The Early Church : The Message

John 20


I love the book of John, and I am so glad I get to lead us in this week, because John 20 is one of my favorite chapters. 


This week we are discussing the early church. We will be ending John and moving into Acts. While Luke shows us the crucifixion, resurrection, and later the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost as the beginning of the church, John shows us the beginning of the church here in chapter 20. 


In the opening verses, Jesus is RISEN! Jesus, in John, clearly laid down his life of his own accord, and clearly takes it up again. There is no doubt in the mind of Jesus or the author about what he was doing. Jesus was saving humanity! Jesus was giving the final sign that he is the Messiah, and 8th sign, signifying that he is creating something new. The disciples sprint to see the empty tomb but go away. Mary stays. Jesus sends her to let them know that his words were true, he had been raised, just as he said. He sends her out.


This sending of Mary is mirrored in what Jesus does to the apostles is verse 19. They are sitting in fear, but Jesus shows up and gives them his peace. Then in verse 22-23 we get a weird picture. Jesus breathes on his disciples, post-CoViD, masks, and social distancing, we may feel like Jesus was in their personal space. But he says, “Receive the spirit”. The Holy Spirit, the power, presence, and promise of God to those who would believe in the Messiah, is the very breath of Jesus. What John is showing is that this powerful spirit that shows up in Acts and shakes the city and changes the world, is the breath of Christ. He gives his disciples spirit for power, for forgiveness, for judgement. This is John showing us the birth of the church. 


However, the verses I want us to really see are the last three of the chapter. “Doubting” Thomas gets an unfair, if earned, nickname. Yes he doubted. But no one has ever brushed off a crucifixion before. No one gets executed and wakes up a couple days later. Jesus is the exception to the rule. But when Jesus shows up, Thomas believes, declaring “My Lord and My God.” Jesus recognizes the belief of Thomas and says “Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”


My brothers and sisters, that is you. Jesus spoke of how YOU are blessed for having faith without sight. Jesus knows that it is a difficult thing to believe, to be the church. But, like Mary, like Peter, like Thomas, like John, we are called, in faith, to tell others the message of the early church, the message that is still true today. “These things (the book of John) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) If you believe, have faith without sight, that Jesus is the Christ, as John has been showing, as Peter and Paul declared, as Jesus himself testified to for 40 days on earth, then YOU have life in his name. That is the message of the early church, it is the message of the medieval church, it is the message of the contemporary church, and it will be the message of the church until the end of the age. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and we have life in his name. 


Let us, his breath-filled, Spirit-empowered followers, be his witnesses to the world. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here 1 Samuel 9-10 and John 20

Resurrection Changes Everything

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 28 and Exodus 5-6

                During the 20th century among the more liberal wing of Christianity it became fashionable to interpret the Bible in a less literal more metaphorical way.  The story of the resurrection of Jesus was regarded not as historical fact but something that happened inside the disciples of Jesus that gave them hope.  The Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong famously wrote of the resurrection of Jesus as a myth which opened the disciples’ eyes to the reality of God and the meaning of Jesus Christ. (whatever that means).

                John Updike is a well regarded novelist and poet, not a theologian, but he uses the tools of a poet to counter the theological attempts to reduce the resurrection of Jesus to a simple myth.  In his poem Seven Stanzas at Easter he writes:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/seven-stanzas-at-easter/

                What Updike so poetically states is that the resurrection of Jesus is no myth, no allegory, it actually happened.  Jesus’ dead corpse physically rose up from the tomb in which it had been buried.  Jesus was really raised to everlasting life.  The first disciples of Jesus would certainly have agreed whole-heartedly.

                Today’s passage from Matthew 28 is one of four Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.  Each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John include and omit different elements of the story.  This is always true of witnesses.  In a trial or a new article when multiple witnesses are interviewed they will tell the story in different ways and include and exclude data.  Each person sees and experiences things from their own unique perspective.  In fact, if all witnesses say exactly the same thing in exactly the same way it raises suspicions that they got together and colluded beforehand what their statement was going to be.  Eye-witness accounts should have different details.  But the overall story should be the same.  This is true with the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  Each of the Gospels gives different details and some alter the chronological order of events, but they are all in agreement of the important facts- Jesus physically rose from the dead and there were numerous eye-witnesses.

                Outside of the Gospels, the Apostle Paul also offers his own testimony.  In the book of Acts Paul encountered the risen Christ while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Church.  And later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the resurrection of the dead:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (I Corinthians 15:3-8, New International Version).

                Paul makes it clear that not only is the death of Jesus foundational to Christianity but so is his resurrection that was witnessed by more than 500 people including Paul.  According to the Old Testament Law it took two or three witnesses to confirm something as factual.  More than 500 witnesses is way more than necessary to confirm a fact.  Jesus really did rise from the dead.

                Paul then connects the resurrection of Jesus to the resurrection of all people.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)

Paul says here that if there is no resurrection of Jesus and no resurrection of the followers of Jesus, then we are wasting our time talking about faith.  The true, bodily resurrection of Jesus is no myth, it is central to our faith and it changes everything.

The Apostles certainly believed it was true.  They took up Jesus’ commission to go into all of the world and proclaim the good news that Christ has died and Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.  You and I are part of that same tradition.  We are called to pass along this same truth.  It is who we are.  Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead.  Jesus Christ really is coming again to raise those who have died and are asleep in their graves from death to everlasting life.  That is our hope and joy.  That is the foundation on which to live your whole life.

-Jeff Fletcher

The Promise of Jesus’ Presence

Matthew 28 & Mark 16

Praise God that Jesus was raised from the dead and lives forevermore! Today we close out the gospel of Matthew and Mark with reading about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. I want to focus in on the last phrase of Matthew 28 and the closing phrase of the gospel where Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NASB)

Just a few lines earlier Jesus declared that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him and then charges his disciples to make disciples. Concluding his final words he promises them he will always be with them and never leave them. Not only did Jesus promise to always be with his original disciples but he promises to always be with all who follow him. What a comforting truth especially during this season of life all of us are living. Life in general is tough but living as a Christian, a true follower of Jesus, can be even tougher at times. Take heart and remember that you are never alone. The resurrected all-powerful living Christ abides with his people! 

-Jacob Rohrer

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Matthew 28 & Mark 16

Tomorrow we will finish the other two gospel accounts – Luke 24 and John 20-21 as we continue on our chronological Bible reading plan through 2020.

Share Your Story

Luke 24

Luke 24 33 34 NIV

What if social media existed at the time the events of Luke 24 took place?

Which one of the women would have been live streaming on Facebook the angels telling them that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb – that he had risen.

How many retweets would there have been of the news that Jesus had spoken to the men on the road to Emmaus?

How many people would have seen the SnapChat story of Jesus eating broiled fish with his disciples?

What hashtags would have been used with the Instagram photo of Jesus’ ascension?

If social media existed at that time, there is no doubt in my mind that the news would be viral and everyone worldwide would have heard the news in a matter of hours.

Why is it then that even with today’s modern methods of communication, there are still those who do not believe, much less know about Jesus?

I think it’s because it takes a personal encounter between someone who already has a relationship with Jesus to tell someone else about the risen Lord. Just like it took in Luke 24. The gospel is best shared when it can be associated with a personal story or testimony. Do you have your story ready to share with others?

Just like the women who went to visit the tomb or the disciples who walked 7 miles to Emmaus and then ran 7 miles back to Jerusalem (all in one day) you too have a testimony to share with others.

In the coming New Year, look for ways to share your story with someone who needs to hear that #JesusLives.

Bethany Ligon

Looking for the Living Christ

Philippians 3 10
John 20
Acts 1
Acts 9
Church Tradition
Revelation 1
All these places point to a living Christ, if we take the Bible even slightly seriously.
But it doesn’t mean much if you don’t believe.
Today, we are going to do something different. When you are done reading this blog, turn off your phone, close your Bibles and listen to the Spirit of God. Jesus said he would give us the Spirit, and the Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth. So listen to the spirit.
That’s a hard ask, but what I mean is pray. That prayer may be sitting quietly at your powered-off laptop, or it may be on a run in your neighborhood, or on a nature hike in the nearby park, or it may be as you weed your garden, or as you pick up your room at college. Wherever you find yourself, in whatever it is that connects you to the Lord, ask the question I have asked you over and over again.
Do you believe that Jesus is alive?
That is the central question, not merely of the Christian faith, but of the human condition.
If Christ be not raised, life is, to quote MacBeth, “A tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”
And one more Bible study, one more daily reading will not fix that bleak picture of existence if you do not believe Christ is really and truly alive.
Today, pray for conviction that Christ is raised. Pray for the knowledge that he lives. Pray that Christ would live within you and be made real to you. Whatever it takes.
I have had my doubts. There are times when I felt the crushing weight of loneliness, as if we are the only beings in the universe. But now, having experienced the saving grace of God in my life, I am convinced. I know that Christ lives, and I have written every day with the desire that you too are convinced.
May you, my brothers and sisters, feel the wind of the spirit as Christ breathes on you.
May you dive into the waters of life and swim to the shore where Christ prepares a meal and forgives your sins.
May you see him rise up from the mount of olives to prepare a place and may you trust he will descend to that mount again.
May you find yourself knocked from your horse with the voice of Christ resounding in your ears.
May you stand firm, no matter the course of life, no matter the beast or demon that stand in your way and persevere in his calling.
May you have all this and more because Christ, the savior and redeemer, is alive through the Power of God.
So, I ask one more time, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

FREE THEME DAYS: Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 1

Acts 1 3

Over the next few days, I have been given free reign to focus on any portion of scripture. However, I am going to hop around a bit, focusing on a theme: evidence for the risen Jesus.   (And on Sunday our devotions will continue our chapter-by-chapter walk through the New Testament with the book of 1st Corinthians.)
We just celebrated Easter/Resurrection Sunday. This is the most important, most key and most crucial story to what it means to be a believer in Jesus. If Jesus is not raised from the dead: Christmas is little more than a nice story, his teachings are little more than nice words, and his death is little more than a sad story of injustice. BUT, if Jesus was raised to life, never more to die, it means that God put his seal of approval on Christ. Christmas becomes the birth of the Savior, his teachings are divinely given mandates from the best of all possible prophets, and his death is a sacrifice for sin and a ransom from evil/Evil.
Many people in our world today doubt all sorts of miracles. They question the Exodus story due to the “outlandish” claims about the Nile turning to blood or the parting of the sea. They question the stories of creation: was the Earth created in six literal 24 hour days six thousand years ago or through a gradual process involving billions of years? Did Jesus REALLY feed 5,000 people with some fish and some bread, or did they share with one another and no one was left hungry? All of these are interesting questions, and different theological beliefs and convictions lead to various answers.* However, as noted above, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION  is not incidental to the story of the Bible; the Bible IS THE STORY OF THE LIFE, DEATH AND NEW LIFE OF CHRIST. That is God’s Central theme in the pages of Scripture. It gets us to Jesus or points back to him. Jesus, then, connects us to God. Therefore, whatever we believe about other miracles, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is essential.
Which is why Acts 1 was included in Scripture.
READ ACTS 1!
What is so interesting about it is that Christ doesn’t appear to one guy in a room with the door closed (we could chalk that up to lying or insanity). He doesn’t even appear to just the twelve. There are anywhere from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) witnesses who saw Jesus resurrected, walking around preaching and teaching and convincing them that He was real and not a figment of their imagination.
Were the disciples crazy? Scripture shows their flaws but none of them would have been delusional.
Were the disciples lying? That could have been refuted easily and wouldn’t they have quickly given up the story and admitted the lie. (We are getting ahead of ourselves, stay tuned.)
The important point to make is pretty clear. Jesus began a movement. The movement didn’t end with his death, but continued on far afterwards, presumably with him coming back to life. Over and over, this has been confirmed in the pages of Scripture and in the lives of believers. When I ask, “Do you believe Jesus is alive?” I am really asking three question.
Is scripture trustworthy about its claims? If yes, then we must believe Jesus is alive.
Are believers trustworthy about their claims? If yes, then we should trust scripture, and should believe that Jesus is alive.
Have you experienced Jesus? If yes, then tell others that Jesus is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard
_____________________________________________________________________________
*For my part, I think when the Bible tells a narrative, we should trust the narrative to be historically accurate, and when it tells poetry and myths, we don’t hold poetry and myths to that same standard. That discussion takes a lot to unpack… if you are intrigued, be on the lookout for a Young Adult Class coming to FUEL this Summer!

He is RISEN! He is RISEN INDEED!

John 20

John 20 8

In John 20, we see Christ has been raised. He is no longer in the tomb. The stone was rolled away and he lives.
The Darkness is over!
The LIGHT HAS DAWNED!
The Light who gives light to every person is ALIVE.
Praise the God who gives life to the Light who shines forth in the Darkness. The Darkness COULD NOT overcome the Light.
However, in this metaphorical language, taken straight from the mouth of John, I don’t want to lose sight of the amazing couple of statements made at the end of the chapter.
John specifically says exactly why he wrote the book.
“These [things] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
You have read through the entire book of John. You have read the prologue of chapter one. You have read the “book of signs”, from chapter 2 to 12, and the seven signs Christ performed. You have read the “book of teachings”, from chapter 13 to 17 and all the things that Christ tells us there. Finally, you have read the “book of glory”, from chapter 18 to 20, all about how he receives his exaltation in the crucifixion and the greatest exaltation of the resurrection.
The reason for each “book”, for every chapter, for every phrase, for indeed EVERY WORD, all of it was for you to at the end say “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus, the one performing miracles, the one speaking truth, the one who died, is the Son of God? Do you have life in his name?
If you don’t, don’t wait. On this day, as we celebrate Christ raised to life, I want to celebrate that YOU have been raised to life. Talk to your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, legal guardian, your pastor or youth worker, your best bud who believes… talk to ANYONE about giving your life to Jesus, about getting baptized, about believing in the name of Jesus and experiencing life and life abundantly.
If you believe, remember, that today we speak of Jesus and we say
“He is Risen indeed.”
In the future, Christ will say of you, believer,
“My Brother, my sister, the children of my Father, they are all risen. They are RISEN INDEED!”
Amen,
Come Lord Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

Be Bold with Truth and Love

Acts 4 19 (1)

Acts 4

Despite the change we see in the disciples, the Jewish religious leaders have stayed the same. They continue in the same disbelief they held when Jesus was with them. And because of that, here we see the first of many imprisonments the disciples will endure through the book of Acts. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to silence Jesus, they will try to continue to restrain his message from his followers. Yet the news of the resurrected Messiah continued to spread.

Despite imprisonments and persecution, the apostles speak out with a growing boldness. We see new converts believing from all neighboring areas. The church that we know, started here and had a passion for what is right and true.

I do not think they were intentionally looking to offend but they were also not afraid to tell the truth if it was offensive. I think today’s church has softened its stance on too many issues to avoid being offensive. There are somethings that we cannot waver from. One being found in our passage today “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Don’t be the one that rejects Jesus but further do not be the one that is ashamed of the truth either. Go and share the message of Jesus with love – not looking to offend but not wavering from truth if it could be offensive.

-John Wincapaw

Searching for Jesus

Mark 16:1-8 (Friday)

Mark 16-6

On the Sunday after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James & Salome went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  They went first thing, right as the sun was rising (as early as they could and still respect the Sabbath).  When they reach the tomb, they find the stone rolled away and a young man in white telling them Jesus was raised from the dead and was no longer here.  He tells them go and tell Jesus’s disciples and Peter that “He is going ahead of you to Galilee to meet you there.”  So the two women fled from the tomb in astonishment and trembling, saying nothing.

And that is how the oldest versions of Mark end.  That’s it.  All the rest of chapter 16 (verses 9 – 20) were added afterwards.  No appearances of the risen Jesus.  No commission to the world.  No ascending up to heaven.  Just an empty tomb and silence.

What in the world is Mark doing?!  If this were a movie, it would easily be one of the worst movie endings of all time.  And that includes some pretty unsatisfying movie endings (Inception, X-Men 3, Matrix Reloaded…).  BUT, as we’ve seen, Mark isn’t a crummy writer.  Remember his artful use of “stay alert” and his plot timings in the Temple?  Mark knew how to craft a remarkable story and to tell it with purpose.  I believe that Mark was up to something here that makes me like this older ending more than the extended one (it’s like the original vs the extended edition).  Here’s my take on Mark’s original ending.

First, we – as the reader/audience – are in the know.  From the very beginning we know that Jesus has been raised and that the church emerged as his followers continued his work.  So we know what happened.  Because we know that the church exists and that the disciples continued the work, we know that Mary & Mary weren’t silent forever.  The word spread and the gospel message grew.  I think that Mark is using our knowledge of this as a way to emphasize the irony of this moment and as a challenge for the audience to do what they know wasn’t done: DON’T BE SILENT!  Spread the good news!  From the first verses, Mark is preparing us to speak out; to be the voice in the wilderness shouting out.  We are meant to take the message forth to take up the responsibility we know we have but that is left unfulfilled in the text.

Second, the audience is meant to experience the suffering and despair of the crucifixion – not just for Jesus but for his followers as well.  Mark leaves us unsatisfied as a tool for helping us step into the shoes of those who were living this out in real time.  We experience the uncertainty and trepidation that comes with uncertainty.  BUT we still must move in light of that uncertainty.  Which then becomes faith.  Faith is belief in things unseen.  In Mark’s gospel, that faith is put into the text literally with the absence of the risen Christ.  If Mark wasn’t written until the disciples and witnesses of Jesus were all dying, then it was for an audience that would have never seen Jesus face to face.  Their faith isn’t based on some encounter with a man but an encounter with his love in the community he started.  Mark’s original ending helps us feel the void of uncertainty (what happens in our lives all the time) but also move us to a faith that is open to uncertainty and still demands that we act anyways.

Finally, I think that Mark is leaving the story in our hands.  The man in the tomb says, “Jesus is going ahead of you; there you will see him.”  Jesus isn’t in heaven in this story.  Jesus is out there – in the world.  Waiting for us.  We have to go find him.  We have to search for him.  We have to take this story and find Jesus in the love and grace and truth of a community that is searching together in the world.  This is my favorite idea in Mark; that this ending calls us to go forth and live a life for Christ so that we might find him.  But where can we find Christ?  We’ll find him in the orphan we adopt, the prisoner we visit, the poor we protect, the immigrant we give refuge, the sick we heal, the hungry we feed, and the oppressed we redeem.  I know that Jesus is in heaven now, and I can’t see heaven.  But I can see the Kingdom of God – the good news he came to spread – break into this world bit by bit when I live out the life I was created to live.  Jesus is out there, waiting for us to come and serve and find him.

Now Mark says, what are you going to do?  Will you remain here, quiet?  Or will you go and be a part of the work God is doing?

-Graysen Pack