Happy Resurrection Day! It’s Easter Sunday and Jesus is alive! Death could not hold Him. Satan lost and Jesus won! It’s a day to shout the news from the mountaintops – or, for Easter 2020 – across the airwaves. Because of COVID 19, the Easter story will be more widely available today than ever before. The whole world will have the chance to hear: “Jesus Christ is Risen!”
There is one part of the Easter story that I hold dear to my heart. It’s in John’s account of the resurrection in chapter 20. Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb to grieve her Lord. She saw it was open and looked inside to discover that His body was not there. I imagine her stumbling backward in confusion and fresh waves of grief. Through her tear-filled eyes, she sees a man, probably the gardener. He approaches and asks her the reason for her sorrow and whom she is seeking. She pleads for the body of the one she loved. He speaks one word: “Mary.” And she knows. It is Jesus. He is alive! Heart pounding. Thoughts racing. Hands shaking. She speaks one word: “Rabonni!” And all her grief turns to Joy.
Easter is celebrated around the world – and rightly so. It is the most important event in human history. The day the Son of God rose from the dead and assured eternal life for all who would believe on Him. But in that quiet morning, Easter was very personal for one woman. Before the rest of the world would hear that Jesus had risen, Mary saw Him with her own eyes.
As you gather around screens and radios and phones today to hear the glorious Easter story, imagine yourself all alone in the garden early on that Sunday morning. Listen closely as the Lord calls out your name. Easter is for all the world, and it is just for you. May the Joy of the resurrection fill your heart today Beloved. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
On my way home yesterday I prayed, “Lord, I am so tired of evil in this world.” I am tired of mass shootings and sex trafficking. I’m tired of babies being murdered in the womb and outside of the womb. I’m tired of children being abused. I’m tired of sin being paraded and celebrated. I’m tired of old folks being swindled out of their life savings. And most of all, I’m tired of the war with evil that is happening in my own home over my loved one. I am bone-tired. Heart-tired. Spirit-tired.
Then I heard that quiet voice: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Not “I will overcome the world” but “I have overcome the world.” He overcame it when he broke free from His grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. I wish I were a fly on the wall in hell when Satan and his demons saw the Lord’s chest rise and fall again. Evil will be with us in the world, but evil does not have the final say. I read the end of the book – evil loses. Jesus wins. I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder today.
I am doing a slow dig through the book of Leviticus – yes Leviticus – the book where most New Year’s resolutions come to die. Why would I spend months studying a hard-to-understand bunch of antiquated laws that don’t apply to me as a New Testament Christian? Because Jesus is found in Leviticus more than any other Old Testament book. He is the fulfillment of every law therein. Three verses into the first chapter and there He is: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male” (Lev. 1:3). That’s Jesus. Unblemished. Perfect. Sinless. Innocent. Pure. The only sacrifice that could atone for your sin and mine – making us acceptable to a holy God.
I look into the next verse and I see, not only Jesus this time but also me. “He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4) In the ancient sacrificial system, the person placed his hand on the animal’s head symbolically transferring all of his sins onto it. This innocent animal now bore the guilt for the sinful person; the animal – not the man – died for those sins.
I am the one with my hand on the head of Jesus. Those sins are mine. The guilt is mine. I am shaken by Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this verse: “If the worshipper was a right-minded person and not a mere formalist, he stood with tears in his eyes and felt in his heart, ‘That death is mine.’” Oh, God let me never look at the cross and forget – “That death is mine.”
Beloved, that is your hand on the head of Jesus too. That death is yours. Those sins are yours. The guilt belongs to you. But so does the atonement. The sinless, innocent Son of God graciously received your sins and bore your punishment so that you would be accepted by His Father. May you and I never forget the price that Jesus paid to set us free.
Waking up on Easter morning when I was a kid meant a new dress and new shoes and an Easter basket at the foot of my bed, loaded down with goodies. There were always jelly beans and marshmallow treats and a book about Jesus. There was usually a necklace or bracelet in mine, while my brothers got toy cars and trucks. But best of all – there was CHOCOLATE! Chocolate coins and chocolate eggs wrapped in thin foil that always tore when you tried to open them. And the bunny. The smiling chocolate Easter bunny who stared at me with his little frosting eyes and beckoned me to nibble on his ears. Oh, I could not resist his charms. One year I pulled my chocolate friend out of his cellophane home and bit down on his ear and got a shock. The chocolate caved in and broke apart because the bunny was hollow inside! Mama didn’t realize the bunnies she bought for us were not solid. My brothers and I felt cheated. We had counted on solid milk chocolate that we could gnaw on for several days. We got a thin veneer of chocolate that was gone before bedtime that day. There was no substance to our chocolate Easter bunnies, they were just a shell.
Paul warned believers to be on guard against “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) of this world that will try to fool us and draw us away from the solid truth of Christ Jesus. They are a very real and present danger to the Christian. Unlike Christ, in whom is “all the fullness of [God]” (v. 9), they are empty and foolish and they crumble under the bite of real life. Unlike Christ, who is eternal, these philosophies have no substance and no staying power, they are founded on the shifting values and priorities of the world. Even in my lifetime “right and wrong” have been turned upside down by the culture. Hollow, worldly philosophies are ever-changing. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And unlike Christ who is the Truth, they are rooted in lies and deception. At their core they deny the reality of God and His authority and put humanity on the throne of existence (Romans 1:18-25). And the sad truth is, they are not limited to the world; they are prevalent in the church as well. In Paul’s day it was the “higher knowledge” gospel and the “Mosaic-law” gospel. Enemies of the Christianity held to secret knowledge as the way to God while the Jewish traditions demanded obedience to the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Today we have the “prosperity” gospel, the “social” gospel, the “humanitarian” gospel, the “political” gospel, and on and on. All of these are hollow shells of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Beloved, when the winds of hardship howl and the heat of spiritual battle rages, you need something more than a hollow, Easter-bunny faith. You need something you can depend on, something that will last. You need the solid truth of God, His Son, and His Word. You need a faith that will not crumble. You need the solid rock that is Jesus.
One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.
“When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 HCSB).
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week – which marks the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Some denominations don’t make as big a deal over the traditional Holy Week events as others. For 18 years, I was the Admin Assistant at a United Methodist church and Holy Week meant extra work for me. Bulletins had to be prepared for all the services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise Service and Easter Worship. For two of those years I also doubled as the custodian and Holy Week meant extra hours scrubbing and polishing to make the facilities shine. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted.
Since leaving that position, I’ve been able to approach Holy Week with more reflection and worship – and rest. But it makes me think of the Lord throughout that week, how His mind, body and spirit must have been strained to the breaking point, even before the nails tore through His hands and feet. There was no rest for Jesus. There was no shopping trip to buy new shoes and a spring outfit. No day off for Good Friday. No Easter basket piled high with chocolate bunnies. Jesus’ experiences the days between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb were grueling, and they are what make the week truly Holy.
I want to encourage – maybe even challenge you to spend this coming week studying Holy Week in all four of the Gospels – stopping short of the resurrection passages until Easter Sunday. Take note of all that Jesus did and endured in the span of 7 days – and try to envision the physical, emotional and spiritual toil it took on Him. Those passages are: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 19:28-chapter 23; and John 12-19.