Growing up, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I rode a bus home from school. My parents typically always dropped me off and picked me up. One of those bus rides stands out to me though. I was in the First Grade and rode the bus home. I was dropped off right in front of my house and as the bus pulled away, I realized that our car was not in the driveway. I went to the front door and it was locked. I went to the door off the carport and it was locked. In that moment, my whole world began to close in. I was alone, and I was afraid. Tears began to run down my face as I stood in the corner of our carport wondering why I had been left alone.
I'm sure the disciples had those feelings of fear and loneliness too as the reality had sunk in that Jesus had been crucified and was buried in a tomb. How could this be? Why would Jesus' have left them?
The Bible says that early in the morning, the women had gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus when they found the stone that was blocking the tomb had been rolled away! The tomb was empty! An Angel appeared to them to tell them the GREAT NEWS! Jesus was ALIVE!
When they heard the news, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. What the women had told them was true!
John 20:19-20 (NIV) "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."
In one moment, the disciples' sorrows were turned into joy! They had thought that they had been left all alone, and yet now, they knew Jesus was ALIVE!
What felt like hours for me all those years ago, in reality, was just mere minutes. My parents showed up and in one moment, my sorrow turned into joy! I wasn't alone anymore! My parents were right there with me!
Today, we're all celebrating Easter a little differently than we had planned. This is our fourth Easter as a church. We've seen Theater 8 at Cinepolis be at maximum capacity for the last couple of Easter Celebrations. This year, we were preparing for two services with great expectation of what God would do in peoples' lives. We fully believed we would fill the room for both services! We wanted to share the HOPE that's found through the power our resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. Today, we may not fill up a room the size of Theater 8, but through technology, we are reaching far beyond what our room could have ever held. Know today that because of the power of Jesus, we can live STRONG and BRAVE! We can move forward with confidence! We have Jesus and we have one another, and that's more than enough! We are ONE HOPE!
A few years ago, my Dad called me and explained a situation he was in. As he was explaining the situation, I felt almost paralyzed, knowing I had no way of helping him. As soon as we got off the phone, I started to brainstorm what I could do to help him in this situation. After trying to think of all the things I could do, the thought hit me ... there was nothing I could do about the situation. So, I started to pray. For the next two months after that phone call I continued praying for my Dad. Just as I was getting tired of praying and being frustrated because I had not seen any results, God showed up in the situation. At that moment, I realized that even when the situation was out of my control, God was still in control.
Today, as we wait in anticipation of Easter Sunday, let’s take a moment to thank God for who He is in our lives: He is our Hope, our Strength, our Peace, our Joy, our Provider, our Protector, our Deliverer, and our Redeemer!
In full knowledge of what was to come, Jesus accepted and endured all the pain and suffering for us so He could redeem us. Jesus gave everything for us so that we can have life abundantly.
“So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” Matthew 27:66
I believe this day was probably the most faith testing day for the apostles. The man they came to know as their teacher and leader was now buried in a sealed tomb. At this moment, it seemed as if all hope was lost. All the lessons and all the teachings were now a thing of the past. However, what the apostles thought was the end of the story, was actually a “to be continued” moment.
The enemy, the devil, will use anything he can to make it seem as if your story is meaningless or over. Just remember, as we wait to celebrate Easter, the story of Jesus Christ is not over, and your story with Jesus is not over. It is a simple “To be continued”.
When I was a little girl, my Momma would make every holiday into a HUGE celebration. On Valentine’s Day, she would decorate the dining room table with balloons, hearts, and stuffed animals for our family dinner. At Easter, there was a precious bunny cake and baskets filled with eggs holding tasty treats. On our birthdays, she would have decorations, cake, and presents similar to Christmas morning. For Thanksgiving or Christmas, my great-grandmother who was fondly called Mama 2, my Grandmother, Momma, and my Aunt Sharon would cook and laugh while preparing the meal for our family. While the food they prepared was wonderful, it was super important that the tablecloth, plates, and napkins all coordinated with the theme of the day – a reason to be grateful for all the good things that we had. I suppose that is why I have such a love to plan a party. There is a natural born instinct to want to set the table and prepare for an upcoming event or celebration!
As I read in Luke 22, I see that Jesus was quite a PARTY PLANNER himself. He gave directions to Peter and John in verse 8 to “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” He was even so specific with his directions to them that he told them they would meet an owner of a house that would have a prepared guest room, a large UPPER room, that was fully furnished! Sure enough, Peter and John found things JUST the way Jesus had described.
This particular celebration that Jesus had asked them to prepare for was for is known as The Last Supper. It was the last meal that Jesus would partake with his disciples before his suffering and death. He wanted to spend time talking and reclining with them. When the hour came, Jesus gave thanks for the bread and the cup that he shared with His disciples. As He shared the items with them, He gave them directions in verse 19 that they would “do this in remembrance of me.”
As we observe that last meal that Jesus had with His disciples, it always makes me think about preparations for my own heart. Have I prepared a place where He and I can meet? Have I prepared time to sit at His feet and listen to His heartbeat for this great big world? Have I prepared my heart to be open and receptive to the good plans He has for my life? 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for HOPE that you have … Are YOU prepared?
I remember the first time I experienced betrayal. It crushed me. It crushed my self-esteem. A problem was created between me and others soon after, where I became afraid to trust again. Feeling broken, it was hard to comprehend why I was being betrayed. Was I not worth trusting? Was something wrong with me? Was I valuing the wrong things that prepared me for my betrayal? Didn’t I give my betrayer enough opportunities to have a trusting relationship with me? Didn’t I do enough to earn an honest and safe relationship?
In the same way Judas was given so many opportunities to follow Jesus, to be loved by Jesus, to be transformed by a relationship with Jesus. But Judas betrayed his friend, the Messiah.
Matthew 26:14-16 NIV “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Most times it’s subtle, we can look back and see just how far we have drifted from what we once loved. When this involves our faith and our relationship with Jesus, we drift by betraying small priorities. Small sell outs leading us on that path of betrayal.
So my question to you today is.
What is your “thirty pieces of silver?”
What do you find yourself tempted with or choosing over your relationship with Jesus in your everyday life?
I stood in the batter’s box watching my high school career come to an end. Our best player was just picked-off for the third and final out of our state playoff game, while I was up to bat. Talk about deflating. High expectation, no satisfaction. We took the long bus ride back home from Sarasota to Lakeland. I reflected on so many years of hard work, passion, friendships, laughs, and joy that baseball brought me. I was already asking myself, “What’s next?” I didn’t have an answer. My gloom turned into anxiety and worry, and the night wasn’t even over yet! I didn’t have a plan. I lost my confidence.
That moment reminds me of the journey we are on this week. Jesus shared a message of faith to his disciples during his journey on this day. Early that morning, as Jesus and the disciples were returning to Jerusalem, Jesus grew hungry. Jesus decides to grab some breakfast. He approaches a fig tree as they’re walking alongside the road. He is left disappointed. It’s all leaves, no fruit. High expectation, no satisfaction. Have you ever walked up to an orange tree expecting to pick an orange? Can you imagine walking up to one during navel season and a tree not having any oranges?
In Matthew 21:19-20, Jesus curses this fig tree because it didn’t bear any fruit. This moment amazes the disciples, causing them to question, “How did this fig tree wither so quickly?” Jesus calmly and solemnly responds to them with (21:21-22),
21 “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. 22 You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”
How incredible is that? Jesus constantly did amazing things and had amazing moments in front of the disciples. However, in this moment, he completely has their attention. This isn’t just another day with Jesus. He wants them to catch a hold of what is happening. These words were not simply meant for the disciples either. Jesus is demonstrating and spelling out for us the potential and power of our faith. Small or large, our faithful prayers are heard.
Are you withered? Have you been defeated? Were you deflated like me? Jesus says to have faith! Don’t doubt! We can pray for anything! That’s the God we serve. When my dreams were crushed and I didn’t have a plan, God reminded me to have faith. I pray that wherever you are at in your journey, you are able to grab ahold of Jesus’ words and trust in Him. Ultimately, years later I made many memories graduating and playing college baseball at Southeastern University. God is faithful and God answers prayers! Have faith and don’t doubt.
I was blessed to grow up in a Christian family. We were at church every time the doors were open (and even sometimes when they weren’t). If volunteers were needed, we were there. This meant that I heard a lot of Palm Sunday and Easter sermons. One topic that was taught frequently was Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple courtyard after the Triumphal Entry. The explanation I remember hearing each time was that He was angered because the merchants were being dishonest and overcharging those who were coming to make an offering. While this is definitely a very valid reason for Jesus’ anger, I was struck with an additional explanation when I was reading the commentary for Mark 11 in my study Bible. Let’s look at the verses:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:15-17 (NIV)
In this passage Jesus gives a very specific reason for His anger. His Father’s House was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations. This one tiny italicized word is extremely important. The money changers had set up their tables in the court of the gentiles. This was the only place in the temple where people of non-Jewish birth could come and pray to God. By turning their courtyard into a place of business, the money changers were robbing God of the prayers of the gentiles. Jesus’ anger shows us just how much God values the prayers of all His people. He wants everyone to be able to come before Him in prayer. This includes us now.
I would encourage you this week, as we remember all that Jesus did to ensure that we would all have access to the Father, to set aside a special time of prayer. This time can be whatever you would like: worship, praise, specific prayers, etc. But remember as You approach the throne of God that He loves your prayers. Don’t let the busyness of life (which has admittedly slowed down quite a bit recently) rob Him of time with You. He desperately loves and wants to hear from You.
"May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice." Psalm 141:2 (NIV)
Growing up, a staple of our holidays centered around watching the big parades on television. We always went to our local parades too. What I realized was that watching on television was not nearly the same as being present for these experiences. I loved the atmosphere of being there. The hustle of the crowd and finding your spot on the route was exciting. The smell of the street vendor’s hot popcorn filled the air. The bright sound of the bands playing signaled their approach from blocks away, and who doesn’t love catching candy tossed to the crowd from the floats!
This Passion Week journey begins with a parade. Jesus is entering Jerusalem with His disciples to go and celebrate Passover, one of three major festivals of the Jewish people. The city had swelled to overcapacity because of the celebration. For the first time, Jesus publicly reveals Himself as the Messiah, God’s chosen deliverer and the city is filled with the frenetic excitement of the news. With joy and celebration, they line the streets to welcome Jesus, and because they recognized Him as their Messiah-King, they gave Him the ‘royal treatment’. Let’s read about it from Matthew 21(MSG):
4-5 "This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet: Tell Zion’s daughter, “Look, your king’s on his way, poised and ready, mounted on a donkey, on a colt, foal of a pack animal.” 6-9 The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!” 10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” 11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
What an amazing moment! Can you picture the moment and the stories the people that were there had? “I was ‘this close’ to Him!” Or maybe, “He looked over and smiled at me!” I can only imagine the energy of that moment. There were so many symbolic things that were happening that pointed to Him as Messiah-King that day that we, as non-Jewish people might miss. Jesus riding a donkey, the people throwing their coats and palm branches in front of His path, and the shouts of “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” were all revelations of who Jesus was presenting Himself to be . . . the Messiah, the Savior, the King.
As we take this journey together through Passion Week, don’t miss the moment that Jesus is presenting to you. This week is not a moment to just be a side-line spectator. Let me challenge you to be present! Lean into what Jesus will say to you! I pray that we would develop a deep PASSION for Jesus as we follow the passionate journey of suffering He took to provide a way for us to be rescued from our sin and know the power of a real relationship with God.