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.

Normal is Dead—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 5.22
Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

John 21.17 
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

*This Easter week as we shelter in our homes due to COVID-19, we may feel more like the disciples than we ever have before. We continue to look this week at the appearances of Jesus, who comes to us as we seek normalcy to call us to something greater.

Reflection: Normal is Dead—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

Scripture doesn’t tell us why Peter went fishing but it is not hard to imagine he needed a touch of normalcy. 

The disciples had been through a panoply of trauma and the familiar labor would be calming to them. Rope and oar and sail and sea (whatever those are to us) can provide an escape and a rhythm of distraction amidst a world of confusion.

This was an outspoken group of disciples—the loudmouths and extroverts. Besides Peter, there was Nathaneal, the sarcastic wisecracker, Thomas, the last to believe and first to call Jesus “my God,” James and John, who thought they should be closest to Jesus on his throne, and two unnamed disciples, one of whom is probably Andrew, Peter’s brother.

From Jerusalem to the Sea of Tiberius was about a 100-mile walk. Perhaps they had already left the city to go home. Perhaps they had access to faster transportation. John doesn’t elaborate. But it wasn’t a casual afternoon of fishing as a pastime. Some believe this trip implied Peter was resuming his prior occupation and giving up the ministry.

Then Jesus appears, sitting on the shore, pointing out the flaws in their plan. “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” This appearance is a callback—a reminder—of the initial callings of these fishermen and particularly of Peter. “You are fishing in the wrong place again, Peter. You aren’t even fishing for the right species. I called you to fish for people, remember?”

We all feel the cry for normalcy rising in us now. We just want to go back to work. Back to school. Back to self-reliance. Back to the illusion of safety and security in our own power and the world’s systems.

No matter how much we long for normalcy, the life Jesus called us to is not normal. Many foundations we’ve built on are being swept away and we can’t go back to pretending that our sand was a firm foundation after all. There are things about our normal that shouldn’t return.

Peter was unworthy when Jesus first called him and unworthy when he was reinstated. So are we. But Jesus forgave and reinstated Peter with a new normal and he can do the same for us. 

What is the new normal that Jesus is calling you to? What new rhythms might you discover during this time that are healthier spiritually than what you were doing before quarantine? What has quarantine taken from you that you can now let go of?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 3 (Listen -3:02)
1 Timothy 5 (Listen -3:22)

Read more about Remember Jesus Christ
Remembering the good news of the risen Christ provides perspective for our lives.

Read more about Recalling the Failures
It is not just Peter who is reinstated in the last chapter of John’s gospel and our last reading of this year. Other disciples who failed famously are there—Thomas who doubted, Nathanael the cynical elitist, the power-hungry sons of Zebedee. These confused and doubtful disciples are going back to the familiar when they are met by a familiar face on the shore.

First to Believe Without Seeing—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: John 20.3-9
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

1 Timothy 3.16
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

Reflection: First to Believe Without Seeing—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

Another “first” to note in the resurrection appearances of Jesus, is the first person to believe that Jesus was resurrected without seeing him.

After appearing first to the women and specifically to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears to Peter, to Cleopas and an unnamed disciple (possibly Cleopas’s wife) on the Emmaus road, then he appears to some of the gathered disciples, and then again to the group of disciples when Thomas joins them. As far as we know, John did not see Jesus in the flesh until the first appearance of Jesus to the gathered disciples in the upper room.

John is the disciple who seemed closer to Jesus than any other. He is the one they sent to Jesus to ask questions they were afraid to ask. (John 13.22-24) He was the one who, along with his brother, James, expected to be closest to Jesus in his kingdom. (Mark 10.35-37) This was the disciple who wrote most passionately and poetically about the life and divinity of Jesus. (John 1.1-14) It was John who remembered and recorded the longest, most intimate and meaningful discourses of Jesus’ teaching, his struggles, and his demonstrations of love to the disciples. This disciple—the disciple whom Jesus loved—is one of the last to see him alive? 

Perhaps this was because he did not need to see to believe. John reports that he believed after seeing the empty tomb with its well-folded graveclothes, but before seeing Jesus alive. 

As Paul writes to Timothy, and to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 15.3-8), Jesus did indeed appear “in the flesh,” not just to a few, but to many. This was an important distinction to dispel ideas about a “ghostly” Jesus and to dispute gnostic accounts that never believed Jesus had a physical body to begin with.

But John leads the way for us, being the first to believe without seeing him. As Jesus tells Thomas, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed..” (John 20.29)

There are real and tangible reasons and evidence to lead us toward belief—for John, the condition of the empty tomb or for us, the testimony of the early eyewitnesses—but the final line of belief can only be stepped over in faith.

*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 Call to Prayer
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. — Psalm 66.14

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

Today’s Readings
Ecclesiastes 1 (Listen -2:21)
1 Timothy 3 (Listen -2:10)

Read more about In the Face of Grief
The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving. Why then do we seem to assume that this stopped when he ascended?

Read more about Further up, Further in
The grave is open, that we may see He is risen.
The veil is open, that we may follow our High Priest.
Hell is open if we will but make for the exit.
Heaven is open, if we will but enter.

The Identical Nature of Greed and Lust

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 6.17-18
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.

Reflection: The Identical Nature of Greed and Lust
By John Tillman

As he brings his letter to Timothy to a close, Paul has just lifted heart, mind, and spirit in a glorious and artful prayer, comparing Timothy’s testimony to that of Christ before Pilate and describing God living in unapproachable light. He ends this passage on an uplifting note with a well deserved “Amen.”… But after closing out the letter so beautifully and with a definite note of finality, Paul seems to think of one more thing.

In his commentary, John Wesley notes that verses 17-21 of 1 Timothy seem to be a kind of postscript. It is as if the letter was ready to go and then, perhaps, delayed long enough that Paul had time to think of one more paragraph he found necessary to add. 

So, what was so important that Paul felt the need to add more about it? Wealth and greed.

Paul earlier addressed ministers who think “godliness is a means to financial gain.” This shows us that the prosperity gospel is not a 20th-century invention. It is as old and as dangerous as any other heresy. Paul then turns his attention sharply in verse 17 from ministers to wealthy church members who were at risk of becoming ensnared by greed.

If Paul considers wealth a distraction worthy of a second look and warning, so should we. Paul has already taught that wealth is powerful enough to corrupt those called as ministers of the gospel and instructed Timothy to “flee” from its influence. Paul takes the danger of greed seriously.

Paul uses the word “command” when speaking to the rich about their responsibility to be humble and generous. It is the same level of authoritative language he uses to speak of sexual sins. 

Financial sins of greed and sexual sins of lust are two sides of the same coin. It was no mistake that when the prophet Nathan needed an analogy for lust, he chose a parable about a rich man stealing material goods from the poor. Lust and greed are the exact same sin. One is concerned with material goods and one with flesh.

We must take a second look at our hearts for the twin sins of lust and greed, inviting the Holy Spirit to illuminate every dark corner. Greed or lust may be the downfall of a minister, as Paul warned Timothy, but, as Paul warned, they may also destroy a community.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, watch over us and save us from this generation forever. — Psalm 12.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 9 (Listen – 6:32)
1 Timothy 6 (Listen -3:16)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about God Shivering on Concrete
God’s love is evident in the disaster God promises a nation that ignores responsibilities to the poor and to the foreigner. Our God humbles nations addicted to greed—including His own.

Read more about Greed and Envy
The trap for the wealthy is to think that we are not that wealthy, or that the poor are not that worthy.

Thoughts and Prayers

Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 2.1-2
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Prayer is not a passive, calm, quiet practice. — Tim Keller

Reflection: Thoughts and Prayers
By John Tillman

In our world, there is now pushback against even saying that we will pray over a situation. Thoughts and prayers as a hashtag has become a philosophical battlefield where people of faith and people frustrated by people of faith clash about the efficacy of prayer and the pointlessness of faith without works. (The language is, of course, not that academic.)

This pushback is based on a cultural assumption about prayer and an assumption about those who say they will pray. The first is that prayer is pointless and can’t help any situation. The second is that those who say they will pray, will not actually pray, and worse than that, will not follow through with any actions at all.

The cultural version of this type of empty prayer is engaging in the equally empty gesture of clicktivism—liking or sharing a post about an issue, but doing nothing substantive to address it. In a way, those who are decrying thoughts and prayers are praying unknowingly—they are calling out, they know not to whom, for real, tangible change and action.

The culture Paul was in prayed a lot. Prayer was everywhere. But in no religion was it so personal and direct as in Christianity. The type of prayer that Paul practiced and taught confronted both modern and ancient cultural assumptions and was attractive, not repulsive, to his culture. How?

One reason we see is that the kind of prayer that Paul engages in is fruitful in creating action—good desires and the deeds that follow. Paul’s prayers were not just words, but will and work. According to Paul deeds are prompted by faith, and faith is fueled by prayer life.

It is our actions, growing directly from the cultivated soil of prayer, that bear fruit that our world will gladly partake of.

When we follow the lead of godly, broken-hearted prayer, we will find ourselves acting in undeniably loving ways (against which there is no law), seeking out the lost, marginalized, and broken with Christ’s love, and suddenly realizing that people are no longer repelled by our thoughts and our prayers.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus was at a feast when: “He said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends and brothers or your relations or rich neighbors, in case they invite you back and repay you. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again.’” — Luke 14.12-14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 5 (Listen – 5:13)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen -3:17)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Praying as Priests
May we pronounce this blessing not with words alone, but in how we live and walk through our world

20190429

Read more about Artful Prayers
In the psalms, we…enter the lived emotion of the artists who bared their souls to God in prayers that were always intended to be performed.

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