EASTER: ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

monarch butterfliesThe next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. [Matthew 27:62-65 (NLT)]

Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia! [Charles Wesley]

Billy Graham told of when an entertainment network was doing a story on highlights of Charlotte, North Carolina. Considered a point of interest, the Billy Graham Library was visited by the show’s co-host, Kristy Villa, and her film crew. Seeing the many crosses displayed throughout the property, Villa asked, “I see all the crosses, but where is Jesus?” Her library guide replied, “He’s in Heaven, and He is also present in the lives of those who believe in Him and follow Him as their personal Lord and Savior.” Villa exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right! Some worship a crucifix, but Christians worship a risen Christ.” The journalist added, “I have been in church my whole life, but I have never heard the emphasis put on an empty cross.” Our emphasis is on the empty tomb, as well!

The bodies of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of Bahá’í faith, and Báb, a central figure in Bahá’í and the founder of Bábisma, are buried in Israel. The grave of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, is in his home town of Qufu in China and Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is buried in the Mosque of the Prophet in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina. The body of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was cremated and his remains were sent to eight different royal families. The Patna Museum in India displays a casket containing his sacred ashes and a temple in Sri Lanka possesses what is said to be his right tooth. When he failed to resurrect, the body of Cyrus Teed, founder of Koreshanity was buried on Estero Island; two years later a hurricane washed his tomb out to sea. As for Jesus? His grave was empty!

Let us never forget that the story didn’t end with the crucified Christ! The cross couldn’t stop Jesus and the tomb couldn’t contain Him. Pilate’s best efforts to secure the tomb were worthless. A Roman seal, large boulder and a sixteen-man Roman guard were not enough to keep Jesus shut in His tomb! Both cross and grave are empty! With His death and resurrection, Christ triumphed over both sin and death! Alleluia!

Easter means you can put the truth in a grave but you can’t keep it there. [Anne Lamott]

But the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” [Mark 16:6 (NLT)]

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GOOD FRIDAY: ON THIS HOLY DAY

Simeon…took the child [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying, “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” Jesus’s parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” [Luke 2:28,31-35 (NLT)]

Munster - Bern CathedralAs Mary stood in the shadow of the cross, did she recall Simeon’s words when he held the infant Jesus in his arms? His prophecy came true that day at Calvary; as she watched her son endure such torture, it truly must have felt as if a sword had pierced her very soul. Jesus was supposed to be the glory of His nation but there He was—dying the death of a criminal. Mary didn’t understand why her beloved boy had to perish and she certainly didn’t know that He’d be back in three days. Imagine her sorrow and the emptiness in her heart as she witnessed her son’s agony.

Mary knew she loved her son but I wonder if that day she questioned God’s love for Him. She didn’t know that from the moment Jesus was planted in her womb her boy was headed to Calvary or that His death on the cross was all part of God’s perfect plan. How could she understand that her Son’s death was a deliberate choice: that He was dying for the very people who had placed Him on that cross? How could she know that His death proved the enormity of God’s love for all of humanity?

Like Mary, we don’t know the reason why our loved ones suffer or what will result from their suffering. Unlike Mary, however, we do know the rest of the story. Without the crucifixion, there would have been no resurrection. But, because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, there is another life waiting for us in God’s heavenly kingdom. Jesus’s resurrection means that hope overpowered desperation, love claimed victory over hate, forgiveness prevailed over condemnation, joy conquered despair, and life triumphed over death.

Jesus, the Son of God, was ignored, denied, betrayed, falsely accused, demeaned, scorned and scourged, and finally crucified on a cross. He suffered and died like a common criminal and was buried in a borrowed tomb like a vagrant. The sinless One paid the sinners’ debts. He didn’t have to, but he did. Thank you, God, for your loving redemption.

…death was not Jesus’ penalty; it was His destiny. It was not His lot in life; it was His mission. It was not His unavoidable fate; it was His purpose statement for coming to earth that first Christmas: “Born to die.” [Bill Crowder, from“The Path of His Passion”]

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. [Isaiah 53:5-6 (NLT)]

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HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST! – Palm Sunday

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” [John 12:13 (ESV)]

royal palmIt was the week before the Passover and Jerusalem was already filled with pilgrims who’d come for the celebration. News of the rabbi who’d brought Lazarus back to life was spreading through the crowd. As they prepared to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, they hoped for the promised Messiah who would deliver them from the tyranny of Rome. Could Jesus be the one?

Jesus rode into the city on a donkey as the people waved palm branches, a traditional symbol of victory for the Israelites. As they had done years earlier when Jehu was declared king, the people laid their cloaks on the ground in front of Him. Sort of like laying out the red carpet, this wasn’t the way a rabbi was greeted; it was the way a conqueror or king was welcomed. Indeed, Jesus was both conqueror and king, but the people didn’t understand what He’d conquer or that His kingdom extended far beyond Judea.

There were shouts of “Hosanna” from the crowd.  A Hebrew word, “Hosanna” combines yasha, meaning “save” or “deliver,” and anna, meaning “beg” or “beseech.” It was an appeal for deliverance much like, “Help me!” or, “I beg you to save me!” We might shout “Hosanna!” if we’d fallen out of a boat into the raging sea but, because “Hosanna!” was also an expression of joy and praise for deliverance, we also might shout it when someone pulled us back to safety. Those shouts of “Hosanna” tell us the people wanted to be saved and saw the promise of deliverance in Jesus.

They shouted “Hosanna!” but for the wrong reasons. Seeking deliverance from the tyranny of the Roman Empire rather than the tyranny of sin, they saw a champion who would free them from Rome’s rule, not Satan’s. They wanted a mighty warrior who would conquer Rome, not one who would conquer death! Preferring to kill their enemies than love them, they sought revenge for their oppression, not a Prince of Peace who preached forgiveness. They wanted a king who would establish a new kingdom on earth, not the Kingdom of God. They wanted a Messiah on their terms, not God’s.

They didn’t understand, but we do! Let us continue to sing our “Hosannas” in praise and thanksgiving for our deliverance!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)]

Save us, we pray, O Lord!  O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord. [Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV)]

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ALL IN THE PLAN

“Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” [John 11:4-7 (NLT)]

gardeniaJesus was in Perea on the east side of the Jordan, about 18 miles away from Bethany, when he learned that Lazarus lay on his sickbed. Why didn’t He immediately return when told that his dear friend had taken ill? Although the timeline is unclear, it was a day’s journey for the messengers and Lazarus was probably dead by the time they reached Jesus with their news. Nevertheless, even though Jesus knew that He’d miraculously resurrect the dead man, He seemed strangely unconcerned. Why didn’t Jesus return immediately to comfort Martha and Mary and cut short their time of mourning by performing His miracle? Instead, He waited two more days before returning; by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days and was in his tomb.

Jesus never seemed to do anything by accident and this delay was deliberate. In fact, he told the disciples “For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe.”[John 11:15] The Midrash, an ancient commentary on Hebrew Scriptures, helps explain why Jesus waited before returning to Bethany. There was a Jewish belief that the soul remained in close proximity to its dead body, trying to reenter it, for three days. It was not until the fourth day, when the body started to decompose that the soul finally departed. 2nd century Rabbi Shimon Bar Kappara explained that, “Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body].” [Genesis Rabbah 100:7]

Jesus had already raised two people from the dead. Both miracles, however, had been within that three day window when it was believed that the soul was still present and unbelievers had discredited His power. The resurrection of Jairus’s daughter was done privately and immediately after her death. The widow’s son was resurrected during his funeral procession which was probably within a day of his death. The raising of Lazarus, however, was going to be an in-your-face all-out undeniable miracle. A respected member of the community, Lazarus had been dead four days and, without a doubt, the man was dead and not coming back! His remains had started to decompose and the lingering soul would have departed. Not only would Jesus raise him from the dead, but Lazarus would be able to walk out of his tomb unassisted. All of this would occur in full view of the many people who’d come to mourn with the sisters when, according to Jewish belief, resurrection was no longer possible. By waiting four days, there could be no denying this miracle. Jesus wasn’t being cold or unresponsive when He didn’t come immediately. He had a far bigger and greater plan and deliberately staged this scene for “the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” Indeed, Jesus was the resurrection and the life!

John’s gospel tells us that after the raising of Lazarus, the Jewish leaders plotted the death of Jesus. How ironic that, by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus set in motion the very circumstances that would lead to His own death.

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” [John 11:25-26 (NIV)]

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BEYOND OUR UNDERSTANDING

How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension! [Psalm 147:5 (NLT)]

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. [Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)]

Koreshanity - Cellular CosmogonyJust north of us is a state park that once was home to a group called the Koreshan Unity. In 1894, Dr. Cyrus Teed, known as the Prophet Koresh, brought about 250 of his followers to the banks of the Estero River where they hoped to establish a “New Jerusalem.” The Koreshans believed that the Bible needed prophets to interpret it and that Teed was the seventh in a line of biblical prophets. As the designated prophet, Teed would reveal everything about the universe that Jesus failed to explain. Taking verses out of context from both testaments of the Bible, the Koreshans believed in reincarnation, communal living, heaven and hell, immortality, and celibacy.

The most curious belief of the Koreshans was that of Cellular Cosmogony: that the earth is a hollow shell about 8,000 miles in diameter and that the entire universe exists on the inside of this shell. Although the earth’s surface appears convex, Teed claimed that was an optical illusion and the earth’s surface actually was concave. Picture a globe but, instead of having the land and sea on the outer side, they are on the inner side; instead of life existing on the outer surface, it exists on the inside of the shell. The universe rotates inside the earth’s shell rather than the earth rotating in the universe and the sun is a giant electromagnetic battery in the middle of the sphere. Rather than gravity, centrifugal force is what holds us down.

Teed felt that God had revealed to the first six prophets (Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and Jesus) only what they (and their followers) were capable of understanding. As the most evolved of the prophets, Teed believed that God would reveal everything to him and, once God had done so, Teed would then usher in the age of Koreshanity.

For Teed, living on the inside of a hollow sphere meant that the universe and everything in it was knowable and finite—all wrapped up in a hollow sphere. Pictures of the earth from space easily tell us his Cellular Cosmogony is wrong and Scripture tells us he was in error with his theology—Jesus had the last word, not Teed! His biggest mistake may have been the same one we often make ourselves: wanting the world and God to be limited, explainable, and understandable.

Although Jesus and Scripture have given us all we need to know, there still remains much that we’ve not been told or that we’ll never understand about God, our existence, eternity, and the universe. None of us truly comprehend how God could speak the universe into existence, can know what we want before we know it ourselves, or see our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows all at the same time. No prophet can give us a satisfactory explanation as to why bad things happen to good people or evil people prosper while the righteous suffer. How can we possibly truly understand God’s grace, His unlimited love for us, or how God can be one Being containing three persons while remaining only one God? That God is infinite, having neither beginning nor end, is mind boggling!

A universe that is contained in a shell would be far less baffling than one that is continually expanding and infinite in scope! We all want to think that God is understandable, life makes sense and everything is explainable but it isn’t. In spite of Scripture (and even science), there is much that remains incomprehensible and will remain that way during our lifetimes. Teed tried to limit God and His creation to make the inexplicable explainable. God and our existence, however, can’t be nicely wrapped up in a neat package or a closed universe. The good thing for us is that, while fully understanding God may be impossible, knowing, trusting and loving Him is not!

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! … For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. [Romans 11:33,36 (NLT)

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A MATTER OF CHOICE

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. [Luke 1:38 (NLT)]

great blue heronYesterday, when writing about the angel’s visit to Mary, I came upon some articles by women who take offense at the story of Jesus’s conception. Interpreting Mary’s response as involuntary, they picture the Annunciation of our Lord as some weird sort of a supernatural rape. This is inconsistent both with Scripture and God as we know Him. The angel didn’t say, “Surprise, you’re pregnant!” and leave. Read the words as reported by Luke; Gabriel told Mary what would happen, not what had already occurred. It was only after Mary asked how the angel’s words would be fulfilled and she accepted God’s invitation to motherhood that the angel departed.

The God we know from Scripture is one of choice: it was He who gave us free will. Although God pursues, seeks and invites us, it remains our choice to accept or reject Him. Jesus called the people to follow Him but not everyone who heard His invitation did. When the people of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave, that’s exactly what He did. When Jesus told the parables about banquets to which the invited guests refused to come, the host accepted their refusals and simply invited others to the feast. God gave us free will and He will not violate this gift. No one, not even the virgin Mary, is ever forced to partake of God’s grace.

Although some would have us think that Mary was powerless in Gabriel’s presence, she was the one with the power. It was Mary who would decide whether or not to accept God’s call. Writer Mark Ballenger refers to God as a “sovereign gentleman,” and, like a true gentleman, He waited for Mary’s verbal consent before the Holy Spirit came upon her!

When feminists object to Mary saying she was the Lord’s servant, they are confusing being servile (mindlessly doing what is ordered) with consciously choosing to serve. There is nothing demeaning or weak about being a servant. Jesus was God and yet he called himself a servant and laid aside his majesty to selflessly serve mankind and die on the cross.

Mary was far more than an incubator for God. We honor her not because she had the womb in which Jesus grew; we honor her because she freely chose to be a faithful and obedient servant to God. God could not have carried out His plan of salvation without Mary’s consent and cooperation. Let us remember that God cannot continue to carry out the plans for His Kingdom without ours. Like Mary, we are called to be God’s servants. Whether or not we accept His invitation, is entirely up to us.

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. [John 12:25-26 (NLT)]

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