Day 47 – Up From the Grave He Arose!

Easter Sunday – March 27, 2016

Day 47 – John 20:1-18 risen

Focus: vss. 14-16

 

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Every good story has a moment where all seems lost before a glorious climax where the good guys pull out a stunning victory. John is telling just such a story. We get three years-worth of Jesus battling the bad guys and doing amazing things. He’s the hero of the story and everyone is pulling for Him. But the bad guys are getting angrier and angrier and you know that it’s all going to come to a head. Finally the bad guys do what bad guys do – they fight dirty. So they arrest Jesus and level false charges against him. According to the other gospels they bring in false witnesses to solidify their case before handing Him over to the Roman authorities. John shortens the story a bit and gives you the bare details. There is a trial, there is a crucifixion, there is a resurrection. The crucifixion is the moment where the bad guys have won. Jesus loses. This can’t be. Then the glorious climax when the tomb is found empty and Jesus walks out alive and well.

These are some great verses. Peter and John see the empty tomb and go home but Mary Magdalene stays behind and weeps for Jesus. Then she peers into the tomb and sees something very unusual: two angels are sitting where the once-dead Jesus was. She asks where they took the body of her Lord and then another guy shows up. It’s Jesus but she doesn’t recognize Him. I wonder if she couldn’t see through the tears or her mind just couldn’t fit the puzzle together as she knew well that Jesus had died on that cross. How could he possibly be here now? So he says her name and suddenly she knows who he is.

Jesus called her name and she recognized his voice. The Shepherd called to his sheep and she recognized his voice. It’s an amazing moment when Jesus calls your name. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. It’s the voice of the Risen Savior. Climax. The grave couldn’t hold him. Death couldn’t beat him. Satan couldn’t win. All seemed lost until the stone rolled away and Jesus walked out alive.

Do you realize what Jesus has done for you? We’re fond of saying that Jesus died for you but, even more importantly, Jesus lives for you. His death provided the sacrifice to pay the penalty of all the sins of humanity. His blood can wash our hearts clean. But if the Savior doesn’t defeat death, then we can never defeat death. Jesus defeats death on our behalf. Jesus has won the victory and you can have eternal life because He lives.

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. Thank you for defeating death so that I might live eternally. Thank you for loving me unconditionally. Help me to live my life knowing that it is a gift from you. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Advertisements

Day 46 – Low in the Grave He Lay

Saturday – March 26, 2016

Day 46 – John 19:38-42 sealed tomb

Focus: vss. 41-42

 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

We are at the crisis point in our narrative. Jesus is dead and about to be laid in a tomb. At that point the Jewish authorities want to make sure nothing extraordinary happens so they request a guard to be placed at the tomb. Ha, ha, ha, ha! Little did they know, huh? Actually no one alive really knew anything yet. Later on, oh yes! Some of these things we know because the other Gospels record them.

Most of you reading this have endured the sadness of the death of someone you love. It is never easily handled but must be borne in some manner. I, at age 7, was too young to really remember much about my mother at the time of her death so it did not seem to have a tremendous impact on me. My father and others who have died since then had a greater effect which I can strongly remember. I think in some ways it is the manner of death and the circumstances surrounding it that cause it have more of an impact. All deaths are traumatic with some being more so than others. I’m sure you are thinking of some of those who were close to you.

The death of Jesus had a great impact on His followers and on His family. The fact remained that He needed to be buried and quickly as the next few days were high holy days when they would be unable to do anything about a burial. So what did they do? Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took care of the situation. Jesus and the two thieves would likely have had their bodies thrown on the rubbish heap if left to the Romans. But, at the request of Joseph, Pilate gave permission for Jesus’ body to be taken down and buried. We are told that because of the time constraints laid on by the Jewish Passover and the need for preparation it was laid in a nearby new tomb.

We often sing at Easter the hymn, “Low In the Grave He Lay.” This is exactly what happened. This was likely the darkest time for all of Jesus’ followers. Even though Jesus told them what would happen they could not envision it. So here they are in one of the “dark nights of the soul” just trying to make it through somehow. Have you ever been there? You are just waiting until you get through this terrible thing. You just don’t know how you are going to make it but you still have it to go through.  “Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior; Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.”

Prayer Focus: Father God, just like those early disciples I have experienced the darkness and pain of loss. Just like them I have felt all alone. Just like them my faith has faltered. O God, strengthen me in those times. Lift my head up to see the glory of the Lord. May my eyes be fixed on eternal things and not on things of this earth? Thank you for hearing and responding to my needs in the past, right now and even into the future. AMEN.

Day 45 – That You May Believe

Friday – March 25, 2016

Day 45 – John 19:28-37 dark cross

Focus: vs. 35

35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.

The story of the death of Christ can be a difficult one to read and even more difficult to watch on the big screen. It was a bloody affair designed by the Romans to be as painful as possible for as long as possible. It was, essentially, death by asphyxiation, which is why we see the legs being broken of the other two men on the crosses with Jesus. With broken legs they could no longer hold themselves up in position to get air into their lungs. When they came to Jesus, however, they didn’t have to break His legs since he had already died. Instead, they pierced his side with a spear to make sure He was gone. When they did, blood and water flowed. It was significant enough to the executioners that they talked about it.

There are medical reasons for why this happened. The way in a person died during crucifixion would cause water to build up in the area around the heart. When Jesus’ side was pierced by the spear it must have burst this area of the heart open. What is more remarkable is the prophetic nature of how all this happened. John mentions this all took place to fulfill scripture. The first reference – that not one of his bones will be broken – likely comes from Exodus 12:46. The second reference – that they will look on him whom they have pierced – comes from Zechariah 12:10. John wants you to know this so that you will understand how Jesus continued to fulfill scriptural prophecy, even in His death. It continues to prove that He is the Messiah.

Today is Good Friday, the day of the death of Jesus which we remember during Holy Week. This is a dark day in the Church as we ponder a world where the Light has gone out and the earth is left in spiritual darkness. I can’t imagine the utter hopelessness that must have been felt by so many on this day. God showed up and we killed Him. People are still killing Him every day as they live in unbelief. Listen to the hope of Good Friday: In three days Jesus will rise again. If you think His death was amazing, wait until you see the stone roll away from the tomb!

Ponder the darkness today. It’s entirely appropriate to do so. As you think about the Light of Christ which shines in your heart, consider those who do not yet believe. Their souls still wander in darkness. Let your light shine!

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, help me to see the darkness of a world without You. Break my heart for the spiritual condition of so many that are around me. Help me to let my light shine so that others will find Your light. Amen.

Day 44 – Feed My Sheep

Thursday – March 24, 2016

Day 44 – John 21:15-25 feed sheep

Focus: vs. 17

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” 

Have you ever had this kind of discussion with someone, maybe with one or more of your children after they had in some way been disobedient? Probably not, at least not just like this. I remember sitting down with each of my children at one time or another and trying to get at whether or not they knew what they did was wrong and when they finally admitted it could then forgive them and reinstate them into my presence. I never told them I didn’t love them but would let them know I didn’t love what they had done. When I felt they understood that what they had done was wrong. I would accept their confession and let them know I still loved them. Sometimes, I even had to let them know I loved them before their admission. Never did I want them to feel they were not loved. I think this is what Jesus was doing with Peter in our passage for today.

Jesus’ whole intent was to reinstate Peter to full fellowship with Him. Peter had denied Jesus three times during His trial before the High Priest so he was given three opportunities to declare his allegiance to his Lord. Near the ending of my Tuesday devotional I mentioned the last verse of this passage so that is not the focus of this one. Today’s focus is on Peter not only being reinstated by Jesus but being made aware of his responsibilities to others on behalf of his Master. Jesus’ interest was in Peter’s relationship with his fellow followers of Christ. Basically it was, “If you love me . . . then,” Jesus told Peter – “feed my sheep . . . feed my lambs . . . feed my sheep.” Peter was to show concern and love for the flock of God. There is more that could be said but this is the focus we have for today. Jesus knew Peter was a leader/pastor and his responsibility was to the sheep of God’s pasture. Peter needed to know this as well. His expression of love for Christ was to be found in his expression of that love toward others. Isn’t that true of all of us? If we are true followers of Christ we will love one another. It is not a superficial love but one that goes deep and where we even feel the hurt of those around us.

Prayer Focus: Lord Jesus, help me to be more of a sheep lover than I have ever been. Give me Your compassion and concern for others because I have been broken and made obedient for You. AMEN.

Day 43 – A Lakeside Appointment

Wednesday – March 23, 2016

Day 43 – John 21:1-14 lakeside

Focus: vs. 12

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

Lee Strobel is most known for his book The Case for Christ. He was trained in journalism and law and has the amazing testimony of going from Atheist to Christian. After his wife, an agnostic, accepted Jesus, Strobel thought he was in trouble. He went to church one Sunday just to see what it was his wife had gotten into and how he could get around it. That day he heard the gospel presented in a way that he could understand and he left still an Atheist but now needing to put all his journalistic and law skills to work debunking this myth. The more he studied the more the evidence in favor of Christianity mounted. Eventually, it got to the point where Strobel, an Atheist and a Skeptic, could no longer deny the truth of Jesus. All he could do was accept the truth he had discovered.

In our scripture for today, John is continuing to build his case for Christ. He’s adding story after story of meetings with Jesus after His resurrection from the dead. John was there at the cross and he saw Jesus die. Now he, and others, are seeing Jesus once more. Jesus calls out to them while they are fishing. They had gone back to what they were doing before they followed Jesus. He asks them if they have caught any fish and they say they haven’t. He tells them to cast again and they catch so many fish they can haul it in. The other gospels say they had to call for help. John recognizes that this is Jesus and tells everyone. Peter is so excited he jumps overboard and swims to the shore ahead of the boat. When they get there they find Jesus with a fire and grilling some fish. He invites them over and they share breakfast together.

John is sharing this story because he wants you to know what he saw with his own eyes. He saw a living Jesus after the crucifixion and he walked and talked with Him. On this occasion he ate breakfast with Him. John wants you to know that Jesus is God, just like He said He was. And this means that Jesus could do exactly what He came to do.

Lee Strobel followed the evidence and it led him to the truth of Jesus, just like John. But it didn’t start with an intellectual endeavor – it started by watching his wife’s life change after finding Christ. He saw what believing in God did and it drew him in for a closer look.

Arguing for the faith doesn’t win a lot of believers. My own journey involved seeing Christ in others and experiencing Him for myself before I put the intellectual puzzle together. I encountered Jesus and accepted Him on faith. Afterwards, I began to see the logic I was so fond of come together. By the end of seminary I could see the perfect logic of the faith. Yet it was my experiences with Christ, which I couldn’t deny, that affixed my gaze on Jesus while I figured it all out.

Your walk with Jesus can draw others to Him. A changed life and a godly attitude are powerful witnesses to the power of a very real God. If you want to lead others to Jesus, just let God work in you and tell your story when you get a chance. You have a powerful witness, just like John.

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, thank you for saving me and for changing me. Continue to make me into a better witness for You. Shine through me so that others will see you when they see me. Amen.

Day 42 – So That . . .

Tuesday – March 22, 2016

Day 42 – John 20:30-31 believe

Focus: vs. 31

 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Isn’t it true that we usually need a reason to understand or know in some way the truth of what we are hearing or seeing? We are supposedly reasoning beings who need to understand the whys and wherefores of what goes on around us. We want truth. We want good information on which to base our decisions. I want to be able to prove that what I am hearing is true and worthy of my acceptance. Much of the rhetoric we hear today is strained through a cloth of someone else’s thinking. Can I believe what the other person is saying? Do I have any proof it is true? Sadly, many use figures to their own advantage, don’t they? There is an old saying, “Figures don’t lie but liars do figure.” Some people take perfectly good numbers and make them mean something other than what they actually say. They simply construe them that way to push their agenda.

The full scripture for today’s reading is not long but is full of meaning. 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, ESV). John is proclaiming that he has not given, in this writing, everything that Jesus both did and said. He actually states it more clearly in chapter 21, verse 25. John is alluding to all the rest of the disciples and others who witnessed the person and work of Jesus and His teachings. Even in comparing the four gospels we see differences in reporting the same things and in some cases there are things shared that the others did not include for whatever reason in their own writings. Jesus was a very busy person, especially in those 3 ½ years of public ministry. The record of both what Jesus said and did which we do find in the New Testament is more than sufficient to show Who He was and is.

The purpose for this gospel for John was SO THAT those who read his writings might believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” This is actually the statement made by Peter in response to Jesus asking, “And who do you say I am?” This is the statement on which Jesus said He would build His church.

Prayer Focus: Thank You Jesus for all you said and did while you walked and taught among men. Thank You for all these witnesses to You so that I can rest on Your unchanging word and trust in You for my salvation. AMEN.

Day 41 – The Blessed Ones

Monday – March 21, 2016

Day 41 – John 20:19-29 doubts

Focus: vss. 28-29

28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Not that long ago I saw something going around Facebook that allowed people to chart out which states they had been to in America. I was interested because I’ve traveled around a bit. There are only a few states I haven’t been to and Hawaii is one of them. I’ve dreamt about Hawaii with its beautiful beaches and island culture. I’ve seen pictures of Hawaiian luaus and people picking pineapples. I’ve seen videos of hot lava flowing from the Hawaiian volcanoes. I’ve even met people who claim to have been to Hawaii or come from the islands but I have never been there myself. I hope to go there someday to prove to myself that such a beautiful place exists. The problem is that, in order to go there, I’d have to admit the possibility that it exists. I’m not sure I’m willing to make that bet. Those tickets are expensive! What if I get on a flight and the plane lands in Nova Scotia but everyone tells me it’s Hawaii? Not that I’m positive Nova Scotia exists either.

Our scripture passage for today tells a couple stories following the resurrection of Jesus. He appears twice to the disciples despite the doors being locked. One of the disciples, Thomas, misses the first appearance and refuses to believe in the Resurrection unless he sees Jesus for himself and can prove it. Of course, it happens and Thomas is made a believer.

You and I are in the position of Thomas before he sees Jesus with his own eyes. I can prove the existence of Hawaii and Nova Scotia simply by taking a faith flight to one or the other – proving the existence of Jesus, by those same standards, is a bit more difficult. If I wait until I see Him with my own eyes and touch him with my own hands, it will be too late for my belief to make any difference.

Maybe I’ll get to Hawaii someday but, until then, it seems silly to deny its existence because I’ve never been there. There is a lot of evidence for Hawaii and it won’t take long for me to find someone who has actually been there. If I find the witness credible, perhaps I could find it in my heart to believe it exists. Likewise, perhaps I could find a credible witness for Jesus.

Perhaps I could BE a credible witness for Jesus. I’ve met Him and our spirits have touched. Here in the Bible, and in other places, I have the eye-witness testimony of His life, death and resurrection handed down to me. I can choose to deny the existence of someone who lived 2,000 years ago simply because it’s too far removed me. I can also choose to believe that the world never existed until I was born and developed my first memories of it and, the older I get, I’m not so certain about those memories either. At some point I just have to choose to believe the evidence I’ve been presented with.

The historical evidence for Jesus has been written down and never disproven. But, let’s face it, that’s not enough for most people. What they really need is a credible witness for how Jesus has touched their life. You could be that credible witness for Jesus. Just tell your story – the one about what Jesus has done for you.

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, I believe in You. I’ve never touched your hands or your side. I never walked with You in the flesh. Yet I’ve seen You in history. I’ve seen You in the lives of the faithful around me. And I’ve touched Your spirit with mine. Help me to be a witness for You. Amen.

Day 40 – He’s Alive!

Sunday – March 20, 2016

Day 40 – John 20:1-18 Empty Tomb

Focus: vs. 18

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

I have had the joy of telling my parishioners that a certain parishioner who was at death’s door had rallied and would soon be coming home from the hospital. There was much rejoicing over this change in his status. I remember going to his hospital room and praying for him in quiet tones as he was apparently asleep only to have him softly say at the end of the prayer. “Such joy! Such peace!” I had prayed that the joy and peace of the Savior would be his portion. My spirit was lifted up as I heard those words from his lips. He was conscious and in communication with his Savior!

I can only imagine the joy Mary Magdalene was experiencing when she was able to tell Jesus’ disciples that He was alive. The first one to see Jesus after His resurrection was a woman who had apparently been forgiven of much sin. She was in deep sorrow until she heard the voice of her Savior. Upon recognizing Him she was overjoyed! Even though Jesus’ disciples had trouble believing Mary Magdalene’s words to them it did not diminish her joy in knowing that He really was alive. Don Francisco sang a song titled, “He’s Alive!” which contained the words, “He’s alive and I’m forgiven, Heaven’s gates are opened wide.”

Today is Palm Sunday and, though we already know that Jesus rose from the dead, it is still a good thing to recognize Him as our King and the Prince of Peace. Even more than those early followers of Jesus who shouted glory to God because of Who Jesus really was, we who know Him even more intimately can truly shout for joy because we know that He defeated Satan and made possible our salvation. “Praise Him, Praise Him, all ye little children. God is love, God is love!

Prayer Focus: Praise to You, our Heavenly King! May our praises ever ring! Help us with joy Your praises sing. Thank You, Jesus that you defeated Satan and death. Help us serve You with our best. AMEN.

Day 39 – After These Things

Saturday – March 19, 2016

Day 39 – John 19:31-42 tomb

Focus: vs. 38

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body.

Too little, too late. It’s an idiom that means we waited too long to do what needed to be done or we just didn’t do enough in time to effect a positive outcome. Not that long ago we were attempting to help a friend make it to the Omaha airport in time to make her flight to watch her son graduate from his first training in the military. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and a nasty winter storm blew through our area leaving behind a foot of snow and impassable roads on all sides of town. We tried to get out first thing in the morning, the next day, but the roads were just too bad. We turned around and headed back to wait until the plows could do their work. Within minutes of getting the all-clear from the authorities, we took off once again. It was slow-going for the first 50 miles or so but then the roads got better. We moved as fast as we could but the journey was too far and the delays too great. We arrived at the airport 15 minutes after the flight was scheduled to leave. As hard as we tried, we were just too little, too late.

Our scripture for today tells the story of what happens after the death of Jesus. Two men step forward to retrieve the body of Jesus and bury Him. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both members of the Sanhedrin, the body established to govern the affairs of Jews in each city. Both have the distinction of being secret followers of Jesus who didn’t live openly for fear of those leaders around them. They didn’t speak up when Jesus was being condemned and their silence was a betrayal all its own. But seeing Christ on the Cross has a way of emboldening those who were once silent. Perhaps they could have saved the life of Jesus if they had just broken their silence. I can’t imagine their anguish at knowing that what they were now doing, a loving act towards their savior was too little, too late.

Over in Matthew 19, Jesus reminds us that what is impossible for man is possible for God. We had arrived at airport 15 minutes too late. It could take an hour just to get through security so our friend now had to see if it was possible to make another flight and face the possibility that she may not make her destination in time. However, she arrived at the front desk to discover her flight had been delayed. They rushed her through security and she made her flight. What was too little, too late for us was right on time for God.

Joseph and Nicodemus are performing an act of contrition. It was no small thing for Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus and it was no small thing for Nicodemus to join him with all the embalming fluids and spices. This was an act of love for them and what they were unwilling to do in Jesus’ life they were emboldened to do after His death.

What’s your story? Are you like Nicodemus who, at one point, saw Jesus as nothing more than just a good teacher? Christ’s manner of death changes things and His resurrection changes even more. People come to Jesus at different points in their life – some early, some late. Yet it’s never too little, too late when coming to Jesus. Joseph and Nicodemus betrayed Him with their silence. The thief on the cross next to Him had only hours to live. Paul openly despised Him. The disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested. Some Roman centurions came to believe as He died. Yet, in all these cases, restoration happened. It’s never too late as long as you have a breath in your body. What are you waiting for?

Prayer Focus: Dear Jesus, I come to You. I fear it’s too late but you remind me that what is impossible for me is possible for God. So I come to You with all my fears and doubts and I ask that You would touch my heart. Take all my failures and turn them into successes for You. Amen.  

Day 38 – It Is FINISHED!

Friday – March 18, 2016

Day 38 – John 19:1-30 finished.png

Focus: vs. 30

 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is a real feeling of relief that comes over me when I have completed some project or done something that needed to be done and often dreaded doing. This is true if I have built something that I knew my wife wanted and it is true when I have completed a difficult task which I really did not want to do. There is relief that the job is done. Sometimes there is even a joy that comes knowing something hard to deal with has been taken care of satisfactorily. I experienced that when I made the final commitment to become a minister of the Gospel. I have also experienced relief and joy after completing a particularly difficult funeral service. There have been numerous times throughout my life when God has given me joy and peace.

Our focus verse reminds us that Jesus has finished something very difficult. He died on that Cross in the same manner any of us would have died in that situation. It was painful. It was slow. It was difficult. It was God’s will. I would like to call your attention back to verse 28 where we are told, 28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” Jesus knew at this point that the purpose of His going to the cross had been completed. Redemption was now available for all of mankind. His job was done. His purpose for becoming flesh way back at the beginning of John’s Gospel was done once and for all. So now, “It is FINISHED!” was a valid cry from His lips and He could enter the tomb in peace. More than that, I believe there was a great sense of joy and satisfaction in His heart that Satan had been defeated. What would appear to be victory for the enemy of our souls actually became Victory for the heavenly Kingdom.  Jesus is finished and He is victorious. That final declaration of Victory will come in just a short time. But the redemption of mankind was finished by Jesus’ death on our behalf on that cross.

His death on that cross also declared, “Finished!” to your debt and mine because of our sins. They can be forgiven and forgotten because Jesus died on our behalf. Have you received that forgiveness for yourself? If not please ask Jesus to forgive you and find His dwelling place in your heart. For believers, Jesus did a completed work on that cross so act on His sacrifice and stay true to Him.

Prayer Focus: Lord Jesus, I claim forgiveness in Your name for all my sins. Thank You for making me your child. AMEN.