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.
The women left the tomb “with fear and great joy” (v.8). Afraid, no doubt because the awesome power of God was at work; the empty tomb was totally beyond explanation. People fear what they do not understand. But fear on its own can be debilitating, and will undermine faith.
Jesus met them as they fled off towards the disciples. Certainly they were experiencing “great joy” (v.8), but they still carried fear with them. Jesus wanted to dispel that fear before it took root and did harm. “Do not be afraid” (v.10) he said. He did not tell them that there was no need to be afraid. He gave them an order. Fear can be controlled. We can either give way to it and let it sweep over us, or we can listen to the voice of the Lord: “Fear not” (v.10).
With the Lord by our side there is never anything to fear. He has all things under control, whether we understand it or not. “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Fear is from the devil who undermines our calm trust in a loving God. But fearlessness comes from our God, for “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John. 4:18).
Many things can frighten us: a shouting teacher, a school bully, an abusive father or husband, a falling Stock Market, bad news from the doctor, a dark and lonely house. Each time fear knocks at our door we need to hear those words of Jesus, “Do not fear” (v.10). Remember also the words of Peter when he uses the example of Abraham’s wife Sarah: “And you are now her (Sarah’s) children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.” (1 Peter 3:6)
Forgive me, O Lord, when I give way to fears and worries. Help me to trust you in all circumstances, and indeed to know great joy. Amen.
What a lovely picture this is! Imagine the gaggle of grieving women who come at first light to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his dead body. They haven’t considered how they will remove the stone – but grief is not reasonable. Then they are confronted by an open tomb guarded by angels, and if that was not astounding enough, they are met on their way back to the disciples by Jesus himself.
They were running to witness to what they had discovered. They were eye witnesses to the empty tomb and the angel’s message. They hadn’t got the full picture, but witnessing is not about telling the full story. Witnessing is about telling what we (ourselves) have seen and heard and touched (1 John 1:1). Of course, the rest of the picture was to be given them when the risen Jesus met them on the way. They now had even more to report to the disciples.
I expect they were bitterly disappointed when they burst into the room and told the disciples all that they had seen and heard only to find the men were less than persuaded. They presumed that the women were deluded. We cannot expect everyone to be persuaded by our witness. We are often treated with mild derision. We are thought to be somewhat sad and simple.
At least some were prepared to at least look into what the women claimed. Peter and John ran off to see for themselves. Some people will take us seriously enough to look into the faith for themselves. Take heart. Graciously tell it at you see it.
Thank Lord for those first witnesses to your resurrection. Help me not to be ashamed, even if I can’t explain. May I be a witness for you. Amen.
1. Who was the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection?
John 20:1, 11-18
2. Note the forecast of the resurrection of the dead?
Belief in the resurrection from the grave is not make-believe, nor is it fantasy or even mythology. Belief is based on the evidence of eye witnesses. The empty tomb was one of the key pieces of evidence. First the women saw it (v. 1), but when they reported it to the men they didn’t believe them! However, Peter and John went to see for themselves. Peter surveyed the empty tomb and studied the grave clothes, but scratched his head, perplexed. But when John went in, he saw and believed, even though he (and Peter) did not yet know the scripture that Jesus “must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
The disciples did not make up an elaborate story about resurrection, since they were not looking for it or expecting it. However, the word had got around that Jesus had forecast that such a thing would happen; that is why they placed a guard in front of the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66). This very guard turned out to be even further proof that Jesus’ body was not stolen, but had actually disappeared.
Disappointed disciples needed some convincing that the very real death of Jesus that they had witnessed was not the end. Jesus had to disappear and then re-materialise in solid form. He ate before them and let them touch him. He said, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke. 24:39).
The early faith, and our faith too, is based on the factual and historical miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. We have that eye witness account recorded for us in the Bible. We too will one day undergo the same transformation, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). Praise God!
What a wonderful faith you have given, Lord! How amazing it is, beyond my imagining! Help me to be assured and strengthened so that I may be confident in my faith. Amen.
1. What sort of evidence does John speak of?
1 John 1:1
2. Who found it hard to believe in the resurrection?
“… they took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” (v.9) RSV
Come to the feet of Jesus. A strange thought maybe, but when we worship we bow down low, indeed prostrate ourselves on the ground. To us who, like John the Baptist, are not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet, we count ourselves blessed to be in his presence and to cling to his feet.
Indeed we find the feet of Jesus to be beautiful. As Isaiah wrote, “How beautiful … are the feet of him who brings good tidings,” (Isaiah 52:7). The risen Christ is worthy to be worshipped. He has taught us the good news, he has shown us through his works the good news, and indeed he is within himself the good news. His resurrection shows that the good news works! He has overcome sin and death, disease and destruction. Alleluia, what a Saviour!
The Westminster Shorter Catechism of Faith (1642 AD) asks many questions and gives trenchant answers. The first question is: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” There is no greater joy and purpose in this life and the next than to serve/worship God in word and deed. Our whole life is made worthwhile if this is our chief end (goal and aim).
Even if we are bed-bound or have lost our legs in combat, even if we are very young or very old, we can all fulfil this great purpose in life – worship the risen Christ who is our Saviour, our Love and our Life. Let us prostrate ourselves in worship and cling to his feet.
Thank you Lord for all you have taught and all you have done. You are my Saviour. I worship you and want to follow you all the days of my life. Amen.
“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?
“… say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,” (v.9) RSV
Last week we read of Jesus’ anger at the money changers in the Temple. Today we read of Jesus cursing the fig tree. Is our understanding of Jesus starting to change? Have we always thought that he was a rather generous ‘push-over’? Have we been taught that he only did and said ‘nice’ things? Well, the scriptures bear witness to a somewhat alarming toughness about Jesus.
Often people would not ask him questions because his answer might be more than they bargained for. People came up to Jesus and said: “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men.” (Matthew 22:16). In other words Jesus would speak his mind, and that can be an unnerving thing. Don’t ask him a question if you are not prepared for an honest answer!
Anyway, Jesus cannot be boxed up and he is not ‘safe’. Today we see him enacting a parable by cursing a fig tree. The fig tree was sacrificed for a higher purpose. God requires no less of us; we too serve his loving plan and purpose; it may cost us dearly.
One of the purposes of the cursing was to demonstrate the authority given to his followers. If we speak in accordance with his will then we speak with his authority. We cooperate with him to bring about great things. We can even “say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’.” (v.9). We are God’s agent to speak forth his word with authority. See what Matthew also records about moving a mountain: “… if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain …” (Matthew 17:20).
Lord, I have often restricted what you have been able to do through me. Help me to believe your promises and the promptings of your Spirit, and to speak forth your word. Amen.
Anger is one of the Christian virtues! Not of course selfish, uncontrolled and destructive anger, but anger against injustice and corruption. Anger and love are two sides of the same coin. Love does not stand by and do nothing when the poor or innocent are downtrodden.
Now exactly how that anger is expressed and to whom it is addressed is very important. Jesus went into the Temple and dealt face to face with the perpetrators of the problem. He did not rant on to his disciples about it or go and sneak to Pilate. He simply took a comparatively non-violent weapon (a whip of cords – John 2:15), and also took his righteous tongue. He lashed with whip and words.
This was a highly charged protest. Jesus was incensed with the way that the Temple had been commandeered by racketeers and profiteers so that the ordinary person in the street, far from being able to worship and pray, was being fleeced. “My (Father’s) house shall be called a house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11); but you make it a den of robbers.” The anger of our Lord was focused and purposeful. Whether it was effective or not is not recorded. I doubt if it made any long term difference but it was effective as a prophetic message.
We have been told to be witnesses and prophets whether people listen or not. More often than not the Church is ignored. Isaiah was ignored and so was Jeremiah. But as Ezekiel was told (Ezekiel 3:18) if he did not speak up then the guilt of those whom he had not warned would be on his head. It is our duty to live in such a way that our lives are not only beautiful but also a (silent) rebuke.
Lord, forgive me when I melt into the background like a chameleon. Help me not to be ashamed of Jesus and his Gospel. Help me to stand up for the truth. Amen.
1 Did Jeremiah find it easy to speak up for God?
2 Was Isaiah’s ministry successful in his lifetime?
“… the crowds … shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” (v.9) RSV
Oh, the fickleness of our friends or our admirers. How we long for people who will love us and stick by us. Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:25). He was not fooled or swayed by the praises of men and women. Of course he benefitted from the support of his disciples. Remember how in the Garden of Gethsemane he wanted them to watch in prayer with him. How it would have helped and strengthened him. Yet, he was not dependent on them. If all else failed he would find the strength he needed from his Father and from within himself.
So as he rode into Jerusalem he was not buoyed up by the crowd’s joyous praises and affirmations. Instead, as you can read in Luke’s account, he wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). Far from being puffed up with popularity; he knew how the crowds would turn on him, and how the powers (both secular and religious) in the capital would try to exterminate his ministry; that is why he wept. But he did not weep for himself and what he would suffer; he wept for those who through their fickleness were now cheering him but who would soon turn and reject the truth, the truth that could have set them free.
How distressing it is when those whom we love and pray for think that they are doing just fine, yet we know that all is not well. They are lost. It makes our heart grieve within us. We plead with God for them, we agonise on their behalf, we try to reason with them and warn, and yet all to no avail. Part of the agony of Holy Week or the ‘Via Dolorosa’ for Jesus was the pain and consequences that others would suffer through their rejection of him.
We are in good company when we feel this way. We have a high priest (Jesus – see Hebrews 4:14) who knows exactly why we weep. He intercedes with us and will strengthen us to carry on praying and loving those who as yet continue to reject.
Lord, keep me from cheering you one day and rejecting you the next. May I be faithful and true. May I support you and your cause through thick and thin. Amen.