The Last Shall be First—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 15.3-10
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. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

1 Timothy 6.17-19
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 

Reflection: The Last Shall be First—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

Paul’s analogy, translated “born unnaturally,” could be interpreted to mean an abortion or miscarriage. It is similar in meaning to the Hebrew word Job uses in Job 3.16 to wish he had never been born. Paul was not aborted but rather reborn—resurrected by Jesus as a new person. Paul’s intention seems to be to humble himself, making himself as unimportant as possible.

Paul describes himself as the “last” to see the risen Jesus and the least of the apostles but he became much more than that. By word count he is unquestionably the first, especially of epistles which contain explanations of the theological meaning of the gospel resurrection accounts.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15 relates to us one of the earliest bits of writing about the resurrection. In verses 3-5, Paul is passing on what he learned from others about the resurrection appearances of Jesus. This text is a rhythmic format in Greek which scholars (including Gary Habermas, whose video discussing this we shared earlier in the week.) believe indicates it was written as early as one to two years after the cross and was intended as an easily memorizable early creed or lesson. 

This statement of faith in the resurrection could have been memorized and shared by some of the very families which Paul had been putting in chains prior to his conversion. 

If we believe the New Testament, then much of its message hinges on appearances and visions of Jesus. It is an important detail that these visions are not simply taken at face value in the text. The disciples and the authorities doubt them, test them, hear them over and over, and reconcile them with scripture. Paul, before experiencing an appearance of Jesus, tortured and murdered others for believing them.

In Paul’s day, women and children were not to be believed. So Jesus comes to the women first. Scholars and theologians were believed to see the scriptures clearly. So Jesus blinds Paul, one of the most brilliant theologians of his day.

We must flip many of our assumptions to enter the gospel story. To be mature we must believe as children. To be a part of the family we must admit we are outsiders. To gain riches of spiritual insight we must admit we are poor, blind, and naked.

Following Paul’s example, only by putting ourselves last, can we put Jesus first and take hold of “the life that is truly life.”

*For information on the historical evidence of the consistency and reliability of the gospel message, see this video from scholar, Gary Habermas — 1:20

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 4 (Listen – 2:18)
1 Timothy 6 (Listen -3:16)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 (Listen – 2:50), 2 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)
Ecclesiastes 6 (Listen – 1:44), 2 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

Read more about Angelic Visions Require Childlike Faith
If we read the Bible, and if what we read has anything to do with what we believe, then we have no choice but to take angels seriously.

Read more about Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith
Once he met Christ, Paul realized everything prior was waste, rubbish, by comparison.

Lent is a Community Project

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 13.9-12
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Matthew 5.48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Reflection: Lent is a Community Project
By John Tillman

C.S. Lewis says, “‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas,…Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.” Lewis continues:

“You must realize from the outset that the goal towards which he is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except yourself, can prevent him from taking you to that goal.”

“Many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would now leave us alone. As we say, “I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.” And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.”

But the Spirit of Christ will not settle for making us feel better about ourselves.
If Lent is only a reduction in consumption, we have failed to be nourished by it.
If Lent is only lost weight we have lost the weight of its importance.
If Lent is only valuable for fleshly improvements we achieve, we have failed to value what we could gain.

Lent is not conquering one or two sins or habits we find annoying about ourselves. The fasting in Lent is a community project we engage in as a partnership between us, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s body, the Church. Its goal is a part of our ever-increasing pursuit of Christ’s prayer that we be perfected in him.

“Make no mistake,” he says, “If you let me, I will make you perfect. You have free will and, if you chose, you can push me away. But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect—until my father can say without reservation that he is well pleased with you, as he said he was well pleased with me.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us. — Psalm 68.28

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 27 (Listen -2:21)
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen -2:23)

Read more about Mirrors and Sanctification
May we follow the example of these women to transform our use of technology for spiritual purposes.

Read more about More and More and Less and Less :: Guided Prayer
We cannot do “more and more” of the things Christ calls us to without doing “less and less” of some other things.

Where Would the Body Be?

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 12:19-20, 24b-26
If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Reflection: Where Would the Body Be?
By Jon Polk

Ever stubbed your pinky toe? Or hit your funny bone? There’s nothing funny about it. It hurts! Even the seemingly most insignificant, minuscule, overlooked parts of our body let us know when they are in extreme pain.

The human body is one of the most complex systems in existence, with 206 bones, over 650 muscles, almost 8 pounds of skin, and numerous ligaments, veins, and arteries. Intricate complexity, yet with remarkable unity.

It is no surprise that Paul utilizes the image of the body as a metaphor for the Church. After all, it was a common ancient image to describe systems and structures. However, body imagery had mainly been used to emphasize and enforce hierarchical social structures, ensuring that each person was kept in their proper place.

Paul’s view of the Church as a body is the exact opposite. Diversity and interdependence of body parts reinforce equality in God’s kingdom. The supposed weaker parts are just as important as the ones that tend to receive more attention.

In his commentary on this passage, Richard Hays writes

“The body is internally differentiated in accordance with the design of God; without such differentiation, the body would be grotesque and helpless, all eye or all ear. For that reason, no member of the body (church) should ever think that he or she is worthless or unimportant.”

Many of our relationships are functional or transactional. What can the hand do for me? Why is the eye not working properly? Foot, why can’t you keep us stable?

The parts (people) that appear to do more, tend to get more attention. And the lesser parts (people) are overlooked. The ear wants to be an eye. The big toe wants to be the heart. We believe the lies that we’re not good enough or important enough to be used by the body.

That’s not how God intends his body to be. Through Christ, we share in one another’s lives. We work for the good of all, not just for our own selfish desires. In God’s design, when the body of Christ is functioning properly, we share burdens and we share joys. In God’s body, every part needs the others.

“How can the hand say to the eye, “I don’t need you, I’ll get by without you.”
How can the eye say to the hand, “I don’t need your touch, you don’t understand what I do.”
Ain’t no use in foolin’ ourselves, you need me and I need you.”
            (“I Need You”, John Cox – Live Performance; Album – “Sunny Day”)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. — Psalm 32.12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 25-26 (Listen -1:52)
1 Corinthians 12 (Listen -4:25)

Read more about Making Him Known :: A Guided Prayer
May your prayer for us be fulfilled, Jesus…”I pray for those who will believe…that all of them may be one”

Read more about Hearts God Moves :: Epiphany
One of the gifts of Christ is that we become a part of Epiphany—Christ’s manifestation—as we fulfill our role in the body of Christ.

Proclaiming The Lord’s Death and Ours

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 11.26
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Reflection: Proclaiming The Lord’s Death and Ours
By John Tillman

When we partake in the Lord’s Supper it is not just Christ’s death we proclaim. We are aligning ourselves with him, stretching out upon our own cross with him as our model.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, widens the traditional definition of Christ’s Passion. 

“Christ’s time of passion begins not with Holy Week but with the first day of his preaching…His renunciation of the empire as a kingdom of this world takes place not at Golgotha but at the very beginning.”

“Jesus could have been Lord of this world. As the Messiah the Jews had dreamed of, he could have freed Israel and led it to fame and honor. He is a remarkable man, who is offered dominion over the world even before the beginning of his ministry. And it is even more remarkable that he turns down this offer. He knows that for this dominion he would have to pay a price that is too high for him. It would come at the cost of obedience to God’s will.”

“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Luke 4:8). Jesus knows what that means. It means lowliness, abuse, persecution. It means remaining misunderstood. It means hate, death, the cross. And he chooses this way from the beginning. It is the way of obedience and the way of freedom, for it is the way of God. And therefore it is also the way of love for human beings.”

We begin Lent this Wednesday, as a way of reminding us that we are incapable of walking this way of love without Christ’s power working in us. We see this expressed in Bonhoeffer’s Lenten Prayer:

I Cannot Do This Alone
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me….
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
Amen

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
You strengthen me more and more; you enfold me and comfort me. — Psalm 71.21

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 24 (Listen -2:56)
1 Corinthians 11 (Listen -4:20)

Read more about Meals Together, Forgiveness to Go
What if all our meals were markers—altars of forgiveness and belonging?

Read more about Daily Bread for Others :: Worldwide Prayer
Praying for daily bread includes an acknowledgment of our need for intentional connection with God.

Incest, Greed, and Idolatry

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 5.9-10
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

Reflection: Incest, Greed, and Idolatry
By John Tillman

Pause for a moment and summon up your feelings about the sexual sin of incest. 

Think about how destructive it is, about how often it is rooted in or leads to abuse, and about how, even in our sexually freewheeling culture, it is considered repulsive….

In this letter to Corinth, sexual sins take the forefront because Paul is addressing a case of incest, a specific kind of sexual sin. But Paul hardly ever mentions sexual sins without also mentioning sins involving power, idolatry, and wealth. The most skipped-over words in the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians may be “or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters.” This shows that Paul, in comparison to incest, considers greed and idolatry to be equally repulsive, equally abusive, equally destructive, equally sinful, and therefore an equal reason to be subject to church discipline.

It’s uncomfortable to think about sins that we are prone to being the spiritual equivalent of incest. Although most Christians understand the belief that “sin is sin” and all sins are the same before God, in reality we all see the sins of others as having great and terrible import, while we minimize, excuse, and normalize our own sins. 

Paul would have us as uncomfortable with greed and idolatry as we are with incest and other sexual sins. But are we? When was the last time someone was disfellowshipped from a church for greed? When was the last time Christians boycotted something due to greed? Are you greedy and a Christian? Paul advises other Christians not to eat with you.

Paul does not encourage boycotts or avoiding non-Christians who are active in sin. It is only believers who are continuing, unrepentantly in sin who are subject to this kind of treatment. Christians with a subculture mentality, who isolate themselves from interactions with non-believing “sinners,” are doing exactly what Paul says not to do.

We should also remember that Paul’s instructions about removing fellowship are intended to be an effort to warn and correct others so that they may be won back through repentance. 

May we never expect non-Christians to live differently before we show them love.
May we be gracious to one another as we face the conviction of the Holy Spirit in areas of serious sins, such as sexual sin, greed, and idolatry.
May we stand for the Christian sexual ethic without abandoning other ethical stances that scripture holds as equally important. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I hate those who have a divided heart, but your law do I love. — Psalm 119.113

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 18 (Listen -1:54)
1 Corinthians 5 (Listen -1:58)

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read more about In Denial about Injustice
The sins that brought God’s judgment and caused the exile of Israel were multi-faceted. But there is a common thread—injustice.

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