A Message for Francis Asbury United Methodist Church
Reverend David Melville
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Why did Jesus stay? Why did Jesus stay in Galilee for forty days following His resurrection? That is what I invite you to think about today. According to St. Luke, “Jesus began to do and to teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” [Acts 1: 1-3]
Why did Jesus stay? I believe there is no better way to answer than to consider the words of an eyewitness, Luke.
First, I love Luke’s simple words, “Jesus began to do.” [verse 1] My goodness, beginning with His baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, our Lord was busy. Jesus packed more into three years of ministry than the rest of us do in a lifetime. We need to be busy in our Christian journey. Even in old age we still need to be busy … each in our own way. Buford certainly stays busy, doesn’t he? After he was with us at 7:30 a.m. yesterday for United Methodist Men’s breakfast, I assumed all of us headed home to rest or have a leisurely Saturday. I didn’t realize that Buford was headed to The Carpenter’s Hospice home to be with a friend of fifty years who was preparing to cross the bar.
There should be no room for complacency in Christianity, and yet I’m afraid too often there is. I know each of us here today could brag about or complain about or document how busy we were this week; but were we busy for our God?
On Saturday, April 29, an article on the religion page of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate presented the most recent study and survey of owning and reading the Holy Bible. The Bible is still the best seller it has always been, but it also remains the least read book in the nation. When asked why Americans don’t read the Bible, 15 percent of the respondents said they don’t have time. Really?
For forty days Jesus continued doing what He had always done … busy helping others. As always, Jesus was present in the ordinary and the mundane, because often times it is in the ordinary and mundane that we need help the most. For example, take fishing. To help with their grief, or perhaps because they had to get back to earning some income, a few of the disciples went fishing. However, their gloom continued as they caught nothing. You know how it is in bad times … the hits just keep on coming. But right on time, and to the disciples’ surprise, Jesus appeared … not to act like a superhero or as a triumphant deity taunting “I told you so!” No, Jesus simply showed them a new place to fish. And He’s been showing us new places and new ways ever since. Helping us.
We have a new home in Baton Rouge for teenage victims of human sex trafficking … a 21st-century version of slavery. I remember when Melanie and I arrived in Baton Rouge in the summer of 2014 to start Christ in the City, I learned about several Catholic clergy attempting to fund such a needed home. And the need is real. Unfortunately, we are one of the leading centers of teenage human sex trafficking. So a delegation started raising awareness and funds, even traveled to Rome for help, and in such a short time, the home is now open. I tip my hat to the Catholics for doing this. Sometimes the Catholic Church is slow … it moves at a snail’s pace. They say it takes five hundred years for a change to really be accepted! But sometimes (and this is one of those times) the Church is speedy!
I can’t help but think about the thousands of Catholic schools, orphanages and hospitals throughout the world that were begun through the centuries since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I may be wrong, but I believe such institutions and ministries came in part because Jesus stayed for a while. I may be crazy, but I believe such institutions and ministries … and then all the similar institutions and ministries of other faiths and denominations, including Methodists … came because after His resurrection Jesus told Peter – the rock upon whom Christ was going to build His church – Jesus looked Peter in the eye and told him three times, “Feed my sheep.” [John 21: 15-17] And saints have been feeding the Good Shepherd’s sheep ever since.
During those forty days before His ascension, Jesus was also busy doing what He had always done: offering peace, comfort, and hospitality. As He served the entire table at the Last Supper, as He washed the disciples’ feet to make a point, Jesus was feeding his scared, depressed disciples physically and spiritually. I believe that in doing so, Jesus gave the beleaguered disciples hope and confidence. On multiple occasions following the resurrection Jesus said to those who needed it at just the right time, “Shalom.” “Peace, my peace I give to you.” I believe that peace meant more in person.
We read the account of Luke about two crestfallen disciples walking and talking on the road to Emmaus, joined by Jesus, who they don’t even recognize. But they sensed something familiar and comforting about this stranger because they asked him to stay with them as dusk approached. I don’t assume it was just good hospitality on their part: I believe they needed something that Jesus – like the Jesus of old – was still offering. And the two travelers certainly recognized their old friend, when he “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” [Luke 24:30]
Likewise, the disciples recognized it was Jesus who had helped them throw their nets off the right side of the boat, and after they hauled in a load of fish, they recognized it was Jesus who greeted them on the shore with an inviting fire of burning coals, fish, bread, and most importantly, warm companionship and conversation. [John 21: 1-14] They recognized Jesus when they were the beneficiaries of His peace, comfort, and hospitality. We are known and recognized by our actions, aren’t we … by our reputation. What do people see in you this morning? Do others recognize Jesus in you because of your actions, because of your offering to others peace, comfort, and hospitality? That’s not a bad reputation to have and to leave behind.
As I was present with Buford’s friend’s family as they prepared to say goodbye to their father, I heard expressions of the father’s wonderful legacy begin to pour out. What expressions will pour out about you when your time comes?
Because we all have a little “Doubting Thomas” in us, I surmise a second reason that Jesus stayed was to prove that what God said He would do with Jesus’ eventual glorification, God did. If God in Christ fulfilled His pledge and promise to us in roughly 33 A.D., He will do so in 2017 A.D. That’s the neat thing about those who do what they say they’re going to do: we trust them in the future.
In verse 3 Luke reports that Jesus “gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.” So that must be part of God’s agenda too. And that’s O.K., even though Jesus did tell Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I guess we all fall into that category, don’t we? But maybe it helped just a little that Luke and others passed down what they saw with their eyes first-hand. And they believed their eyes enough to eventually be martyred themselves.
I remember as a student at LSU being hungry for proof of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. As a young person up until that point, I was kind of on automatic pilot… living on the faith of my parents and of my church members and others. But at college, I began to be challenged intellectually, and it was an exciting time of using my mind and really testing it out. So I would go hear any speaker the Baptist Student Union would bring in. Josh McDowell was one of the most popular speakers. Today, atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel is one of the most popular. Mr. Strobel has taken his investigative journalism background and written many books, laying out his case. For example, there is The Case for Grace, The Case for Hope, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus, The Case for Christianity. And one book, The Case for Christ, is now also a movie … in fact playing in Baton Rouge theaters this very weekend.
By the time I had graduated from LSU I realized that in the end faith was going to be required, and that faith can be stronger than hard evidence. But I am certainly glad Jesus stayed a few days extra to lay the foundation for faith.
One of today’s most celebrated Christians is humanitarian and former nuclear submarine commander, farmer and President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. President Carter is probably teaching Sunday School somewhere even as I speak. He has done that for decades, particularly at his home church in Plains, Georgia. Melanie and I visited his church one day … the President was not there, but now I can always imagine him holding forth … no need for notes because he knows the Bible so well. In a recent interview, Carter was asked, “Mr. President, with Easter approaching, let me push you on the Resurrection. If you heard a report today from the Middle East of a man brought back to life after an execution, I doubt you’d believe it even if there were eyewitnesses. So why believe ancient accounts written years after the events?”
The President replied, “I would be skeptical of a report like you describe. My belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from my Christian faith, and not from any need for scientific proof. I derive a great personal benefit from the totality of this belief, which comes naturally to me.”
Do you need proof or more proof? I respectfully suggest that all the proof we need is the fact that all those fortunate enough to have been with Jesus after the Resurrection believed. Their belief can become our belief, and I believe that is one of the reasons Jesus stayed.
Finally, I believe Jesus stayed to walk and talk with his disciples for forty days so that he could ask them something in person. They may not have understood his specific request otherwise. That request was, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” [Matthew 28: 19-20.] Jesus kind of commissioned and deputized His disciples, and they passed the assignment down to us. From Jesus’ lips to ours. I don’t know if we would have heard and understood this responsibility otherwise.
Jesus knew His request was a necessary but tall order, and He had faith in us … not in angels or other gods. Just as we have faith in Him, Jesus has faith in us. And don’t forget what else He promised: “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20] He will be with DeAnna and thousands of other high school graduates as they leave home and live in a new mission field; He will be with those charged with incredible parenting, grandparenting, and great grandparenting challenges; just as He will be with those in declining health. Jesus didn’t promise to be with us only in the good times or the clear times; He promised to be with us always, to the very end. Jesus promised to be with the newest baby born, including Violet’s new great-granddaughter, Evelyn, and Jesus promised to be with everyone at Carpenter’s House for hospice patients, as He was with Buford’s friend, Buck, over this weekend. I believe that’s a promise Jesus wanted to make personally, and I believe he stayed to tell us.
Let’s stand and sing about this man and god who lived, and stayed around just the right amount of time … Fairest Lord Jesus, #189.