the bread and the cup, a tradition established by the early church as a means to renew the relationship we have with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, we also can answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

As disciples of Jesus, we are commissioned just like the first disciples were. We are to do more than just attend church on Sunday morning. We are to do more than just learn. Like getting a drivers’ license, one cannot pass the driving test until one does drive. When I walked into the testing site two weeks later, the examiner looked up as I started out the door with a different examiner he said, “She is ready for her license today. She just needed two weeks of experience.”

Each time we walk to the table for the bread and the cup, we are reminded that we are equipped to be disciples. We know that Jesus was born as the son of man and woman. We know that Jesus grew up being trained in the Jewish faith. We know that his ministry lasted about three years before he was arrested, tried, and crucified on a wooden cross, died and buried in a stone tomb, and then three days later arose from the dead.

When Jesus asked Simon Peter “Who do you say I am?” we are tested, too. Through the sacrament of word and table, we answer by affirming our understanding of the mystery of faith:

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Today, you are answering the question personally. You are coming to the table stepping forward in faith that you are equipped by the Holy Spirit to be a disciple sharing the good news by word and deed. You may be sitting in the drivers seat, but God is doing the driving through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

As the disciples gathered around Jesus,

They were asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

Today, we gather at the table,

And are asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

 

         May you reveal the answer

So we may answer with confidence,

“You are Jesus Christ,

our Redeemer,

our Savior,

the Messiah.”

 

As we share the bread and the cup,

Fill us with the Holy Spirit

Renewing our relationship with you

The Father,

The Son, and

The Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God’s Mission Never Ends

given on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Story: John 20:1-9, NLT

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

 

The Story continues:     John 20: 11-16, NLT

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

 

Reflection on the story:            God’s Mission Never Ends . . .

Reading through the gospel story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so many thoughts erupt in the mind. First, how? How in the world, especially today as we scientifically study the physical changes in our bodies from birth through death, how can a resurrection happen?

Thousands of years of questions cannot be answered, but the story hinges on the resurrection. Read the scriptures, not only in John, but also in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The stories are eerily identical. The most historical data collected apparently cannot void The Story as recorded in scripture. The Story continues, just as God’s mission continues.

If science and non-religious documents cannot refute God’s story, then the story continues along with the mission. Remember, God created the world but he gave his human creations free will. Sadly, free will lead to evil.

As Satan’s influence seemed to attract more and more human attention, evil became overwhelming. God made a decision that evil had to be eradicated. God now needed a team. As we read in the Old Testament that team was lead by Abraham, chosen for his faithful obedience.

The story continued through thousands of years with the descendants of Abraham and even the prophets. The evil continued and God made the decision to intervene personally with the birth of Jesus Christ.

And Christ, after three short years of ministry made a difference in God’s mission. Just three years, and God confidently decided the faithful were strong enough to carry on the mission independent of Jesus.

During Passover, the most holy of Jewish festivals, the Story shifts from the Jewish traditions to what are now the Christian traditions. Christ knew, he did all he could to prepare the Apostles, but he had to demonstrate his humanness being charged, tried, and crucified.

The details were horrific, the Apostles were confused and frightened, and the reality of Jesus’ death made no sense. Huddled together for a very long Sabbath, one can only wonder what these faithful disciples were saying or what would happen next.

Sunday morning arrived, and the Story continues. Numbly those closest to Jesus took up the typical tasks of the day. Quietly. Slowly. The women made their way to the tomb. . . .

The Story goes on: John 20:19-23

That Sunday evening[b] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Further reflection . . .

            . . . Shock! Fear! Confusion and chaos filled the lives of the Apostles and the earliest disciples. Rumors raced around the neighborhoods. The day’s routine had to be maintained, but at the same time so much was happening so quickly. What was going to happen next.

The women now knew the truth of the resurrection; and the men too had gone to witness the empty tomb. Yet, what were they going to do? What did this mean? How were they going to continue spreading the Word? How?

The questions had to be outnumbering the statements of belief. The chaos of loss turns into chaos of excitement with no clear plan of how to use the new reality. There would be those who believed, but what to do about those who did not. . . .

 

The Story resumes          John 20:26-29, NLT

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

 

Concluding reflection . . .

            God’s mission remains. The Story carries God’s message forward. The Apostles and the earliest disciples were given the mission—do all that you can to love God and to love one another in all the ways that you can for as long as you can.

The Story shares all the different ways evil can attack us. Evil has many faces as close as our own family and even our neighbors. Evil can look so inviting, but the intention turns so revolting. Decisions we make must be based on our Christian beliefs.

And what reality of the Easter story makes God’s mission easy? Christ lived. Christ died. Christ arose from the dead and lives. We, made in God’s image, must believe in the power of the cross. God sacrificed himself for us. By accepting this truth, we are forgiven. God’s mission succeeds when we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we are given life eternal and evil is destroyed.

 

The Story for today        John 20:30-31, NLT

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

 

Reflective benediction . . .

            The subtitle on the last two verses of John 20 is “The purpose.” God’s mission is our purpose and each time we share the Story with others, each time we serve one another in love, and each time we remember Jesus’ resurrection, we are blessed.

Your purpose is God’s mission. This Easter Sunday, as you leave this holy place, may you find the joy in knowing that you are forgiven and you are redeemed by your faith in God.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly, Loving Father,

Thank you for loving us day after day.

Thank you for forgiving us our sins.

Thank you for promising us life ever lasting.

We may not understand the Story.

We may not show our faith openly.

We may not shout out the love we feel .

Yet we love You and one another.

Yet we quietly serve one another in love.

Yet we believe in Your love and the promises.

May we live our days filled with love.

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Mysteries of Harvest

given on Sunday, September 28, 2014

Scripture Base:  Matthew 13:36-43  “Parable of the Wheat and Weeds”

24 Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25 But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. 26 When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

27 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

28 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” . . .

 

Thoughts

Out driving along our country roads, no one can miss the fact harvest is under way. The smells of the cornfield, the signs of the shelled corn along the edge of the road, the dust in the horizon, even the big trucks lumbering along the roads all announce harvest. Of course we do live in a rural community, and harvest season creates a sense of mystery. In fact, many simply accept harvest as part of a farmer’s lifestyle and don’t think about any mystery.

The parable of the wheat and the weeds can help unravel mysteries of harvest especially since it speaks directly to those raised in the farming community. To be honest, even those raised in the urban environment may understand because their own family heritage began on a farm. Of course the ones who truly are urban born and bred, through and through, the parable can share the mystery of harvest, too.

First, though, what mysteries of harvest are there? For me, a daughter of the family farm, harvest is filled with images that demonstrate mysteries of life. When the combine goes through the fields and cuts, shells, and loads the corn, the machine becomes like a magician performing a trick.

I can see the process, I can hear an explanation about how the combine works, and I can watch the corn fill the hopper. Yet, an element of mystery remains how such a device can process the corn plant from its place in the field to a pile of debris and a hopper heaped with shiny yellow corn. The process is one of the mysteries of harvest.

The picking of the corn is a symbolic representation of life’s final phase—or is it? The life cycle of a grain is a parallel to the life cycle of people. Jesus was sharing the parable of the wheat and the weeds to an audience that worked the fields in an agrarian culture. The audience struggling to raise a bountiful harvest knew exactly what message Jesus was sharing with them. And the same message should be that clear to us as we harvest this year’s crops.

Mysteries of harvest begin with the mystery of life itself. The creation story remains mysterious because no one can prove or disprove the story in a manner that all can agree. The questions remain and are discussed in various manners such as asking once again whether the chicken or the egg came first.

Life is filled with mystery and as the life cycle progresses some mysteries can be unraveled, but others continue to tease rational minds. The wheat and the weeds parable relates how difficult it can be to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the weed, the faithful from the unfaithful.

Two plants with extremely similar characteristics planted side by side in the same dirt receiving the same weather conditions as it sprouts, grows, and produces the fruit. The workers know the problem, but the owner knows the risks of pulling up the weeds. Not until harvest can the two be separated.

The mystery remains until harvest. Harvest 2014 has surprises for all of us. The growing season has been filled with different weather patterns, with rain and drought, with cold and heat, with sunny days and cloudy ones. Not until harvest do farmers know the full effect of the growing conditions.

As the combines travel through the fields, the mystery of production unfolds. How many bushels per acre does this field produce? Across the road, the results may be the same or very different. Sometimes the differences are very small, but sometimes they are vastly different and farmers analyze why: sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes it remains a mystery.

When Jesus selected the Apostles, he chose a group of individuals from various backgrounds. These men had to be trained much like a farmer has to prepare the field for planting. The parables were as critical as the plow, the disc, the planter, and the seeds. The Apostles needed to understand the mysteries of faith in order to prepare the people for harvest or judgment.

While reading the parables in Matthew, the wheat and the weed parable is immediately followed by the parable of the mustard seed and another of the yeast. But the Apostles were still struggling to understand the mysteries of the lessons.

In Matthew 13, verse 34 explains how Jesus used the parables:

34Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 35This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet:

“I will speak to you in parables.

I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.”

 

The mystery of the wheat and the weeds had to be explained to the Apostles even after the crowd left. They asked Jesus to explain the story:

37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man[b] is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world,[c] and the harvesters are the angels.

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

Imagine how frustrated Jesus might have been. These were his chosen Apostles whom he was going to leave the entire responsibility of carrying His Word to the world. The world was the field, and yet the farmers—the Apostles—were struggling to unravel the mystery of faith so they could continue planting the seeds for God’s harvest.

The symbolism of harvest is found throughout the Bible. Harvest continues to demonstrate how God judges his followers when death ends their physical lives. It begins in Exodus and ends in Revelation. Understanding the mystery of harvest literally as well as symbolically is difficult.

Rev. Bob Farr, Doug Anderson, and Lay Person Kay Katon have identified four observations concerning the condition of churches today, and understanding the first two is critical to the life of the church:

  1. Inwardly focused churches tend to define and practice evangelism as “reconnecting disconnected church folks.”
  2. Outwardly focused churches define and practice evangelism as connecting the unconnected folks to Jesus and then to the church.

 

 

The harvest, so to speak, of our churches does not have to be a mystery. We must take an honest assessment of what we do, how we do it, and what else can be done. Are we inwardly focused or are we outwardly focused?

Over the next few months, as we prepare for fall events, Charge Conference, Advent and a new Christian year, it is important that we follow God’s commandment to love one another and are equipped to carry out the commission of making new disciples of Christ for the transformation of the earth. Set goals for your personal faith journey and join with the church family to set goals for the coming year.

As a church, remember the theme “to hold fast to love and justice.” As we move into action with the community children on Halloween and open the doors for the turkey dinner, let us be outwardly focused. As Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest, let us celebrate the arrival of Jesus during Advent.

Let us look for methods to increase God’s harvest. There are books to read, leaders to train, and ideas to share. We may be thinking more about harvesting than planting, but even farmers begin ordering seed for next year’s planting during harvest. Maybe some of the practices cannot be done, but we can modify or create new ones. We can share the love of God in ways that produces a record-breaking harvest. The mystery of faith will answer the mystery of harvest.

Please join in a closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for a year filled with love.

Thank you for seasons to plant,

to grow, and to harvest.

We acknowledge our dependence

on your guidance through the Bible

and the teachings of Jesus.

May we seek ways to share the love

and to fight for justice for all.

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

to be the outwardly focused church

caring for the unchurched,

the hurting, the lonely, the ailing

and even the strong still struggling

to unravel the mysteries of faith.

Amen.

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Maundy Thursday: Continuing the story

Over the past six years, on Maundy Thursday, I have offered a casual Maundy Thursday service of reflection.  We begin with hand washing rather than foot washing, then with music and scripture walk through the night’s experience.  Scripture, a few comments, quiet, darkness and music carry the experience more than a homily.

Opening with the story:

NLT Chronological Bible Scriptures

John 13:1-20 (to the New Roman Christians)

13 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.[a] It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas,[b] son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!

10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet,[c] to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.”

11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

18 “I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’[d] 19 I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I Am the Messiah.[e] 20 I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.”

Luke 22:14-16(to Theophilus and new seekers)

14 When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table.[a]

15 Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. 16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

Mark 14:17-21(to the Gentiles and other non-Christians)

17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the twelve disciples.[a] 18 As they were at the table[b] eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”

19 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”

20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man[c] must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

Matthew 26:26-29(to the Jews)

26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant[a] between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

Communion Liturgy:              UMH 15-16

Returning to the story:

The story of the crucifixion begins with the prayer time in the Mount Olives. The story’s chronology takes longer than these few minutes tonight, but the events are set into motion when Jesus and his Apostles go to the garden to pray:

Music: Over the Next Hill We’ll Be Home,

 Matthew 26:36-44

36 Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” 37 He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

40 Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”

42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away[a] unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.

Luke 22:43-46

43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.[a]

45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.”

Mark 14:43-45

43 And immediately, even as Jesus said this, Judas, one of the twelve disciples, arrived with a crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders.

44 The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss. Then you can take him away under guard.” 45 As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss.

John 18:4-11

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.

“Jesus the Nazarene,”[a] they replied.

“I Am he,”[b] Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.)

As Jesus said “I Am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them, “Who are you looking for?”

And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

“I told you that I Am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”[c]

10 Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”

Pausing in the story until the Resurrection on Sunday:

The events listed in the gospels complete the story of the crucifixion. But tonight, we dwell on the events that led to Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ human fear of what was to come.

As we prepare to depart this evening, we must remember the human side of Jesus. We suffer from mental and physical pain, but God never leaves us alone. Tonight, let us join in the hymns that share the range of emotions that Holy Week triggers in us.

Join me in the Lord’s Prayer:

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Why the healing? Why the miracles?

given on Sunday, October 20, 2013

         Jesus began his ministry reaching out to the people walking right beside him along the road.  The Sermon on the Mount set the foundation for his teaching, preaching, and healing.  Certainly Jesus had to teach his followers how to shift from living under the Old Covenant to living under the New Covenant.  He had to teach them what the New Covenant was, and he had to prepare them for the journey ahead.

The Sermon on the Mount is the first formal account of the teaching process, and it shifted to preaching as the crowd beyond his Apostles grew on the mountainside.  The curious, the Jews, the Gentiles, the wealthy, the poor, the craftsmen, the sick, the possessed, even the Pharisees were all crowded around listening.

Why did Jesus need to heal the sick, the possessed, and even the dead?  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  He already had this huge following and it was growing daily.  Why the healing and the miracles?

Beginning this study of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 4:23 introduces the story:

Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

 

That verse lists the three different methods Jesus used—teaching, preaching, and healing.  The study notes from the Life Application Bible spelled out the purposes of each one:

Teaching shows Jesus’ concern for understanding, preaching shows his concern for commitment; and healing shows his concern for wholeness.  His miracles of healing authenticated his teaching and preaching, proving that he truly was from God.  (p.1651)

 

The healing had two purposes.  First he wanted to make sure that each one was whole—mentally and physically.  The healing made sure that those who believed were capable of living full lives demonstrating the Christian lifestyle that God wanted for his children.

The second purpose is to provide the new followers evidence of God’s power.  The people needed to see the work that Jesus could do in order to believe he was God.  The healings were instant, they were miracles that man alone could not perform.

The miracles begin with Matthew 8 as Jesus heals a leper:

8 Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus said to him, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

 

Leprosy was a disease that ostracized the person from the community being forced to live with other lepers in a separate community.  There was no hope, no return to one’s family or community.  The lepers were left alone to die alone.

The fact that Jesus reached out and touched the leper was completely unexpected.  The scripture tell us that the healing occurred immediately.  The leper was told to go to the priest so he could see that he was cured or clean of leprosy, which was required by the Law of Moses, aka the Old Covenant.

The miracle cure of leprosy was clearly an example of how faith cured the man, but more importantly the healing bridged the gap between the people and the priests as well as between the priests and Jesus.  The healing made the man whole and it provided evidence that Jesus was God.

The list of Jesus’ healings and miracles is sprinkled throughout the New Testament.  The four gospels include the stories, but even the earliest disciples performed healings and/or miracles:

  • Acts 2:22, 43—Peter explains the miracles:
    • 22 “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene[a] by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.
    • 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.

 

  • Acts 19:11-12—Paul is accredited to have performed miracles, too:
    • 11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.

 

  • Acts 19:13-14–goes on to explain that the Jews who had been driving out evil spirits couldn’t:

 

  • 13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

 

  • Romans 15:17-19—Paul is ministering to the Gentiles of Rome
    • 17 So I have reason to be enthusiastic about all Christ Jesus has done through me in my service to God. 18 Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit.[a] In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.

 

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians adds more understanding to why miracles were performed:

  • I Corinthians 1:22—who needed to see miracles
    • 18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]  20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.

 

  • I Corinthians 12:10—spiritual gifts include miracles
    • A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[a]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[b] The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[c] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

 

  • II Corinthians 12:12—Paul explains what apostles can do
    • 12 When I was with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you.

 

As Paul’s ministry continues, his letters to the new churches continue to explain the power of God and how Jesus was sent to teach, preach and heal those who determine to live the Christian life.  He explains how the Holy Spirit is the power of God within each of us.  The Holy Spirit fuels the spiritual gifts within us.

  • Galatians 3:5—the Holy Spirit works through us to perform miracles:
    • I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.
    • 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised[a] Holy Spirit through faith.

The fact that the New Testament has references to healing and miracles in various situations, the closing discussion of why did Jesus perform healings and miracles must center on each one of us individually.  The cynics of 2013 continue to discount the stories of God’s miracles.  The years that have separated Jesus and his disciples and us have caused us to waiver in our belief.  We doubt miracles.  We become suspicious of healings that seem to have no explanation.  Paul was prepared for this and sent out a warning about this in Hebrews.

  • Hebrew 2:1-4—gifts of the Holy Spirit
    • 2 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.

 

Why did Jesus heal?  Why did Jesus perform miracles?  Healing was to assure that people were healthy or whole.  If a follower was not whole, how could he focus on Jesus’ teachings?  How could he stay God-centered or be able to live a faithful, productive life?  The miracles, the instant healings, the water turned into wine, Lazarus brought back to life all provided authenticity to Jesus claim to be God on earth.  Only God could do that, Jesus was man and God.

In our world right now, do we need proof that God is real?  Jesus knew we needed evidence that God is in control.  Jesus demonstrated God’s love right on earth in front of others, and the word of his work and his compassion spread.  Are we able to spread the word with confidence?  Are we able to see how God works through the spiritual gifts of each and every one of his children?  Can we accept our own gifts and work for the glory of God?

Remember the words of the hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” may it be our closing prayer:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,

weak and wounded, sick and sore;

Jesus ready stands to save you,

full of pity, love, and power.

 

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,

God’s free bounty glorify;

true belief and true repentance,

every grace that brings you nigh.

 

Come ye weary, heavy laden,

lost and ruined by the fall;

if you tarry till you’re better,

you will never come at all.

 

Let not conscience make you linger,

nor of fitness fondly dream;

all the fitness he requireth

is to feel your need of him.

Refrain

I will arise and go to Jesus;

he will embrace me with his arms;

in the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms. (or miracles)

 

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