Already But Not Yet

Scripture Focus: Micah 4.3-4
3 He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine
    and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

John 20.21-22
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection: Already But Not Yet
By Erin Newton

The Israelites were rebuked for their idolatry, injustice, envy, theft, false prophets, and sexual immorality. They were about to reap the consequences of their sin, but God did not leave them in despair. This window of hope is a glimpse into the mercy of God. They would need these words in the hard days ahead. 

They were forced to be exiles. Suffering and warfare were before them. The mercy and love of God moved the prophet to declare that God will restore them in that day. The forecast of peace is a balm to those who know calamity is coming. 

It is a vision of a heavenly future: fair justice, cessation of warfare, peace. Fear is abolished. People can rest and sleep under the trees. Weapons of war are turned into agricultural tools. It is a transition from death-dealing to life-giving activities. 

In that day, peace will come. It was a future event, something for the Israelites to cling to as they persevered in suffering. It is sometimes called “The Day of the Lord” and usually depicts an apocalyptic time of worldwide peace and restoration under the reign of God alone. 

It is good to hope for the future reign of peace. It can be a comfort in times of turmoil to know that the world will not always be full of injustice and war. Death will turn into life. That day will come with the full restoration of peace and justice that we see in the end of Revelation.  Whispers of the future are scattered throughout the prophetic books. However, that day has not been entirely fulfilled. 

Even though we long for that day, do we just sit around and wait for God to intervene? What do we do today? It is a day that is already but not yet, partially fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and his death and resurrection.

John 20 tells us how Jesus breathed on the disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. Just like the breath that gave life in the Garden of Eden, new life is given to the disciples. They are then commissioned to go and give life to others. 

The commission of Christ demands that we cease combativeness and pursue restoration. We have an opportunity to bring a glimpse of this future peace into reality today. Jesus commands us to bring life now.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him, all creatures here below; praise him above, you heavenly hosts; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. — Traditional Doxology

Today’s Readings
Micah 4 (Listen – 2:33)
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Read more about God Is The Hero, not Us
We are separated from God by our sins, yet he is with us and longing for us at the same time. The already and the not yet are side-by-side.

Read more about Restoration Begins
Restoration begins with repentance. Exile and slavery are not the end for God’s people. They’re more like a restart.

First to Believe Without Seeing—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: John 8.52-59
52 At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” 
54 Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55 Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 
58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. 

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.)

From John: We are closing out this Easter week by looking back at two significant post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. One can’t read John’s gospel and come away thinking, “Jesus was a nice moral teacher. Too bad he died.” The passage from John 8 emphasizes that. John highlights claims that would make Jesus a lunatic or a liar specifically to encourage us to call him Lord. John also emphasizes that people can, do, and will believe in Jesus without seeing him.

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 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.

John leads the way for us, being the first to believe without seeing. 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: A Reading
He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly his mother and his brothers were standing outside and were anxious to have a word with him. But to the man who told him this Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” — Matthew 12.46-50

Today’s Readings
Amos 6 (Listen – 2:13)
John 8 (Listen – 7:33)

This Weekend’s Readings
Amos 7 (Listen – 2:45)John 9 (Listen – 4:56)
Amos 8 (Listen – 2:16)John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

Read more about Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
“Firsts” are important in the scriptures. So we cannot imagine that it is a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus appears first to the women.

Read more about No Sigh Big Enough
Jesus often may not give us “signs” we might expect. There’s no sign big enough to ensure faith.

Last to Believe—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: John 20.27
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

From John: We’ll close out this Easter week by looking back at two significant post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. First is Thomas. Jesus loves doubters and John’s story about Thomas is meant to respect doubters, not to shame them. Jesus invites investigation.

Reflection: Last to Believe—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

John, the first disciple to believe Jesus is alive without seeing him face-to-face has a purpose in recording the doubts of Thomas, the last disciple to believe Jesus is alive. 

Far from putting Thomas down, John treats Thomas’s journey from doubt to faith with respect and tenderness. It was not John’s intention to make Thomas the butt of pastors’ “doubt” jokes for millennia.

Every moment in John’s gospel is carefully crafted and chosen, appearing for a purpose. Where the synoptic gospel writers focus heavily on sequential timelines and explicitly tying events to historical markers, John does not. John’s gospel arrangement is thematic rather than chronological and pedagogical rather than historical. There are seven signs or miracles, seven “I am” statements by Jesus, seven “You are” statements of witnesses about Jesus, seven statements of aspects of Jesus’ equality with God, and seven word-pictures of faith.

John confesses that there are not enough books to contain an unabridged record of what Jesus did. Instead, John’s purpose is setting forth Christ’s deity that we may believe and have life. (John 20.31) Jesus also says to Thomas and the rest of the disciples, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29)

John was writing later than the other evangelists (between 85-95 A.D, 20 years after the synoptics) and probably from Ephesus. Other than the synoptics, his audience had little access to direct eyewitness accounts other than his own. This may be why John emphasized the importance of believing in Jesus without physically seeing him and he uses Thomas as his example.

Instead of being the butt of bad jokes about doubt Thomas could be held up as a model of how to overcome doubt. It is easy to take shots at Thomas for not taking the other disciples at their word, however, none of them (except John) believed without seeing and John had the benefit of seeing the empty tomb. Thomas stayed near, continued searching, continued in fellowship with his friends for a week that must have seemed like a year before Jesus finally appeared personally to him.

Encourage those in doubt to follow the path of Thomas. Stay connected. Keep seeking. Keep asking. Keep knocking. Those who truly wish to conquer doubt will not fail to find Jesus showing them his hands, feet, and side.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “He who comes from above is above all others; he who is of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven bears witness to things he has seen and heard…since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words, for God gives him the Spirit without reserve.” — John 3.31

Today’s Readings
Amos 5 (Listen – 3:44)
John 7 (Listen – 5:53)

Read more about God of the Weak and Doubtful
Oh, you of little faith…He accepts and encourages you today. You who doubt…He holds out his hand…to all of us doubters.

Read more about The Interruptions of Easter
Respond to Jesus right in the middle of your fears, sorrows, doubts, and guilt.

The Interruptions of Easter

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Scripture Focus: John 20.15
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

John 21.5
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.

Luke 24.17
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

Reflection: The Interruptions of Easter
By John Tillman

Some of my favorite words about Easter were written by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope and we return to them frequently. 

I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

… Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up.

Eastertide is a season of the church calendar that celebrates Christ’s resurrection over 50 days leading up to Pentecost.

We don’t go back to “normal” after Easter. Normal would mean Mary Magdalene mourning and searching for Jesus’ body. Normal would mean Cleopas walking back home to Emmaus. Normal would mean Peter and his friends going back to fishing. Jesus interrupted all of that. (John 20.1-18; Luke 24.17-25; John 21.4-7)

The resurrection interrupts normal. Normal died. Jesus lives. And in him, so do we. Let Jesus continue to interrupt your normal. Let Jesus interrupt your sorrow as he did for Mary. Let him interrupt your disillusionment as he did for Cleopas. Let him interrupt your guilt as he did for Peter. 

Respond to Jesus right in the middle of your fears, sorrows, doubts, and guilt. Joyfully run to preach the gospel, turn back to encourage others, leap out of your boat to swim to Christ, and learn to feed his lambs and care for his sheep.

If we are to live in Christ, it must be a new kind of living but often we trudge back into our old ways. The risen Christ has something to say to you today. Let him interrupt you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!

Today’s Readings
Amos 2 (Listen – 2:12)
John 4 (Listen -6:37)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is a season in the church calendar, not a day. But in our lives, it can be an evergreen season that blooms throughout the year

Read more about Who is this King of glory?
Jesus was not the king they were expecting. And Jesus is not the king we often wish for either.

Jesus, Our Burnt Offering — Holy Week

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 1.3-4
3 “ ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.

John 20.19-20
19 …Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 

Reflection: Jesus, Our Burnt Offering — Holy Week
By John Tillman

In John’s gospel, he wastes no time telling us, through the testimony of John the Baptizer, that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.” (John 1.29, 36)

John’s gospel often connects Jesus to ritual practices or feasts that were part of the worship of God. Perhaps this is because of his familiarity with the priesthood. John’s rabbi before Jesus, John the Baptizer, was from a priestly family and John, the writer, was allowed into Jesus’ trial before Caiphas because he was “known” to the high priest. (John 18.15)

Many offerings were ritual meals. A representative portion would be burned. The priest would eat a portion as well as the offeror and offeror’s family. Leftovers also were burned. Burnt offerings, however, were different. Everything had to be consumed by fire. In both cases, offerings were to be totally consumed on the day offered, by fire or as food.

When bringing a burnt offering, one placed one’s hands on the animal as a recognition that the offering was a substitute for the offeror. This represented transferring one’s sins to the animal. Burnt offerings for sin made “peace” with God.

The head of a family brought a burnt offering on behalf of himself and his family. God offered Jesus as a lamb on our behalf, to bring us into his family. Jesus is the Lamb of God, a “male without defect,” who takes our sins upon himself. When Jesus spoke to Mary outside the tomb, “peace” had been accomplished in Christ’s resurrected body through his sacrifice on the cross.

As we pass through Holy Week, we see Jesus offer his back to the whips, his hands to the cruel nails, his body to the abuse of those he came to save. We see his blood sprinkled on those who assault him and on the cross that became an altar. We see him poured out before God as a drink offering. We see him raised in the air as a wave offering. 

In Holy Week, Jesus was being consumed. He was burned up for our sin. As we reflect on Holy Week, as we watch him burn, may we humble ourselves and repent. 

Rather than us placing our hands on a lamb’s head, let us bow our heads in humility. The resurrected Lamb of God, who died to take away our sin, will lift our heads to see his loving face.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the Lord. — Psalm 118.19

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis TickleToday’s Readings
Leviticus 1 (Listen – 2:37) 
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Read more about Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

Read more about Last to Believe—Resurrection Appearances
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