The Good News of the Ascension of Jesus

“Do not cling to me.”

This can’t be the reception Mary Magdalene was expecting when she encountered the resurrected Jesus.

Mary had been weeping outside Jesus’ tomb. You can imagine her distress, having just watched her dear friend suffer a humiliating, grisly death. Now his body was missing.

Jesus walked up to her while she investigated the empty tomb. Mary initially thought he was the gardener, but when Jesus spoke her name, she recognized him! She called out, in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16).

But instead of an embrace or some other warm gesture, Jesus was much more direct:

“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

Read in the wrong light, this sounds cold, almost cruel. But in this statement, Jesus reveals his focus on his Father and also provides hope for Mary and the other disciples.

Jesus Longed for His Ascension

As you read through the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John, you’ll find that Jesus focused much more on his ascension than we do. By “ascension,” I’m referring to Jesus’ bodily return to heaven after his resurrection (see Luke 24:50–51 and Acts 1:9–11).

In John 20, Jesus didn’t want Mary to think he’d be on earth forever. He didn’t want her to get attached to his resurrected form. There was still work to do.

We think of Jesus’ work for us in three distinct categories: his life, death, and resurrection. But Jesus would have us add his ascension as a fourth category. And there’s no doubt this was his most anticipated work.

The Ascension Is Relational

Jesus loved his Father and longed for a reunion.

  • Jesus says to his disciples, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
  • “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28).
  • Jesus prays to his Father, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11).

Before his incarnation, Jesus enjoyed perfect fellowship in the immediate presence of God the Father. This is what he longed to reclaim, and it’s one reason the ascension was so important to him.

In his ascension, he would experience the unbroken presence of his Father.

Don’t miss the fact that Jesus’ ascension was a bodily ascension. This matters! It means that in the incarnation Jesus took on and identified with the human body for all time. It also means that, as the head of the new humanity, Jesus shows us the destination of the redeemed: to be with God, bodily, forever (see Revelation 21:3).

This destination should shape our longings. When our aspirations or goals are dashed, when we experience pain in body or soul, we can lift our eyes to our final home. The new heavens and the new earth await, and we will dwell with God!

The Ascension Is Functional

Though Jesus wanted the heavenly reunion that his ascension would accomplish, he also had work to do. In his ascension, Jesus accomplished and began several vital tasks for our salvation.

Jesus is coronated as King.

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). The Old Testament background for the title “Son of God” (see Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7) makes it clear that this title has a royal meaning. By his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the king!

If the resurrection declared Jesus to be King, then the ascension functions as his coronation ceremony. It was important that his disciples saw him depart, ascending to his throne, knowing he would return in the same fashion.

For more support of this function of the ascension, note the following:

  • Jesus has conquered and sat down with his Father on his throne (Revelation 3:21), where he is praised (Revelation 5:6–14).
  • Peter says that God made Jesus Lord, sitting at his right hand until his enemies are his footstool (Acts 2:34–36). This is the language of a king.
  • Paul writes that Jesus must reign (like a king!) until he has put all enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Jesus sends the Holy Spirit.

We begin to learn what the ascension means when we consider what we would lose if it never happened. Here’s a huge implication: If Jesus never ascended, his followers would never have received the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Let’s not underestimate the sending of the Spirit! Because of the Spirit, we have the conversions at Pentecost, the growth and expansion of the early church, and the Bible. If the Spirit were not sent, you and I would not be Christians!

Jesus is our heavenly high priest.

Jesus’ ascension also takes him to a place of great importance. He is now at the Father’s right hand, and his ongoing work there is vital.

  • The Bible tells us that Jesus is the true high priest for his people. He “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus brings his people to God for true deliverance and salvation.
  • Jesus is also our heavenly advocate. He reminds his Father of his sacrifice for sin and holds our status as sons and daughters before God. “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
  • Jesus transcended physical limitations in his ascension. Though he keeps his human body forever, Jesus is now able to listen, rule, and heal without the familiar time and space restrictions we know.

What the Ascension Means for Us

The ascension of Jesus is a glorious fact that has scores of implications for his people. Here are a few:

Assurance

As our high priest, Jesus sat down at God’s right hand, indicating that his work of sacrifice is done (Hebrews 10:11–12). Our standing with God doesn’t depend on our actions or our emotions, but on the finished work of Christ.

Confidence

The enthroned king has been given all power to rule, and this power is his to dispense to his church (see Ephesians 1:15–23). Nothing can stand in the way of God’s purposes, and he will accomplish them with power, often through us.

Hope

When Jesus spoke to his disciples about his departure from earth, the note was joyous, not mournful. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). In this one verse, Jesus gives at least three reasons for hope.

He is preparing a place for us. He will come again. He will take us to be with him.

This is the destiny for those who, by God’s grace, call on Jesus in faith.

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Links for the Weekend (3/5/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Which Christian Best Portrays Christ?

Tim Challies writes a parable of sorts, comparing Jesus to the Rocky Mountains, and how it’s impossible to capture either in one snapshot (or virtue).

In the end, which of these Christians best portrays Christ? Is it the one who is as kind as Jesus or the one who is as patient? Is it the one who teaches like Jesus or the who extends his warm welcome? The truth is all of them and none of them. All of them capture the part God has assigned to them, but none of them captures the whole, for the subject is simply too vast for any one canvas, for any one person. The closest view of the whole is when the many are gathered together into one gallery, each displaying its small part.

Turning Water to Wine

Megan Taylor writes a reflection on Jesus’s first miracle.

Have you ever secretly thought that Jesus’ first miracle is a bit of a letdown? The audience is small, the master of the feast does not even know something supernatural has taken place, and it seems the main takeaway from the guests is the quality of wine. Many people fixate on ancillary details of this miracle— the way Jesus speaks to His mother, the alcoholic nature of the wine— and it’s easy to miss the glory wrapped up in this passage as Jesus bursts onto the scene as the initiator of the new covenant.

Lament Is for Little Ones, Too

I’ve been thinking a lot about lament recently, so Christina Fox’s post on teaching children to lament was very timely (and helpful!).

Our children have big emotions. Like us, they experience sadness and fear, loneliness and grief. They need to be equipped to navigate their feelings. They need to be discipled to respond to their feelings in a biblical way.

But as parents, we often have a hard enough time dealing with our emotions. We can be uncomfortable even talking about feelings, much less helping our children navigate theirs. We can also default to unhealthy practices learned in our childhood: avoiding emotions, suppressing emotions, or soothing emotions with food or other temporary comforts.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

A Contrast of Kings at Christmas

Secular Christmas scenes are full of snow, wreaths, lights, and cookies. The roaring fires and flannel pajamas that appear on so many cards paint the holiday as one of coziness and warmth.

While there’s nothing wrong with these seasonal elements, none of them capture the biblical reality. Christmas is the time to rejoice in the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus.

But even in the Bible, Jesus’s birth was not an occasion for universal joy. While there was great celebration, the Christmas narratives are also serious, dark, and cautionary.

Herod the King

The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel offers a stark contrast. Right from the beginning, we read that in the days of Herod the king the wise men came looking for the king of the Jews. This contrast seems intentional, as Matthew refers to Herod as “king” a total of three times (Matt 2:1, 3, 9).

While the wise men traveled a great distance to worship this new king (Matt 2:2), they went to Herod only for information. The wise men rejoiced when approaching the house where Jesus was, and they brought extravagant gifts, falling down in worship. Since God warned them away, the wise men didn’t even speak to Herod again.

Herod was “troubled” by this talk of a new king (Matt 2:3). The Jewish religious leaders reported that prophesies pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of a “ruler” who would “shepherd” the people of Israel (Matt 2:6). This was not good news for Herod.

Jesus the Child

The contrast between Herod and Jesus is heightened by the difference in their ages. Herod was an adult; Jesus had just been born. In fact, Jesus is referred to as a “child” nine times in this chapter.

Given the difference in physical ability and political power between Jesus and Herod, it seems bizarre that Herod was threatened by this baby. But Herod was so enraged when the wise men did not report back to him that he ordered the death of all male children in and around Bethlehem under two years old.

We should pause here and note the violence and devastation that Herod caused. His fear and his lust for power proved to be a murderous cocktail. These deaths were unspeakably cruel, selfish, and senseless, and they must have left Bethlehem residents horrified and empty with grief.

While Herod took drastic, human steps to eliminate Jesus, Matthew’s text shows us the supernatural elements used to honor and protect Jesus. The star that the wise men followed (“his star” in Matt 2:2) appeared both before and after their visit to Jerusalem (Matt 2:9–10) and led them directly to Jesus. Additionally, God acted through dreams to warn the wise men (Matt 2:12) and to direct Joseph and his young family (Matt 2:13, 19, 22).

Finally, notice the role of prophecy in this chapter. In his birth in Bethlehem (Matt 2:5–6), his exile to Egypt (Matt 2:17), and his settling in Nazareth (Matt 2:23), Jesus fulfilled what the prophets had spoken. On the other hand, the prophecy that Herod fulfilled was one of tears and lamentation (Matt 2:17–18).

Worship Christ, the Newborn King

Jesus was declared a king at his birth. And the contrast between Jesus and all other kings continued through his earthly life and beyond.

Because Jesus is the great, high king, he is a threat to all who hold power. God demands (and deserves) our undiluted worship, and this is a problem for anyone who craves any glory that belongs to God.

This is a warning to all in authority: Worship Jesus as the high king willingly while you can. One day every knee will bow, whether willingly or not (Phil 2:9–11). Your power is delegated power and should be used to help those around you to flourish.

And for everyone, this is a call to worship Jesus. He is no mere human king; he is the Lord of all. And as Lord, he shows himself to be vastly superior to Herod.

Though he is powerful and his authority is absolute, he is merciful and gentle. We have all grasped for power; we have all neglected and rejected proper worship. But king Jesus offers love and forgiveness for those who turn to him.

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Learning from the Humiliation of Jesus

Jesus’s crucifixion was not only unjust, it was tortuous. The Romans were famous for their punishing, public executions.

But physical pain was not the only agony Jesus suffered in his final days. In fact, one Gospel writer highlights the emotional torment of Jesus far more than his bodily pain.

Mockery in Luke

As my small group made its way through the end of Luke this year, the humiliation of Jesus jumped out at me.

After Jesus was arrested, the men who held him abused him. Notice the way they mocked Jesus, belittling his position as a divine prophet.

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. (Luke 22:63–65)

Later, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. Herod and his soldiers “mocked him.” As part of this humiliation, Jesus was dressed in “splendid clothing” (Luke 23:11).

Jesus was “railed at,” “scoffed at,” and “mocked” (Luke 23:35–37, 39). He suffered the indignity of being crucified with criminals. Jesus’s accusers threw the title of “Savior” in his face—surely he cannot be the Christ or the King of the Jews if he can’t even save himself!

The Pain of Public Taunting

Let’s consider these indignities carefully. In public, Jesus was denounced as being utterly powerless. Jesus couldn’t be the Christ, he couldn’t be the Chosen One, he couldn’t be the King.

Because Jesus was fully man, we can imagine some of what he felt during this mockery. Think of a core mission of your life or a label given to you by God. Now imagine someone screaming these taunts at you in the town square. You must not be a child of God! She is not much of a mother! He cannot be a true missionary!

Here’s the awful, terrible truth. Jesus was completely humiliated. He was mocked and taunted and denounced. He heard every biting word, and, one by one, they sliced open his heart.

Lack of Physical Suffering

When compared to the emotional pain that Jesus suffered, Luke records far less physical suffering.

Luke tells us about the beating from the soldiers (Luke 22:63) and the way Herod and his soldiers “treated him with contempt” (Luke 23:11). But Luke doesn’t record Jesus’s crown of thorns or his scourging by Pilate’s men (see Matthew 27:29 and Matthew 27:26, respectively). Luke also omits other incidents of beating, spitting, and slapping that we read in the other three Gospels.

These omissions don’t point to a contradiction. They also don’t mean that Luke was unaware of these abuses. Luke just chose to emphasize Jesus’s emotional suffering.

Why This Emphasis?

This may seem like a strange focus, but it is a natural conclusion to the way Luke writes Jesus’s story. Throughout his ministry, Jesus identified with those who were scorned and cast out. He elevated the humiliated and called his followers to humble themselves in service of others. Once we look for this thread, we see it woven through every page of Luke’s Gospel.

  • Jesus announced his ministry by saying he would focus on the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18–19).
  • Jesus’s healings largely focused on those suffering in ways that put them on the margins of society. Among others, he healed a leper (Luke 5:12–13), a naked man possessed by many demons (Luke 8:26–39), a woman with a 12-year discharge of blood (Luke 8:43–48), a boy possessed by a violent demon (Luke 9:37–43), a woman with an 18-year “disabling spirit” which bent her in half (Luke 13:10–13), and a blind beggar (Luke 18:35–43).
  • He kept company with “tax collectors and sinners” at a time when religious leaders looked at such people with scorn and disgust. (See Luke 5:27–32, Luke 7:34, Luke 7:36–50, Luke 15:1–2, and Luke 19:1–10.)
  • In the Beatitudes, Jesus blessed those who were poor, hungry, weeping, and hated (Luke 6:20–23).
  • Jesus’s teaching on discipleship emphasized self-denial (Luke 9:23–27), selling one’s possessions to give to the needy (Luke 12:33–34), and inviting the poor, crippled, lame, and blind to a banquet instead of friends and family (Luke 14:12–14).
  • Jesus showed concern for the humiliated in his parables. In the parable of the banquet, the master brought in the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (Luke 14:15–24). The father of the prodigal ran to meet his broken and humiliated son when he returned (Luke 15:11–24). And Lazarus, a poor beggar covered with sores, was elevated to heaven while the rich man suffered in Hades (Luke 16:19–31).
  • Peter proclaimed he was willing to die for Jesus (Luke 22:33) and wanted a fight when Jesus was arrested (Luke 22:50). He didn’t want to be identified with a humiliated Jesus (Luke 22:54–62). Jesus’s look at Peter (Luke 22:61) was a quiet rebuke; following Jesus does not bring the honor of a final glorious battle, it requires the willingness to give up one’s rights and die.

After Jesus loved and cared for the humiliated through his ministry, he became humiliated at the end. He took the place of those he loved.

Our Response

Jesus knows our humiliation because he was humiliated. He is able to sympathize with every one of our conditions and weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). This is why we can draw near to his throne of grace with confidence, knowing that we’ll find all the mercy we need (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus also calls us to willingly suffer humiliation for others. As we lower ourselves, giving up money or time or status, we elevate others.

In this, we embrace the pattern of Jesus, who suffered to save his enemies (including us, Romans 5:10). We also depend on (and demonstrate) the power of Jesus. Embracing humiliation for others is not natural; only after we have been changed can we seek out the lower place by the gracious work of the Spirit.

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Links for the Weekend (12/27/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

5 Potential (Year-Long) Effects of the Christmas Season

Jason Seville suggests that there are rhythms of the Christmas season that we would be wise to stretch out over the whole calendar year. One of the areas he writes about is hospitality.

At Christmas we buy gifts, bake cookies, send cards, extend meal invites, and throw parties. We get to know fellow church members better, and we welcome strangers. We have people over with the clear intention and purposes of extending Christ’s love.

But hospitality ought to be the Christian’s perennial disposition. We ought to, as Paul wrote, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Let’s circle dates in those first 11 months as well. When will we plan a dinner party for a group of coworkers? When will we invite that new couple from church for dinner? When will we randomly bless the widow down the street with a plate of cookies?

God with us

This article in Fathom Magazine is a short, lovely meditation on the life of Jesus.

He enters into our hearts, flames flickering above our heads as he tears down the old, rotting walls of our souls, the structurally unsound, cracked, termite-ridden foundation. He takes his carpenter’s hands and he rebuilds.

Ten Questions for a New Year

The beginning of the year is a great time to prayerfully consider our ways. Is there anything you should add to your life this year? What should be changed or removed from your life? Don Whitney provides some good questions for us to ponder.

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by making a goal to encourage one person in particular this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t set that goal.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (12/6/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

10 Best Advent Albums of the 2010s

I suspect I’m not alone in having a strong association of Advent and Christmas with music. Just in time for the season, Brett McCracken shares his favorite Advent albums of the last decade. There are links to stream the albums; you might just find yourself a nice soundtrack for the next three weeks.

I’ve been encouraged, for example, that in the last few decades there has been a renaissance of Advent–focused Christmas music: music that is theologically rich and, while still joyful, somewhat more somber and serious than pop Christmas radio. This music helps listeners enter into the Advent story in a way that focuses on spiritual contemplation more than tinsel-drenched merriment.

You Can Be Anxious About Nothing

The command from Paul in Philippians to be “anxious about nothing”—well, it can’t really mean nothing, can it? It sometimes feels like stress and anxiety are simply a part of the human experience. Kim Cash Tate wrestles with this command in an article over at Desiring God.

Alternatively, we tell ourselves that “do not be anxious about anything” is for the spiritually mature saint, a verse to aspire to. And since we’re not there yet, we can dismiss this direct command for a while. Moreover, we’re careful not to burden others with it. If a fellow believer is battling anxious thoughts, we think it insensitive to bring this verse to bear on the situation. Better to show sympathy than to risk sounding trite.  

How Can Jesus Be Our Everlasting Father?

Another article here that is Advent-adjacent. David Sunday helps us think about the title “Everlasting Father” for the Messiah in Isaiah 9.

Of all the names attributed to Jesus in Isaiah 9:6, Everlasting Father intrigues me the most because it’s the one I understand the least. How can Jesus the Messiah, the second person of the Godhead, be called Everlasting Father?

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Jesus Did Not Come to Bring Peace on Earth. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Jesus Did Not Come to Bring Peace on Earth

It’s too late for this year. But if you’re looking for a Bible verse for next year’s Christmas card, I have a suggestion.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

Your card is sure to be a hit, though it may get you disinvited from some parties.

What About the Angels?

In seriousness, this passage in Luke 12 raises some difficult questions. We’re used to reading and singing about “peace on earth” at Christmas. And for good reason!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13–14)

As we read closely, we see that the angels were praising God and praying as well. They both sought and heralded peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased. So, the angels weren’t declaring an immediate, universal peace with the arrival of Jesus, but they were calling for a peace among his people.

Because the birth of Jesus was a definitive, declarative step in the victory of God, and because this victory brings believers peace with God, peace among God’s people is possible. We can rest in our acceptance by God, our common adopted status as his sons and daughters. We can stop tearing each other down and start building each other up. We can love each other as brothers and sisters.

Not Now But Later

I read that portion of Luke 12 and I think, Why not, Jesus?

Why didn’t Jesus come to bring peace on earth? There’s a deep part of me—maybe it’s within everyone—that cries out for true peace on earth. Now.

But Jesus came to bring division.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49–53)

Jesus’s “baptism”—likely his crucifixion—will kindle a fire. That fire will bring division based on allegiance and worship, and these fault lines will shoot through households and families.

Sons and daughters of the king will necessarily divide from those outside the kingdom. We love and work and sing and pray and plead for our neighbors, but eventually everyone’s heart follows their treasure.

But among God’s children, there should not be such division: “Peace among those with whom God is pleased.” Though peace will come imperfectly, it should come.

In this aspect as in many others, the church points ahead. We have God’s presence with us now, but we will have it fully in the age to come. We understand dimly now as we look forward to crystal clarity. And we aim now for the peace that will one day extend in all directions, forever.

No Peace for Jesus

We long for that future day without death or pain or any sign of the curse (Rev 22:3). It is coming as surely as the sun rises. But it comes at a cost. We will have peace because Jesus had none.

During his earthly ministry, life for Jesus was chaotic. He had nowhere to stay, no one who understood him, and a growing crowd of accusers. His life ended with betrayal, loneliness, pain, and disgrace.

But most peace comes through conflict. The peace that Jesus secured for us came through the anguish of the cross. God the Father focused his wrath against Jesus, who stood in our place. We can have peace now in part, and we can look forward to perfect peace, because Jesus knew no peace on earth.

Christmas Cheer

The reason for Jesus’s birth doesn’t lend itself to foil-stamped greeting cards. The Incarnation wasn’t about warmly-lit, soft-focused images to make people feel cozy.

But it was about love. It was about peace.

Remember Jesus’s purpose this season. He came to bring peace within the church, division with the world, and a sure hope that sustains us until he returns.

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Jesus, Our Eager Shepherd

What does Jesus think about me?

Does he love me, hate me, or tolerate me? When I sin—is he ashamed of me?

If you’re reading this as a Christian, you’ve probably wrestled with these questions. But here’s another question about Jesus that’s every bit as vital to our everyday faith: How does Jesus view his job?

Did he look forward to his earthly calling, or was he resigned to the task? Is he glad when we pray, or is it a chore for him to care for us?

Our understanding of Jesus’s attitude toward his work and his people affects our prayer lives, our evangelism, and our willingness to trust him. And while the Bible doesn’t record any pre-Incarnation conversations among the members of the Trinity, Scripture is not silent on this issue.

Exhortations to Elders

Peter writes instructions to elders near the end of his first letter (1 Peter 5:1–4). He uses the image of a shepherd with his flock, and he lists three ways shepherds must “exercise oversight.”

  1. Not under compulsion, but willingly (verse 2).
  2. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly (verse 2).
  3. Not domineering over those in their charge, but being examples to the flock (verse 3).

The comparison of God’s people to sheep is instructive if not flattering. Sheep don’t score high on IQ tests. They are prone to lose their way and wander from the herd. In their ignorance they expose themselves to predators, and they are rather helpless on their own.

As those charged to care for a flock like this, elders have a holy and difficult calling. Perhaps this is why Peter follows these commands with a reminder of the promised reward for faithful elders: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

Jesus, the Chief Shepherd

Peter motivates local church elders with the forthcoming crown, but when he refers to Jesus as the “chief Shepherd,” he gives all of us much to ponder. Elders are shepherds; Jesus is the chief.

If the elders are told how to shepherd in verses 1–3, and if Jesus is the perfect and chief shepherd, then the characteristics urged in men are present fully in Jesus. Specifically:

  1. Jesus does not need to be compelled to be our shepherd; he does it willingly.
  2. Jesus does not shepherd us for gain; he does so eagerly.
  3. Jesus is not a demanding shepherd; he is an example to the flock.

Eagerness

Have you ever pondered this glorious truth (see point 2 above), that Jesus is our eager shepherd?

Think of all the pain, conflict, hardship, frustration, loneliness, separation, and sorrow involved in Jesus’ earthly ministry—especially in his passion. If that lay in front of us, we would flee.

And we often project our reaction onto Jesus. We think Jesus must have been talked into his rescue mission. Maybe he was willing, but he couldn’t have been excited.

No! Jesus was eager to save and shepherd us. While it meant tremendous suffering, he charged into the mission with zeal. He was motivated by joy.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2, emphasis added)

Jesus was eager to save us, and he is eager to love and keep us. We do not annoy or burden him with our confession and prayer. Our confusion and wanderings do not irritate him. He is not troubled by our doubts or questions. He welcomes our helplessness.

Jesus is our good, good shepherd. He feeds and tends and protects his sheep.

We can be as eager to trust Jesus as our shepherd as he is to embrace us as his people.

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King David on the Resurrection

There’s a moment at the end of the Gospel of Luke that surprises me every time I read it.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44–47)

The resurrected Jesus speaks with his disciples and tells them that he fulfilled all that was written about him in the entire Old Testament. He says it is written that the Messiah should die and be raised, and that the gospel would be preached to the whole world.

Did you catch that? Jesus said his resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament. So…where was that again?

Peter’s Sermon

Many people rightly point to Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53 as places to turn for Old Testament teaching on resurrection. But today we’ll examine how the apostle Peter answered this question.

Peter began his Pentecost sermon by explaining that the early Christians had received the Holy Spirit. He then talks about Jesus—his arrest, death, and resurrection. In explaining that “it was not possible for [Jesus] to be held by [death],” Peter does a strange thing. He quotes David in Psalm 16:8–11.

For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25–28)

Then Peter interprets for us.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:29–31)

Whoa.

Peter says that David, believing God’s long-term promise, knew that the Messiah could not be abandoned in death. He would not decay in the tomb.

As with Jesus, so with Us

Knowing that David was speaking about the Messiah in Psalm 16, what can we now learn from that text?

Because Psalm 16 is written in the first person, we should read David’s words—at least in part—as speaking prophetically not just about Christ but for Christ. After expressing confidence in the resurrection from the dead (v.10), we read this.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

Though we may be eager to apply these verses to ourselves, let’s slow down.

Jesus had enormous, painful, tortuous work to accomplish. He bore a weight of sin we cannot imagine, and in his death on the cross he suffered an agony of soul far beyond the bodily pain he endured. His eternal Father turned away, and the Son felt the wrath of God against sin. On the cross there was no presence of the Father, no joy, no pleasures.

But the resurrection (and ascension) turned this story around. Jesus was vindicated by his resurrection and was welcomed back into perfect communion with his Father. In place of the wrath, loneliness, and fury he felt in his crucifixion, Jesus would now have “pleasures forevermore.”

These delights await us too. We can gain nothing greater in the new heavens and earth than God himself and the full joy that comes from his presence. But that fellowship was bought for us at a great cost. The promise is first for Jesus—who died for us but over whom death could never be a victor. And then it’s for us, because we follow our elder brother in his resurrection.


This article originally appeared here.

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Singing Is An Act of Faith

Singing is a big part of the Christian life. We sing several times each Sunday, and we read of singing throughout the Bible. Christians are musical people.

When viewed from outside the church, however, all this singing is weird. There’s no other part of life—except, perhaps, birthday parties—that involves as much singing as Christianity.

I notice this whenever we have an official ceremony at Washington & Jefferson College, where I teach. Most of these ceremonies end with the alma mater, a song written to express one’s undying loyalty to and affection for the school. (Most colleges have such a song.) The music begins and everyone stares at the program. If not for the student singers up front, there wouldn’t be much to hear. For those who don’t sing outside the shower, it is a strange moment. I’m supposed to sing these words? To a tune? With my mouth? It’s no wonder most students (and faculty) end up mouthing the words or standing in disinterested silence.

Why We Don’t Sing

For Christians, singing is simply part of the deal.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1–2)

Paul commands the church to sing as well—see Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18–20. He connects this command to thankfulness, being filled with the Spirit, and “making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Singing is part of the way we glorify God as his body.

But, let’s face it. Not many of us are born singers. We are grateful for the word “noise” in the phrase “joyful noise.” We naturally make comparisons, and we feel awkward singing when our skills fall so far short of the worship leaders or soloists in church.

And beyond the lack of talent, singing exposes us. We put ourselves at risk when we sing; there’s nowhere to hide. Those near us hear our wrong notes, missed beats, and bad pronunciation. To avoid embarrassment, we sometimes decide to make a joyful noise internally.

Why We Sing

However, our obedience to God’s command to sing doesn’t depend on our ability. God doesn’t only want singing from the choir.

Think of an analogy. We wouldn’t leave giving, praying, Bible reading, caring for orphans and widows, or loving neighbors only to those who were naturally gifted. If a friend confronted us with the Biblical command not to gossip, we wouldn’t respond, “Oh, it’s okay—I’m just not very good at not gossiping!”

We’re not called to sing because we’re great singers. We sing because God is great and greatly to be praised! And, by God’s design, one of the chief ways we praise him is through song. He is worthy of our song, so we sing!

And as we sing, especially for those not naturally gifted, we exercise faith.

As we open our mouths to sing, we must believe the truth that God is pleased with us. We trust that because of Jesus’s work for us, our Father loves us and wants to hear our voices. Because he is good and tender and faithful, he won’t turn away if we can’t carry a tune.

In a world where we rely on our senses and instincts, this will take some adjustment. We must believe the Bible over our impulse to hide. We need to trust God that our relationship with him does not depend on our performance.

Jesus, the Perfect Singer

If we’re commanded to sing, and if Jesus has perfectly obeyed every command for us, then Jesus is a singer. In fact, he’s the best singer ever.

Think of your favorite hymn or praise song. Or think of the Psalms, most of which were written to be sung in worship by the people of Israel. Jesus has sung and continues to sing these songs of praise to God! His praise to God is perfect, and that obedient praise is credited to us. This is the good news of the gospel!

So when you stand to sing at church this week, don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about your skill. Open your mouth and make your melody, trusting that God loves and accepts you on the basis of his perfect son.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:1–2)

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