Posts Tagged With: Easter

The Good Shepherd Has Conquered Death!

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27–30; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

“The Resurrection of Christ” by Carl Bloch. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This acclamation begins the Morning Prayers for Easter in the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgies of many churches as we celebrate the resurrection. Most American Christians will have to worship Jesus in private this Easter, as many churches cancel services in response to the coronavirus outbreak and government social-distancing mandates. Although our churches are empty, so is Jesus’ tomb, and our hearts can be filled with His love and presence and we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Several posts in recent months on Darkened Glass Reflections (here, here, here, and here) have examined God’s omnipotence. He is all-powerful. There is nothing He cannot do. There is no problem that He cannot handle. Even death could not stop Him.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. John 10:27–30 is a brief segment of one teaching Jesus gave to a hostile audience not long before His crucifixion. The religious leaders demanded answers: “Are You the Messiah?” He had recently told them, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), a statement which should have reminded them of Psalm 23, which tells us that “The Lord is my shepherd.” He had hinted that He was God. His miraculous signs had proven that God was working through Him. The evidence was before them. Would they choose to believe?

“The Lord is My Good Shepherd” by Bernhard Plockhorst. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Jesus gave His good shepherd teaching (John 10:1–18), He said that sheep will follow their shepherd. They recognize his voice. They know they can trust him. Likewise, Jesus’ followers—His sheep—recognize and trust Him. They follow Him wherever He leads, knowing that He will take care of them.

In a time when many are afraid, Easter is a good time to renew our commitment to trusting Jesus. He has conquered death—even His own death. He can protect and heal you. As God, He is greater than all. He not only walks ahead of us; He has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell inside us and guide us. We can hear His voice and follow Him if we are willing to silence the noise around us and listen to Him. As we walk with Him, behind Him, and in Him, we can be victorious. Nothing Satan, the world, or the flesh can throw at you is more powerful than Christ in you:

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

This Easter, let us rejoice in that victory and walk in it. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Your security and trust is not based on anything you do or how accurate your theology may be. Your security is in the One you have come to believe in. Your Shepherd is trustworthy. The One who gives you life has conquered the power of death. You are victorious because He is with you always.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Week and Social Distance

Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.

Easter is one of the two biggest days of the year for attendance in most churches, and many churches normally have several special services in the week leading up to it. Palm Sunday can be particularly festive: church members receive palm branches, which we wave in celebration, perhaps singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” My church has a special service on Holy Wednesday, called Tenebrae. Then, there is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday in some churches, when we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of holy communion. My church has two services on Good Friday, including a three-hour afternoon service where four members share personal testimonies of “What the Cross Means to Me” and we reflect on how Jesus took our sins upon Himself by dying for us. The week’s worship can be very intense, ranging from celebratory and joyful to somber and repentant to reflective and meditative.

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Then comes Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration in most churches. While every Sunday should be a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (indeed, every day should be), Easter is especially glorious. Some people come to church only twice per year, on Christmas and Easter. My church can be standing-room-only on Easter.

However, this year will be different. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled services throughout the country. Here in the New York City metropolitan area, “ground zero” of the outbreak in America, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently prohibited. Instead of a packed house, our pastor and a small group of worship leaders will have a service with no congregation, to be streamed online for those who choose to watch. It will be one of the few churches on Long Island to provide communion: congregants will drive up to the front of the church to receive the bread and a blessing. We will also receive our palms with communion today, and will also live-stream the other Holy Week services. Our church includes a foot-washing ceremony as part of the Maundy Thursday evening service: I am not sure how that will play out online!

Many churches are live-streaming their worship services like we are, but few are offering communion. Some churches may find it difficult to minister to their people at all.

Holy Week will have a big hole in it without corporate worship. I feel like an online video worship service with curbside communion is better than nothing, but it is not the full worship experience. There is something about being in the church, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting in praise and worship, especially when some of us are going through hard times and need to be surrounded by friends.

While many of us are used to speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus, social distancing reminds us that it really is more of a familial relationship with God. My relationship with God is not separated from others’ relationships with Him. While it is true that we can worship God alone, there is an added benefit when we worship Him with the rest of the family of God.

We need each other. We inspire each other. We challenge each other. We pray for each other. In spite of our differences, and sometimes especially because of those differences, we gain a blessing through corporate worship.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The biblical account of Jesus’ last week reminds us that humans are social beings. We live, worship, eat, and survive in a group. Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples. He cleared the money changers from the temple as His disciples looked on. He spent almost every moment of His final week with those 12 men, including that Last Supper. Perhaps a particularly painful part of His crucifixion was that fact that He died almost alone. One disciple betrayed Him, one denied knowing Him, and most of the rest scattered into hiding and left Him alone. Only His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John stayed with Him until the end.

Jesus’ last week also reminds us that we can be powerfully influenced by our social group, for good or ill. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Five days later, the crowd would change its tune and shout, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22-23). We can only wonder how many people were in both crowds, inspired by the disciples on Sunday but swayed in the opposite direction by the chief priests and Pharisees on Friday. We think of peer pressure as a problem that affects only young people, but all of us can be affected by those around us, for good or ill.

As we approach Holy Week altered by social distancing, we must each decide how we will remain connected to the Body of Christ. Perhaps you can call a friend on the phone or set up a Skype session so that you can encourage one another during this stressful time and pray together. Some people are using Zoom or other online apps to gather a group virtually. Social distancing may force us to adapt how we fellowship, but it does not have to force us into spiritual and emotional isolation. It may change how we worship during Holy Week, but it does not have to keep us from worshiping God at a time when we really need Him most.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.




Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The First Easter Sermons: The Central Theme of the Bible

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:44–47).

Jesus gives His first post-resurrection Bible study, in “The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road,” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His teaching to His disciples took a new focus. In each Gospel account, He told them that He was giving them a message to proclaim to the world. He told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, the significance of these events in God’s plan for mankind, and the disciples’ new role as Jesus’ messengers.

The messages Jesus shared with the two disciples He met on the road to Emmaus (vv. 25–27) and with the other disciples in the upper room later that evening (vv. 44–47) are now our message. This is the central theme of the entire Bible. This is the Good News that He sends us to share with the world.

First, Jesus told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Many people in Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would be a political or military hero who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and bring God’s kingdom to Earth. Jesus did not fulfill that political role, but He showed that His redemptive work was the real message in God’s Word all along. People had seen what they wanted to see in the writings of Moses and the prophets. They missed the core message.

Other authors have written excellent summaries of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Those who are not familiar with these prophecies will benefit by reviewing the chart at http://jesusplusnothing.com/jesus66books.htm which lists messianic prophecies in every book of the Old Testament. A more scholarly discussion about Jesus in the Old Testament, by Bible scholar Walter C. Kaiser, can be found at https://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Jesus-in-the-Old-Testament.cfm. Those prophecies revealed that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise again.

Our response to that miracle should be repentance. While that word sounds holy and spiritual, it simply means a change of mind or life’s direction. We have been walking away from God, trying to do our own thing. Repentance means that we acknowledge that there is sin in our lives and choose to follow Jesus instead. It is the first step in new life with Christ.

Christ’s free gift is forgiveness of sins. This is what we should offer to the lost. It is the message the apostles—a group of Jewish men—were to proclaim to the entire world, beginning from Jerusalem but spreading out too all nations.

Too often, we preach politics, morality, and condemnation. We may be willing to preach forgiveness to people who are like us, but do we preach that same message to “those people?” The New Testaments book of the Acts of the Apostles shows how the early Christians broke free from their cultural biases and proclaimed the Good News to those despicable half-breed Samaritans, those Roman terrorists, and all of those other weird uncircumcised Gentile pagans. Are we ready to preach repentance and forgiveness to homosexuals, transgendered persons, illegal immigrants, Muslims, etc.? Or, do we have a different message for them in the name of “culture warfare?”

Jesus’ message must begin with us. We must remember that the most devout Christians is merely a recovering, repentant, forgiven sinner. In the core of our human nature, we are not better than others. We are merely fortunate and blessed to have found out the Good News that Jesus died for our sins.

This is the message for Easter and every day of the year: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. He suffered and died for our sins. He rose from the grave to conquer sin, hell, death, and Satan. He offers forgiveness of sins to all who will come to Him.

This is the message all Christians are called to proclaim. It is the central theme of the entire Bible. Let us go forth with this word every day, inviting the lost to the new life and forgiveness Jesus offers, so that it may be Easter throughout the year.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Children of God and Siblings of Jesus

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

(John 20:17–18)

the_resurrection_day

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. By Heinrich Hofmann, published on bible card (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart27.htm) [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday morning, a new day had dawned. The old order of God’s relationship with mankind ended as Jesus breathed His last on Friday evening. Sunday brought a new beginning. Mary Magdalene would be the first Christian to hear the good news about our new relationship with God. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers obtain the right to be called children of God (John 1:12–13).

“Go to my brothers,” Jesus said. Mary seems to have immediately understood what Jesus meant here. She did not seek James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, who were apparently His biological brothers (Mark 6:3). She realized that Jesus meant the disciples.

A few days earlier, He said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). At one time, they were servants or disciples; they had become His friends. Now, they were family. They were His brothers.

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father.” For three years, the disciples have heard Jesus refer to God as “My Father” and “the Father.” Now, He sends Mary to emphasize to them that God is their Father. Every disciple of Jesus could now call God “my Father” with the same certainty Jesus expressed when He used those words. It is now deeper than “Our Father who art in heaven.” He is now “my Father”–in an immediate and personal, not generic or abstract, sense. (I imagine that Mary Magdalene ran off thinking, “That means God is my Father too, and I’m Jesus’ sister!)

Jesus had mentioned this family relationship before. From the cross, He told John, “Behold, your mother;” to Mary, He referred to John as “your son” (John 19:26–27). With His final dying wish, He instructed John to care for her as his own mother; He accepted John as His brother, not merely a friend.

Many Christians do not grasp the full significance of our relationship with Jesus. We think that Jesus died merely to purchase fire insurance for us. We may assume that He is thinking, “Okay, I’m keeping you out of hell. I hope you’re happy. It really ticks me off when you keep doing the sort of stuff that should put you there. Better get yourself in line or else!”

No, Jesus is not our insurance agent, looking for a loophole in the policy that will nullify our coverage. He is our big brother, ready to stand by us. He died and rose so that we may be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Who is usually the heir in a will? The family of the deceased, particularly his or her children. A “fellow heir” receives a share of the inheritance. Jesus has inherited a kingdom from His Father. We are his fellow heirs; we have inherited a share of that kingdom!

This Easter, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us gain a greater vision of our identity as members of Jesus’ family. Many of us are tempted to accept the labels that Satan and society place upon us. We may view ourselves as failures, sinners, or “worms.” We may think of ourselves as mere animals with an exaggerated self-image. We claim these negative titles, but as children of God we are so much more.

Satan loves it when we label ourselves according to our greatest weaknesses or past mistakes. Yes, you have sinned. There is probably some sin or shortcoming you still struggle with. It may at times bring incredible guilt and grief. However, that is not your identity. You are God’s child. Jesus is your big brother. You are Jesus’ brother or sister. If you are a follower of Jesus, believe those statements, because Jesus Himself said that is who you are.

If you are not a disciple of Jesus, let this be the day that you are born anew and adopted into the family of God as one of His beloved children. The good news about the Christian’s identity belongs only to those who have received His free gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. Those who are not Jesus’ disciples cannot claim to be children of God, even though He created them and loves them. They cannot claim the other privileges of the Christian life. However, they should not despair. Jesus’ arms remain open, inviting all to come to Him. You may pray a prayer like this one to begin your new life as a child of God:

Lord Jesus Christ, I need You. I admit that I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. There is nothing I can do to save myself. Please come into my life and heart, forgive me of all my sins, and make me the person You want me to be. Thank You for dying on the cross for me and inviting me to be a child of Your Heavenly Father. Amen.

Let us go forth to live as children of God eager to see Him glorified in our lives. Let us rejoice in the new life we receive through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Looking Beyond the Hilltop—John 14:1–7

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

John 14:1–7, NASB

For the last few weeks, this blog focused on Lenten themes. Whereas Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, Easter is a season of celebration. Having recognized our need for a Savior, we celebrate the fact that Jesus came to save us and overcame sin, Satan, and the power of death. After several hours at church on Easter Sunday morning, my wife and I visited the cemetery where my father and his parents are buried. It is not only an opportunity to connect with my past, but also to remind myself of the hope that we may be reunited someday. Easter reminds us that the grave is not the end of our existence, but a transition to an everlasting existence, either in heaven or hell.

We tend to lose sight of this in our prosperous American culture. Many view Christianity as a path to self-actualization or self-fulfillment. Even many who reject the prosperity gospel, positive confession movement, or positive thinking philosophy will quickly define their faith by how it makes them feel, or how it makes this life seem easier or more pleasant. This would probably have sounded odd to Jesus’ first disciples, many of whom suffered intense persecution. For the apostles, a “personal relationship with Jesus” led to persecution, prosecution, and (for most of them) execution.

We need to get back to reading Jesus’ promises and the rest of Scripture with an eye on the Bible’s historical context. John 14–17 is a popular and powerful passage of Scripture. These four chapters contain some of the great gems of Jesus’ teaching: His unity with His Father; the promise of the Holy Spirit; the parable that He is the vine and we are His branches; the new command to love one another; the promise that disciples can pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and God will answer; the high priestly prayer; etc.

What many of us forget is that this extensive teaching took place in a very short time period. Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet and eaten the Last Supper with them. Judas Iscariot was in the process of betraying Him to the high priests. Jesus had warned Peter that he would deny Him three times. And all the while, Jesus mentally counted down the minutes until Judas’ return, knowing the fate that awaited Him.

It was in this context that Jesus told His disciples to “believe also in Me.” Some time earlier (perhaps near the beginning of His ministry), Jesus had said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 14:20). Now, as He awaited death, Jesus promised His disciples a dwelling place. Peter had earlier said that he would follow Jesus even unto death; now, Jesus assured them that they would remain with Him in His Father’s house.

The point is this: Jesus’ promises are most completely fulfilled not in this world, but in heaven. Yes, we receive a foretaste of those blessings now, but our eyes need to grab the bigger picture.

When I was in seminary, I would minister once per month with a group from my church, conducting services at a nearby nursing home. We would sing hymns selected by the residents during the song service. Many of their selections focused on the afterlife and heaven. We sang songs like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “Sweet Bye-and-Bye” almost every time. The songs reflected their longings and hopes. Every month, we would pray for the family of a resident who had been present the previous month, but had passed away since then. They knew they could not cling to this world. They realized that their best life is not now, but was just over the hilltop.

We tend to seek our best life now, but Jesus offers us a better life later. His promises are meant to empower us to serve Him today, but the greatest rewards come later. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). May all of us who call on the name of the Lord gain His perspective, rather than trying to force Him to yield to ours.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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