Winter is gone. Spring has come.

IMG_0025 As I drive down Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham this week it is as if every living thing is in bloom. What appeared dead and dull and bare last week is now shooting forth leaves and blooms this week. The changing of winter to spring has always been my favorite time of the year because there’s a rebirth in nature. The plants that once lay dormant for many months are now standing upright; trees, which showed no sign of activity, now wave their branches clothed with life. It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new season.

 

What I have seen unfold in nature in Birmingham this past week correlates well to what I see happen in the Lent and Easter season. In Lent it is intended that we reflect on the gravity of our sins and the separation from God that our sins bring. For it is these two aspects that Jesus carries with him to the cross and bears with him on the cross. We prepare our hearts as we journey with Jesus in remembrance to Good Friday. It is winter. Death hangs over us.

 

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." -- Romans 3:23

"For the wages of sin is death..." -- Romans 6:23

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." -- Isaiah 53:6

 

But on Palm Sunday the tone begins to change. Seeds of hope sprout forth as Jesus, fulfilling his role as the promised Davidic King and Messiah, comes riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.

 

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." -- Zech. 9:9

 

The people spread out palm branches, and, although they didn't understand the significance of what they were saying, they rightly praised him as King of kings. This triumphal entry and branches serve as signs of his coming victory that “spring” was coming, although on Friday it would seem like the world would forever be in a perpetual winter.

 

And to be sure the deepest, darkest day of winter would come on Friday, when the King of kings, the Son of heaven, would die on a cross. The Son of God, who left all the riches of heaven and the blessed, eternal company of the Father and Spirit, came down, taking on the form and nature of those whom he created, whom had rebelled against him. Those who said they didn’t love him. Yet he still came down, not to show us how to do this life only or how to succeed and become the greatest. He came down to die, to suffer the just punishment of God, so that we, who believe, wouldn’t have to.

 

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -- 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

What great, great love that God has for us that kept Jesus from calling down angels, from taking himself off the cross and executing judgment on those overseeing his crucifixion, and enabled him to suffer all that he did with grace and submission. It was this incomprehensible love for us that took Jesus to the grave.

 

And there his body lay for three days.

 

But on the morning of the third day, the women were too sad, too heartbroken to have noticed that there was a change in seasons. Yet, God in his loving-kindness sent an angel to meet them at an open grave. Jesus, who was once dead, had now come back to life.

 

This Easter is a reminder for those in Christ and an invitation for those who are from Christ: that in Jesus we have passed by eternal death and have entered into eternal life.

 

Winter is gone. Spring has come.

 

“It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns in glory with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen." (The Book of Common Prayer, Palm Sunday, Collect)

 

 

Table #5: And they recognized him

jesusshowshands

"When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him." Luke 24:30-31

Read Luke 24:13-49.

Just about all of us have heard or said the saying, "I'll believe it when I see it!" When a president promises to do something -- "I'll believe it when I see it." When you hear that someone has changed their notorious ways -- "I'll believe it when I see it."

There is a person with whom I have had numerous conversations about becoming a follower of Jesus Christ who continues to tell me that he needs just one more proof to believe. In fact, the last time we spoke about it, he had just bought some lottery tickets. He said that if there was a God who loved him, he would win. Well do you know that this person won $500! Next time I saw him and reminded him about our conversation, he said, "Nah. That wasn't God; that was just a lucky coincidence." He claims that he just needs one more proof. But until he opens his heart to belief there will never be enough proof. For even if God out of his mercy continues to show proof after proof, this person will continue to reinterpret it as something other than God. He has a heart condition called unbelief.

Do you remember the devotional from table 3, the feeding of the 5,000? We discussed that even though Jesus' disciples continued to follow him and witness miracles upon miracles, they still struggled with disbelief. Jesus even asked them once on a ship, "Where is your faith?" Now here we are 15 chapters later and the disciples are still struggling with belief. You would think that after three years of living with Jesus and after listening to Jesus prophesy about his death and resurrection, the disciples would have their Welcome Home banners and signs ready to greet Jesus outside the tomb. Instead, they are hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jerusalem religious leaders (cf. John 20:19). Where is their faith? Did they not believe who Jesus said he was and believe that he would do what he said he would do? If Jesus' prophecies had come true concerning his own suffering, the betrayal of Judas and the denial of Peter, then isn't there reason enough to believe that what he said concerning his resurrection would come true as well? Didn't they believe that the same one who had power to bring back others from death would have that same power over his own life? Rather, when the women returned to share the news about the empty tomb, Luke tells us concerning the apostles that "these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them" (Luke 24:11). Basically they were saying, "I'll believe it when I see it." But would they?

Our passage begins with two men who were not part of the Twelve but were in the larger group of disciples of Jesus; they were leaving Jerusalem to go to Emmaus. We are then told that Jesus joins them. The Greek here is emphatic -- it is Jesus himself! Did you notice the many references to sight and belief and recognition in this passage? I immediately think of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel who rebuked those who had eyes but could not see. "Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears but hear not" (Jer. 5:21). Cf. Isaiah 6:10 and Ezekiel 12:2. What these prophets were saying was "even though you have eyes to see you cannot perceive or believe." Metaphorically speaking, the eyes of their hearts were closed. You think you see, the prophets would say, but the truth is you are blind and unable to perceive the things of God.

In light of this, we read now in Luke 24:16 that "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Did they physically see a man walking along with them? Yes. Did they recognize that it was Jesus come back from the dead? No. Why were their eyes kept from recognizing Jesus? I posit to you that it was their unbelief that kept them from perceiving. Did you catch the irony? The disciples wanted to see Jesus for proof or reason to believe, but when Jesus shows up it is their unbelief that keeps them from seeing him. Read that again. The disciples wanted to see Jesus for proof or reason to believe, but when Jesus shows up it is their unbelief that keeps them from seeing him. "I'll have to see it to believe it." But when they saw it, they couldn't recognize it! Luke already told us that they did not believe the women. Then we are told that Jesus notices they were sad -- grieving. And then there's their testimony. Don't miss this! These two men tell Jesus that some of the women disciples returned from the tomb to the larger group of disciples and told them they saw an empty tomb and angels who testified that Jesus was alive. (Proof #1) Then, "some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said." (Proof #2) But, despite these two testimonies and proof of an empty tomb, they said, "but him they did not see." These other disciples wanted proof. They wanted to see Jesus in order to believe. Now Jesus shows up but they cannot see him, meaning they cannot recognize him. Wow! Chew on that for a moment. Jesus says earlier in his ministry to those following him, "But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe" (Jn. 6:36). Is perhaps the reason you cannot see the proof of God because you do not believe?

Jesus continues in his kindness and patience and doesn't abandon the disciples but continues to reveal himself. The first way he does this is by expositing Scripture. He starts in the beginning and works his way through showing how all of God's Word finds its fulfillment and crown in Jesus Christ (Lk. 24:27). All of Scripture acts as one voice proclaiming the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus will do this again when he appears to those disciples who are still in unbelief in verse 44.

And now we approach our final table scenes. In verse 29, we are told that Jesus is invited in as a guest of honor, but as so often happens, the roles reverse and he becomes the host, seen in the breaking of bread. This mention of the breaking of bread should not, in my opinion, be interpreted as a eucharist meal, but rather a meal of fellowship like we see with the first two tables. Do you remember how I mentioned back in the feeding of the 5,000 that this sequence -- took, blessed, broke and gave -- though a common practice in first century Jewish antiquity is only used by Luke in three places? I suggested that this is a literary device to connect the three stories together -- the feeding of the 5,000, the Passover meal and now the Emmaus meal. It is in the breaking of the bread (v. 31, 35) that the eyes of these two disciples are opened.

You might be asking yourself, Why was it in the breaking of the bread that their eyes were opened? Luke doesn't tell us why but just that they were opened. I've heard said before that perhaps there was a unique characteristic trait of Jesus in how he broke the bread that made him different from others which then enabled these two men to recognize him. Likewise, I've heard it said that perhaps there was something magical or miraculous in the act of the breaking of the bread that caused their eyes to open. I'm not convinced of these two possibilities.

However, what I am more convinced of is that Jesus was gracious to his disciples, who had already found forgiveness of sins through repentance, to open the eyes of their hearts so that they could see him and believe. What Jesus does in this moment of opening their eyes is characteristic of how he has responded to his disciples throughout -- with patience and love. At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus responded to their lack of faith by proving again who he was and what he could do. Then at the Passover meal Jesus, over bread and wine, tells his disciples again about the events that are about to take place, reinterprets the bread and cup for them, and then says it is all "for you." So I don't think it's a coincidence that in the moment that Jesus gave physical bread to these two men, they recognized for the first time the bread of life. In Jesus' love and mercy, he made himself known again to them at the table.

Let me conclude with this. When Jesus appeared to the other disciples, he had them touch him to know that he was real. He then ate a piece of broiled fish. A spirit cannot eat; Jesus had a bodily resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15). He then sums up one last time the message the apostles are to preach -- Christ's identity and mission. Jesus suffered (fully human) and rose from the dead (fully God), so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all people. Remember our first two tables? The theme for both of those tables was forgiveness of sins! Those first two tables were a precursor for what was to come. Forgiveness of sins finds it realization in the cross and resurrection. This is the good news we are to bring to all people.

Yes, we are also to love our enemies, to serve the least of these, to show others mercy (Good Samaritan), to not neglect the needs of others, and to welcome the lowly and most sinful to our tables. But these acts of love and mercy are only a mirror of and response to the love and mercy Christ has first shown us as we preach, "that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." Preach, teach, model, live out and embody this message in the name of Jesus Christ.

What about you? Are you just needing one more proof before believing Jesus is who he says he is and has done what he has said he will do? Or, is the testimony of these disciples and Scripture enough? If you had one more proof, would you even be able to see it? Maybe like the father in Mark 9 prayed, you too need to pray, "I believe; help my unbelief." Perhaps you are a follower of Jesus, meaning you have found forgiveness of sins, but you still struggle with doubt and unbelief at times. You are not the first disciple nor the only one to struggle in this way. But take comfort. If you belong to Jesus, as his disciple, he will continue to reveal himself to you and to open your eyes. He will not abandon or forsake you as your faith is seeking understanding.

Wherever you are or whoever you are, you are invited to the table. Exclusions don't apply; no particular dress attire required. Come as you are. Come and dine at the table of Jesus Christ this Easter; there you can find forgiveness of sins.

(The image was downloaded from kingofpeace.blogspot.com. Aspects of this devotional came from my Bible study for mymissionfulfilled.)


Thank you for following along with me in this #ComeDine devotional series. I hope that they've been a blessing to you as you prepare for Good Friday and Easter. With love, Kristen

Come and Dine

Table #1: Dining with sinners

Table #2: The uninvited guest

Table #3: Where is your faith?

Table #4: Do this in remembrance of me

God is good and He is still on His throne

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a post that dealt with prayer in light of news that a friend and former classmate at Beeson Divinity School recently discovered he has cancer. I wept for him. His name is Matt Paetz, and he has a wife and two young daughters. My heart breaks for him and his family as they embark on a new journey that they did not expect nor want. I had a writing project that got in the way of updating the blog. The deadline was this past week. Then I went to Arkansas for the weekend to visit college friends and got back to my alma mater for Homecoming festivities. One of these college friends is Julee Turner. I was honored to be part of her wedding. I lived two doors down from her for two years in college. We were in the same sorority and same pledge class. She married the love of her life, Matt, after college and moved to Fayetteville, AR. After several years of struggling with infertility, she became pregnant with their daughter Preslee. Julee is an avid blogger and you can read all about their sweet family on her blog: mattandjuleeturner.blogspot.com.

While I was having dinner with Julee and four other college friends this past Saturday night, Julee’s husband was killed in a car accident. Matt leaves behind his wife Julee and their 10-month-old daughter Preslee. Once again, my heart breaks for a friend.

I am heartbroken that my friend was stripped of her beloved. I am heartbroken that Preslee won’t remember her daddy. I am sad that Julee had to experience such loss at this point in her young life. I wept. I still weep.

But my weeping is only temporary. Not because I won’t have times of sadness for Julee’s loss. Not because I no longer care for Matt Paetz and his family. But because of my faith that God is good and He is still on His throne.

My preaching professor at Beeson Divinity School was Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. He still teaches and preaches there. Last year, one month shy of a year ago, Smith preached in Beeson’s chapel a sermon titled, “Have you been to Bethany?” based on John 11:1-12:1. In this sermon, he quoted and paraphrased from the book, “When Faith and Beliefs Collide.” Smith said, “When faith is stripped to the bone – no marrow, no tendons, no muscles, no fat, no gristle – and all our props and crutches are gone, our faith in God that He is good and is still on the throne is the only thing that will keep you going.”

While praying and reflecting on Matt Turner’s death and Matt Paetz’s sickness, I thought of John 11 – Jesus weeping over the loss of a friend and the great words about resurrection. Then I remembered this sermon that Smith preached one year ago.

After Lazarus died, Jesus tells Martha in John 11:25-26, “The one who believes in me though that one dies shall live again, and the one who lives and believes in me shall never die.” As Smith said, “Persons who are born twice, born of the flesh and born of the spirit, only have to die once. The person who is only born once of the flesh will have to die twice.”

What awesome hope for those who believe in and only through Jesus Christ, the first fruits of the resurrection of the dead! When I called my husband Ozzie to tell him about Matt’s passing, he asked, “Was he a believer in Christ?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then we know that he is alive and with the Lord; that is our only hope.” So as I shed tears for Julee, I know that because Matt was born twice, he won’t die again. He is alive because Jesus is alive. And for my friend Matt Paetz, cancer is no longer a death sentence. But as he walks “through the valley of the shadow of death,” he “will fear no evil,” knowing that Christ is with him and that death is not the end.

The proposition of Smith’s sermon was: The road to Bethany exists in order to engender belief, which will be transformed into redemptive activity. What I think he meant was that the purpose of Lazarus’ death and the events that happened were so that people would believe. Why do these things happen in our lives? I don’t know, but I do know that often times it is to increase belief in some and create belief in others. When I watched my apartment building burn, when I had two heart ablations, when I moved to a new place by myself, though these were difficult times in my life, they brought me closer to God and increased my faith that God is good and He is still on the throne.

Though I am confident I will still shed tears for these mentioned and others in the future, I find peace knowing that the One who wept when His friend died will be the One to wipe away all our tears. Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Pray for my friend Matt. Ask God to heal his body and to be glorified through this experience. Pray that this cancer would not lead to his death. Pray for strength, peace, healing and increased faith for Matt and his family.

Pray also for my friend Julee, Preslee and the rest of Matt’s family. Pray for healing hearts, increased faith, sustaining power, peace, comfort, financial provision, and strength to face tomorrow.

I should mention that Dr. Smith knows what it is to lose someone you love. He lost his first wife many years ago, then shortly before this sermon he lost a son. He knows what it is to grieve, to weep and to hope in a living God that is still on His throne.

To listen to Dr. Smith’s sermon, go here: http://www.beesondivinity.com/media#!/swx/pp/media_archives/116700/episode/27214

A song that comes to mind that fits with this post is “Give me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N3KPA9ltQE