Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trust Me, Mark

As part of my relationship with God through Christ, in an effort to grow in faithfulness and usefulness to God, I try to spend quiet time with God each morning. I do so using a format described here.

What's written below is from my journal from a few days ago, when I read Acts 1, in the New Testament portion of the Bible.
Look: “For forty days after his death he appeared to them many times in ways that proved beyond doubt that he was alive. They saw him, and he talked with them about the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3, GNT)

Because of a recent “dialog” with atheists on Twitter, this verse caught my eye today as it hadn’t before.

The resurrection of Jesus is maybe the most outrageous claim we make as Christians. But it was as outrageous in the first century as it is in this century. It’s a claim likely to be met with skepticism.

That’s true even for people who see themselves as following Jesus. In Matthew’s account of the risen Jesus’ ascension, it says that when the eleven apostles met Jesus at the appointed place: “When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted.” (Matthew 28:17, GNT) Despite having spent time with the risen Jesus, some of the apostles doubted.

Resurrection is so outside the realm of human experience that even when the apostles who had followed and loved Jesus saw (and touched) Him risen in the flesh, they doubted.

I’m glad that the Bible includes this detail. It signals that this isn’t a book of fantasy. The doubts of those who followed and knew Jesus best are recorded, underscoring the credibility of their insistence that Jesus did rise from death.

The verse from Acts indicates that Jesus understood how hard resurrection is to accept for us. Even though our grief over the loss of loved ones argues that we know that death isn’t the intended fate of human beings, death is still such an ingrained part of the human experience (the ratio of human births to human deaths is still 1:1, as a seminary professor of mine used to say), that we find it hard to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.

That’s probably why Jesus spent so much time with the disciples, proving “beyond doubt that he was alive.”

For the early Church--Acts will later say that more than 500 witnesses saw the risen Jesus, facing persecution, it had to be incredibly consoling to be able to remember multiple encounters with the risen Jesus, not to mention the witness of the eleven regarding the risen Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9). “I know it’s not a figment of my imagination," they could tell themselves (and others). "Not only did I see Him so-many times, but I was there with so and so. And that person saw Him here, this person saw Him there.”

These sometimes-skeptical, sometimes-doubting people would endure persecution and the threat of execution insisting that they had seen the risen Jesus. Their previous hard-headed doubt would underscore the truth of their witness.

I’m so grateful for them and for the different places the New Testament writers recorded the skepticism and doubt of the first disciples. It makes their witness more believable.

Listen: [I imagine God telling me this through Acts 1:3;] You may not doubt Jesus’ resurrection, but you wrestle with your own doubts, Mark. You doubt My grace for you. You doubt My forgiveness for you. You doubt that you could endure the exposure of your true weaknesses and sins, to the point that you hide them from others and try doing so even from yourself. In fact, some of the things you count as weaknesses aren’t weaknesses; they’re attributes of your personality that don’t conform with who you want to be. You have a picture of who you want to be that has nothing to do with who you are. On the other hand, you doubt--despite what you insist is the case--that you can change for the better. You doubt your own self-control. You doubt your capacity for growth, for an old dog to learn new tricks. Trust Me, Mark.

Respond: Risen Jesus, today help me to trust in You more than I trust my fears or my preferences. In Your name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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