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Tell Me the Story (Conclusion)

Just as the women returned to the garden on the first day of the week, we gathered in the darkness. The women discovered the stone had been rolled way from the sepulcher; we gathered in celebration of our risen Lord.

Christ the Lord is risen to day, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

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With hymns and Bible readings, the sunrise service focused our minds on the resurrection of Jesus. An angel had rolled the stone away. Jesus had been called forth from the grave, the napkin that had been around his head in one place and the linen clothes in another. Mary Magdalene stood at the mouth of the sepulcher weeping, assuming someone had removed the body. Jesus appeared and spoke to her, asking why she was crying. At first she answers Him as she would a gardener, but when Jesus called her name, she recognized His voice. She wanted to embrace Him, but he prevented her.

Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God (John 20:17).

Mary experienced two blessings that morning. She had the privilege of being the first person to see Jesus before He ascended to heaven to present Himself to His Father. She had the privilege of bringing the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.

Yet the resurrection story is a blessing to all who believe and confess the name of Jesus.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:2-3).

We watched the brilliance of the sunrise in the distance and after the closing prayer, we filtered away from the park where we had enjoyed the sweet spirit of the Easter service. Let’s not forget the sacrifice that was made for our salvation or the promise of eternal life that Jesus offers.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part Four)

Why is there a break in the crucifixion story? We observe Good Friday and celebrate the triumph over the grave on Easter Sunday. What happened in the middle?

The fierce drama of the religious leaders’ pursuit of Jesus and their desire to silence Him moves at a steady tempo. Arrested at Gethsemane, accused before Pilate, questioned by Herod before being sent back to Pilate. When Pilate announced to the crowd that he had found no fault in him and gave them the choice between Jesus and the criminal Barabbas, they chose to free Barabbas over Jesus. They led Him to Calvary and there, between two thieves, nailed Him to the cross for Him to die.

Dying by crucifixion was a slow, agonizing death, taking hours or possibly days for the person to succumb to asphyxia, cardiac rupture, or other factors. But as the start of the Sabbath was drawing near, the priests were anxious to finish the crucifixion. One way to hasten the death of the victims was to break their legs.

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and they might be taken away.

Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and to the other which was crucified with him.

But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs. (John 19:31-33)

The Matthew account records that Joseph of Arimathaea was given permission to take the body of Jesus which he moved to a new tomb in a garden, wrapped it in a linen cloth, rolled a stone across the sepulcher (tomb), and departed. Outside the tomb a guard was set at the entrance to ensure the disciples did not sneak back to the tomb and remove the body of Jesus and claim He is risen from the dead, as the chief priests feared.

Luke provided other details. In the midst of their grief, the women came also to see where Jesus would be laid. They prepared spices and ointments for the immediate care of the body of their Lord. They would return, after the Sabbath, to finish the burial ritual of the body. The women rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment. Jesus “rested” in the tomb over the Sabbath. The break in the Easter story is not so much of a break as it is a holy Sabbath rest.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part Three)

In countless locations around the world, reenactments of the last hours of Christ’s life will be performed today. Mock trials, journeys by actors carrying prop crosses and then a crucifixion scene. Viewing such reenactments—seeing a depiction of the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus endured—draws crowds, each observer’s faith being challenged or strengthened. Good Friday services are common in churches where believers gather to read the account of the crucifixion in the Bible or to listen to readings of the last sayings of Christ:

Station 5 in Jerusalem - Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

Station 5 in Jerusalem – Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34) – Even on the cross, Jesus acted as mediator between creation and the Creator.

Statue of Jesus

Statue of Jesus


2. I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43) – When the thief on the cross confessed his sin to Jesus, the loving Savior assured him that salvation was available, even as he repented in his last hour.

3. Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother. (John 19:26-27) – Jesus cares for his mother’s earthly needs.

4. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Matthew 27:46) – Jesus cries out to his Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It is believed this is the point when Jesus felt the separation from His Father as he bore the full weight of our sins upon Him.

5. I thirst. (John 19:28) – They offered him vinegar, gall and myrrh which Jesus refused.

6. It is finished. (John 19:30) – At these words, Jesus completed His earthly mission, and with his next words, His life ended. DSC_6790

7. Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit. (Luke 23:46). Jesus gave up His life. The veil in the temple was split from top to the bottom marking the end of the need to sacrifice lambs for the remission of sins. Jesus was the Lamb, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God.

Crucifixion scene

Crucifixion scene


For you.

For me.

Jesus paid the penalty of sin, so that we, through Him, might be saved.

Many men have died, so what was so different about Jesus’ crucifixion from the others that the Roman conducted so many times before and since? How can we be saved through His death? Hold on—the resurrection on the first day of the week is coming.

But first, we rest for the Sabbath, just as Jesus did as He lay in the grave.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part Two)

This year, the Passover and Easter coincide. In Matthew chapter 26, Jesus and his disciples prepare for the Passover (Matthew 26: 17-19). Christians refer to this meal as the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him (Matthew 26:21). This declaration stirs an uproar of questions among the disciples, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” Even Judas asks the question.

Overlooking Jerusalem (2012)

Overlooking Jerusalem (2012)

During this meal, Jesus lays the foundation for the communion service, a time when Christians participate in they symbolic representation of what happened on that night. Jesus took the bread, broke it and distributed it among the disciples. The bread represents His body. Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them, representing His own blood which was shed for the remission of sins. They ate and sang before going to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed.

In the Garden

Alone in the garden, except for the slumbering disciples, and away from the crowd, Jesus prayed.

“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)

In Jesus’ darkest hour, the disciples slept.

Could you not watch with me one hour?

Could you not watch with me one hour?

It had been foretold that the Savior would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

After willingly surrendering his will to the Father and knowing that he had been “betrayed into the hands of sinners”, the heart of the earth—His suffering for our redemption—opened up and Jesus was cast into the grip of the Enemy, an enemy of death He would defeat three days later.

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The prayerful stillness and agony of the garden transformed into the scene of Jesus’ arrest when Judas arrived with the crowd—a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. This time, the crowd is not shouting “Hosanna!” They are not worshipping Jesus. They are not laying palm leaves before him. This is the scene of betrayal, of scripture being fulfilled, and of desertion as the disciples fled. This is also a scene of authority. Only Jesus, Son of God, has the power to save us from our sins.

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

Our salvation, indeed, came at a great price.

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

Tell Me the Story (Part One)

March 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. So begins the familiar hymn, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”. Easter is a wonderful time to read and share the story of Jesus’ love and sacrifice. Palm Sunday falls on March 29 this year. It serves as the first part of the Easter story. It’s important to start there, one week before Easter, because of the incredulous turn of the crowd of the day.

A Praising Crowd

Jerusalem (2012)

Jerusalem (2012)

In Matthew 21, Jesus and his disciples are about to enter Jerusalem. Jesus instructs two disciples to go into a village and fetch a donkey and her colt that they will find tied. If they are asked what they are doing, the disciples are told to answer, “The Lord hath need of them,” and they would be free to remove the animals. All of this was done as Jesus instructed. The donkey was prepared and Jesus, sitting on it, was led into the city of Jerusalem as a king entering the city. After over three years of ministry, Jesus was well known among the people. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, touched the untouchable, and preached with power in the synagogue. He had followers and he also had enemies. I imagine both follower and enemy were present at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that day. The followers, those who loved him and cheered his entrance, spread their garments and branches from the trees before him as he made his way through the crowd on the donkey. It’s a noisy, frenetic scene of people lining the streets of Jerusalem. People—multitudes—went before him and followed after Jesus crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

“Who is this?” some asked.

“Jesus, of Nazareth of Galilee,” came the answer.

The account in Matthew 21 gives us a picture of Jesus as temple cleanser and compassionate healer. After Jesus entered Jerusalem he went into the temple and cast out the moneychangers and merchants who were doing business in the house of God. Remember, this was occurring in the temple. But Jesus also healed the blind and the lame who came to him for help and restoration. All of this Jesus had the perfect right to do, but when the chief priest heard about the wonderful things Jesus was doing, they became angry. Were they angered by the praises of the people? About his healing the sick? Or were they angered by Jesus’ stopping business from taking place in God’s house? Jesus had long been pursued and criticized by the chief priests and Pharisees.

The chapter ends by telling us that the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to ‘lay hands on him’ after hearing Jesus’ parables, but they hesitated because the multitude looked to Jesus as a prophet. The chief priests and Pharisees would have to wait until another time, a time when they could arrest him in private, away from the eyes of the people. A few days later, the church leaders take their chance and the people’s praises become chants of “Crucify him!

Categories: Faith, Spirituality

What a Miracle Looks Like

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

What is a miracle? I really wanted to know.

mir·a·cle\ˈmir-i-kəl\
noun
1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs

This week I have been thinking about miracles. When I think of miracles, I always think of Jesus first. Jesus performed many miracles when He walked the earth in physical form. He healed the sick, raised the dead. He touched people and they were made whole. He created a banquet with loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and all were satisfied.

That was then; this is now, you say.

Are miracles events that only religious people subscribe to? Merriam-Webster provides a second definition for the word miracle: 2 : an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.

How does this story stand up to either dictionary definition?

A young boy is knocked off his bike by a driver who was driving too fast. The paramedics who attended to the boy on the side of the road worked feverishly to treat his injuries and stabilize his condition for transport to the hospital. Because of the serious head trauma he suffered, the doctors put the boy into an induced coma while they treated the swelling to his brain. His parents stayed at the hospital by day and night, hoping the boy would recover, but it didn’t look good.

When I heard about the accident in June, I put the boy’s name on my prayer list even though I did not know him personally. Countless others prayed, too, I imagine. By August, not only had the boy had been released from the hospital but he had also resumed many of his former activities. The grateful parents thanked the doctors, hospital staff and all who supported them during this grave crisis. They had almost lost their precious son.

Later, as the boy’s father related the story of this dark, frightening experience, he commented, “If I believed in miracles, this might have been one.”

Was it luck or coincidence? Was it the skill of the medical staff that saved the boy? Or was it a miracle?

Log Bridges and Persistence

August 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Our second day in North Carolina found us making a repeat drive from Bryson City to Cherokee to the Smoky Mountain National Park in the hopes of getting better pictures from Clingmans Dome. The seven-mile drive from the visitor’s center was just as picturesque as it had been the day before, except that the hour was earlier. We agree to bypass the tempting vistas on the way in favor of gaining a few extra minutes as we continued up the winding mountain road. As we climbed toward the parking lot, the temperature dropped, not drastically, but enough to make me glad I had grabbed my sweatshirt before leaving the cabin. We met ominous clouds, the wispier ones blew across the road and our faces. Clingmans Dome beat us again, but we had the rest of the afternoon to overcome our disappointment on different trails.

Kephart Prong Trail promised a walk with a tangible reward. Situated two miles into the trail sat the Kephart Shelter. When we reached the shelter, we would turn back, we decided. Along the way we passed the remains of the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camp that dated back to the Great Depression era. Remnants included a chimney that stood eerily among the trees, the camp barracks to which the chimney belonged was noticeably absent. What I thought might have been an ancient tribal altar turned out to be a stone water fountain upon closer inspection. The camp signboard remained in its place.

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We continued on our walk along a mountain stream in search of the Kephart Shelter that the park ranger had told us to expect. Had she mentioned anything about log bridges? The first bridge took us by surprise like finding a $10 bill in a pants pocket while doing the laundry. Fashioned from a log, the bridge was widened by a wooden plank which made it easier to cross. The railing provided additional support, but it was easy enough to cross without using the railing. We took pictures and marvelled at the beauty of the rushing stream which we would continue to follow up the trail.
The bridges became progressively more “interesting”. None of the following three bridges had the plank, so I crossed cautiously—no pictures on these bridges—and held the railing. When I reached the other side, I called back to my husband and waved him forward as if I had crossed a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. City slickers in nature are funny, aren’t they?

Having survived the log bridges, we continued toward the promised shelter. The farther we ventured, the fewer other walkers we encountered. There were no baby strollers on this trail as there had been on the Oconaluftee River Trail. We did not amble along; instead, we stepped carefully over smooth rocks and branches. The air was deliciously cool under the shade of the trees. Occasionally, white or red flowers were visible among the greenery. My husband’s mobile walking app eventually cut into our conversation to announce the one-mile point.
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After the second log bridge, we met a couple who had given up the adventure of reaching the camp. By our estimations, we had approximately another half mile to travel before reaching the highly anticipated CCC Camp. Without a device to measure distance, their walk could have been daunting. Perhaps reaching another rustic footbridge dampened the appeal of reaching the World War II structure. Surely the Visitors’ Center had pictures of the camp that would satisfy one’s curiosity just as well and with less exertion.
Determined to reach the camp, we walked and walked. That is, we walked slowly along the trail and waited to hear the app announce the two-mile mark or to see the cabin appear through the trees. Onward and upward. The stream wove its way closer then farther from us as we journeyed on. At one point, being hungry and tired, we prepared ourselves for the seemingly inevitable conclusion of this outing—turning back as the other couple had. Perhaps there had been a cabin here in the past. Perhaps it had disappeared like the other structure, and with no chimney to remain, we could not find any sign of it. After a brief rest on a nearby rock, we agreed we would turn back.

Taking my last look around, I ventured a further two steps, then four, then a few more just ahead. I noticed something behind the trees. Racing ahead I saw the cabin come into view. We had been less than one minute’s walk away from our destination. Had we turned around at the rock, we would have returned to the beginning of the trail with the sour taste of defeat lingering on our lips.

Our experience on the Kephart Trail taught me two lessons:

1. Trust the plan. We were armed with all of the information we needed to reach the destination: instructions from the park ranger, a map, the GPS app, and signs along the way. In our spiritual walk, we have all we need: instructions from God via His Word, easy access to His GPS through prayer, and signs along the way. These signs that He is faithful come from our past experiences and the testimonies of others that show that He keeps His promises to give us hope and a future.

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2. Don’t give up. How many times do we give up, unaware that we are only a stone’s throw from achieving the goal? Some goals are meant to stretch us and we are required to step out in faith in order to see them come to fruition. Earning a college degree. Starting a business. Getting a promotion. Try to imagine if the Israelites of the Bible did not follow the directions they were given and failed to march around Jericho on that seventh day because they did not see victory on any of the six previous days. Imagine if they marched around the city seven times but quit before the priests blew the trumpets. What if they did not shout? Joshua said to the people, “Shout; for the Lord hath given you the city.” (Joshua 6:16)

We are often tempted to give up because we doubt that the goal can be achieved instead of following the directions and having faith. We were only a few steps away from the shelter that we had almost given up finding. Once it came into view, however, we forgot all about fatigue and hunger and instead enjoyed exploring the old shelter. Even the log bridges did not seem as scary on the way down the trail. After all, we had seen what we had hoped to see.