The Empty Tomb

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb – John 20:1

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On the first day of the week when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb she found the stone rolled away.  She went straightaway to let Peter and John know.  They ran to the tomb.  John got there first but didn’t go inside.  Instead, he stooped down and looked in.  He saw that the tomb was empty.  Only the linen cloths were lying there. When Peter reached the tomb, he went inside.

He saw the linen cloths lying there and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.  John entered the tomb saw and believed.  Then, the two disciples left and went back to their homes while Mary remained outside the tomb, weeping.  She had no idea what had happened to her Lord.  She believed that, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”  By “They” she might have been referring to the guards posted outside the tomb although I’m not sure why they would have moved the body.  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have had no reason to move it either.

This morning when I read this, it dawned on me that the folded linen handkerchief which had been wrapped around Jesus’ head disproved the idea that His disciples had stolen the body at night while the guards slept.  If that were true, they would not have had time to unwrap the body, neatly fold the cloths and then carry the body away.  And the fact that the disciples were assembled in a room, fearful of the Jews, also disproves the notion that they would risk being caught stealing Jesus’ body.

The empty tomb and folded cloths speak volumes of the resurrection of Christ.  Today, let us rejoice that our Lord lives and that one day He will appear a second time to those who look for Him, not to deal with sin, but to bring them to full salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

Redeemed

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” – Mark 15:34

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When Jesus was on the cross, He was mocked.  Those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!”  The religious leaders joined in the ridicule as well, saying, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”  It must have been painful for Jesus to hear them say those things.  These were the same people of whom Jesus asked of God, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

They had no idea of what was really at stake.  They were mocking Jesus about not saving Himself not realizing that wasn’t His purpose at all.  As He pointed out at the time of His arrest, if He wanted to spare Himself the agony of the Cross, “…do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?  How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53, 54). 

Had Jesus come down from the cross to save Himself, we would all be lost and eternally separated from God.  Love for the Father and us kept Jesus on that cross.  He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.  He was the Savior of the world.  God sent Him to die in our stead so that we could have everlasting life.  John 3:16 puts it so beautifully, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” When God sent Jesus into the world, it wasn’t to condemn the world but to save it through Him (Verse 17, NKJV).  The cross is our salvation and evidence of God’s incredible love for us. 

As much as it pains me to see Jesus hanging from the cross whenever I watch a biblical movie about His life, it reminds me of what Jesus said to Nicodemus.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Verses 14 & 15). 

Sin separates us from God.  When Jesus was on the cross, bearing our sins, He was separated from the Father.  That was why He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).  Jesus became the Sin-bearer and it was that sin that the Father condemned.  Jesus was forsaken for our sake so that we would be forgiven for our sins once we accept His atoning work on the cross.

How terrible it is to be separated from our heavenly Father.  This sobering thought should motivate us not to live any longer like other people in the world do but to live as Jesus did–in loving obedience to the Father.  He was obedient even on to death.

Jesus laid down His life for us to show His love.  How can we return this love?  We do so by obeying Him and having faith in Him.  Today and everyday, let us live our lives for the One who willingly went to and stayed on that cross so that He could redeem us to God by His blood (Revelation 5:9).  Our redemption came a great cost (1 peter 1:18-19).

Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed thro’ His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever, I am – Hymn #338

A Promise Fulfilled

“Lord, now I can die in peace! As you promised me, I have seen the Savior you have given to all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:29-32)

These are the words of a man named Simeon who was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue His people. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. He got his wish.

The Holy Spirit led Simeon to the temple the very same day that Jesus was dedicated to the Lord. How wonderful! God had fulfilled His promise to Simeon.

Simeon was overjoyed when he saw the Infant Savior. How his heart must have leapt with joy as he held Jesus in his arms and gazed down into that tiny face. He blessed Joseph and Mary. He said to Mary, “This Child will be rejected by many in Israel, and it will be their undoing. But he will be the greatest joy to many others.”

For many of us, Jesus is the greatest joy. He brought us hope, love, peace and the promise of eternal life.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaimed, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited His people and redeemed them.  He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of His servant David, just as He promised through His holy prophets long ago” (Luke 1:68-70).

What a wonderful promise!  During the Christmas season, imagine what it must have been like for Simeon to see the Lord face to face and to realize that the Lord had kept him alive for just that moment.  Simeon had seen salvation.  He had seen the promise of eternal life before he died.  God had promised His people salvation and then He fulfilled that promise through His Son, Jesus.

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Not One of the Crowd

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not – Jeremiah 20:9

Do you sometimes feel like the prophet Jeremiah? He was called to be a prophet. Life for him was not at all easy. He couldn’t marry and have a family. His community hated him and they didn’t want to hear what he had to say because his messages were of doom and gloom. They were probably thinking, “who does he think he? These were people he grew up with. They were his neighbors. It got so bad that Jeremiah didn’t want to speak any more. He tried to keep silent but he couldn’t. He couldn’t keep silent when he had a message to share with the people that could result in their salvation.

Do you pass up opportunities to witness to others because you don’t want to be criticized, ridiculed, ignored or shunned? Are you tired of your friends making fun of you because you talk to them about God? Do you feel like you are an outsider because the people you once hung out with want nothing more to do with you? You cramp their style. You are a drag because you don’t want to go to nightclubs or the bars or hang out at the mall anymore. Your boyfriend dumped you because he’s not into that Bible stuff.

What do you do? You do what Jeremiah did. Realize and accept your new life as a Christian and that you have work to do. Accept that life at times will be difficult because you serve God. Jesus had to deal with family, neighbors and friends who rejected and questioned His ministry. He faced persecution and opposition from the religious leaders. In spite of all of these things, He finished the work God had sent Him to do. Follow His example. Continue to share your faith. Those who want to hear it will listen. Sooner or later, the seed will fall on good soil.

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Finish the Race

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that in town after town the Holy Spirit assures me that imprisonment and suffering are waiting for me.  But I don’t place any value on my life, if only I can finish my race and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” – Acts 20:22-24, ISV

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Sharing the Gospel is no easy task.  It is with beset with hostility, resentment, persecution, opposition and in some cases leads to imprisonment or even death.  This is how it was in the apostle Paul’s time.  He testified,  I served the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I never shrank from telling you anything that would help you nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:19-21, ISV)He was beaten, imprisoned, in danger of his life at the hands of those who wanted to stop him from doing the work Jesus had called him to do. 

Yet, Paul persevered.  He didn’t allow the actions of others or fear to impede him.  He was in a race and he was determined to finish it even if it cost him his life.  He was  true soldier.  He was in a war that will continue to rage until Jesus returns.  It is a spiritual war and as he pointed out we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers in the darkness around us, and evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12, ISV).  These were the forces which were working against him at every turn of his ministry but through it all, he had the assurance that the Lord was with him. 

When he was in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;  for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”  Paul was encouraged and he remained in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the Word of God (Acts 18:9, 10, NKJV).

We have the same assurances as Paul did.  We are not alone in our ministry to share the Gospel.  The Lord is with us every step of the way.  We cannot be afraid to do the Lord’s work.  Instead, like the psalmist, we can boldly say, The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6, NKJV).  So, no matter what the enemy throws at us, we are to speak and not keep silent.  The salvation of so many is at stake.  We, like Paul, must finish the race.

Angry With God

Don’t you just love it when your child decides to have a temper tantrum when you’re in the supermarket, a restaurant or anywhere in public?  Some of us feel embarrassed and mortified, especially when we get those “why can’t she control her child?” looks.  We try to deal with the situation as best as we can.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could vacate the premises as fast as the superhero, Flash?  Or better yet, beam home?  When it comes to dealing with temper tantrums, we have to diffuse the situation and try to remain calm while doing that which isn’t easy at all.

What about us?  Do we throw temper tantrums when we don’t get our way with God?  Do we get angry and sulky when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want?  I can think of two examples of people in the Bible who threw tantrums when things didn’t go their way.  The first is Cain.

Cain was the older of two brothers.  He was a a “tiller of the ground” while his brother Abel was a “keeper of sheep”.  Both brought offerings to God.   God respected Abel and his offering but didn’t respect Cain and his offering.  Cain became very angry and depressed.   Why did God reject his offering?  Hebrews 11:4 states, By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.  Abel offered the best that he had from among his flock while Cain brought an offering of the fruit.  It doesn’t say that the fruit were the first fruits of the ground which were offered unto God just as the first-born of man and animals but it would explain why God rejected Cain’s offer. 

If we don’t give God our best and He rejects it, why should we get angry?  Cain’s anger toward God was unreasonable.  God spoke to him about it.   “Why are you angry? Why is your countenance fallen?  If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must rule over it.”

God dealt with Cain’s behavior in a calm and loving manner.  God knew what was the cause of his anger and told him what to do about it.  If you know why your child is acting up, try to help them to see how their behavior will not get them what they want.  Cain’s anger was not going to make things right with God.  He had to change his attitude and do what is right before God could accept him.  Your child needs to know that their unruly behavior is unacceptable and that if they behave themselves, all will be well for them.   Some of them may calm down and behave themselves while others continue acting up.  Sadly, Cain didn’t get over his anger and it resulted in his brother’s death.

Jonah is the other adult in the Bible who threw a temper tantrum.  When God first sent the prophet to the wicked city of Nineveh to cry out against it, “because their wickedness has come up before Me,” Jonah fled in the opposite direction to Tarshish.  After surviving three days and nights in the belly of a large fish which vomited him up on dry land and acknowledging that “Salvation is of the Lord!” God again called the prophet to “Get up, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

Jonah had no other choice but to go to Nineveh this time.  When he entered the city, he cried out, “In forty days’ time, Nineveh will be overthrown!”  The people believed God and proclaimed a fast.  They all put on sackcloth and when the king heard the news, he left his throne, removed his robes and put on sackcloth.  He made a decree that both people and animals would fast and that all shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands, believing that it was possible that God “may relent and change His mind. He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we will not perish.”

When God saw their actions and that they had turned from their evil ways, He relented and didn’t bring disaster on them.  However, this act of mercy greatly angered Jonah and he told God why he fled to Tarshish.  “This is the reason that I fled before to Tarshish, because I knew that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in faithfulness, and ready to relent from punishment.”  He asked God to take his life because death was better than living to see the people of Nineveh spared. 

Do we get upset with God when He shows love and compassion toward people we don’t think are deserving of His mercy?  Are any of us deserving of His grace?  When Jonah was thrown into the sea as per his request to the men in the ship with him, God showed him mercy by sending a large fish to swallow him, preventing him from drowning.  Jonah confessed that salvation was of the Lord and yet, he was angry with Him for saving the people of Nineveh who repented.  God will not destroy those who repent but will show them mercy instead.  This was the God whom Jonah served and yet, this was the reason why he was angry with Him.

As He did with Cain and with us, God tried to reason with Jonah, showing him how unreasonable he was being.  He asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Is it right for us to be angry when God accepts a person whom we considered to be a backslider back into His fold?  Was it right for the brother of the prodigal son to be upset with the father for welcoming his wayward son back home?  To illustrate His point, God did a little experiment.  As Jonah sat down to see what would happen to the city of Nineveh, God had a plant grow and give shade to the prophet.  Jonah was thankful for the plant because of its shade from the heat.  The next day, though, God had a worm eat the plant until it withered and then raised up a scorching east wind. When the sun beat upon the head of Jonah he became faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

God asked him if it was right for him to be angry about the plant.  Jonah replied that his anger was justified even to death.  And God’s response was, “You are troubled about the plant for which you did not labor and did not grow. It came up in a night and perished in a night.  Should I not, therefore, be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people, who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Do we, like Jonah, place more importance on things and animals than we do people who are lost and need God’s mercy?  The people of Nineveh were living in sin until God sent Jonah to warn them so that they could turn from their wickedness and be saved.  There are many people in the world who are living in darkness and God wants bring them into the light.  We don’t determine who deserves His mercy and who doesn’t.  When it comes to someone’s salvation, there’s no room for temper tantrums but a changed heart and attitude that would allow us to see what God sees and rejoice with Him when that sinner repents.

Sources:  Bible Study Tools; Bible Gateway

Sing to the Lord

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises – Psalm 98:4

Praising God is something that should be as natural as breathing.  It’s hard to do so, however, when facing trials, problems or challenges, but that is the time when we really need to do it.  I have had an experience when I was feeling down about something and it came to me, no doubt it was the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that instead of focusing on what I was going through, to focus on God instead.  So, I began to praise Him.  I began to sing songs of praise to Him and after a while, I felt so light and upbeat.  The problem which had seemed like a mountain became minuscule until with God’s help, I was able to resolve it.

The apostle Paul is a good example of someone who praised God regardless of what the circumstances were.  Who could forget when Silas and he were in jail and instead of suffering in silence, they began to sing?  Acts 16:25 says But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  God used that moment as an opportunity to reveal Himself.

Suddenly, there was an earthquake, shaking the foundations of the prison and the doors to the jail cells were opened and the chains broken, the prisoners could have escaped but no one moved.  The jailer thought that they had broken out and was about to take his life out of fear of reprisal but Paul assured him that all of the prisoners were there.  And that led the jailer to ask the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Verse 30).  God used Paul’s and Silas’ attitude toward their circumstances to bring about the salvation of the jailer and his family.  And who knows if any of the other prisoners didn’t change too as a result of what they heard and witnessed.

How we deal with adversity will not only affect us but those around us.  Instead of looking down or around, we look up and whatever song the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, puts in our hearts, we lift our voices and sing to our God, Who is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  It will lift our burdens up to Him and bring His comfort down to us.

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