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Where Do You Start?

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But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:7-8
 

Where do you start? When you have an amazing story to tell, where do you start? Do you go all the way back to the beginning, even though nothing exciting happened back there? Or do you start with the punch line, the happy news? When you’re going to tell someone that you’re engaged to be married, do you just say it, “I’m engaged!” Or, do you hide the ring and draw out the story for a good ten minutes?
 

The women in our text didn’t know quite what to do. They had the best news ever—Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. But how do you tell people that the impossible has happened? How do you tell them that what Jesus predicted actually has happened? How do you reassure Peter that even after the denials, Jesus wanted him to know that he had risen?
 

Where do you start with news like that? Maybe we are all wondering the same thing this week. We can go right to the news itself. “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” That says it and for those who know the message, that’s enough. It’s a celebration needed in this uncertain time.
 

But we might also start slow, telling the story from the beginning. Maybe in this week, people are seeking a teacher, a caring counselor, and one who assures them that they don’t need to be afraid. We can tell them that we know a Father who knows already what we need and provides it for us. And, then, best news of all, the Father’s Son was dead but now he is alive and death has lost its power. Tell the frightened that the comforter has more than words of understanding and empathy. He has snapped death in two, stepped out of his tomb and he waits to lift us out of our graves. No matter where we start, it’s all the best news.
 

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you know our needs and have promised to provide what we lack. But especially thank you that you have given us the best news. Jesus lives and death is broken for all time. Help us to give this news to a world that certainly needs it. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


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Worthy of Praise

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Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

In Paul’s closing chapter to his fellow Christians in the City of Philippi, he provides direction and encouragement.  He points them to set their minds on spiritual things.  In closing this verse he reminds his listeners to think about things that are “worthy of praise.”

So what are those things that are worthy of praise?

Things that are worthy of praise are the things of God.  Among these praiseworthy things are:

  • Holding the faith and living and sharing it each day
  • Forgiving others as God forgives us
  • Being generous with the gifts that God gives to us
  • Providing care to the least of our brothers and sisters

This list is not exhaustive at all, but they are among the praiseworthy things we should constantly ponder.  This means we should consciously be alert to opportunities to live out these praiseworthy deeds.

As God’s people we are privileged to be recipients of God’s grace and for this we praise Him.  One of the great ways we praise the Lord is by living out praiseworthy things.

Father of all mercy and grace, I thank You for the many blessings I have simply because You are both gracious and merciful.  For this I praise You.  Grant me Your Holy Spirit that my praise may be lived out in my daily relationships with others.  I pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  


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Moving Stones

bunch of stones
“And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.’” Mark 16:4-6
 
In an episode of the TV show Friends, the mother of Ross and Rachel hears a number of surprising and disturbing things about her daughter and son. When they get done telling on each other, she holds up her hand and says, “That’s a lot of information to get in thirty seconds.” In half a minute, her world had been turned upside down.

The women at the tomb on Easter likely felt that way even more. They took in a lot of information in thirty seconds at the empty tomb that morning. They came expecting a stone guarding a tomb which held their beloved teacher, Jesus. But in half a minute, think of all that they learned instead.

The stone, which had been their biggest worry, was rolled aside, completely out of their way. But they had no time to ask how or who did that, because immediately there is an angel, called a young man, but clearly no ordinary man. He has to assure them not to be afraid. But there was still one more surprise. The tomb is empty! If it was surprising to see what was new, it was the absence of the old that was the most striking. Stones can be moved and angels might come. But now the dead are alive.

That’s a lot of information to take in. I wonder if we don’t sometimes focus on the seemingly immovable stones of our lives. We wonder if the stones, the barriers, the symbols of hurt and loss, are ever going to move. We can focus on them so much that we might miss the real news. The stones are going to move. The grave stone that really mattered already moved on Easter. That stone was the first but it has started an avalanche of grave stones. All the stones over all our graves are going to move, cast aside by the resurrection. It started here in these few seconds. Let’s live by faith that all this was true—the stone moved, the angel came and Jesus has risen. That’s a lot to take in, but it’s the one message that we really need.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us the message we need. The stone of Jesus’ grave has gone, the angel has spoken and Jesus lives. Help us to take that news in every day and to live in certain faith through it.  We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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What He Said Week 8

Study Eight: WORTH CRYING OVER
 
TAKING IT IN
 
26  As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the
country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27  A large number of people
followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28  Jesus turned and said to them,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29  For the
time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and
the breasts that never nursed!’ 30  Then “they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills,
“Cover us!” 31  For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33  When they came to the
place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on
his left. 34  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they
divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:26-34
 
GETTING AT IT
You can mourn the loss of your favorite team in the playoffs, but you’ll get over it. You can
mourn the loss of your youth in a mid-life crisis, but you’ll grow out of it. There is a deeper
mourning that can attach itself to your soul. To witness what human beings have done to God’s
world – from war and crime to corruption and environmental disasters, from injustice and
oppression to legitimizing immorality and rejecting God’s truth – that is a mourning renewed
with each newscast. To watch a loved one die of a horrible disease, while her children struggle
to go on with life, well, that is mourning that sticks to your soul. But there is a sadness each
Lenten season that summarizes everything worth crying over, a sadness that God the Father
shares with us as he watches his Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.
The processional from Pilate’s judgment seat to Calvary was marked by mourning. There were
Jesus’ followers, grief-stricken at their bloody Savior stumbling toward a horrific death. There
were residents and visitors to Jerusalem caught up in a story they couldn’t understand and crying
over the injustice of a good man executed by an occupying army. Jesus’ passion is worth
shedding tears over; and yet he redirects the mourning of the crowd toward the coming
consequence of rejecting him, their Messiah. That poses a question: what is worth crying over?
 
DIGGING INTO IT
Simon was a Jew living in the North African city of Cyrene who had come to Jerusalem for the
Passover. Cyrene, in what is today Libya, was home to a large settlement of ex-patriot Jews.
Mark’s Gospel identifies Simon as the father of Rufus and Alexander, probably because his sons
were known to many in the early Christian community. In Romans 16:13 St. Paul greets Rufus
and his mother as dear friends. Simon was staying outside Jerusalem and coming into the city
when he became an unwitting part of the Passion story. While Christian art depicts Jesus and
then Simon carrying a complete cross, it is likely that the upright portion of the cross remained at
the place of executions while the crossbar was carried by the condemned. That beam could
weigh 40 pounds; and depleted by exhaustion and blood-loss, Jesus could not carry it up the hill.
Simon is a poignant reminder of Jesus telling his followers that they must take up their cross and
follow him. Our cross is whatever suffering we endure because we confess the Savior who was
crucified.
 
Mourning was an element of Jewish culture. At the home of Jairus, Jesus encountered what
might be called “professional mourners” before he raised Jairus’ daughter to life. While the
large crowd following Jesus could not know the full significance of Jesus’ suffering and death,
they highlighted the tragic events that marred the Passover with their mourning. Should we
mourn for Jesus? He doesn’t ask us to mourn for him, rather to trust in him. He chose and
willingly carried out the suffering and death that were God’s plan for our salvation. Shed tears
on Good Friday, and every other day that your sins trouble you, because those sins are ultimately
responsible for Jesus’ suffering and death. But tears of gratitude are more appropriate, for Jesus
endured all this for us and our salvation.
 
There is an ominous warning in Jesus’ words to the mourners. Read Luke 19:41-44. Jesus wept
over Jerusalem because their rejection of the promised Messiah would mean unspeakable horrors
for the people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:37 – 24:2 Jesus again spoke of the coming
destruction of the city as Rome’s response to Jewish rebellion. These prophetic words would be
fulfilled in 70 AD by the Roman legions. People would starve in the besieged city. Children
would be killed. Many would hide in the caves of the central highlands, to no avail. Perhaps
some in Jerusalem would remember how the prophet Jeremiah foretold similar atrocities before
Nebuchadnezzar besieged and destroyed the city in 586 BC as God’s judgment on faithless
wickedness. (Jeremiah 16:1-4) Revelation 6:16 echoes the words of Jesus in a warning about the
terror of Judgment Day. Childlessness would be preferred in such times. A swift death would
be merciful. Some people in our day worry about having children in perilous times. Imagine
how much greater the anxiety when the world’s most powerful army is bent on your destruction.
“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This must
have been a proverbial saying at the time of Christ. Its meaning here may be: “If the Romans do
this to an innocent man (Jesus), what will they do when the nation is guilty of rebellion?” Or
perhaps it should be understood to say: “If you do this to your Messiah while he is with you,
what can you expect when he is gone?”
 
That Jesus was crucified between two unquestionably criminal men contrasts his innocence and
fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with
the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
That the soldiers cast lots for his clothes was the norm at such executions, but more importantly,
it fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:18, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for
my clothing.” Read verses 39-43 of Luke 23 for Jesus’ words to the penitent criminal executed
beside him.
Golgotha in Hebrew means “place of the skull.” Calvary is the Latin word for skull. The name
may mean simply the place where executions take place, or it may suggest that the rocky
outcropping where Romans crucified looked from a distance like a skull. Visitors to the Old City
of Jerusalem can see from the city wall near the Damascus gate just such a quarried hill that
looks like a skull. (Tradition places Calvary inside today’s city walls.)
Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness can have a far wider significance, but in the moment he was
speaking about the Roman soldiers, who had no idea whom they were executing. Here is one
more suggestion that there are degrees of culpability before God. Ignorance is not an excuse for
sin, but it diminishes culpability. All are guilty of sin and deserving of eternal condemnation.
Those who knowingly reject God’s will and grace bear a greater degree of guilt. In the Lord’s
Prayer we ask God’s forgiveness “as we forgive those who sin against us.” Jesus here models
that prayer, as does the martyr Stephen in Acts 7:60.
 
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What is
the place of mourning in the Christian’s life? What is worth crying over? While Christians have
reasons to rejoice and ought not be miserable, the reality of sin in this world and the longing for
our eternal home with Jesus are reasons to mourn. If you have lost a loved one to death, how do
you mourn?
 
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
It is amazing how many aspects of Jesus’ Passion were foretold in the Old Testament. How does
this confirm your faith in Jesus and his Word? While most of these prophecies are Gospel
promises, there are also prophetic warnings of God’s Law. The judgment Jesus’ pronounced on
Jerusalem has a greater realization in the judgment on the last day. In Matthew 24, Jesus links
these two judgments. How do Christians respond to the warnings of Judgment Day?
SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT
Ask God to relieve the suffering of those in the Middle East and North Africa who are innocents
in the midst of terror. Ask him especially for courage, faith and steadfastness in the lives of
Christians caught in such misery.
 
SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT
Go to Youtube on the internet and search for “Watch the Lamb” by Ray Boltz. You should be
able to watch a music video of a song depicting the experience of Simon from Cyrene at Calvary
with his two sons. It is a moving experience.
 
SOMETHING FOR FUTHER STUDY
Read Isaiah 53 and recognize how this “Old Testament Passion Story” explains the why as well
as the what of Jesus’ suffering and death.

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Good News

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’”  Mark 16:2-3
 
Have you packed really well for a trip, but still you brought the wrong stuff? You packed for winter, but it was 87 degrees in Texas that weekend in January, a record even for them. You never touched those three sweaters that you brought. Or, you flew back from Florida in April, straight into a late Wisconsin snowstorm and you were wearing shorts and sandals. You were in the wrong place with the right stuff.

The women in our text had all the right things packed. They brought the spices to anoint Jesus. They were right there early in the morning. They even had the right question about who was going to roll away the stone. They were prepared, but not for the right day. The world had changed overnight and they found themselves in a new place.

Our world has certainly changed in these last few weeks. I expect that you had packed for a different April than the one we’ve had so far. You had plans for work and travel but those plans have been put aside. You were all ready for a different time than the one we have.
 
But the good news is that Easter is the greatest change the world has ever seen. Easter has come and brought us the change that lasts and needs repeating in our frightened world. Jesus has risen and the tomb is empty. Those plans of our past or present, the ones of fear and death, those plans have been put out of date because Easter’s truth has come again. Even this year, strange as it is, cannot cancel the truth that Jesus has risen from the dead and so death has lost. Life has come to the dead and our own tombs will stand open. We don’t need to pack for death and darkness. We are the people who have seen the empty tomb and believe the best news. He has risen. Why be packing for death? Why carry the trappings of the tomb?  The good news has come: Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, we have been packing and preparing for the worst news. Thank you for the best news ever:  Jesus is risen from the dead. Help us to carry that news instead of the burdens we’ve been carrying. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

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