From all sides New Testament scholars are warned against trying to find a systematic theology in the New Testament. In fact, what these critics are doing is establishing a large number of systematic theologies in the New Testament and then pitting them against each other. A confession is isolated from the historical setting that limits its sufficiency (but not its necessity) in other settings and is built into a large structure that is set over against some dubious historical reconstructions…but part of it turns on an irresponsible approach to historical data, an approach that, while decrying systematic theology, is busily systematizing the diversity it finds instead of being sensitive to the mutually complementary nature of the occasional documents that constitute the New Testament. (original emphasis; DA Carson, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament,” in Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992), 89.)
In an effort to make our faith secure, Jesus appeared to his disciples on eleven distinct occasions. Here they are:
1. Mary Magdalene alone (Mk 16; Jn 20.14)
2. The woman returning from the tomb (Mt 28.9-10)
3. Simon Peter alone (Lk 24.34)
4. Two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk 24.13-35)
5. Apostles at Jerusalem, without Thomas (Jn 20.19)
6. Apostles at Jerusalem, a second time, with Thomas present (Jn 20.26-29)
7. Sea of Tiberias, seven disciples fishing (Jn 21.1)
8. To the Eleven, on mountain in Galilee (Mt. 28.16)
9. To 500+ disciples (1Cor 15.6)
10. To James alone (1Cor 15.7)
11. To the Apostles on Mt. Olivet at his Ascension (Lk 24.51; Acts 1.6-11)
This is mere speculation and devotional in nature, but I thought I would share it. As you may know twelve symbolizes perfection or completion. Could it be that Christ reveals himself through his Word to you and to me as the Twelfth appearance. Blessed are those who have not seen with eyes of flesh, yet see with the eyes of faith. After all, isn’t this what Luke is attempting to do in his gospel and sequel (Acts)? Isn’t he attempting to give an account to most excellent Theophilus (“Lover of God”)? By giving such an account, he wants to make our faith certain that not only these things happened, but they cause ripple effects into our own space and time.
Christ truly is walking amongst us through the power and illuminating power of his Spirit.
I am preaching on reading Scripture devotionally this coming Sunday. I am using the Road to Emmaus as the backdrop to the message (Luke 24.13-35). I am playing with the thesis right now, but it is something like “God reveals himself so that we will be changed.”
In study, I came across this pithy quotation from J. C. Ryle’s sermon on the same text:
In what way did our Lord show “things concerning himself,” in every part of the Old Testament field? The answer . . . is short and simple.
Christ was the substance of every Old Testament sacrifice, ordained in the law of Moses. Christ was the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were types. Christ was the coming Prophet greater than Moses, whose glorious advent filled the pages of prophets. Christ was the true seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head–the true seed in whom all nations were to be blessed–the true Shiloh to whom the people were to be gathered, the true scape-goat–the true bronze serpent–the true Lamb to which every daily offering pointed–the true High Priest of whom every descendant of Aaron was a figure. These things, or something like them, we need not doubt, were some of the things which our Lord expounded in the way to Emmaus.
Of course, I am probably going to use this in the sermon. It hits me every time I read it!
“Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak” (Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, 33).
I have been reading Sibbes’ work on the mercy of Christ toward us. The book is an extended meditation on Isaiah 42.1-3. I have been reading it in my personal devotions, and I have been reminded by Christ’s persevering patience with me. How often have I been a smoking flax–a reed that does not give off heat nor light–yet the Lord does not view such paltry devotion as condemnable. Rather, he condescends and fans into flame that smoldering wick so that I can enjoy him more. What may seem like an endless cycle of failed attempts, he views the good.
Sibbes, here, challenges us to reflect the same merciful inclination in our dealings with others. How quick am I to write off someone who rubs me the wrong way. How sure I am that this person is weak in faith and in need of rebuke. How dead set on dealing out justice am I that I cannot see God’s mercy on display in my brother.
I am a curious fellow. Yet, Sibbes challenges the assumption that curiosity–the need to know the intricacies of someone’s sin or weaknesses–is not altogether noble. Rather, curiosity bends toward an inclination to judging again the one whom God has pronounced “not guilty” in his tribunal. The need to gather all pertinent information stems from a desire to sit in the dock and pronounce on others what I would not dare they know or pronounce on me.
Our tendency should be towards wanting to see the good in others, not digging up graves that have been long-sealed when this brother put his faith in the Christ.
“What about leaders?” someone may ask. “Aren’t they held to a different standard?” Surely the pastor will be held to a stricter judgment, that’s why he shouldn’t be too quick to assume the office (James 3.1). Yet, the judgment James speaks about is the Final Judgment performed by the Triune God. This is not an earthly tribunal, nor is it an ad hoc court set up in the figment of our own minds. Rather, God pleads with us to exercise judgment with mercy (James 2.13).
Surely, a leader who sins repeatedly must be rebuked. A leader who is unrepentant must be ousted. But the leader who sins, and seeks forgiveness, should be forgiven. We should not exact perfection, nor should we use a canon distinct from our own lives.
I fear that those who so quickly give in to curiosity will find that the proclivity toward mercy will show that they had not received mercy. Those who so quickly write off Scripture’s admonition to cover over sin with love will grope for this kindness and find it wanting toward them.
May we be quick to forgive and slow to condemn. May we entrust right judgment to God. And as we find ourselves in the already-not yet, may we admonish the unrepentant. As we live in the time between the times, may we proactively and persistently give mercy. A mercy that is imperfect, but perpetual. To the degree that we have received mercy, may we give such beautiful and resplendent mercy.