This Sunday, April 1st, is the infamous day of prolific practical joking. For one day only, jokesters across the nation will laughingly share their pranks while unsuspecting individuals become the brunt of punch lines. Individuals, friends, family members, neighbors, radio DJs, and even a few news anchors are known to get in on the action in an attempt to make others laugh.
The origination of April 1st as the national day of folly is shrouded in mystery, but whether you are of a joking nature or not, everyone has heard those infamous words at some point: “April Fools!” In fact, many who have encountered such a joke, find themselves suspicious of every oddity that happens on April 1. Is this a joke? Is someone pranking me? Is this for real?
This year, Easter Sunday, the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, coincides with April 1st. The last time this alignment occurred was in 1956.
On the first Easter, the original Resurrection Sunday, John tells us the story of Mary Magdalene approaching the tomb of Jesus and the surprise that ensued when she discovered that the tomb was now empty. Running to Peter and John, she states in verse 2 of John, chapter 20, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
We see this moment of confusion take place when Peter and John run to the tomb, find it empty, see the grave clothes, and verse 9 tells us, “They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” For a moment in time, they likely thought to themselves, “Is this a joke? Is someone pranking us? Is this for real?”
Already burdened with the pain of seeing their master crucified, Peter and John head home without answers while Mary stays near the tomb weeping. Something prompts her to look inside, one more time. Only this time, she sees two angels, dressed in white, who ask her why she is crying.
Her response, “They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have put him.” As she turns around, perhaps to leave, she is confronted with the very answer to all of her questions. Jesus himself is standing there, and he asks her again, “Why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?”
She did not recognize that it was Jesus, but instead says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” It is almost as if she is saying, enough is enough. Stop with the kidding. Let’s put his body back in the tomb where it belongs.
It is when Jesus calls her by name, “Mary,” that she realizes, this is no joke, this is for real, Jesus is risen! Suddenly, she cries out to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher.” He then sends her to the disciples to share the news, to which she excitedly states, “I have seen the Lord!”
This Easter Sunday, take another look.
Yes, the tomb is empty. No, it is not a joke. The empty tomb is real and it represents the power of God’s promises in our lives. It represents the power of the name of Jesus. The empty tomb means that our Savior is alive and he wants to be a part of your life. It means that healing, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are readily available.
Take another look this Sunday, or any day for that matter. You will find that the tomb is still empty. You will also find him standing by, waiting to welcome whosoever will ask him. Know that He desires to call you by name and have you recognize Him as your Savior. He desires to be the answer to your tears and heartache. The answer to all of your questions.
So don’t be a fool this April 1st. Respond to the call of your Savior!
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.” Psalm 14:1
Key Bible Verse: “So they (Joseph and Nicodemus) took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.” – John 19:40
Bonus Reading: John 19:31-42
Good Friday is drawing to its close. With the Passover quickly approaching, Pilate orders the legs of the crucified men to be broken so they will die quickly. The legs of the two criminals hanging at Jesus’ side are broken. But since Jesus is already dead His side is pierced with a spear instead and out flows blood and water—proof that the King of the Jews is truly dead.
That’s when a secret disciple of Jesus steps forward. Joseph of Arimathea is a prominent member of the Jewish high court who did not agree with their decision to put Jesus to death. He boldly steps out of the darkness and asks Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ body. Pilate grants it.
Another secret disciple joins him. The Pharisee Nicodemus who had snuck through the darkness of night to talk to Jesus now steps into the light and helps Joseph lay our Lord’s body to rest in Joseph’s new tomb.
But it is only a rest. Death has no hold over Jesus’ body. It cannot even touch His body with the stain of decay. On the third day He will rise to life and live forever.
One day you and I will be laid in our own graves. But for all of us who trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, our future will be the same as His. Our bodies will rest in the grave until He returns; then Jesus will raise us to share paradise with Him forever.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for hallowing our graves through Your rest in the grave. Fill us with joy and confidence—even in the face of death—so that we will see You with our own eyes when You come to wake our bodies from death. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “So he delivered Him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.” – John 19:16-17
Bonus Reading: John 19:16-30
Jesus shows remarkable strength in His first three hours on the cross. Even while He is suffering for our sins, His focus is not on Himself, but on the people around Him. Seeing His enemies He pleads, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a). He promises the repentant criminal at His side, “Today You will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43b). He provides a disciple to care for His mother after He is gone “Woman, behold, your son!” and to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26b, 27b).
Then at noon comes the darkness. Luke tells us the sun stopped shining. Jesus hangs alone in the darkness silently suffering God’s wrath at the sins of the world. Finally, after three hours He cries out in agony, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b).
By three in the afternoon, it is over. God the Father has unleashed His full wrath—not a single one of our sins has gone unpunished. John tells us, “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said, (to fulfill the Scripture) ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28). And “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). There is nothing left for us to pay. We are free, and the doors of heaven are open wide to us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Jesus offers His last confident prayer: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46b).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, on the cross You suffered the wrath of God for all of our sins, and paid the price in full. Receive our thanks and gratitude for Your amazing sacrifice and the life that is ours because of Your death. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing Him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’” – John 19:4-5
Bonus Reading: John 19:1-16
Pilate has one last, desperate trick up his sleeve. It’s a long shot, but it’s his last chance to set Jesus free. He orders our Lord to be flogged. Many died from such a cruel scourging; others died later from the complications of those severe injuries. Pilate thought the scourging might just satisfy the blood lust of the Jewish authorities.
As Pilate had Jesus brought forward it was a pitiful sight to behold. Jesus had been beaten severely. A crown of bloody thorns was on His head and a blood-soaked, purple robe was draped around His shoulders. Clearly, the Jewish authorities could not consider Him
a threat now.
But once they had gotten a taste of Jesus’ blood, the authorities had only one thing to say, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”
Tonight we gather in church to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and receive His true body and blood. We remember Pilate pointing and saying, “Behold the man!” We remember John the Baptist pointing and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” We remember this body was beaten and nailed to the cross for us. This blood was shed by the scourge and nails for us.
And because Jesus offered His body and poured out His blood in our place—as our Substitute—we are forgiven and free.
“Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19b).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You freely offered Your body and blood for our salvation. Move me to receive it in gratitude and joy, and to serve You throughout my days. Amen.
Few people will argue that attendance in many churches in America is declining.
Whether it is due to shifting cultural standards, apathy among Christians, or a younger generation that is suspicious about joining any kind of large organization, the church is working hard to adapt and attract new members.
Have you ever wondered about the positive benefits of attending a church service?
Shelby Systems recently did some research on that subject and came up with some surprising and encouraging answers. Please feel free to share these documented study results with your pastor, fellow church members, and friends who don’t attend church regularly.
- Church goers are more likely to be married and express a higher satisfaction with life. Church involvement is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness according to the Heritage Foundation.
- Church attendance boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as many as 2 to 3 years to your life according to the New York Times.
- A 2010 Child Trends review indicates that kids who attend church are less likely to be involved in violence, theft, and vandalism or to struggle with substance abuse problems than their peers.
- Teens with church-going fathers are more likely to say that they enjoy spending time with Dad and that they admire him according to a recent University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.
- According to the Pew Research Center, frequent church goers are happier. Those who attend church services weekly or more, are happier than those who attend less often. Those who seldom or never attend services are the least likely to say they are very happy.
- Church involvement moves people out of poverty. It is also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness according to the Heritage Foundation.
- According to the Hartford Institute, church participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers.
- A special report by the National Survey of Children’s Health indicates that church participation by an intact family is associated with a lower risk of developmental and behavioral problems in school age children.
- Here’s a quote from a recent study: “Those who go to church more than once a week enjoy better health than those who attend only once a week. Overall the reduction in mortality attributable to church going is 25%. This is a huge amount in epistemological studies.” Researchers thought that perhaps this was simply due to having strong supportive relationships, but non-church centered groups didn’t experience that same effect.
- Couples who attend church together report being more happily married and are less likely to divorce. Drawing upon three national surveys, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox found that married church-going Americans across all racial and denominational classifications were more likely to describe themselves as very happy in their marriages than non-church-going respondents.
In addition to worship, fellowship, and finding a higher purpose in life, the admonition in Hebrews 10: 25 includes with it a long list of amazing benefits.
Key Bible Verse: “But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” – John 18:39
Bonus Reading: John 18:38-40
Pilate won’t listen to Jesus; he is too busy trying to work this out himself. How can he force the Jewish authorities to accept his decision to set Jesus free? Maybe one of the local customs might do the trick. It was implemented to improve Roman-Jewish relations. At the Passover feast, the Roman governors released a prisoner the Jewish crowds requested. Normally it was a popular person who had been imprisoned for speaking against the Roman government. This time Pilate would offer the choice between Jesus and the most dangerous criminal in the prison: Barabbas.
This was a stroke of genius! Jesus offered no true threat to public safety and clearly Barabbas was as dangerous to the Jewish leaders as he was to the Romans. But Pilate misjudges the Jewish leaders, who are convinced Jesus is a much greater threat to them and to the Jewish nation than Barabbas.
When the leaders convince the crowd to demanded Barabbas’ release and crucify Jesus, Pilate finds himself in a far worse position than if he had simply set Jesus free and lived with the consequences.
Whenever we shun the responsibilities God gives us—to speak up for those who are defenseless, to bring up our children in the fear and knowledge of God or those in any other area of life—we are just like Pontius Pilate.
Jesus didn’t step away from His responsibility but freely took the punishment of our sins upon Himself.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for paying the price for all the times I walk away from the responsibilities You give me. Give me courage and commitment to step forward and do what You want me to do. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “… (Jesus said) ‘Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.’” – John 18:37b
Bonus Reading: John 18:33-38a
The true significance of Christ’s comments to Pilate is simply lost on Pilate. He has other things on his mind. They are things he thinks are far more important like saving his career. His attention is squarely on himself and what impact this trial will make on his future.
But God does two things to turn Pilate’s attention to the innocent man standing before him. First, Pilate’s wife sends him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of Him today in a dream” (Matthew 27:19). Second, God sends His Son to speak to Pilate directly.
Jesus says, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” This is a challenge to Pilate: is truth important to him? Obviously, he is taking great risks to set an innocent man free, but does he want to hear the truth Jesus came to bring?
Many times in our lives Jesus’ still, small voice speaks to us through the clamor and clatter of our daily lives. Are we willing to put it all aside to listen to the One who offers us eternal life?
Pilate gives his famous reply, “What is truth?” Sadly, he isn’t interested in what Jesus has to say, he just wants to end the discussion.
Jesus offers you and me words of truth and eternal life. But how often do we dismiss Him and cut Him off like Pilate did? How often are we distracted by earthly things we think are more important?
Prayer: Lord, thank You for speaking words of truth to me. Forgive me for cutting You short. Please speak, for Your servant is now listening. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.’ …” – John 18:31a
Bonus Reading: John 18:28-32
Only John’s Gospel shows us Jesus’ trial before Annas the former high priest. Then John leaves out Jesus’ official trial before Caiaphas the high priest. Instead, he jumps straight to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.
This trial is very strange. Jesus is brought into the official residence of the Roman military governor, but the Jewish authorities refuse to enter. Though they have no problem railroading the innocent Son of God to His death, they are careful not to defile themselves by entering the home of a Gentile. So Pilate is forced to go back and forth between Jesus and them.
The trial is a bitter power struggle between Pilate and the Jewish authorities. Pilate quickly concludes Jesus is innocent and wants to set Him free. But finding himself in a very precarious position with the emperor, Pilate must handle this case very delicately; he especially cannot afford to lose control and see a riot start.
On the other side, the Jewish authorities are desperate to have Jesus executed, but they are not in the position where they can do it themselves. Years before, the Roman governor had removed the right for the Jewish authorities to inflict capital punishment. So if they want Jesus dead, they have to convince Pilate one way or another. So we see the battle begin—with Jesus’ life hanging in the balance.
The truth is that God is in control of what He is doing for each of us by Christ’s crucifixion, as we shall see in the coming days.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, all around us people are plotting and scheming for control. Many times we too want to find some way to control events happening in our own lives. Remind us that You are firmly in control so we may rest in Your hands and watch You work for our good. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “When He had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” – John 18:22
Bonus Reading: John 18:13-14, 19-24
After His arrest, the guards bring Jesus to Annas. This former Jewish high priest had been deposed by the Roman governor in AD 15. His five sons had each taken a turn succeeding him and now his son-in-law Caiaphas is high priest.
Annas questions Jesus about His disciples and His teaching, but Jesus’ silence protects them. So Annas turns to Jesus’ teachings. The high priest hopes he can trip up the Son of God and find a basis for a charge against Him.
Jesus will have nothing to do with this. He has always been honest with the Jewish authorities, never saying anything in private He didn’t say in public. He tells the high priest, “Ask those who have heard Me.” That leads an officer of the high priest to strike Him with his hand.
At this point you might expect Jesus to meekly take the abuse, but He doesn’t. He turns to the officer and confronts him, “Why did you strike Me?” Again, we see Jesus completely in control. He stops the proceedings to call the officer to explain why he struck Him.
Annas showed he was willing to ignore the truth and twist it against Jesus. Is integrity and truth important to you like it was to Jesus? Or are we willing to distort the truth if it goes to our advantage?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You humbled Yourself to be struck by an officer when You had only told the truth. Forgive us for setting aside Your truth when we don’t think it is convenient. Give us faith, courage and trust to do what is right in Your eyes. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this Man’s disciples, are you? …” – John 18:17a
Bonus Reading: John 18:15-18, 25-27
Peter has no reason to be in the high priest’s courtyard. Jesus already told the disciples what the outcome of His trials would be. But Peter wants to see for himself, so he enters the courtyard and waits with the guards in the darkness to learn the outcome of the trial.
But Peter can’t hide. He is recognized at the door by a servant girl, near the fire started by the guards to warm themselves, and finally by a relative of the soldier whose ear Peter had cut off. With his life in peril and no way of escape, Peter’s courage melts away and he swears oaths and calls down curses on himself as he tries to distance himself from Jesus of Nazareth.
How often are we guilty of Peter’s sin? One moment we profess our loyalty to Jesus, the next we deny Him by what we say and do. We forget the price He paid to set us free.
The crow of the rooster brought Peter back to Jesus’ words. With shame and pain he recalled the prophecy Jesus had made, “The rooster will not crow till you have denied Me three times.” He went out and wept bitterly.
We share Peter’s weakness. We are so confident in our strength, yet we stumble for the least reason into fear, unbelief and self-preservation. But Jesus paid the full price for our sins of denial, and for His sake we are free.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, with shame I admit the countless times I have denied You. Forgive my sin and strengthen me in true faith, that rejoicing in Your salvation, I may fearlessly tell others of Your great salvation. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” – John 18:4
Bonus Reading: John 18:1-12
Jesus has led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Out of the darkness we see lanterns and torches winding their way across the Mount of Olives toward the Garden. Judas leads Roman soldiers and Jewish officers. Jesus knows what is about to happen. But He doesn’t cower in the corner; He goes out to them and asks whom they are seeking. They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus answers with three short words, “I am He,” and the power of His words knock Judas, the soldiers and the officers backward. Firmly in control of the situation, Jesus orders the guards to let His disciples go. The soldiers obey, and they flee away into the dark.
Not only did Jesus protect His disciples, He also made one last attempt to reach Judas. In the dark hour to come, when Judas would be overwhelmed with guilt, Jesus wanted him to remember this moment. Jesus was not a helpless victim swept away by Judas’ kiss. Jesus was in complete control. He permitted Himself to be arrested, tried, condemned and crucified. He could have stopped it at any time. But because of His love for the Father and for each of us, He will not end it but carry it through to its completion—and our ultimate salvation.
Because He loves us so much when those powers of darkness were trying their worst, so He also loves us when those powers of darkness come after you in your life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for stepping forward to suffer death for our sins, even death by crucifixion. Give us courage and confidence in the dark hours of our lives to remember that You are still completely in control. Amen.
Palm Sunday (March 25) – 11:00 am
Maundy Thursday (March 29)- Communion – 7:00 pm
Good Friday (March 30) – 7:00 pm
Easter Sunday Sunrise (April 1) – 6:00 am at Grandview Cemetery (Breakfast to follow)
Easter Sunday (April 1) – 11:00 am
Please join us for these special times of worship this Lent.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18
Key Bible Verse: “When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.’” – John 17:1
Bonus Reading: John 17
Jesus has finished His Last Supper and offers a special prayer before leading His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. We call it the High Priestly Prayer because Jesus our great High Priest offers prayers for Himself, His apostles, and all who believe in Him.
Jesus first prays that God the Father would glorify Himself through Jesus’ coming death. The Roman cross was never connected with glory; it was a symbol of shame and dishonor. St. Paul would call it a “stumbling block to the Jews” and “foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The Jews stumbled over the idea that God would let His own Son suffer and die on a cross, rather than sit in glory on a throne. The Gentiles thought it foolishness that you could receive salvation through someone else’s execution.
Jesus prays to His Father to keep His eleven disciples in His Name. He is about to leave this world, so He asks the Father to keep them in faith, that believing they may share the one true Gospel, which brings salvation by God’s grace through faith for Jesus’ sake.
The final part of Jesus’ prayer touches us, and all who have heard and believed the words of the apostles. May we glorify Him by trusting in Jesus as our only Savior from our sin and death, and tell others of His great and incomparable love.
Prayer: Lord God, as You glorified Your Son Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection, keep us in Your Name through this true faith, and bless us to share it with all those around us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “… ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.’” – John 16:20b
Bonus Reading: John 16:16-24
The disciples’ heads are spinning at everything Jesus has said to them at His Last Supper. Now He tells them, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” They want to know what He means, but are afraid to ask; maybe they’re more afraid to hear the answer He would give.
But it shouldn’t be a mystery. For months Jesus has told them what will happen in Jerusalem. He warned them He would be handed over, beaten, scourged and crucified. He told them He would die and on the third day rise again. Now all His predictions are about to come true. They will be sorrowful, but their sorrow will turn to joy.
The disciples aren’t all that different from us. All of us would prefer to see joy and happiness all through our earthly lives, and none of us is too happy when sorrow, grief, weeping and lamenting come around. We try so hard to deny those things will happen to us, that we miss the tremendous comfort in Jesus’ promise of the resurrection.
Jesus has died and risen again. He promises to come again to restore this fallen creation, and to change our mortal bodies so they will be glorious, immortal and eternally perfect. That fact of Jesus’ resurrection coupled with His promise to give us new eternal life at His return can give us a lasting joy that no one can take away— no matter what sorrow and loss we suffer in this our earthly life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your victory over our sin, death and hell. Thank You for the promise Your resurrection brings—eternal life with You. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.” – John 14:1
Bonus Reading: John 13:36-14:7
What a confusing, depressing night! Their Lord and Master washes their feet like a slave; He tells them the unthinkable that one of them will betray Him. Then Jesus tells Peter, the boldest of the Twelve, that this very night, before the rooster crows at sunrise, Peter will deny knowing Him. What a confusing, depressing night! Looking around at His disciples, Jesus knows just how troubled and shaken they are.
He knows how we get shaken up too. He knows the circumstances that crush us, problems that confound us, and the pressures that weigh on us. Yet through it all He is always at our side. Jesus tells us to turn our eyes away from our problems and focus our attention on Him. Believe in God the Father and believe also in Jesus. He assures us that we will not always live in this world of hurt, pain and sorrow, but He is preparing a safe, joyous and wonderful place for us to live with Him forever.
We know where we are going because Jesus is the Way to heaven. He came to this earth not to be our example to guide us to heaven by our good living, but to earn heaven for us by His perfect life, innocent death and glorious resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Perhaps these devotions find you or someone you love drawing near to death. In the midst of our sorrows, fears and anxieties when we focus on Jesus His mighty word calms our fears and stills our hearts.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, bring peace to my troubled heart and mind, and give me the Spirit that I may believe in You always. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “… ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’” – John 13:21b
Bonus Reading: John 13:21-30
“One of you will betray Me.” Judas must be totally shocked by Jesus’ words. One by one the disciples ask a question that floats around the table. With rising suspense Judas watches the question work its way around the table to him—and he even joins his voice to theirs: “Is it I, Lord?”
If Judas’ voice didn’t give him away, what Jesus does next will make it crystal clear. He dips the morsel of bread and hands it directly to Judas.
Have you ever stopped to think about how Jesus turned the tables on Judas?
At this moment the betrayer is at the mercy of the One he was going to betray. Jesus holds Judas in the palm of His hand. With a word Jesus can betray Judas to the other disciples, who are armed with several swords. Jesus is in complete control; He can betray Judas. Instead, our Lord sends His betrayer on his way: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” As Judas rushes out from the danger, the other disciples have no idea what Jesus means.
Which one of us hasn’t betrayed another—gossiping secrets that should never have been shared or exposing another’s shame just to flatter our own self-righteous pride? How often have we in effect handed Jesus’ over to His enemies by our sinful actions or our silence?
Judas walked out into the darkness. But in this same darkness Jesus will still reach out to him one last time when Judas leads the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Him. Jesus still reaches out to you and me with hands that bear the mark of the nails.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your steadfast love is amazing to me. Keep reaching out to bring me back from my sins. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “… (Jesus said) ‘You are clean, but not every one of you.’ …” –John 13:10b
Bonus Reading: John 13:1-20
Jesus has preached His last message to the crowds. Now He spends one final night before His suffering and death with His disciples in the upper room, preparing them for what is about to happen.
In the middle of supper Jesus does something totally unexpected. Taking off His outer garments He goes around the table washing the disciples’ feet one by one, the way the lowliest slave in the household would. It is a demonstration of His absolute humility, love and care—a demonstration He will repeat for the whole world the next day on the cross.
For Peter it is too much. He objects and receives a firm correction from Jesus: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Then Peter goes to the other extreme asking Jesus to wash all of him. Jesus points out that the one who has had a bath does not need to bathe again, only to wash the part of him that is unclean.
Jesus is pointing to Judas, the one who has abandoned his Lord and become unclean and is even now awaiting the chance to betray Him. The other eleven are forgiven, cleansed of their sins because they still walk in the light by faith; Judas has rejected that light and walks in darkness. Very gently Jesus reaches out to His lost disciple in an unforgettable demonstration of His love, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s a demonstration He wants Judas to remember when he is gripped by guilt and remorse for what he is about to do.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive my wandering heart. Help me to see Your great love for me and remember what You have done to save me. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. ” – John 12:32
Bonus Reading: John 12:33-50
The crowds are confused. Jesus has told them He will be “lifted up,” and they know exactly what He means. Being “lifted up from the earth” was a familiar phrase describing death on a cross. But they all know the Christ remains forever, so how can Jesus be the Christ if He will die on a cross?
It’s easy for us to share that confusion too. God’s light doesn’t always make sense to our sin-darkened minds. Jesus simply tells them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” Satan is always trying to overtake us, trying to snatch away the light from us.
One of the tools he uses is the confusing things that happen in this life, things that don’t always make sense to us. Often our search for answers leads us to question God and doubt His love. Jesus just encourages us to walk in Him. He invites us to lay those questions at the foot of His cross, to focus instead on the extent of His love for us. It’s a love that moved Him to lay down His life in terrible suffering that we might be forgiven.
We don’t understand every reason for everything that happens to us. And we won’t always find all the answers to all our questions,
but we don’t have to. We only need to walk in Christ’s light and keep looking to Him. At the right time He will make everything clear.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don’t always understand the things I see around me. Help me to come to Your Son’s cross, that there I may know Your love and receive Your strength. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “‘Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.’” – John 12:27
Bonus Reading: John 12:27-33
Jesus has just told His disciples why He has come to Jerusalem: He is to suffer and die for the world. But the thought is not easy for Jesus to face. He says, “Now is My soul troubled.” We see that turmoil again when He falls on His face in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
(see Luke 22).
Here He prays, “Father, glorify Your Name.” He doesn’t ask the Father to save Him from the cross but to use His suffering and death on the cross to glorify His Name. He wants people to look at the cross and believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” In Gethsemane God will send an angel to strengthen His Son, but here He speaks to Jesus. “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
We all come face to face with overwhelming situations and struggles in life—heartbreak and loss, grief beyond telling, the shadow of death—whether our own or that of a loved one.
Jesus has come to this hour in His life to be the answer to the overwhelming situations in each of our lives. He will be raised up to draw all men to Himself.
This was done so that in Jesus Christ each of us might find the answer to our problems, the courage for the trials we face and the victory over Satan who brought all these situations upon us through his temptation.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You glorified Your Name in the sufferings of Your beloved Son Jesus Christ. Glorify Your Name through me as You give me strength and courage to face the difficult times in my life. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’” – John 12:23-24
Bonus Reading: John 12:20-26
Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph. The disciples were convinced He was about to establish His throne in Jerusalem, so Jesus had to teach them a tough lesson.
Christ Jesus stood alone, the only man whose life on this earth was perfect and worthy of earning heaven. But unless He died on the cross in our place He would remain alone, and we would all perish eternally in hell. By dying in our place, taking our sins on Himself and paying the full price God’s justice demanded, Jesus would save us all, and open wide the gates of heaven.
Our earthly life is similar in many ways. If we wish to selfishly save our earthly life, we will lose it. But if we hate our earthly life in comparison, longing for that better, heavenly life, we will keep it for eternity. Thankfully, Jesus leads the way for us. He did not love His earthly life so much that He was not willing to lay it down on the cross. No, He was looking forward to a better, eternal life with us—a life made possible only through His suffering, death and resurrection.
It’s a good time for us as individuals to stop and examine our attitudes toward our lives, as well as our willingness to leave them all behind for Jesus and the eternal life He gives.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for offering us eternal life through Your Son Jesus Christ. Help us all to hate this life in this dark, sinful world that we may keep our lives eternally in Your light. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after Him.’” – John 12:19
Bonus Reading: John 12:12-19
The great Festival of Passover is near. Huge crowds make their way across the countryside toward Jerusalem, and our Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey.
The Pharisees throw up their hands in fear and frustration. They say to each other “You see that you are gaining nothing.” The situation is totally out of control. But again they will not stop to consider Jesus’ claims. They only react in frustration and fear of what Jesus might do with the huge Passover crowds gathering around Him in Jerusalem.
It is fascinating to compare their reaction to that of the crowds. The crowds cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna,” which means “help” or “save.” And they are right. The Lord Jesus is the mighty Son of God, who has come to battle Satan, sin, death and hell. He alone can save us from our bitter enemies.
As we begin this week of Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins, we notice He is completely in control. We will notice He is in control through this entire week—clear up to and including His arrest, trials and crucifixion.
That’s important to remember when we look at our own lives. Often we are as fearful and frustrated as the Pharisees, realizing situations in our lives are totally out of control. We can throw up our hands like the Pharisees, or call upon Jesus as the crowds do, remembering that Jesus is still in control, sitting at the right hand of the Father and guiding all things for our good.
Prayer: Lord, please help and save us, especially when circumstances are at their worst and totally out of our control. Remind us that they are never beyond Your control. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.’” – John 12:7-8
Bonus Reading: John 12:1-8
Mary is very grateful to Jesus. She has heard His wonderful words and received her brother Lazarus back from death. As her family gathers around the table with Jesus and His disciples for dinner, she pours an expensive ointment over Jesus’ feet and wipes it with her hair.
Her generosity should be an inspiration for Jesus’ disciples. But it only stirs the darkness in Judas. He complains how the ointment was worth nearly a year’s wages and that the money should have gone to the poor instead. But Jesus stands up in her defense. He boldly commands Judas to leave her alone. She has done this to honor Him, and the scent of that perfume will linger on His body throughout His trials, crucifixion and burial in the coming days.
Do we have Mary’s tremendous sense of gratitude and love for our Lord? Do we really appreciate what He has done for us, what He has given to us, and the promise of a glorious future because of Him?
How striking to compare Mary’s devotion with that of Judas—who has replaced his devotion to Jesus with a love for money. For, as John tells us, Judas had no intention of helping the poor with that money. He only wanted to get his hands on it—as he had stolen money from the disciples’ moneybag many times before. Sadly, in the next few days he will do far worse for a much smaller amount of money.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, stir up in my heart true love, gratitude and appreciation for all Jesus has done for me. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ … So from that day on they made plans to put Him to death.” – John 11:49-50, 53
Bonus Reading: John 11:45-57
In Lazarus’ resurrection on the fourth day, Jesus performed an undeniable miracle greater and more widely known than healing a man born blind. Since this miracle took place near Jerusalem word spread quickly, which the Jewish leaders found to be particularly troubling. But they never stopped to ask if they might be wrong, if Jesus might possibly be the Christ.
They only knew many people were seeing Lazarus and believing in Jesus. Gathering their Council together, they searched for some kind of answer—something they could do to stop the madness.
Finally, the high priest broke through it all. He alone seemed to realize there was only one solution: Jesus must die. If Jesus continued living, the entire nation would be destroyed. And from that moment on, the Jewish leaders sought Jesus’ death.
But God had long ago reached that same decision. In fact, John tells us that Caiaphas did not say this on his own, but the Holy Spirit inspired him to say it. It was the truth. If Jesus would not die on the cross for the sins of the world, then the entire Jewish nation would be destroyed, and with it you and me and all people. If this one man died, then all of us could live.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, what amazing humility You showed in being willing to be put to death to save me and all people. Give Your Church true faith and gratitude that we may tell Your story to all people. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” – John 11:25-26
Bonus Reading: John 11:1-44
Jesus is about to do one of His greatest miraculous signs. He receives a frantic message to come to Lazarus who is gravely ill. But Jesus remains where He is. His disciples think Jesus is avoiding Jerusalem where the crowds had tried to stone Him a short time ago. But Jesus waits two days before finally heading out for Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem. Thomas tells his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Jesus finally arrives after Lazarus has been dead four days. Martha says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus had a reason for His delay. Jewish rabbis believed a person’s soul hovered over the body for three days, and then finally departed when decomposition set in. By waiting for the fourth day, Jesus would be performing a miracle none of the Jewish leaders could deny.
Sometimes we get confused by the struggles in our life. Like Martha we plead with the Lord to help, but when we need Him most He seems to delay, or not to hear. But Jesus has a purpose and a plan for everything He does for us.
Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus proved that by raising Lazarus from the dead—and by His own resurrection on the third day. When we are discouraged, beaten down and depressed, we can look to Jesus and know our future is secure.
Prayer: Lord, give me confidence in Your victory during the dark days when I need You the most. Amen.
Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour tonight, or you’ll be arriving for your Sunday morning worship service just when everyone is leaving!
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me.” … “and I lay down My life for the sheep.” – John 10:14, 15b
Bonus Reading: John 10:11-39
In today’s reading Jesus identifies Himself as our Good Shepherd. This, of course, means that we are like sheep. That automatically says two things about us: we are helpless creatures, and we have powerful enemies against which we are defenseless. But are the crowds willing to admit this—that they need Jesus to be their shepherd?
Jesus tells them He will freely lay down His life to save them from their enemies. He will lay it down on Good Friday when He is nailed to the cross and gives up His life for the sins of the world. But He will take it up again on the third day when He rises in glorious victory.
The crowds hear this great news, and find themselves divided yet again! Some say He has a demon, or He is insane. But others, thinking how Jesus healed the man born blind, ask, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Jesus made some very bold statements about Himself and the work He came to do. Few are as powerful or as comforting as these words. Jesus Christ has been pleased to take us as His very own sheep, and will guard us, protect us, lead us to good pasture, care for us in body and soul and finally lead us through death to life everlasting.
Jesus stretches out His hand to you today. If you are His sheep, listen to His voice, He will protect you from all enemies and guide you safely home to paradise. He promises that nothing can snatch you out of His hands.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for offering to hold me firmly and safely in Your hands. Let me never wander away in unbelief. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’” – John 9:39
Bonus Reading: John 9:24-41
Over and over again Jesus’ light shone over the people around Him through His words and His countless miracles. But the Jewish leaders refused to see. Despite a thorough investigation into Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, they can find no way to disprove the miracle. Still, they refuse to believe the evidence right before them.
But Jesus isn’t ready to give up on them yet. If they won’t accept the evidence, maybe they will listen to the man who had been healed. In eloquent testimony the man told them, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” But again, they stubbornly refuse to see the light and answer, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” Then they threw out the man born blind.
Hearing that he had been thrown out, Jesus found him and revealed Himself to him. Jesus told those around Him that He came to give sight to the blind, and blindness to those who see. Some Pharisees heard Him say this and asked if they were blind. Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
That is a terrifying thought. These Jewish leaders had seen overwhelming evidence time and again that Jesus is the promised Savior, God’s Son, yet they refused to believe.
How much evidence have we seen? How many Bible readings have we heard in services? How many times have we received Holy Communion? Do we believe?
Prayer: Lord, You know the darkness within each of us, take away my blindness and help me see Jesus clearly through the eyes of faith. Amen.
In John 8 we read,
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’”
The whole scene was a plot to trick Jesus. Once again, Jesus perplexes me. He simply squats down and starts playing in the dirt.
Then I read Numbers 5:11-31 and I think Jesus was having a silent conversation with the Pharisees.
Go ahead and read the passage. See if you catch it.
To my North American eyes, the passage is outrageous. What does barley flour, holy water and dust from the tabernacle floor have to do with sexual sin?
During a trial for sexual sin, the priest mixed water and dust from the tabernacle floor. If the accused could drink it and not get sick, the person was innocent. If the accused got sick, a curse would be on them.
In John 8, the woman brought before Jesus had already been caught in the act. Her guilt was sure: she knew it, the Pharisees knew it.
After reading Numbers 5, it appears that Jesus touching the dirt was a nod to the law and its demands for guilt. Yet Jesus put the leaders on trial, expecting them to take inventory of their hearts.
Like the adulteress and the Pharisees, our guilt before God is sure. If we were required to drink the cup of bitter water that God’s justice requires, we would surely die.
In the coming days, Jesus would pay for their guilt and mine, drinking the cup we all deserved, carrying our curse.
On days like today, it is good for me to see a glimpse of what my sin cost Jesus by remembering the law. It was, after all, initiated by God so that I might experience God’s holiness and see more fully my need.
It increases my gratitude for Him.
It fills in my understanding of His unrelenting love for me.
It causes my heart to soften toward Him in worship.
How does a deeper understanding of the law affect you today?
Key Bible Verse: “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such things?’ And there was a division among them.” – John 9:16
Bonus Reading: John 9:1-16
Leaving the temple grounds Jesus passes through Jerusalem. Along the way His disciples point out a man born blind. They ask if his blindness is a result of his parents’ sin or his own. Jesus rejects both claims, and says this man was born blind so the works of God may be displayed in him. Then Jesus gave the man sight.
When word reaches the Pharisees there is a sharp division among them. Some immediately reject Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath day. Blinded by their tradition they are unable to see God’s great purpose for the Sabbath—to let people rest from their labors and let God work in their lives. Others realize the magnitude of the work Jesus has done. Like Nicodemus before (see John 3), they know no sinful man could perform such a mighty miracle. So a division arises among the Pharisees.
Jesus continues to divide people today. Some listen to His words, consider His miracles and are led by the Holy Spirit to the certain faith that He is God’s Son, the Savior of the world. Others ignore the plain truth and take issue with the way Jesus taught and the demands they think He makes on their lives. They doubt His relevance and prefer to live their lives their own way.
God grant us His Holy Spirit to know Jesus as God’s Son, our only Savior and Lord, and to follow Him through all.
Prayer: Spirit of God, strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ my Lord, and give me firm confidence when others are divided over Him. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Many United Methodists know John Newton’s words so well that we can sing more than one verse of this great hymn from memory. We may be a little fuzzy, however, on the concept of grace.
Newton’s lyrics echo those of scripture, like Ephesians 2:8, “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift.” Both the Apostle Paul and the hymn writer teach us that our salvation is not something we earn or deserve. It comes to us because of God’s great love for us.
The gift of God
The Rev. Matt O’Reilly, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama, wants United Methodists to know that when we speak of the grace of God, we are not talking about a substance. It is instead a description of God at work in our lives.
“Grace is primarily about how God relates to us,” O’Reilly teaches, “not based on our merit, but based on God’s resolve and love for creatures made in God’s image.”
“Human effort does not play any role,” shares the Rev. Nday Bondo Mwanabute, professor of theology at Africa University, Mutare, Zimbabwe. “All that is required from human beings is to avail themselves to receive everything from God by faith.”
Wesley taught that our entire spiritual lives are an act of God’s grace. He names at least three periods in our spiritual development and the ways God’s grace is at work during those times—prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. It may sound like he is talking about three different graces, but that is not the case.
“The issue is timing,” O’Reilly explains, “not so much different stuff.”
Justifying grace: God making things right
The grace with which we are most familiar is what Wesley called justifying grace.
The Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Try as we might, we cannot be good enough. We need God to make things right between us, to justify us.
“Justification is another word for pardon,” John Wesley writes in a sermon called The Scripture Way of Salvation. “It is the forgiveness of all our sins; and, what is necessarily implied therein, our acceptance with God.”
The Rev. Gary Henderson of United Methodist Communications uses an illustration from our word processors to help us understand what it means to be justified.
“I’m typing and the words and the lines are all over the page… and it looks like a mess,” Henderson begins. “With a keystroke or two, I can bring it all together and order it and align it. They call it justifying to the left, to the right, or to the center… Sometimes it seems as though our lives are in pieces. We need a sense of order.”
When we are justified, we are made right with God. Our sins are forgiven and God begins the process of lining our lives up to God’s original design for us.
We are created in God’s image, but that image is distorted by sin. By God’s grace, through faith, we receive forgiveness. All of this is God’s gift to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,’” Wesley writes in another sermon, Justification by Faith, “but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for ‘my’ sins, that he loved ‘me,’ and gave himself for ‘me.’ And at what time soever a sinner thus believes…God justifieth that ungodly one.”
Those familiar with Wesley’s recounting of his Aldersgate experience in his journal, may hear echoes of similar themes in this description of justifying faith.
In a pamphlet titled The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained, Wesley likens this moment in our spiritual development to a door. At the moment of justification, we cross the threshold from unbelief to belief. This, however, is not of our own doing.
As Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, salvation is a gift offered to us by our gracious (i.e. grace-filled) God. We do not earn it. Not one of us is worthy of it. We simply receive it in faith.
Getting to the door and growing on the other side of it, are also by God’s grace. We will look at these dimensions of grace in the coming weeks.
Look for upcoming posts about prevenient grace and sanctifying grace.
Key Bible Verse: “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” – John 8:59
Bonus Reading: John 8:45-59
Now the crowd could prove whether they were truly children of God as they claimed, or children of the devil as Jesus had said. Would they come running to the Savior for forgiveness and life, or cling to the dark lies of Satan? John tells us their grim decision: “they picked up stones to throw at Him.”
You and I go to church and in Baptism God made us His very own children. But how often do we live as if we weren’t? How attentive are we when we hear or read Jesus’ words? How closely do we follow Him in our words and actions? Are we willing to pray “Your will be done?” or do we only want to accept Jesus on our own terms? Are we as quick to turn on Him as the crowds were?
Jesus miraculously hides Himself and leaves the temple grounds. The time for His death is drawing near, but He will not die at the hands of an angry mob under a pile of rocks at the temple. He will be dragged outside of the city at the hands of the Roman soldiers and nailed to a cross.
Even today Jesus’ words often bring a violent reaction. If we are walking in darkness we are not always excited to hear the truth. But Christ promises to wash away our sins and restore us in faith. He will guard and protect us and finally bring us to our eternal home where we will always walk in His light.
Prayer: Lord, give courage to all Your faithful people who bring Your light into our dark world. Empower me to turn from the darkness and share my faith as You guide and protect me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.