You may not realize this, but it’s still Easter! Really? Yes, indeed. Even though Easter is a particular Sunday (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox–it’s complicated, but it’s been working since AD 325), the Church celebrates the Easter season for the 40 days from Easter Sunday until Ascension Thursday. Just as Lent coincides with the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness, so the 40 days of Easter season commemorates the 40 days that Jesus was alive on earth after his resurrection, before he left.
Why did Jesus stay here for 40 days before departing to take his seat at God’s right hand? Two reasons are explicit, and the other is implied. We read, “To them [the apostles] he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3) The first reason he stayed here was to prove to the apostles that he was alive–not as a disembodied spirit, but as a complete human being, body and soul. He did this so that they could provide eyewitness testimony to the gospel events, something they were specifically chosen to do (Lk. 24:48; Jn. 15:27; Acts 1:8, 21-22; 2:32; 5:32; 10:40-42; 13:31). The Christian faith is not a made-up fantasy, but historical reality based on eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, never to die again.
The second reason Jesus stayed here for a time was so that he could commission the apostles, and through them, the Church, to make disciples of all nations by going, baptizing in the name of the triune God, and teaching people to obey all that Jesus had taught them. We find this commission in all of the resurrection narratives and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Mt. 28; Mk. 16; Lk. 24; Jn. 20-22; Acts 1:7-8). Jesus is not only alive: he is Lord, and he commands the nations to submit to him.
A third reason is implied in the specific “great commission” in the gospel of Luke. There we read, “Then [Jesus] said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, …” (Lk. 24:44-45). He then goes on to say that “the Scriptures”–what we today call the Old Testament–teach the gospel, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and its spread throughout all nations (vv. 46-49). Put another way, the OT teaches redemption accomplished (by Jesus’ death and resurrection) and redemption applied–in the preaching of the gospel. This commission takes place on Easter Sunday, but the very next event in Luke 24 is Jesus’ ascension, something we learn from Acts actually took place 40 days later.
The implication is that part of what Jesus was doing during those forty days was opening the apostles’ minds to understand how the Old Testament, Israel’s Scriptures, teach the same things that are narrated (the gospels) and explained (the epistles) in the New Testament. And when you read the apostles’ sermons in the book of Acts, you notice immediately that they are using Old Testament texts–Pss. 2, 16; 110; Isa. 53; 55, etc.–to preach New Testament sermons! The Church has never “stolen” or even borrowed the Hebrew Bible from Judaism. Jesus himself says that it is a book about him and his work, so it rightly belongs to his Church just as much as the New Testament. Read the Bible–the whole Bible–to learn about who Jesus is and what he has done to restore to fellowship with the living God, our Creator.
Happy Easter, Christian!
On another note, the Pella Ministerial Association would like to invite all area Christians and churches to join us for an ecumenical Ascension Thursday service on May 5th at 7 PM. The service will be held at Calvary Christian Reformed Church, and various pastors will lead different parts of the service. The offering will go to the Pella Food Bank. Join us in celebrating the conclusion of the Easter season by remembering this important event in the life of Jesus and the history of our salvation.
The Rev. Brian D. Nolder is pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church (CREC) in Pella. More info at www.redeemerpella.org.