Letting Go of Easter Expectations

“There is no way that I can recreate my childhood’s Easter experiences for my children.”

I nodded in empathetic agreement as my friend uttered the words. The same sentiment had slipped past my lips just a day before. Frilly new Easter attire (in my case handmade), egg hunts with dozens of cousins, and our annual family Resurrection Day feast cannot be recreated hundreds of miles away from family; nor additionally in light of my friend’s and my husband being a pastor and Easter being a major work day.

Your husband may not be a pastor. In fact, you may be a single mom. Either way, if your family lives in a location away from extended family, maintaining Easter traditions in keeping with your nostalgic childhood experiences is most likely an unrealistic expectation.

That’s okay.

The key to celebrating Easter lies in celebrating the Risen Savior.

Both my friend, and my husband, verbalized the truth that, as Christians, we celebrate the resurrection every day. Whether or not my children have new Sunday morning outfits, boys and girls outside of siblings to dye and hunt eggs with, or Easter memories of running amongst their great grandmother’s blue hydrangea bushes, or pink and white dogwood trees, akin to my Easter memories, isn’t the eternal point. Celebrating Jesus and proclaiming the gospel message is the central truth of this annual rememberance.

Our children will have their own Easter memories and traditions; different though they may be from our own.

Sally and Sarah Clarkson’s book, The Lifegiving Home , has wonderful suggestions for cultivating family traditions in every month of the year. Our Easter traditions center around the taking of the Lord’s Supper with our church on the evening of Palm Sunday, the reading of familiar collections of the Easter account (see Five Easter Books for Your Preschooler and Read Aloud Revival’s April Booklist) peppered each year with a few new favorites, dying eggs, and simple seasonal decorations. As I was writing this post, my mother’s annual Easter package arrived. The joy on the children’s faces was evident as our oldest said, Nana sends the best packages. I hope when I am a grandmother I will send such wonderful packages too.

Easter provides an opportunity to outwardly and evangelistically celebrate the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Easter is a time to seek opportunities to share the truth of who Jesus Christ is with non-believers, in addition to solidifying the gospel message in our children’s hearts (prayerfully) and minds. More people attend church on Christmas and Easter than any other time of the year. Letting go of the expectations to recreate our childhood celebrations and choosing to embrace the opportunity to share teachings of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is the eternal point of Easter. It is a Mary moment for this Martha-like woman to acknowledge these things.

Christ is risen; He is risen indeed!


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Thank You For the Cross Lord

Thank You For the Cross

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

~ Matthew 27:24-26

Many people believe that they are good people. Failing to compare ourselves to God, we can always find someone worse than us. I’ve even had an elderly lady tell me she doesn’t do bad things like those politicians!

Following the example of Pilate, we wash our hands of Jesus blood when our pride blinds us to our sin and we reason that we are good people.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

~Romans 3:23-24

Jesus did not drink the cup of God’s wrath for good people. Rather, when sin entered the world through Eve and Adam eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, good people ceased to exist. All people thereafter became fallen, sinful, lost people separated from their Creator by our sin nature. Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin so that fellowship between God and man could be restored for eternity.

Christ’s sacrifice is not a blanket forgiveness for all people. His blood sacrifice provides forgiveness of sins for those who repent, turn from their sin in confession and action, and believe on Christ Jesus for salvation.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ~Romans 10:9-10

The priests and onlookers shouted out that Christ’s blood be on them and on their children. However, His blood is on each of our hands as we have all sinned against God.

Praise the Lord Jesus Sunday comes after Good Friday. However, today, I am thankful for the cross of Christ Jesus. I am thankful that He would look on a pitiful sinner like myself and lay down His life so that I didn’t have to suffer eternity apart from His Father and all good things.  Let us ponder today the cross and crucifixion of Christ and praise Him for His substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. He alone is worthy of our praise.

Thank you for the cross Lord,

*Photo by Hannah Foster, used with permission.

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Celebrating the Coming Kingdom

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My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.  You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world– to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:36-37)

Wonder, amazement, and awe are emotions felt when we pause to consider the coming of Christ. Jesus left his eternal domain of Heaven and took time-capsuled residence among the fallen and flailing.

The King of Kings, Creator of All, clothed in human flesh… the dust of the earth. At the Father’s will He was crushed, stripped, beaten, and pierced for my transgressions: envy, covetousness, pride, slander, anger, ungratefulness, and ungodliness to name a few.

Jesus bore a mocking crown of thorns and accepted blows and insults as a lamb slain for the final sin offering. He is the One whose sacrifice we celebrate as His people freed from our sin.

Each man who had a part in the punishment of Jesus was known to Him by name. He knew everything about them. Likewise, he knows everything about us. All that we have done or will do both for shame and for His glory and yet, even then He chose the most burdensome cross of all: to do the Father’s will and restore relationship between Holy God and wicked man.

The Redeemer came to reunify the created to the Creator. Like the Good Shepherd that goes after the one lost lamb, He came so that all the lost have freedom to choose life. Life not given at first breath, but by means of dying to ourselves. That we may be reborn to new life in Christ that can never die.

Now we may walk with our Savior.

In Isaiah 53, the prophet, Isaiah, prophesied about Jesus, the Messiah, 700 years before His birth and 733 years before His cruel death on the cross. Our God is the Master Author, Scientist, and Historian. He is the more than we could ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Bowed as branches we celebrate His triumphal entry, as was His way: riding upon a lowly donkey. May this Sunday’s celebration remind us to eagerly await the second coming of the One who, appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:11-28)

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:61-62)

Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9)

Looking to the clouds and eagerly awaiting our Lord…

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Parting Words: Until We Meet Again

Parting Words: Until We Meet Again

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

The wonderful part of looking at the parting words of Christ, is that Jesus did not ultimately say goodbye. Rather, He said, until we meet again. Essentially, Jesus parted with a promise and with directives and encouragement for His disciples. For all who would follow after Him. That’s the beauty of celebrating Easter, it is a reminder of the promises of God through Christ Jesus.

Easter is a reminder that the work of Christ is finished but the work for His Kingdom continues.

His finished work established our life’s work.

His purpose fulfilled, birthed our purposes revealed.

I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22:12-13)

His ascension was God’s plan to prepare a place for us and grow His Kingdom and message of redemption all over the earth. Does Jesus really need time to prepare a place for us, unquestionably no. However, this is part of making everything beautiful in its time. His time.

For those in Christ Jesus, no parting words would henceforth be forever. A reunion of saints now awaits after this life. What joy! Promised joy and a weight of glory unimaginable. He came and conquered death and He is coming back…next time as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords not as a suffering servant nor sacrificial lamb.

This life’s temporal goodbyes which separate the living from those in eternity continue to sting, but joy filled reunions will resound in heaven for those in Christ Jesus. Take heart and press on until such time.

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Parting Words: At the Tomb

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“Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

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 20:16-18)

Mary Magdalene was soaked with sadness as she approached the tomb. She had come to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, but could not cease her weeping as she mourned the loss of her Lord and Teacher.  Finding the stone rolled away and his grave empty, Mary knelt in the tomb anguished and assuming someone had taken Jesus’ body. Imagine what overwhelming joy was hers when she saw and recognized the risen Savior as he called her name, “Mary.”

Isn’t it comforting when someone close to you calls you by name? When someone you love and, or respect calls you by name without asking something of you, it prompts a feeling of being known and valued. Mary must have felt such feelings a hundred times over.

However, as Mary undoubtedly embraces Jesus, the Lord asks her not to cling to Him, but go and tell His disciples that Jesus is returning to the Father. Oh…and she also tells them that He is alive!

There are multiple opinions by theologians and scholars as to what Jesus meant when He asked Mary to refrain from clinging to Himself. I encourage you to go and study those for yourself. However, what the text is not saying is that Jesus was a spirit at this point. He was fully risen with a new human body–his resurrected body–which bore the marks of his crucifixion. As accounted in Luke 24:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace, to you!”  But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” …“Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.(Luke 24:36-39, 41-42)

Jesus had risen in the flesh and Mary Magdalene was the first of over 500 that he would appear to. Mary, overcome with joy and emotion, wanted to worship her Savior and Lord, her Teacher and friend. However, Jesus wanted her to spread the word to His disciples because the mission was just beginning, and the advancement of the Kingdom was at hand.

May this Easter find you accepting Jesus’ words to the disciples and to Mary Magdalene: Peace be with you…go and tell.

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Parting Words: The Crucifixion

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 

~Luke 23:33

Imagine the scene unfolding, the Pharisees had seized the opportunity they sought. Jesus was finally receiving the repercussions for his blasphemous statements– at least that is how they viewed it. His disciples initially scattered both scared and confused. Of those within his intimate sphere we find recorded in the gospel at the foot of the cross, only his mother, John, and the women that had followed him left to observe the murder of their Lord. Considering that there are four gospel recordings of the events at the crucifixion, I believe it is likely that there were other disciples who were eye witnesses of the events of that day, although those disciples are not named specifically within the gospel accounts.

The people that had listened to his teachings and followed the murmuring in the streets and temple most likely watched the events unfold, but center stage were the Pharisees, the Roman soldiers, and the religious rulers mocking, “if you are the Son of God, then save yourself!” Were these crowds of onlookers the same Jews who had feasted at the feeding of the five thousand?Or the miraculously healed?  If so, it would seem they had forgotten the Lord’s words and works as quickly as their stomachs had digested the fish and bread. Or, perhaps they stood as followers of Christ, helpless to save their Savior, and broken over the plight of their beloved teacher.

Parting Words: Jesus at the Crucifixion

Finally, envision the criminals on his right and his left. These men had the birds-eye-view of all that unfolded from the time the nails bore into Jesus’ flesh and the spear pierced His side. As Jesus stretched out His arms for the nails to be driven into his wrists, He could not escape the reality, nor can we, that He was dying for the sins of wretched, but dearly beloved people, separated from God by rebellious hearts.

As the Roman soldiers nailed him to the cross, Jesus said,

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

Then the soldiers cast lots for his garments and proceeded, business as usual, unknowingly slaughtering the Son of God.

The minutes and hours tick by and Jesus next takes care of His mother leaving her in the care of John. Quintessentially posturing Mary at the foot of the cross for the rest of history (See hereJesus says to Mary:

“Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

Next we see the dichotomy of man’s response to Jesus for the rest of temporal time. A mocking rejection of the Lord, and a proclamation of  Jesus as the sinless Son, Savior, and LORD:

“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Following, we see a return to the ever present reality that Jesus was fully human and had physical needs even as He was divine. Additionally, we see the fulfilling of scripture as prophesied in Psalm 69:21,

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” (John 19:28-30)

The hyssop branch is perhaps reminiscent of the blood dipped on hyssop to frame the door posts of the Israelites (Exodus 12:21-27) to preserve them from the wrath of God–from the destroyer that would kill those not covered by the blood of the sacrificial lambs. The final sacrifice for all who believe had been made, the final blood needed for the forgiveness of sins had been spilled and therefore, as recorded in three of the gospels, Jesus cried out with a loud voice:

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

This final act commenced an eternal reaction and a physical response from the earth and observers,

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38-39)

The parting words of Jesus finalize the sacrifice needed for the forgiveness of our sins and remind us that it is through Christ alone that we find salvation. It is not fellow followers of Christ, his mother, nor any works that save us. His parting words remind us that it is in Christ alone we are forgiven. Amen and amen!

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Parting Words: An Easter Series

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Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. (Ecclesiastes 7:8,ESV)

Good-byes are difficult. The good-byes of life: the dorm room, the parting of child from family at the alter of marriage, the distance of a move, the deathbed…many moments in life involve parting words. As we enter into the Easter Season, I want to focus on the good-byes of Jesus and of Paul. What did the Savior of the world want to leave as parting lessons with his disciples–with us? How did Paul part with Timothy? What were his final instructions to the young man he mentored in the faith?

I believe that our good-byes can be strengthened by looking at the good-byes of Jesus and Paul. In the next five weeks leading up to Easter we will delve into:

  • Paul’s last words to Timothy
  • Jesus’ last words to the Apostles
  • Jesus’ parting words in Revelation

I look forward to learning how to say meaningful and lasting parting words in this life so that the hellos of eternity will be all the sweeter. I certainly need these lessons, and I eagerly anticipate learning them alongside you this Easter Season.

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Suffering Servant, Resurrected Lamb

Jesus Messiah

The Redeemer came to reunify the created to the Creator. Like the Good Shepherd that goes after the one lost lamb, He came so that all the lost have freedom to choose life. Life not given at first breath, but by means of faith in the One who died in our place.

But is there proof for our belief that Jesus is the Messiah and that he was resurrected from the dead?

Today, I hope to strengthen the minds of those of you who answered yes, and guide those who would answer no to the question above. We will look at one aspect of the proof of Jesus being the Messiah via the Old Testament prophecies and another for the proof of His resurrection from an eyewitness account.

First, in Isaiah 53, the prophet, Isaiah, prophesied about Jesus, the Messiah, 700 years before His birth and 733 years before His cruel death on the cross.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Today, the response to Isaiah 53 for the Jewish and rabbinical theologians is that the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53 was not referring to the coming Messiah, but to the nation of Israel.  The first Jew to propose that Isaiah 53 is referring to the nation of Israel was Shlomo Yitzchaki, more familiarly known as Rashi (c. 1040-1105). According to Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek in their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (2004),  there are at least three reasons why Isaiah 53 cannot be referring to the nation of Israel:

  • First, unlike Israel, the Servant is sinless. (53:9) If Israel is sinless, then why did God give the Jews a sacrificial system? Why did they have a Day of Atonement? Why did they constantly need prophets to warn them to stop sinning and to come back to God?
  • Second, unlike Israel, the Suffering Servant is a lamb who submits without any resistance whatsoever (53:7) History show us that Israel certainly is not a lamb–she lies down for no one.
  • Third, unlike Israel, the Suffering Servant dies as a substitutionary atonement for the sins of others (53:4-6, 8, 10-12) But Israel has not died, nor is she paying for the sins of others. No one is redeemed on account of what the nation of Israel does. Nations, and the individuals that comprise them, are punished for their own sins.

(Geisler and Turek, 2004, pp. 333-334)

Who alone in all of human history can match the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53? None but Christ alone.

Secondly, as we consider the claims of the disciples and apostles that Christ indeed rose from the dead, let us look at Paul. Paul is one of the primary proofs of the resurrection of Jesus. Let’s consider Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Acts 9.

 Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Acts 9:4)

It is imperative that we distinguish this is Jesus addressing Paul for two reasons (verse 5). 

First, this is pertinent in the revelation that when a Christ-follower is suffering, Christ Himself suffers too. What is done to the Body of Christ, the church, is done unto Jesus Himself. The Bible clearly tells us that persecution of Christ-followers is to be expected and that we should rejoice in our suffering. Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul, was a persecutor of the early church “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 9:1)

Secondly, it is imperative that we note this is in fact Jesus talking with Paul because he is another eyewitness of the risen Savior. More specifically, an eyewitness by a professing enemy of the gospel following the ascension of Jesus into heaven. (See Acts 26) Paul’s conversion is significant in this fact as he was a primary witness of Jesus. Paul did not come to be a Christ-follower from a secondary retelling of the gospel; rather, he encountered the risen Savior himself.

The Old Testament prepares the way, and the New Testament documents the prophecies fulfilled. Now we who remain are looking to the clouds and eagerly awaiting His second coming.

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Proving the Resurrection of Christ

 Ready to Defend

During a time of year when bunnies, flowers and chocolates abound, Christians are tempted to believe that everyone will accept on faith what we preach as fact. What skeptics scoff at as a fictional fairy tale for the weak of intellect, the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be proven historically and logically concluded.

All salvation commences on an confession of faith in the final act of redemption that Jesus fulfilled on the cross. However, some converts will take more than merely the Bible’s word or that of a concerned friend or loved one to convince them of the truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What about you? Was your conversion experience one of a skeptic convinced? Was it more with child-like faith? Was yours a conversion of the mind and emotions?

I came to know and accept Christ as the Lord and Savior of my life at eight years of age. I was one with a child-like faith that instantly responded to the pressing of the Holy Spirit on my heart to confess my sins and walk the isle of my baptist church to make my faith commitment to Jesus. I didn’t even consult with my parents before making the decision. One minute my family was standing in our pew singing Just as I  Am and the next minute my parents reacted by following me as I started crying and walking down the isle to meet the pastor waiting at the end.

Mine was not a conversion of a doubters mind. However, it is my job as a disciple maker to equip myself and the others who read my writing or listen to me teach with the ability to defend the faith. Further, to have ready answers for honest questions of seekers of the truth. Moreover, to equip the minds of children, teens, and adults God has blessed our paths with.

In the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, we will address a few questions concerning the reliability of the scriptures and the proof of the resurrection. Today I want to highlight a few resources that have guided me in my studies and which will answer the questions that you or someone you know may face surrounding Easter and all that is celebrated within it.

Here are some questions you can look forward to answering with these resources:

    • Did the resurrection really happen?
    • How can we know that God’s Word, the Bible is accurate?
    • How did we get the Bible that we hold in our hand today?

 

Time to buckle the belt of truth and put on the helmet of salvation as we take up our shield of faith and carry the Sword of the Spirit walking in our feet ready with gospel shoes. (Ephesians 6)

Be ready,

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Five Easter Books for Your Preschooler

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One of the ways we prepare for Easter in our home is through Christ centered literature. While we love the signs and symbols of spring in the beautiful flowers and precious animals that are God’s gift to man within creation, we like to keep the central message the new life in Christ.

Christ laid down His life so that we could take up new life in Him.

The book links below are targeted for preschool through second grade learners. Perhaps you would like to check these out at your local library or purchase them at your favorite bookstore. Happy Easter and may your celebration be rooted in Him.

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Great to use with the Resurrection Eggs available at your local Christian bookstore.

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