Understanding Easter

Understanding Easter

Focus on the Family has provided a really informative mini-lesson series on Easter. It is a great way to explain to your children the amazing love Christ has for us.  And how God, in all his infinite wisdom, had a plan in place to save us because He loves us too much to see us perish.


The Resurrection

The Resurrection

Luke 24:1-49
Are you a realist? Do you need to see all the facts before you make a decision? That was the way it was with two men who were walking on a road to the town called Emmaus. Luke’s account of the resurrection in Luke 24:1-49 focuses half of its attention on Jesus’ meeting with two men who were walking on the road to Emmaus that resurrection Sunday. We know that one of the men was named Cleopas. As Cleopas and his friend were walking, suddenly Jesus approached them and began to walk with them. They did not immediately recognize Jesus because God prevented them from knowing it was Him. Jesus asked them what they were talking about and Luke tells us they stood there looking sad.
Luke 24:13-17: “And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, ‘What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?’ And they stood still, looking sad.”
They had been followers of Jesus and now their dreams of overthrowing Rome and establishing a new Jewish kingdom were over. These men viewed Jesus as a prophet who could perform mighty miracles and healings, and they shared with this stranger how Jesus had been crucified and buried in a tomb. But they also shared how some of the women who went to the tomb that Sunday morning had told them that the body was not there. They also claimed to have seen some angels who told them that Jesus was alive. Even Peter and John confirmed that the tomb was as the women had said it was. But Cleopas and his friend did not really believe what they had heard. They were realists and, wanting to see it to believe it, they demonstrated they had a lack of faith and found the resurrection too difficult to believe.
Jesus then spoke to them with some harsh words. He said: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then Jesus began to instruct them with the teachings of Moses and all the prophets. He explained how the Old Testament spoke about Him and pointed to Him as the Messiah. Then to confirm what He said was true, He suddenly revealed Himself to them and their eyes were opened to recognize Him. After this, He simply vanished.
The Scriptures reveal many things. They teach us about theology and who God is. They instruct us on how to live a God-honoring life. They comfort us with words of encouragement when things are difficult. But we must never forget that both the Old and New Testaments point to Jesus as Savior and Lord. The ultimate question from this portion of Scripture rests in whether you believe this to be true. These two men had a lack of faith. All the evidence was there. Jesus had spoken like no one else. He had performed countless signs and wonders. There were eyewitnesses and even angels who attested to His resurrection. Jesus Himself showed them that the Old Testament Scriptures testified that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and yet these men were foolish and slow of heart.
How to respond: Do you believe and trust God’s word that testifies that Jesus is the resurrected Lord who takes away the sin of the world, including yours? If you do believe this, spend some time thanking Jesus for His incredible sacrifice and the life you now have as a result. Reflect on the fact that death is not an end of life, but merely a transition to our home with Christ. If you don’t believe this, today is an opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation to confess your sinfulness before God and accept the forgiveness that is offered in Jesus’ name. Today, may we all proclaim the glory of Jesus, believing that He is risen; He is risen indeed!
By Rob Miller
Senior Pastor
Good Friday – As Mary Ponders

Good Friday – As Mary Ponders

Good Friday – As Mary Ponders
Luke 23:26-56; John 19:1-42

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 ESV). I know that this verse is found much earlier in the life of Jesus when the shepherds came to see Him as a newborn and shared with Mary and Joseph all that the angels had told them about this baby. From this verse, though, we see that Mary was one who ‘pondered.’ To ponder means to meditate upon, to consider something deeply and thoroughly, to weigh carefully in the mind. How many times in the next 33 years would Mary ‘ponder’ something about Jesus? Perhaps she pondered as she watched Him in the still of the night as she held Him to her breast. Maybe she pondered as she watched Him take His first step or say His first words (likely mama or dada in Aramaic). Surely, she pondered when she and Joseph found Him in the temple in Jerusalem at the age of twelve after He had gone missing for three days! There He sat among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who saw Him there was amazed at the depth of His understanding (Luke 2:47). His parents, too, were said to be amazed (Luke 2:48).

Did Mary, at this time, recall those things spoken to her by the angel Gabriel? Did she remember the words spoken by Simeon as He blessed Him as an infant? Did she ponder those words relayed by the shepherds as spoken by the heavenly host? There was probably some heavy pondering going on within her at this point.
On the day that we know as Good Friday, Mary stood in eyesight and earshot of the cross. Had she just seen Him flogged and scourged? Her heart must be heavier than can be imagined. This is her Son, her Child, her Baby. And yet, in her heart, she also knows Him as Messiah. As she stands there now, she sees Him bleeding and naked as He hangs between thieves as if a common criminal. How can this be? As she looks upon Him with a mother’s heart, there are no recorded words spoken by her. Speechless anguish undoubtedly flooded her. Uncontrollable sobbing perhaps?
Jesus sees her nearby and offers comfort to her, even at this moment: “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘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 ESV) A tender moment in the midst of the grief…yet something else to ponder.
We know on that day at the sixth hour (noon) the sky goes dark until the ninth hour (3 p.m.). He is still alive, struggling for breath. What must have gone through Mary’s mind during these three long hours? Maybe she prayed silently as some shouted, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35 ESV). Maybe she relived portions of His life. Maybe she looked on with a mother’s desire to wipe His brow and to provide any level of comfort she could.
“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this He breathed His last’” (Luke 23:46 ESV). It was done. At this moment it must have felt, in some ways, like she also had breathed her last. Was she relieved that His agony was over? Did John wrap his arms around her and lead her away to his home (and now hers)? Would she lay her head down this night and ponder? We know for Mary this most excruciating day would find her just days later joyful again as she would see Him risen. All the pondering would begin to make sense from the original proclamation of the angel Gabriel to the stone being rolled over the tomb. As we reflect, as we ponder this Good Friday, may we find assurance in its significance – in what makes it good. Whether we find ourselves on this day feeling blessed or facing excruciating circumstances, may we not forget that our joy remains because of His death on that cross as we have risen to newness of life on the very day we believed, and will most certainly rejoice when we stand before Him ‘on that day.’ How to respond?
How might you have responded to the events of Friday if you were one of His disciples at the time? Ponder what you know of His life, from His birth, through His years of ‘ordinary’ life in Nazareth, to His three years of public ministry, including His teaching and His miracles. What might have happened to all the hopes and dreams you had placed on Jesus as you watched Him flogged and crucified?
By Karen Miller
Women’s Ministry Director
The Last Supper

The Last Supper

Luke 22:7-23
The Last Supper, the meal that Jesus had with His disciples the night before He was crucified, was the Passover meal eaten by the Israelites for centuries (verse 15). This festival was the highlight of the Jewish calendar year. It both remembered and celebrated the deliverance of the Jewish nation from slavery in Egypt. It was a time of national rejoicing, especially for those who were able to be in Jerusalem at that time. To say that the city was crowded with Jews from all over the Roman Empire would be a huge understatement. The city would be packed with those who made the pilgrimage for the festival. For Jesus’ disciples, there was an intensity to this particular night that was caused by what had taken place when they had come into the city but tempered by the words Jesus had spoken to them about His impending death. The Passover meal looked back to the past but also spoke of what the Lord would do with the coming of the Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Jesus told His disciples that night that He would never eat the Passover meal again until it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (verse 18). The fulfillment that Jesus spoke about would be found in the resurrection of all of God’s people, including us. This includes the hope of being completely delivered from sin and its effects. How to respond? Spend time looking back, reflecting on the fact that you, too, were delivered from slavery to sin and given new life in Christ because of His great sacrifice. Thank Jesus for His willingness to die for your sin. Thank Him for the life you now have in Him. Also, spend some time thinking about what is to come…the time when we will eat with Jesus in the fullness of His kingdom, enjoying life in His presence, with sin, pain and death defeated. By
Neil Travisano
Pastor Emeritus
The Last Supper

The Lord in the Temple

Luke 20:20 – 21:4 
If you ever travel to Israel, you will encounter a strange dynamic with your tour guide. They will take you to places and tell you things like, “Well, this event in the Bible took place on one of these two mountains, but we don’t know for sure which one,” or, “We’re like 70% sure this took place here.” You end up never feeling completely certain about different things, including if you are standing where Jesus did. Even when you’re in Jerusalem, where you can actually be somewhere with a little more certainty, you aren’t in the same place as Jesus because you’re standing on top of the rebuilt city, where the walkways of Jesus are fifty feet below you. 
You get pretty close to walking where Jesus walked, but not quite there everywhere you go, except for one place: the temple. In the temple, you can actually share the ground where Jesus was with 100% certainty. In fact, you can take the same steps He took up to the top of the temple to worship. 
We’ll come back to those steps in a second, but let’s remember what the temple was supposed to be. The temple was the focal point of the Jewish religious system. All the central worship of Yahweh took place there. When it was built, Solomon promised the people that no matter what was going on in Israel they could seek God at the temple and find answers and restoration. God honored this promise by showing His presence in the temple. Unfortunately, Israel was not faithful to God and the presence of the Lord left the temple and it was eventually destroyed. 
The rebuilt temple of Ezra and Nehemiah was a shadow of Solomon’s temple and there is no indication that God’s presence came to dwell in it. That is until Jesus walked into it. As a culmination of His ministry, Jesus enters the temple. The building built to honor Yahweh and worship Him finally had Him there. 
In Solomon’s time, God manifested in the temple in a cloud, full of majesty and glory. It was a spectacle to remind people of the transcendence and power of God. When Jesus entered the temple, all of that was lacking. Instead, Jesus took the stairs. Not just any stairs either. The temple has special entrances for the priests and the city elites. Jesus took the stairs that were for the common folk to the building built to worship Him; steps that you too can take and walk with 100% certainty that you are walking where Jesus walked. 
All of this is to say two things about Jesus. One is that He set aside His rights and what He deserved to receive humiliation instead. Second, He walked where we would walk so as to identify with us. All of this ultimately foreshadows the cross, where He would hang where should have hung, being humiliated on our behalf. 

How to respond: 
What does Christ’s humility in the temple mean for your heart? Think about the fact that Jesus, God in the flesh, walked up the stairs to the temple. What does that say to you about Jesus? What does it say about your pride? What does it say about Jesus’ love for you? 
The Last Supper

The Wonder of Waiting

Jeremiah 3:26
Waiting. Ugh. Waiting is not on my list of favorite things. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens I’ll take, but you can keep the waiting. Waiting is difficult. Waiting is lonely. Waiting feels like we should be doing something, but we’re often powerless to do anything. But waiting can produce in us a desire for the guidance and comfort of God.
When he saw the destruction of Jerusalem, knowing that God had promised salvation for his people, Jeremiah meditated on the faithfulness of God and wrote: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:26). While Jerusalem burned, Jeremiah realized it is better to wait for God to save. A building can be spared, people can live a little longer, but actually being saved for all eternity is a work that only God can do. So Jeremiah, even though he didn’t want to wait for it, knew that waiting for God’s salvation was his only lasting hope.
On Saturday after her dead Master and Teacher was taken off the cross and buried in a tomb, Mary had to wait for the day to pass. She had to wait for Sabbath until she could get to the tomb and anoint the body of the Lord. While the Bible doesn’t describe any events from this day, we can wonder. Did she understand why Jesus had been crucified? Was she imagining ways she could have helped Him escape the city? Did she wonder why Jesus’ disciples ran away? She most likely had a lot of questions to accompany her unimaginable grief. But I also imagine the Holy Spirit comforted her like never before as she waited to visit the body of her Lord on Sunday morning. Like Jeremiah, perhaps she began to realize how good it is to wait on the salvation of the Lord.
And, of course, she didn’t have to wait long.
“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Sunday morning revealed what Saturday obscured. Her Lord was alive!
Instead of anointing Him, He would later anoint her with the Holy Spirit and use her story to minister to many throughout the millennia. She wasn’t forgotten. She wasn’t alone. Though she was powerless, she entrusted herself to the One who has all power. Mary’s attempt was to bless Jesus, even in His death, yet He had the power to bless her beyond her wildest imagination. She waited on the Lord through the longest day of waiting in her life. And her joy was unmatched when she saw the resurrected Christ. She got to see Christ, hold Him, and tell others about Him after waiting for Him. The waiting was difficult. The waiting was lonely. But the waiting wasn’t wasted. How to respond? What do you find yourself waiting for at the moment? To what do you cling in periods of waiting? In the midst of times of waiting, it’s important to both look back and look forward. Look back by remembering how God has provided in the past. Look forward to the promises of what is to come.
By Brooke Lambkin
Director of Worship