Tag Archives: John 20

Celebration Tension


Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Famous-QuotesToday is both Dr. Martin Luther King day and the second inauguration of President Obama. Each are worthy of deeper reflection, but as Lutheran pastor in mid-west America, I don’t have much to give other than I am thankful and yet yearning.

I am thankful for a nation that can honor one of its slain civil rights leaders, who spoke out against the injustices of racism and poverty in our nation. Thankful that Dr. King’s dream of equality is now woven into our national ethos. His life’s work still inspires me.

I am also thankful that we can celebrate our nation’s ability to transition power peacefully.  President Obama is starting his second term, but I am quite confident that in four years our nation will elect a new leader and continue the process of handing the presidential authority to that leader. I may or may not have voted for that person, but still he or she will be my president.

Yet I continue to yearn. Yearn for the day that King’s dream of a true equality and prosperity is our nation’s (and even world’s) reality. Yearn for the day that our leaders can lead us with unity, strength and harmony.  Yearn for the day our nation can truly be the beacon of hope for the world.

I know that part of that yearning comes from my faith in Jesus Christ, and the promised of God’s kingdom. We live in the “already” of God’s victory in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we yearn for the “not yet” of the new heaven and new earth.

 Already: This is written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Not yet: See the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:3-4).

Today’s celebration lives in that tension. I am thankful for the many wonderful blessing that our nation has experienced, while recognizing there is much work to be done and that God’s kingdom has not fully arrived. I do not want to confuse the United States of America with God’s kingdom, yet I remain very thankful that I am an American citizen.

How do you respond to this day’s celebrations?

Lord Jesus, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

John’s Portrait of Jesus

St. John the Evangelist by El Greco

At the end of chapter twenty, John declares,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

Contemporary readers of the Gospels often compare them to modern biographies, but the Gospel writers did not intend this.  They were creating vivid portraits of Jesus that inspire and transform the reader.  The writer of John states that he could have included other material but chose not to.   The gospel writers were artists, not biographers.

Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist?  I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush.  There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions.  These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists.  On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations.  Art is about intent and communication, not substances. (Seth Godin, Graceful, Making a Difference in a World that Needs You. 2010, p. 22)

The writer of John, inspired by God, created a masterpiece. 

How is your life touching others with creativity, joy and vibrancy ?

Prayer, Lord Jesus, inspire me to create beauty and joy in your name.

Peace be with you

Prayer for Peace by American artist Cindy Walker

Twice the resurrected Jesus greets his frighten disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19, 26).  This is more than the absence of conflict.  In Hebrew peace, shalom, means fullness or wholeness, having all that you need to be fully alive.

Peace is something  for which many of us still seek.  We may not fear the direct persecution which the early disciple’s feared, but we feel overwhelmed at times by the complexity and uncertainty of modern life.  We fear that our jobs may disappear, or our children may stray, or our health may fail.  The news media is unrelenting in showing us the potential disasters we face.  We long for peace, deep personal peace.

Jesus offers peace, but not the absence of conflict or storm.  When he appeared to the disciples, he showed them his scars from the cross.  He had suffered and died.  Yet the darkness of death could not hold him.  Jesus’ death seems the very opposite of peace.  Yet, as Frederick Buechner writes,

The contradiction is resolved when you realize that, for Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love. (Beyond Words, p. 307)

Jesus’ presence gave assurance of peace and love to the scared disciples.  His presence today gives the same benefit. 

How have you experienced God’s love and peace this week?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, open my life to be full and at peace with you.

Friends Between Stories

Friendship by Nova Scotia artist Karen Morrison

In John 20: 19-29 two stories are told.  The first is Jesus’ initial appearance to the disciples in a locked room.  He appears, not as a ghost, but in a resurrected body, and gives them the blessings of peace and the Holy Spirit.  The encounter is quick yet vibrant.   Afterwards the disciples are excited to tell Thomas, their friend and colleague.

For some unreported reason, Thomas was not present during Jesus initial appearance.   Perhaps he was the only disciple who had courage to go out and pick up some fish and bread for supper.  Perhaps he went out to get a stiff drink or wanted some time alone to think.  Whatever the reason, Thomas was gone and missed all the excitement.

Then he ruins the disciple’s excitement with his skeptical response, “Unless I see the marks, touch the wounds, I will not believe.”   I suspect that such honest skepticism threw cold water on the disciples.  How were they to tell other about Jesus’ resurrection when their own friend immediately rejected the claim?  I wonder if an argument between Thomas and the others ensued; there is no report of one.   Did the disciples’ faith simply wilt under the harsh, cold logic of Thomas, or did they continue to believe with burning hearts? 

It was a week before Jesus showed up and turned doubting Thomas to confessing Thomas.   A week of wonder, questions, and some dis-ease.  I wonder how Thomas and the others got along during that time.  It is a powerful witness to their lasting friendship that he is still hanging out with the guys when Jesus briefly appears again. 

I remember my friend, Jerry Zimler, in college.  Raised a secular Jew in New York, he came to a faith in Jesus while in college.  He and I would disagree on many matters of faith, like worship, prayer, and ethics.  Still he invited me home over Thanksgiving break to experience the love (and chaotic vitality) of his family.   I still cherish that visit even though Jerry died some twenty-five years ago.

How do you handle those who disagree with you?  Do all your friends have to think like you?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach me to listen to my friends and neighbors and to learn from them.

Seeing and Believing

Are Your Eyes Open to See?

In the Gospel of John one central thread is “Seeing.”  In chapter one, two disciples begin to follow Jesus and he asks, “What are you looking for?”   They ask where are he is staying. He responds, “Come and See.”   It is as if Jesus is also addressing you and me, the readers of the Gospel, “Come and See.”  As we read the Gospel we begin to “see” Jesus.

In Chapter four, after her encounter at the well of Jacob, the woman runs and invites the town (and the reader as well), “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  In chapter nine, Jesus heals a blind man and later Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man.”  When the blind man responds, “Tell me, so I may believe in him,” to which Jesus says, You have seen him, the one speaking with you. ” In chapter twelve some Greeks approach one of Jesus’ disciples and ask, “we wish to see Jesus.”  In chapter fourteen, Jesus tells the disciples that they will know the Father, “From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus is the tangible, visible expression of God, the Father.

The theme of seeing culminates in chapter twenty, when Thomas makes his fateful comment about Jesus’ resurrection, “Unless I see the mark of nails in his hands, I will not believe.”  When Jesus reveals himself to Thomas and says, “Put your fingers here and see my hands. Do not doubt but believe,” Thomas confesses his faith, “My Lord and My God.”   Jesus then speaks as if to you and me, the readers, “Have you believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We may not have visions of Jesus, but we see him in the story of the Gospel and in the lives of God’s children.   Thomas was not the first skeptic nor the last.  At times, I have similar doubts.  Yet as I study God’s word with God’s people, I see Jesus.  We bear witness to one another.

How have you seen Jesus today?

Prayer: Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, that I might see and believe.