Story 204: Ascension

Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:1-12

Jesus comes from heaven

Jesus told the disciples to meet Him on a mountaintop in Galilee. Perhaps He had them gather there so that those who believed in Him up in the north of Israel around the Sea would have a chance to see with their own eyes that He had risen from the dead. We can’t be sure. We do know that at one point, He appeared to over 500 people. It is interesting that Jesus only seemed to come to those who showed true faith. He was not interested in coming back and proving Himself to the chief priests or to Pilate. He came to those who loved Him and had put their hope in Him.

When Jesus revealed Himself on that hill in Galilee, they saw Him and worshipped Him. Yet even then, some of His followers had doubt in their hearts.

In one way, it is easy to judge His followers. How can they still doubt after all that they have seen? In another way, it is comforting. For all the times any one of us has struggled to have faith, to trust the Lord in the midst of tough circumstances, to believe in His love, we can take heart that those who walked with Him felt that way too.

Jesus had a message for them. It was His final teaching about the Kingdom to the crowds. Only this time, He was giving marching orders. For this was no mixed mob of malicious religious leaders, curious bystanders, and thrill seekers. These were the faithful, and a glorious responsibility lay before them. There was a task to be done!

After all the times Jesus had preached overlooking the beauty of the Galilean Sea, this was His final teaching in bodily form. Things were about to change seriously.   He wasn’t going to be their main Teacher any more. The Spirit was going to come, and Jesus was going to ascend on high. This is what the Lord said:

“‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”

Matthew 28:18b-20

These powerful words are the way Matthew chose to close his book. They were so important to him that they were the final image he wanted to leave in the memory of his readers.

These were more than the marching orders for the generation that lived and walked with Jesus. They are the marching orders for everyone who has followed Christ ever since. The Good News of what Christ accomplished has to go to all the nations of the world! We are all disciples who are meant to draw others into the same discipleship. In every generation there are people who God the Father has given His Son. As His disciples of each era proclaim the Gospel, His chosen ones will hear His voice through their teaching. As they put their faith in Jesus Christ, their commitment would be sealed through the Spirit and expressed through baptism. They, too, would be bound up in the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because of their devotion to Christ, they will long to honor His commands.

This wonderful purpose statement for all believers is topped off with some even more amazing news. Jesus was given all authority in Heaven and on earth. The final victory was won when He died and rose again. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Love truly rules the universe.

Yet in the perfect, ordained plans of God, the cursed world continues to grind on. Satan and his evil minions continue to do their best to bring destruction and evil to the human race. But the new, bright, golden seed of God’s Kingdom has been growing for two thousand years, and nothing in the universe can stop it, ever. Christ the Lord will always and forever be with His disciples, empowering them through His Spirit to spread His Word and live in the power of His beautiful, righteous ways.

For forty days Jesus appeared at various times and ways to His own, teaching them about their new life in the Kingdom. He came to James, His brother, who hadn’t believed in Him before He rose again. It was only after the resurrection that James truly believed. God would go on to make him the leader of His church in Jerusalem.

At some point in those forty days, the disciples all travelled back down to Jerusalem, for Jesus said that was where the mighty, new work would begin.   Jesus continued His teaching, telling them not to leave Jerusalem until it happened. They were to wait until God gave them what He had promised them, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then He said, “‘…for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

The disciples were full of questions. The death and resurrection of Christ had taken them back, but they still remembered the promises of the Messiah. In the book of Isaiah, a time was foretold when God would renew Israel and make her the greatest nation in the world. Now that Jesus clearly had power over life and death, that seemed even more possible. Would the Spirit give them power to bring it all about? So they asked Him, “‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom of Israel?’”

Jesus said, “‘It is not for you to know the times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth’” (Acts 1:7-8).

The Lord and His disciples had begun to walk, crossing from the high walls of Jerusalem, down into the Kidron Valley. Imagine their thoughts as they walked through the Garden of Gethsemane, which lays along the sides of the Mount of Olives. When they had climbed the Mount, Jesus lifted up His hands and blessed them. These blessings were not just nice, thoughtful words. They carried tremendous power to bring about God’s good and pleasing and perfect plan.

As Jesus was blessing them, He began to rise as One who was being lifted up. The disciples looked on until He disappeared in a cloud. Still they gazed up in wonder at this Man who was God. As they continued to stare, two men dressed in white appeared beside them. They said, “‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into Heaven.’”

Wow. Someday He is going to return, and we know exactly how and where! The only thing we don’t know is when. That is only known to God the Father.

The disciples witnessed something breathtaking that day, but something else happened that was even more epic and amazing that they didn’t see. When Jesus arrived in Heaven, He took His rightful place, seated at the right hand of God on His eternal throne! WOW! Can you imagine the homecoming that must have been?   Can you imagine the heavenly celebration as Christ came in utter victory? What worship was offered by the angels? What joy flooded the throne room? The dark work of defeating sin and death was finished!

Meanwhile, the disciples walked back down the slopes of Mount Olive and into the city of Jerusalem. They were filled with an unexplainable joy, praising their Lord, anticipating the things that were to come.

John would go on to live much longer than any of the other disciples. He would continue to serve the Lord and oversee His Church long into the second generation of Christ followers. Even as the followers of Christ went through terrible persecution by the Roman government, the Church would continue to grow in faith and strength and numbers. In the years before John died, he would write his Gospel, filling in extra details that could not be found in Matthew, Mark, or Luke and displaying a magnificent vision of Christ as Lord.

Three of John’s letters to the Church are also found in the New Testament. We can read them and learn his heart’s concern for God’s people. How he longed for them to love one another! It was the same longing that Jesus has had throughout time!

John also wrote the last book of the Bible. It is called “Revelation.” In his later years, the Lord Jesus brought John up into a vision of the heavenly places. He showed him the things that are going to take place when God finally brings this cursed world to an end. We can read it and learn what is to come! In the meantime, we live in the same era, under the same New Covenant that Jesus won for His first disciples. We are a part of the Church that God used Peter and John to begin! May we be as faithful as they were in their persevering faithfulness to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Story 203: A Walk Along the Shore

John 21:15-25

Sea of Galilee in Israel

It was the third time Jesus had appeared to His disciples since He rose from the dead. They were out on their boats in the Sea of Galilee. They had spent all night fishing and caught nothing. But then a man on the shore told them to cast their nets on the right side of the their boat, and when they did, they caught so many fish that the nets started to rip.

John was the first disciple to recognize that the man on the shore was Jesus Himself. He was there cooking them a simple breakfast of fish and bread. When the men finished eating, they rose and began to walk along the shore.

The Lord said to Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?’”

What did He mean? And why would He ask? Peter had just suffered a massive failure. He had betrayed the Lord in a very public way. Now the Lord was going to restore Peter in a public way.

On the night of Jesus’ arrest, as Jesus explained what was about to happen, all the other disciples grew quiet. It was Peter, in all his boldness, who declared that he would never deny the Lord. It was only after he announced his loyal resolve that the other disciples had the courage to do so. Yet for all his bravery and determination, Peter’s human strength wasn’t enough. In the critical hour, when loyalty was the most sacred virtue of all, he faltered and failed. And to make matters worse, he didn’t crumble in the face of a Roman soldier or at the threat of death. He didn’t falter in the presence of a religious leader who could declare him a heretic. Peter caved when questioned by a little slave girl. And everyone knew.

Jesus understood what was going to happen before and warned him, but Peter could not bear to hear it. He refused to believe he could do such a thing. But Jesus knew that Satan, the powerful enemy of God, the very same, slithering serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, had asked permission to go after Peter, and God said, “Yes.” The Father was going to use the evil intentions of His enemy to try this servant who was so devoted to His Son. Peter had to go through a great breaking process to get rid of his own self-sufficiency and pride.

Peter didn’t understand any of this. He was under the illusion that he could muscle through on his own strength. But that would never do for the man who would become the Rock of the Church. If he was going to lead, he was going to have to learn how utterly weak he truly was so that he would depend on the power of the Most High God.

It was painful lesson, but it worked. Peter came to the end of himself in those awful days that followed his betrayal. After Jesus rose again, Peter was the disciple He appeared to first. There is no record of the things that Jesus said to him, but we can only imagine the grief and repentance that Peter showed his Master. What a close and sacred moment they shared as Lord and servant.

Now, as they walked along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus was asking Peter to reaffirm his love. This time, it was in public so that the other disciples could hear. Peter would indeed become God’s chosen leader, but the story of Peter’s denial would have damaged their respect for him. Had he fallen from grace? Jesus was making sure to reinstate him with honor.

Still, the question must have cut Peter to the core. “‘Yes, Lord,’” he said, “‘You know that I love You.’” Peter was certain that Jesus knew. In spite of his great failings, his love was real.

Jesus answered, “‘Feed my lambs.’” Peter’s love for Jesus was to show itself by watching over His people.   Jesus had described Himself as the Good Shepherd, and Peter was His servant. The Lord was going to trust him with His most treasured possessions.

The Lord asked again, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’”

What could He mean by asking twice? “‘Yes, Lord,’” Peter said, “‘You know that I love You.’” Peter wasn’t going to depend on some heroic display of his love or any declarations of faithfulness. He was going to depend on the wisdom of Christ. He knew that Jesus knew, because Peter had faith that Jesus knows all things. That was all that mattered.

“Take care of My sheep,’” said Jesus. With His second request, the importance of Peter’s task was showing its gravity. Peter wasn’t made the leader of the early church because of his natural abilities or charisma or strength. He was advanced because of his utter love and devotion to Jesus Christ. It is the one necessary thing.

Once again, Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, Son of John, do you love Me?’” The third time must have felt like a bitter sting to Peter. That was the number of denials that Jesus predicted. That was how many times he denied the Savior at the time of His Great Suffering. And yet Peter cried, “‘Lord, You know all things. You know that I love You.’” Peter had nowhere else to go but trust. Jesus was (and is!) Divine. He knew every truth from every lie. He knew that Peter loved Him.

Jesus said, “‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’”

Wow. Now Christ was making another prediction. Peter truly did love Him, and one day he would show it to the point of death. Though Peter had spent his early years living his own life, from this point on, his life would be fully given over to the cause of Christ’s Kingdom. In the end, his arms were going to be stretched out for crucifixion. He would go on to imitate the life of Jesus in his own life, even in his suffering. And just as Jesus brought glory to His Father, Peter would bring glory to Christ. As the leader of the Church, the news of Peter’s death would travel far and wide. What could explain such unhindered, absolute faithfulness? The extent of his sacrifice was the measure of his love, and it would greatly honor his Savior.

But that was still decades ahead. For now, Jesus said, “‘Follow Me.’” Imagine knowing that at the end of your life, you were going to be crucified. Imagine knowing it was part of God’s plan and following Him anyway. There is no way to explain it other than to understand the depth of Peter’s love. And this high discipleship was exactly what Peter would go on to do.

But these things were not on Peter’s mind when he heard this.   Instead, he turned and looked back at John. “‘Lord, what about this man?’” Was John going to suffer, too? John was so close to Jesus that he lay up against His chest on the night of the arrest. As Jesus explained that one of the disciples was going to betray him, Peter had to ask John to lean back and ask the Lord who it was. If Peter was called to suffer, what was going to happen to John?

Jesus said, “‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.’” Jesus was telling Peter, “‘It is none of your business!’” For you see, Jesus is going to return some day, and if God had ordained that John was going to live that long, that was the rightful decision of Almighty God.

Now, because Jesus said this, rumors started to spread. People began to say that John would never die. But in his book, John makes it clear that that is not what Jesus said. He was telling Peter that the life and death of each of His chosen ones is up to God. Peter needed to be faithful to God’s plans for his own life, not occupied with measuring it against God’s plans for someone else!

Isn’t it amazing that the Lord’s ordained plan for each of our lives, the way we will serve Him, even the way our lives will end, are already purposed in the heart and mind of God?

One day, Peter would be stretched out just as Christ was, on a cross. The Bible does not record the details of how Peter gave his life up for Jesus. We know that it came over three decades after this prediction came, and we know he died in Rome on a cross. By the time the Gospel of John was written, it had already happened.   Peter’s life on earth would end with breathtaking, courageous faith.

Story 202: Going Fishing

John 21:1-14

VATICAN CITY - SEPTEMBER 21: The Great Catch of Fish mosaic in the St. Peter's Basilica on September 21, 2013 in Vatican City, Italy. One of the world's most visited sacred sites with 7 Million annual visitors.

VATICAN CITY – SEPTEMBER 21: The Great Catch of Fish mosaic in the St. Peter’s Basilica

The Lord told His disciples that He would meet them up in Galilee, so they journeyed there, staying in Peter’s old hometown along the Sea. Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John, and two of the other disciples were all together. At some point, Peter decided he wanted to get busy. “‘I’m going fishing.’” The rest of the men jumped up and said, “‘We’re coming, too!’”

The men made their way out to the boats and spent the night out on the water. Imagine the inky black sky overhead. Were there a million stars shining in the stillness? Was there a layer of clouds hovering down over the dark, surrounding hills? Imagine the gentle breeze and the sounds of water brushing up against the boats as they rocked gently on the Sea.

It was a quiet night for fishing. The men didn’t catch anything. The long hours crept by. Did they talk about the events that they had so recently gone through? Did they sit in quiet, pondering these things in their own minds? Did they watch the dawn come as the sun began casting early glimpses of himself on the horizon? We aren’t sure of all the details, but there is one thing the Apostle John did tell us: There was still no fish. Then someone noticed that there was a man standing on the shore. It was Jesus, but the disciples didn’t recognize Him.

“‘Friends!’” the Lord called out. “‘Haven’t you caught any fish?’” What an odd thing to call out in the peace of the crisp, early morning.

“‘No,’” they answered. What a disappointing night. Everything in their lives seemed like one big wait. When would they arrive at what they were waiting for? When would the outpouring come?   Where was Jesus?

The man on the shore said, “‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’” Now, truly, that was an odd thing to say. How in the world would this guy know that there were fish on the right side of the boat? And if there were, why wouldn’t there be fish on the left side of the boat as well?

But the men followed the man’s advice and threw out their nets.   And for doing this senseless act, they were mightily blessed. There was a massive number of fish swarming in the waters. The nets captured so many of them that they were too heavy to haul on board.

This story was feeling strangely familiar to John, the disciple that Jesus loved so much. He looked at Peter, his old fishing partner. Did he remember, too? Finally, John said, “‘It’s the Lord!’”
The instant Peter heard that, he knew it was true. And true to form, he could not possibly wait for the boat to be pulled to shore. He grabbed his outer garment and tied it around his waist. Then he dove into the frigid water.

The rest of the disciples rowed the boats to shore, dragging the nets along behind them in the sea. They did not have to go far. They were only about a hundred yards from the beach.

By the time they landed, they noticed that the smell of a campfire was in the air. Jesus had made a fire with burning charcoal. Some fish were already cooking and there was some bread as well. Jesus was making them breakfast. There was Jesus, in His risen body, doing the most common work possible. It was not beneath His dignity to make food for His friends. Even in the life of eternity, service and work is honorable. Even for God Himself. What a wholesome, simple meal He provided there on the beach!

Now, there is something interesting we should know about in this story. The authors of the New Testament first wrote it in the Greek language. Often, they would use very special words to help the reader understand when an idea was especially important. This word “charcoal” that was used in this story was used only one other time in the New Testament. The first time it appears was in the story when Peter was warming himself by the fire during Jesus’ trial. This charcoal had a very potent smell that would have filled the night air. It was the very smell that filled Peter’s lungs as he was denying his Lord.

The second and only other time that word for charcoal was used in the New Testament was here, in this story, as Jesus met with His disciples once again. The same smell came wafting up as Peter stood on the seashore with Christ, waiting for the rest of the disciples to pull up. Was Jesus purposely bringing that painful memory alive? Why?

As the boat pulled up, Jesus said, “‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’” Peter climbed on board and dragged the nets to the beach. There were 153 fish in that bulging net. Apparently, they counted. But even with so many, it did not break.

Imagine the how the disciples felt as they got out of the boat. This was the third time they had seen Him since His death. There stood the Man who was killed in the most graphic, public death of their lifetime. Yet it was their own Lord and Master. Now He was alive before them with strange powers that somehow shifted the laws of nature. He was God. They expected Him to come in victory and power, but not like this! What does one do before a Holy God, especially when He is cooking you fish?

Jesus told them. He said, “‘Come, have breakfast.’” Jesus still hadn’t introduced Himself. His disciples were sure it was Him, and they didn’t have the courage to ask. Jesus took the bread and gave some to each of them. Then He handed out the fish.

The entire nation of Israel would have been fascinated by that little gathering along the shore of the Sea. But Jesus was not there to satisfy human curiosity for the novel and unique. He had come to those who loved Him. He had come to restore and strengthen and prepare them. One day, every one of them would come home to be with him in His Kingdom. They would reign with Christ in Heaven. But before that glorious time came, there was a task ahead. And for this task, Peter would be called upon to take the lead.


Story 200: A Power from on High

Luke 24:46-49; John 20:19-23

shining dove with rays on a dark golden background

As the resurrected Christ spoke to His disciples in the secret, locked room in Jerusalem, they listened with rapt attention. Finally, His plans for them were being revealed. The Lord Jesus was giving His disciples instructions about the life that lay ahead of them. He was giving marching orders! Somehow, He was going to give them something powerful to help them proclaim the Good News of what He had just accomplished on the cross.

Imagine how the disciples felt when they heard this. The angry crowds, the furious religious leaders who held control over the nation, and the violent strength of the Roman soldiers were still ringing in their memories. How in the world would they ever preach the name of Jesus in that city again? They were just happy to be alive! And what did it mean that they would be clothed with power from on high? What was this mysterious, unpredictable God going to do next?

There were prophecies in the Old Testament that hinted towards the bright thing God was about to do. For you see, Jesus had won the final victory, and there were many ways that victory would bless the world. The prophet Joel said this:


“‘And it shall come to pass afterward,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men will see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

in those days will I pour out my Spirit.’”

Joel 2:28-29

God the Father was somehow going to pour His Spirit on His faithful children, and a new era was going to begin in human life! Everyone who put their faith in Jesus would receive the Holy Spirit in their heart. They would become a whole new kind of creature walking the earth…human beings living with Divine life and power…partakers of the divine nature! Jesus had made the way for complete cleansing from sin and complete forgiveness. He made the way to give His chosen ones His own perfect, pure, righteousness. Now was the time of the New Covenant. Now the presence of God would come and live in them through the power of the Holy Spirit! This is how God described it to the prophet Ezekiel:

“‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and to be careful to keep My laws.’”

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Wow. Ezekiel was describing new life under the New Covenant, six hundred years ahead of time!

Do you remember the long talk Jesus had with His disciples the night before His arrest? Do you remember how He said that His disciples shouldn’t be sad to learn that He was leaving them? He said they should be glad because He was going to send the Spirit to them. His Spirit would move in power to give them guidance and comfort in all the trials that lay ahead as they proclaimed Jesus’ name!

The power of the Spirit was the same power that Jesus lived in throughout His life on earth. Jesus always was and always will be fully God, but when He came down from Heaven, He became fully man. As He walked the earth, He did not call on His own divine powers to perform the miracles or speak those amazing Truths. Each day He lived in the strength of what a normal man has…but He allowed the Spirit to be His perfect guide.

As a normal man, Jesus grew thirsty and weary. But He also lived in constant nearness with His Father and in perfect obedience to Him. He did it in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now that Jesus had purchased men for God, He could give His followers the Spirit as well.

As Jesus finished His words to His disciples on that visit, He said, “‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’”

Now more than ever the disciples were coming to understand that Jesus had been sent from Heaven. And now, they were caught up in God’s amazing plan, too. The Father had a very specific task for each of them to do for the remainder of their life on earth.

Jesus turned to His men and breathed on them, saying, “‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

It was not as if the Spirit of the Living God had not been at work in the lives of Jesus’ disciples before. It was the Spirit that worked in their hearts so they understood His message. It was the Spirit that made them come alive to His love! But now the Spirit was coming in a far more intense, permanent way. This moment with Jesus was the beginning, and there were even greater things to come.

Then Jesus said, “‘If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you do not forgive them, they will not be forgiven.’”

Wow. That was a high and dangerous power to give His men! They were so empowered by God that their judgments would count for God’s judgments in the family of God. What a high and holy role in God’s Kingdom!

One of the disciples was missing that day. For some reason, Thomas wasn’t there. In the days that followed, the other disciples told him what happened. When Thomas heard their stories, he thought they must be crazy! He absolutely refused to believe them. They wanted Jesus back so badly that they had started believing a lie! He said, “‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’”

Story 199: The Disciples Meet Their Risen Lord

Mark 16:12-14; Luke 24:32-49; John 20:19-23

TREVISO, ITALY - MARCH 18, 2014: The Resurrected Christ by Sebastiano del Piombo 1485 - 1547). Side altar of Saint Nicholas or San Nicolo church.

TREVISO, ITALY -The Resurrected Christ by Sebastiano del Piombo 1485 – 1547). Side altar of Saint Nicholas or San Nicolo church.

Cleopas and his friend had been given something amazing. As they walked home from Jerusalem discussing the death of Christ…not to mention the strange rumors from the women about His resurrection…Jesus showed up. At first, they didn’t know it was Him. Somehow, that was something He had to reveal.

As He joined them on their journey, He went through the entire history of the nation of Israel, from Moses all the way through the prophets, showing how His coming was a fulfillment of the great rescue that God had planned all along. When they finally sat down and Jesus began to break bread with them, they were suddenly able to see that it was Him! Jesus revealed Himself. It was their Lord! But then He disappeared.

The men wasted no time. They got up and walked straight back to Jerusalem. Can you imagine their discussion and excitement on those seven long miles to the city? They had to tell the disciples that what the women said was true!

When they arrived, they met with news. The disciples told them, “‘The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon Peter!’” Now, none of the four Gospels tell us what Jesus said to Peter in that first meeting after his betrayal. It was an intensely private time between Jesus and His beloved servant. But can you imagine the grief of Peter and his repentance? Can you imagine his relief? He had a chance to cry out for forgiveness. How powerful it must have been for him to realize that in spite of the terrible thing he had done, the Lord Jesus had sought him out and pursued him. Of all the people in the world, after dear Mary, Peter was the first to meet with the risen Christ. What a tender Lord!

When the disciples were done telling Cleopas and his friend their great news, the travelers told the disciples about their meeting on the road with Jesus. What a rush of excited voices that must have brought. Jesus was alive!

Yet even as the men talked these things through in their wonder, they were aware of a possible danger. The Jewish leaders were not happy. Rumor had it that they were accusing the disciples of stealing Christ’s body. So the disciples took care to lock the door of their meeting place.

The men sat reclining at their meal; can you imagine how they compared the different stories that were floating around that remarkable Sunday? Can you imagine the questions they asked? So far, Jesus had shown Himself to four people. Why had He come to Mary first? And why did the women get to see the angels, but John and Peter only saw the open tomb and folded linens? What were the religious leaders going to do now? Would they try to punish the disciples to prove to everyone that the resurrection was a fraud? And, most importantly, when would they see Jesus next?

And then, right in the midst of their supper, the Lord Jesus appeared once again!   “‘Peace be with you,’” He said.

What would you do? How would your respond?

The disciples were shocked. They thought He was a spirit. The ways of God’s eternal realm were invading the laws of earth and nature through Christ. For the disciples, this was strange and disorienting. The world they knew that seemed so concrete and permanent became an uncertain shadow next to the Greater Reality imposed by their infinitely more solid and powerful Lord.

Jesus said, “‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’”

As He said these things, Jesus showed them the scars in His hands and feet from the ruthless nails that had pinned Him to the cross. Then He showed them His side, where the spear had pierced Him. Though He was in His resurrected body, He still bore the marks of His great sacrifice.

The disciples were filled with joy, marveling at what could not be true, but was. It was an unimaginable hope! To show them that He was really there, risen in body as well as spirit, Jesus said, “‘Have you anything to eat?’”

The disciples handed Him some broiled fish. Jesus took it and ate with them. The truth was settling in, and they were filled with bright wonder. The One they thought they had lost forever was back!

Jesus explained, “‘This is what I have told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’” The Lord had tried over and over again to warn them about what was coming, but they couldn’t grasp it until it happened. Even now, with His risen life in front of them, it was hard to understand. So He began to teach them, opening their minds so they could understand more fully, how the Old Testament had been pointing the way to Jesus all along.   What a fascinating lesson to hear straight from Jesus’ own lips. Don’t you wish you could have been there?

The Lord went on:

“‘Thus it is written, “That the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promises of my Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”’”

Luke 24:46-49

Wow. What did Jesus mean? How in the world were they going to preach about Christ in Jerusalem with the wrath of the religious leaders following after them? And what did it mean to be to have power from on high?

Story 198: Proof of Life

Matthew 28:11-15; Mark 16:12-15; Luke 24:13-35

Conversion of Saul

Christ had offered Himself on the cross. He became the sacrificial Lamb, making a way for the forgiveness of the world. After He paid the terrible price for us, His dead body was laid in a tomb. On the third day, He rose again.

The wonders of God’s divine plan were made known through the glory of an earthquake, the tearing of a veil, a stone rolled away, brilliant angels heralding His resurrection…and His own words of love to His heartbroken friends.

Meanwhile, the chief priests were in a frenzy once again. For you see, Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb had come forward, telling them about the magnificent angel who had rolled away the stone. Remarkably, these extraordinary testimonies had no effect on the chief priests of Jerusalem.

How strange that these pagan, Gentile soldiers claimed to see an angel exactly as they were described in Jewish Scriptures. Did the leaders not fear that somehow the hand of God was on Jesus’ side?

Apparently they did not, because their first response was to come up with another deception. They called the elders and religious rulers together yet again. They took secret counsel about how to silence the rumors. The news of the opened tomb and the disappearance of Jesus’ body was sure to spread. When the people heard it, many would assume it was true…and many would interpret it as evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. At the very least, they would assume that the religious leaders had put to death one of God’s own messengers.

They had to put a stop to it. So they gathered a huge sum of money to bribe the soldiers to lie for them. They found the soldiers more than willing to go along with their story.

For you see, when a Roman soldier was on guard, it was a capital offense if he failed to do his duty. They were put to death for that offense.

How could these soldiers possibly explain what happened in those early morning hours?   They could hardly tell a court that a mighty angel had appeared!

If they lied and said that they had all gone to sleep, they could claim that the disciples had come to steal the body. Then nobody would believe the followers of Christ, for what soldier would testify such a thing at the risk of his own life?

The chief priests and elders promised the soldiers that if the governor ever learned of their excuse, they would intervene and save them from execution. Both sides would get what they wanted.

Can you imagine the utter foolishness of these men? Who would lie about the coming of a heavenly angel? Would nothing cause them to repent? But their hearts were so hard that the plain truth didn’t make any difference in them.

Just the week before, Jesus had told a parable about a rich man and Lazarus. In that story, Jesus declared that those who truly loved and honored the God of the Old Testament would love and honor His words. He warned that those who were hard-hearted would not repent, even if someone rose from the dead.   The priests and Pharisees and elders did not heed that warning, and now it was coming true. They were fully given over to the work of God’s vicious enemy, seeking to keep the glorious new work that God had performed from the people, barring the way to the Good News of Christ’s resurrection!

What utter foolishness for these petty little men to believe that they could thwart God’s plan. In truth, it showed that they had no faith in God at all. They could only see things in light of their own desire for power.Thankfully, that was not true of everyone in Israel. God had called many His own, and the Good News would be made perfectly clear to them!

Meanwhile, two such men were making their way home after the Passover Feast. They were headed to Emmaus, a seven-mile walk from Jerusalem. As they went, they discussed all of the things that happened at the Feast. They were in deep conversation when Jesus Himself came up to them. Their eyes were kept from recognizing Him, so they saw Him as a stranger. Jesus asked, “‘What are these words you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?’”

The men came to a stop. Could this man really not know? One of the men was named Cleopas. He asked, “‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’”

Jesus asked, “‘What things?’”

They must have been amazed! Did this man live in a hole? They said, “‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him up to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also, some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. And some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.’

Then Jesus said, “‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’”

Then Jesus gave them the best history lesson in the history of history lessons. He began with Moses and explained about all the prophets, showing how they had foretold the coming of Christ throughout the Old Testament. It must have been an absolutely fascinating walk. Hundreds of years of history were laid out before them as they along with the One who made it happen. Eventually, they arrived at Emmaus. Jesus stepped out as if  He was going to keep walking. The men didn’t want Him to go. “‘Stay with us,’” they said, “‘For it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.’” So He went to their home.

The mealtime came, and as Jesus reclined with them at the table, He took some bread and broke it. Then He began giving them each a peice. Suddenly, they knew that this was Jesus Himself! Their eyes were opened! Just as immediately, He vanished from their sight.

What a delight for Jesus as He miraculously showed up in the lives of His dear friends, opening up little windows for them of the glorious things He had done. As the men sat there, stunned, they began to say, “‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining Scripture to us?’” Within that same hour, the men got up and were on the road back to Jerusalem. They had to go tell the disciples!



Story 197: Mary’s Voice

Collection of the most beautiful and moving architectures examples in European cemeteries

We don’t know exactly what Mary Magdalene thought and felt as she followed Jesus and went through His death and resurrection. The Bible gives a few close pictures to help us imagine what she might have said. John the Apostle gave us a long version of her part of the story at the resurrection.   Jesus accomplished great, grand, and glorious things and there were many epic events that happened as He turned Jerusalem upside down. But in the story of Mary, we see how the tenderness of Christ for His beloved ones was an enormous priority for Him. We also see how His relationship with His followers was far more than what can be the cold, distant relating of teacher and student. He was no cold deity giving out radical commands. Jesus loved, and they felt His love and yearned for it. And they loved Him in return.   Here is a depiction of what that love might have been like for the person that Jesus chose to show Himself to first after rising from the dead:

When I heard about the arrest, I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a total surprise. They had wanted to arrest the Lord for years, and somehow, He had always gotten away with seamless effort. It was a fact we rather enjoyed. But this time it had really happened, and it was hard to believe. John came to get Jesus’ mother and I. The city was in such an uproar. Many sided with the religious leaders…but many others were horrified at what was happening to Jesus. Where did all this malice come from? What had He possibly done? He had wandered around the countryside healing us. He healed me. It made no sense.

We stood in the crowd and watched it all happen. We were helpless. It was awful.

The soldiers hammered those dreadful nails through His wrists.

Poor Mary. She was wracked with His every pain. The blood was terrible. The jeering crowds, the horrid soldiers, and the nasty religious leaders just stood there. But somehow, John and Mary and I ended up so close, so close to Him, and everything else faded to the background.

How gentle and commanding was His voice, even as He hung on the cross. It is hard to explain to people that haven’t seen Him. There was majesty in Him, even as He hung naked and covered in filth and sweat and blood. His greatness was greater than all these physical things. The darkness that came was a mercy, and the earthquake that shook the ground was like a physical manifestation of my rage and loss. I wanted to shake the world with a violence they couldn’t ignore and cry out, “WHY?” I wanted to scream, “HOW COULD YOU….HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?”

But they did, and He was gone. But I couldn’t leave Him. I just stood there, paralyzed, as they took His body down. There He was, my Lord, limp and torn. How His mother wept. Joseph of Arimathea came to take His body, and still I could not leave. I followed along with Mary. I had to know where they were taking Him. I had to go where He went. I couldn’t let go.

How could everyone else let go? Where were they?

We sat opposite the tomb as they dressed Him in white linen, pure and clean. That was a comfort.

But when they came out and covered His tomb with a large stone, my heart cried out. “This can’t be the end!” There had to be something we could do. This was too quick, too short.

Where were the processions? All of Jerusalem should have mourned this death. The whole world should have stopped and grieved for a lifetime. So Mary and I did the only thing we could think to do. We went and prepared more spices for His body. How else could we honor our Lord? How else would we see Him again?

God forgive me, but that high and holy Sabbath was agonizing. It was like a huge barrier between me and my Beloved. I had to get to Him. I had to be near Him.

Jesus would tell stories about how the ones who needed forgiveness the most were often the ones who loved the most. I suppose that explains my desperation.

So many of the women that followed Jesus had come to Him in such honorable ways. They were married to men of power and wealth, and they used it to bless the Lord and supply His ministry. They had so much to offer. I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like.

My world had been so different. My family was the kind that invited Satanic bondage into the lives of their children. By the time I crossed paths with Jesus, I had seven demons that tormented me. The kind of humiliation they drove me to, the life of isolation…I was a pariah. It was shameful to admit any connection with me.

I had no dream of deliverance…but even if I was set free, I had no hope of love or acceptance. The memory of a village like Magdela is long. No matter what transformations took place in me, I would always be known for my shame. For some reason, I had been chosen for a life of condemnation. The hand of God was against me.

But then Jesus came, and everything changed. He sent my tormentors away. But far more than that, He gave me Himself. He loved me. And because of His love, I was drawn into a whole community of care. People who never would have acknowledged me all my life long were seeing me in the light of Jesus’ love. His own mother loved me. I was home.

So I made my way to the tomb in the wee morning hours, bringing Mary the mother of Salome with me. I think we both went out of a driving and a longing heart. I just wanted to grasp a few more moments with Him, to be by His side. To give Him the honor of a decent burial. We wondered how we would remove the stone once we got there. But when we arrived, we stood there in shock. Someone had already come and rolled the massive stone away. The Roman soldiers who were supposed to be guarding it lay all around as if they were in a dead sleep. We crept inside to look at His body. He wasn’t there. My heart plunged to the lowest, deepest despair of all. What had happened?

ResurrectionSuddenly, two men appeared in glorious, dazzling white. Mary and I fell with our faces to the ground. We had all read about what it is like to meet angels, but nothing prepared me for it until it happened. It was brilliant and terrifying and joyful all at the same time.

“‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead?’” they asked. I didn’t really catch what they meant, but they went on, “‘Do not be afraid; for I know who you are looking for. He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’”

Suddenly, I remembered all Jesus’ words. How had I forgotten? Had this all been planned? The angels went on: “‘Go, quickly, tell the His disciples that He has risen from the dead. He is going before you in Galilee, there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’”

Then the angels were gone. Mary and I went running out of the tomb. When we got outside we were trembling, completely gripped with astonished joy and startling fear. Then we ran off to tell the disciples the unimaginably great news.

Of course, when we got there, the men thought we were talking nonsense. We probably babbled a bit in our excitement. But what we said lit a spark under Peter and John. They went running off to the tomb. I followed along behind. The words of the angels were slowly sinking in, but the tomb still seemed the best way to be near my Lord. I suppose the grief of the last few days was so overwhelming that I couldn’t quite process the turn of events. Peter and John came and saw the empty tomb, and then left.

I tarried. I just couldn’t leave. It almost didn’t matter what the angels said…He was still gone, and Galilee was far, far away.

My grief overwhelmed me again. I wept as I looked inside the tomb one more time. The two angels were there once again. “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” they asked. I must have seemed like a fool, but this was all much easier to understand on their side of eternity. I didn’t have it in me to care. “‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.’”

And then He came to me. I don’t know why I was chosen to see Him first. Perhaps because my need was the greatest. The funny thing is, I didn’t even recognize Him at first. This strange Man asked me, “‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking?’” I thought it was the gardener. The angels must have been enjoying this moment. I said, “‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”

And then Jesus said to me, “‘Mary,’” and I knew…with everything in me, I just knew. It changed everything to hear Him say my name. I turned to Him and cried, “‘Teacher!’” Utterly overwhelmed with joy, I fell at His feet and threw my arms around His legs like I would never let go.

I think Jesus was smiling when He said, “‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”

I could have held onto Him forever, but I knew I had to do what he asked. So I went to the disciples with the news. In the days and weeks to follow, we all got to see Him, and He taught us many things. It was so satisfying to be near Him again, and by the time He ascended into Heaven, I think we all understood that we weren’t really losing Him, even though He would be present with us on earth in a very different way. And one day, we will see Him again and live for all eternity in the brightness of His presence. On that day, I hope to find you there.


Story 196: Resurrection

Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-22; Luke 24:1-13; John 20:1-18

One of the stained glass windows of the Church of San Ildefonso in Porto made ​​by the artist Isolivo Vaz in 1967. This one represents the resurrection of Christ.

Sunday morning came. It was the first day of the Jewish week. Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James were up before dawn with the spices they had prepared. As the sun began to lighten the eastern sky, they made their way to the tomb with some of the other women. At some point in their journey, the ground began to shake. It was another earthquake. What could it  mean? So often in the Bible, an earthquake was a sign that God had come.

But perhaps their thoughts were still too full of grief.

They couldn’t guess the stunning, amazing, unspeakably great meaning of the earthquake. God had come.

Jesus had risen from the dead.

When a glorious angel came to roll away the stone that sealed His tomb, the earth trembled. A new era had begun.

When the Roman guards saw the dazzling heavenly being, they shook with terror and fell to the ground, passed out in fear.

The angel hadn’t come to help Jesus out of the tomb. The Lord had risen, raised by the power of Almighty God (Eph. 1:15-23), based on the power of His indestructible life (Heb. 7:11-18).   When the angel rolled away the stone, he was acting as a herald. It was a revelation, a declaration, a proclamation of what God had done! It was irrefutable evidence of the Great Happening.

But the women didn’t know that yet. As they walked along, they wondered to each other: How would they move the stone? Would the Roman guards let them go near?

When they arrived, they found that everything had already been taken care of. The bodies of the shocked Roman soldiers lay all around. What was going on? They crept their way inside the tomb, only to find that the body was gone. How could this be? Where had they taken the Lord? They turned to each other in their confusion and weary grief.

Suddenly, two angels appeared in clothes of brilliant white. The women fell down on their faces in fear.

One of the angels asked them, “‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead? Don’t be afraid; for I know who you are looking for. He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’”

Even as the angel spoke, the women remembered what Jesus said. The angel went on: “‘Go, quickly, tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead. He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you.’”

The women were full of trembling fear and joy. They fled from the tomb, off to tell the disciples the amazing news. They didn’t speak to anyone along the way, for fear of what they might say about this astonishing news. They found the eleven and told them what they had seen. The words of the women seemed like utter nonsense. And to some degree, they were. Even Mary Magdalene’s report was confused. “‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him,’” she declared. In her desperation, she had only one care. The words of the glorious angels meant nothing to her. All that mattered was finding her Lord.

At first, the disciples refused to believe the women. But as the words sunk in, it finally hit Peter that it just might be true! He jumped up and went running off to the tomb. John wasn’t far behind. They ran with all their might.

John was younger and faster, and he reached the tomb first. He stopped at the entrance and stooped to looked in, searching for a body or an angel or a sign. There, in the place where Jesus was laid, there was only linen, wrapped up neatly and set aside. The face cloth was rolled up and set aside in a spot by itself.

Peter ran up and passed John, heading right into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings, too. John followed Peter inside, and they stood there, wondering what it meant. John believed, and yet wondered. Neither of them understood the fullness of what had happened. These new facts did not match anything that made worldly sense. They could not comprehend that Jesus had to rise from the dead. The disciples left the tomb and wandered back to their homes in wonder.

Mary Magdalene had followed on along behind the two, making her way back to the tomb. There she stood, weeping. For you see, she had nowhere else to go. The Lord Jesus had become her hope and her life. He has rescued her from the oppression of seven demons, and she had followed Him everywhere since then. She drew near to the opening and stepped inside again. Once again, two angels appeared before her. One sat at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus would have laid.

In the days that followed, Mary and the disciples might have wondered about this. For you see, this was the very same image that could be found on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant which was meant to sit in the Holy of Holies. The Ark was a large golden box designed by God with a lid made of pure gold. The lid was called the Mercy Seat of God. God instructed Moses to put statues of two, glorious, golden angels on either end of the Ark. Their wings stretched over the Mercy Seat. This was considered the throne of God on earth, kept behind the Holy of Holies. It was on this Mercy Seat that the blood of a sacrifice was sprinkled every year on the Day of Atonement for the sins of the nation. The Ark was the most sacred possession of the nation of Israel before it was lost because of their rebellion against God hundreds of years before, but its image was still burned into the hearts and minds of every Jew. Now Christ Himself had become the Mercy Seat of God, the great Atonement by which all men could be saved. As the two angels sat on either side of where His sacrificed body had lain, did the image strike a chord in Mary?

All of these rich, deep, beautiful things were glorious truths for the Church to realize in the years to come. The Apostle John made sure to point it out in his writing. But perhaps these things were not on Mary’s mind as she stood there, devastated in the presence of the angels.

“‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” they asked.

“‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do no know where they have laid Him.’” she replied. She still had no hope of His return to life, but her love was so great that she had to find Him. Even the sight of angels was not enough to distract her.

As she said this, she turned to go, but there was a man standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize Him. She thought it was the gardener. “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” Jesus asked. “‘Whom are you seeking?’”

She said, “‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”

How she loved Him! Can you hear her tender longing?

So could Jesus. “‘Mary,’” He said. The moment she heard Him say her name, she knew who it was. “‘Teacher!’” she cried out. She fell to the ground before her beloved and wrapped herself around His ankles.

“‘Do not hold on to me,’” Jesus said, “‘for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’”

Mary was filled with delirious excitement. Her Beloved wasn’t gone! He hadn’t abandoned her! Her great Love was alive! She ran off to tell the disciples the unimaginably Good News.

“‘I have seen the Lord!’” she declared. Then she filled them in on the details.

Can you imagine their shock and excitement?

Can you imagine the questions it raised?

And what in the world was going to happen next?

The Lord Jesus had made a stop on His way to the Father for the love of this woman who was so besotted with Him. Mary and the other women were the first humans to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus could have appeared to Peter and John. He could have showed up to all the disciples. But instead, He chose to give that honor to this woman who had been rejected by society, ravaged by evil spirits, and set free to love the Lord with all her heart.

Story 195: The Burial

Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPT 12, 2014: View of Pere Lachaise. World's most visited cemetery, attracting thousands of visitors to graves of those who have enhanced French life over past 200 years.

The horrible day had past and evening had come. Jesus was dead, and it was time to take His body down from the cross. There was a man named Joseph of Arimathea who believed in Jesus and followed Him in secret. He was a true disciple, but he was also a member of the Sanhedrin. The hatred of the Jewish leadership against the Lord was so intense that Joseph was afraid to make it known. He could lose everything if they turned against him.

How Joseph must have mourned the terrible injustices of that day. These religious leaders were the men that he had spent his life with. These were the elite of the nation that he had silenced his own convictions for. How he must have hated their repulsive behavior. It was too late to stand for Christ while He was alive. The least he could do was honor Him in His death.

The news that a member of the Sanhedrin had given Jesus such respect would have spread throughout Jerusalem as the people tried to makes sense of the week’s events. It would have been seen as siding with the enemy. But Joseph went to Pontius Pilate and asked if he could take the body of Christ to bury Him. Once again, the affairs of Jesus came before Pilate. He agreed to release Him to this obvious devotee.

Joseph went to claim the body of Christ. Nicodemas came to help. He brought with him seventy five pounds of aloe and myrrh, the traditional ingredients that the Jews used for preserving the dead.

Nicodemas, too, was a disciple of Christ, and like Joseph, he had kept it hidden. He had gone to ask the Lord questions in the night, fearing what his leadership would do if they found out that he believed in Jesus. The fury of the leadership had not grown any less, and their great offenses were only highlighted by the bright purity of Christ. Even in His death, the Lord Jesus deserved his loyalty.

Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and bound it up in spices with linen cloths. There was a garden near the place where Jesus was crucified. It had a tomb where no one had ever before been buried. It was a place for the honored and wealthy to take their final rest. And because it was close to the place of His crucifixion, the men could bring Him and lay Him to rest in a timely way, before the setting of the sun and the coming of the Sabbath rest.

Once again, unbeknownst to them, Scripture was fulfilled. Isaiah 53:9 reads: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, and nor was any deceit in His mouth.” As they left Christ in the tomb, they took a large stone and rolled it over the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James had followed them from the cross and stood outside the tomb, looking to see where He was buried. Then they went out to buy spices. They would return after the Sabbath to finish giving Jesus a proper burial.

Friday evening came, and the Passover Sabbath began. The families that had journeyed from all over Israel gathered together to celebrate and rest with the God of their fathers. Saturday dawned in a continuation of that rest. No work was to be done. The entire nation paused for the day to savor the wonderful works of their God. Yet on this particular Sabbath, their heads must have been full of the events of the day before. The city of Jerusalem had been turned upside down. Did any of them have eyes to see that they had witnessed God’s greatest work of all?

While the rest of Israel was honoring the Sabbath, the Pharisees and chief priests were busy. They had work to do. Jesus had declared that He would rise again from the grave. What if His disciples tried to fake His resurrection? It would create a whole new mess for them to clean up! They would be fighting that heresy for years.

How ironic that these wretched leaders remembered the words of Christ. His own disciples had completely forgotten! They were too awash in grief for such a hope. But the Jewish leaders didn’t know that, so they went back to Pilate with yet another request:

“‘Sir,’” they said, “‘We remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’”

Matthew 27:63-64

Imagine what it was like for Pilate as he listened to this request. This Jesus, who proclaimed Himself to be King of an invisible land, had also claimed that He would rise from the dead. Did he know what to make of it? He looked at them and said, “‘You have a guard: go, make it as secure as you know how.’”

If the Jewish leaders were right, and the disciples wanted to commit a fraud, they would have to get past highly trained, heavily armed Roman soldiers to do so. That didn’t seem too likely. Jesus’ disciples were the same men that ran away in the Garden. Would they really be able to summon the courage to face a standing guard after watching soldiers crucify their Master? No regular band of citizens could get past a garrison of Roman soldiers. It was unheard of. Pilate knew that if all this was a fraud, there was no way that tomb would end up empty. On the other hand, if Jesus really was who He claimed to be, all bets were off. It didn’t matter how many soldiers were stationed at the tomb if Jesus was Divine.

Story 194: Proof of Death

John 19:31-37

Stained glass showing Jesus crucified


The Jews had a problem. They had successfully put Jesus, the radical young preacher, to death. It was worth it to them to disrupt their Passover Feast if it meant getting rid of their rival. No longer would He wander their countryside distracting their people with His miracles and extreme teaching. No longer would He confront them in the courts of their own Temple. Finally, after three years of this irritant, life could return to normal in Israel. Yet there was one more thing they had to do to seal the deal.

There were three dead or dying men hanging on crosses right outside the gates of Jerusalem. The Sabbath would begin at sunset. It broke the Law of God to have a dead man hanging from a tree on the Sabbath. Their bodies defiled the land. And what made it even worse was that this was no regular Sabbath. It was a high and holy day. It was Passover! So they went to Pontius Pilate and asked to have the legs of the crucified broken.

That might seem like a strange request, but in a morbid way, it actually made sense. One of the horrors of crucifixion was that it caused people to die through suffocation. As they hung by their arms, air wouldn’t flow to their lungs when they breathed. They would have to rise up on the nails in their ankles to inhale. The natural human instinct for breath would drive the condemned to keep pushing up on those wounds for hour after hour of excruciating misery. One way to quicken their death was to break their legs so they could no longer push their bodies up to breath. It was a gruesome business, but such was the world of the Roman Empire.

Pilate agreed with the religious leaders. He gave an order for his soldiers to break the legs of the men who had been crucified that day. But when the soldiers got to Jesus, He was already gone. Instead of breaking His legs, they took a spear and pierced His side. Blood and water came flowing out.

At this point in John’s Gospel, John wanted to make sure to testify that all of these things were absolutely true. He was there to see them. He was at the foot of the cross when it happened. In the days to follow, many rumors would spread about the life and death of Jesus. Many people would try to explain away that Jesus had risen from the dead. They would say that the disciples made up the resurrection…or they would say that Jesus had never really died in the first place.   But John was there for the very real death of his dearest Friend. He spent three days in total misery, but then Jesus came back to life. He wanted us to believe as surely as he did. That was the whole reason he wrote his book.

John also wanted to point out how God continued to fulfill Scripture though His Son in His death. Do you remember the ancient story of the Passover? The Egyptian Pharaoh refused to set God’s people free from murderous oppression. The Lord sent plague after plague, but still he refused. Finally, God came with His most terrible judgment. The Pharaoh refused to release God’s treasured possession, so God was going to take the greatest treasure of the Egyptian people. He was going to take the lives of their firstborn sons. The Pharaoh had been ordering the murder of the sons of Israel for a generation. Now that judgment was coming back on him and his people.

In order to protect the sons of the Israelites, he gave them careful instructions. They were to sacrifice a spotless lamb and have it as a meal. Then they were to take its blood and put it along the doorposts of their homes. As the angel of the Lord came to Egypt, he would pass by the homes protected by the blood. Here are a few of God’s instructions to His people about the lamb: “‘It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it’” (Exodus 12:46-47).

Jesus was the Passover Lamb, and His blood was to become the protection of His people. All of these events that took place far in the distant past were a picture of what God was going to do in Christ. And just as the people were not to break the legs of the first Passover lamb, the legs of the Great Passover Lamb were not to be broken.

There another verse in the Old Testament that foretold the piercing of Jesus’ side. In the book of Zechariah, God said: “‘And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son.’” (Zech. 12:10).

John and all of Christ’s followers believed passionately that everything that happened in Christ was an outflow of what God had done in the Old Testament. God had ordained every moment of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. He had also ordained every aspect of the life of His holy people so they would show the way to the Savior of humankind. As the disciples considered the life of Jesus in the years to come, they found imprints of Jesus in verse after verse from their Holy Scripture. God put them there thousands of years ahead of time to give confidence to those who heard the Gospel. Jesus was the One the Bible had been pointing to all along.


%d bloggers like this: