These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“After the Sabbath, towards the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene …”(v.1)
Jesus rose on “the third day”. This does not mean that he rose ‘three days later’. Jesus was raised just over 24 hours after his death and entombment. He was dead and buried on the Friday evening just before 6pm: “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph,” (Matthew 27:57). He remained in the tomb through the Sabbath (Saturday), and he burst from the tomb on Sunday just after 6am – “Now after the Sabbath, towards the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene …” (v.1).
Jesus had repeatedly said during his ministry that he would rise from the dead on the “third day” (Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:19). It was because of this expectation that the Romans set up a guard in front of the tomb “until the third day” (Matthew 27:64).
God promises all who put their trust in Him that they will have a ‘third day’. This is the day of resurrection, the day we overcome the difficulty, the day we are set free. For us it may not be a literal 24 hours or so, but it is still a sure and certain hope. In Christ we are more than conquerors, even though for a time we may stagger.
When a narrow boat travels down a canal its progress is often interrupted by a lock. Whilst in the lock it appears to make no progress, it is in fact going up or down in order to be able to proceed. Life, too, will lock us into hard places, but there will come the ‘third day’ when we shall move on again with rejoicing.
Dear Lord, today is a day of rejoicing. Thank you that in Jesus you overcame death and the devil. Thank you that you will do that in my life as well. Amen.
1. Who was put in prison and in irons until God set him free?
“… they brought the ass and the colt … and he sat thereon.” (v.7) RSV
Jesus sat on a borrowed colt that had not been broken in or used before. The colt’s mother, the “ass”, led the way. Both animals were strewn with clothes. Jesus not only showed that he was a king of peace by riding on a donkey (rather than a horse), but he also showed his dominion over nature.
Why did he choose to ride on the colt rather than the experienced and trained mother? Jesus demonstrated the dominion over the creatures of the natural world that Adam and Eve lost through their disobedience. That dominion was never meant to be oppressive, but was to be for the good of all. Thus, despite jostling, noisy crowds and the unfamiliar weight of a man upon his back, the colt calmly bore his burden in joyful obedience.
Jesus had throughout his ministry shown his mastery over the natural world. He had calmed storms, multiplied loaves and fish, walked on water, and caught multitudes of fish. The salvation he brought was not just for human beings, but for all of creation. Thus, as he rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die, he demonstrated the breadth and length and depth of his saving purposes.
This rule over nature is something he wishes to continue through us, ‘his body’ here on earth. As we submit to his authority over us, so we are in a position to wield his authority over our environment. Nature is not outside God’s control; he both cares for it and orders it. As his subjects, this is our responsibility too.
I thank you, Father, for the beautiful but broken world that you have made. May I love it as you do, and may I join you in protecting and controlling it. Amen.
“… he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb …” (v.9) RSV
Dark, dark is the day when Jesus lay in his cold, stone tomb. A great stone at the entrance and soldiers beyond that. The disciples, men and women, outside all in disarray. The Devil had done his worst; he seemed to have won the final victory. But though Jesus had gone the way of all flesh, the life in him was not dead. No, he lived on. His life could not be exterminated. That is why it was written, “he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). It was a law of nature. His old body died, as does everybody’s, but his immortal life lived on and he would rise again.
But before that glorious resurrection (of the body) Jesus went to Paradise. That is where he told the penitent thief on the cross beside him that they would go, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus departed his earthly life to join those who were ‘resting in the bosom of Abraham’ (see Explore More). The people of God up to that time had not had access into the heavenly presence of God, but had rested in Paradise. Jesus now went to them to lead them ‘through the veil’ into heaven itself, into the presence of God who was now their Father.
What I have written is slightly speculative. Christians are not entirely agreed upon this mysterious Saturday. But rest assured that Jesus did not descend to ‘Hell’ as the old creed said, at least not if it meant the final place of judgement and misery. He descended to Hades/Sheol where the departed go.
The Day of Judgement has not taken place yet, except for those who have believed. Believers have already passed through judgement and entered eternal life (John 3:36, 5:24). Fear not, Jesus has blazed the trail before us. All will be well.
My heart sinks, oh Lord, when I think of the death and departure of Jesus, and my own departure. Help me to trust that all will be well, for I know it will. Thank you Lord. Amen.
“… the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom;” (v.51) RSV
How can we approach the death of Jesus on the cross in a few words? So much has been written. His death is pungent and pregnant with meaning. There are so many wonderful elements; the more we survey the cross the more sparkling sides of the diamond we see. Yet today I want to highlight one often overlooked facet “… the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom;” (v.51). What can this mean?
The curtain in the temple hung between the Holy of Holies where God (symbolically) dwelt. Only the High Priest could go in once a year taking blood with him in order to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people. God was otherwise unapproachable, shrouded in darkness, behind the curtain/veil. People respected him, worshipped him, and tried to serve him. But the un-passable or unbridgeable distance remained.
When Jesus died, his death unveiled or revealed God. The curtain was not reverently drawn back, no, it was wrenched away. What a flourish! And it was torn “from top to bottom” (v.51). This was no act of miniature man getting a grip on the bottom of the curtain and trying to remove the barrier. It was God himself who stretched down his mighty hand and rent away the division between himself and his beloved creatures from the top!
From that moment on the way was open. God has opened a door that no man can shut. Through Christ and his death we have access into the very presence of God. He has now become our Father. We may speak directly to him. What a joy, what a privilege!
Thank you Lord that on this day Jesus took my sins away. He took away guilt and shame and made a way back from the dark paths of sin. Praise be! Amen.
1 Note how Hebrews describes the way through to God.
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (v.17) RSV
Maundy Thursday is commonly the day we think of Jesus and his disciples having their last meal together in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. John dedicates four chapters to this Last Supper. The evening starts with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. This was the role of the menial servant. It was obviously a rather threatening action as far as the disciples were concerned. In fact Peter was so incensed that he refused. “You shall never wash my feet” (v.8), he huffily said.
Peter liked a hierarchical order in his life. Jesus was Master and he should behave suitably. However, when Jesus explained that he could not be his disciple if he did not allow the washing, Peter immediately capitulated. Jesus was not going to wash their feet as a regular activity, but sometimes it is necessary to show that all of us are ‘deacons’ – servants. In fact we are all part of the ‘Laity’, the people of God.
St Paul went so far as to call himself a ‘slave’ (or ‘servant’) of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1 and 1 Corinthians 1:1), and named himself ‘the chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). He was prepared to work with his hands to support the mission. No pride there, nor standing on ceremony.
Jesus told us that we should have the same attitude: “If I your Lord and Teacher … you also ought to …” (v.14). Whatever our role in life, however high or lowly we are, we should never presume that we are ‘above’ others. We are called upon to follow our Lord with a spirit of service. Mother Teresa was remembered amongst other things for cleaning the latrines. What lowly task might our Lord be calling us to do?
Forgive me Lord when I think that certain things are beneath me. Thank you for the humility of Jesus who emptied himself of all but love. May I follow his example. Amen.
1. What two stories did Jesus tell to illustrate that we must ‘do’ what he teaches and not just listen to it?