Theme: Anticipating heaven as ‘living stones’ on earth
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 — Jesus anticipates heaven, using David’s words to trust God’s unfailing love
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 NIV text
John 14:1-14 — Jesus reminds the disciples they have a place prepared in heaven because they know Him and He is the Way
Acts 7:55-60 — Stephen in his dying moments sees heaven open with Christ standing to welcome him
1 Peter 2:2-10 — Disciples are the new priesthood, living stones who create a heavenly temple of God’s presence
Psalm 31:1–5, 15–16 – Jesus anticipates heaven with David’s words
Putting our life and times in God’s hands is to trust His unfailing love
1-2 In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
“Be my rock of refuge” – David laments abandonment by his closest friends in a devastating conspiracy.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
“For the sake of Your name” – it is God’s covenant reputation on the line, having promised through the prophet Nathan’s word to be with David, 2 Sam. 7:8–11.
4-5 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.
“Into Your hands” – For David, this was total dependence on God; also for Jesus, who spoke these words of David in His dying moments.
15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
“My times are in Your hands” – submitting to God all events, circumstances, and also timing.
16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
“Let Your face shine” – an expression of God’s favour, as in Aaron’s blessing.
• For further study, see Numbers 6:24–26; Psalms 4:6; 67:1; 80:1, 3, 7, 19; 97:11; 118:27; 119:135.
Is trust like faith or more like hope? More the latter, which is a confident expectation in God’s faithfulness. This is what Jesus, racked with pain, was expressing in His dying moments.
We, too, can choose to put our times in God’s hands.
Lord, I trust You – but help me in my moments of not trusting very well. Amen.
John 14:1–14 — Disciples have a place prepared in heaven
Jesus reminds them that they know Him and He is the Way
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” – after difficult news, John 13:33,36.
“Believe in God… also in Me” – Jesus’ simple but also profound solution to heart anxiety. “Believe” means personal, relational trust, as in the OT, Psalm 56:3-4; Isaiah 26:3-4.
2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
“My Father’s house” – like the son’s return to his father’s house in Luke 15. Jesus promised followers a welcome into “eternal dwellings”.
• For further study, see Luke 15:11-32, Luke 16:9, Rev. 21.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.
“I will come back” – Jesus’ second coming. If we believe in Him (v.1) we will be expected and He will return for us.
4 You know the way to the place where I am going.
“You know the way” – or you know the Way, anticipating what He will say, v.6
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
“I AM the Way” – an answer rich with double meanings. Jesus’ I AM sayings echo God’s revelation of Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:13-15, and signal His divine origins as Messiah. The Early Church were first known as followers of the Way.
“Except through Me” – the only way to God is through Jesus, Acts 4:12, an exclusive claim which does not sit well with our culture, but our reasoning must not invalidate what Jesus plainly states. Those who claim to know God but reject Jesus, do not know Him, John 5:39-47.
7 If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”
“Know Me… know My Father” – to know Jesus is to know the Father.
• For further study, see John 5:37–38, John 8:19; 1 John 2:21.
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
“Seen Me… seen the Father” – Jesus, facing Philip in His humanity, clearly sets out His deity. Philip has yet to grasp that Jesus came to reveal the Father, John 1:14, 18, John 12:44-45.
10-11 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you I do not speak on My own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
“I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” – as explained in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one” where “one” is the neuter ‘one thing’, not one person. So one in essence, will and purpose — not identical persons. With the Holy Spirit, Matt. 28:19, 2 Cor. 3:14, the three distinct Persons constitute only one Being.
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
“Works” – Greek erga, meaning as well as signs and miracles, all of Jesus’ mission, teaching and merciful acts would continue.
“Greater things” – the Holy Spirit yet to be given would replicate and multiply the ministry beyond Palestine, worldwide.
13-14 And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.
“Ask in My name” – meaning coming to God in the will authority of Jesus, as those that are His. Our alignment with Him is the key to this arresting promise, not the form of words.
It is easy to be down on Thomas and Philip, from our vantage point of hindsight.
However we could also say that they asked honest, good questions – which have given us some of the clearest and most memorable answers by Jesus.
Jesus is the Way in two senses: He is the exact representation of what God is like, and believing and trusting Him is the way – the only way – to God.
How would you answer someone who rejected the exclusivity of Jesus being the only way to God?
Acts 7:55–60 – Stephen in his dying moments sees heaven open
Through the pain he sees Christ standing to welcome him
55-56 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
“Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit” – in sharp contrast to the religiosity but spiritual lack of his Sanhedrin prosecutors, who reacted to his demeanour in uncontrolled rage.
“Son of Man”, Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 22:69.
57-58 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
“Began to stone him” – without trial and illegally, possibly supervised by the up-and-coming Pharisee Saul.
59-60 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
“Do not hold this sin against them” – strikingly similar to Jesus’ words “Father, forgive them…” on the Cross, Luke 23:34. Jesus greatly emphasised forgiving others, Matt 6:14-15; Mark 11:25; also Luke 11:4; 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-35.
“He fell asleep” – a common NT way of conveying that death for believers is a transition, Luke 8:52; John 11:11; 1 Thess. 4:14-15.
Not many of us see into heaven before we get there, although there are arresting testimonies written about some people’s experiences.
Stephen was one such a special case – an outstandingly fruitful and courageous evangelist who was so Christ-focused he attracted the same hatred that had put his Lord on the Cross.
As he looked up into heaven, it is striking that he caught and expressed heaven’s attitude of mercy towards those who were motivated by hell to kill him stone by stone. He forgave them publicly, leaving us his example. Jesus gave the highest priority to us extending His grace and forgiving others.
Who do you find impossible to forgive? How do you think Stephen would counsel you on this?
1 Peter 2:2–10 – Living stones make a heavenly temple here on earth
Every believer is part of the new priesthood representing God to men
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
“Grow up in your salvation” – as healthy children feed and grow. Salvation is both an event (on deciding to entrust your life to Christ) and a lifelong process of Holy Spirit healing and freedom on the road to spiritual maturity.
4-6 As you come to him, the Living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.
“The Living Stone… you also, like living stones” – Peter describes the church as the new temple inhabited by the Holy Spirit of God. Every believer is a living stone aligned with Christ as Cornerstone – a picture of dependence and connection like Paul’s teaching on parts of the body connected to the Head.
“A holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ” – in the OT, access to God was restricted to priests born into the tribe of Levi. In the NT, there is a shift under the New Covenant in Jesus in which believers are reborn into God’s family to become a new kind of priesthood. This is shared by each and every believer who has invited Jesus into their hearts and lives and has ‘priestly’ access through their relationship with Him, and the spiritual sacrifices are now Spirit-led worship and service.
7-8 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message — which is also what they were destined for.
“This stone… the cornerstone… a stone to stumble” – three quotations about Christ as the authentic, irreplaceable foundation stone of the new temple, rejected by those closely aligned with the old temple and a barrier for those unwilling to submit to Jesus as Lord. God foreknew that not everyone would receive His Son; however everyone has the choice not to stumble but to step up on the rock.
• For further study, see Psalm 118; Matt. 21:42; Isaiah 8:14, 28:16; Romans 9:33.
9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
“Chosen people, royal priesthood” – Peter redefines familiar OT labels. The people of Israel were the former “chosen people”, now in the NT they are the believers.
“God’s special possession” – all Christians are to be holy and set apart for service to the Lord as the OT priests were. Christians, through new birth, form a new ‘nation’ in enjoying a special and close relationship with God.
• For further study, read Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:20, 7:6, 14:2; Isaiah 43:10, 20-21; Malachi 3:17.
• See also page on ‘Explaining our identity as Christians – royal priesthood‘ which goes into more detail about the Bible teaching as distinct from historical church teaching.
Heaven is an attractive place – not because of the shining gold, or the brilliant light, or the incomparable praise and worship, but because heaven is full of the presence of God, full of the reality of the One who is the definition of love.
We are called to take a deep plunge of faith, trusting Jesus at the deepest level with our lives and being changed forever. It’s called being born again and it turns us into living stones, in Peter’s words, needed to take our place and be fitted with all the others that form this new temple of God’s presence on earth.
This is the way evangelism is designed to work – with us as this new priesthood between heaven and earth, showing the world a glimpse of something so attractive that it is hard to resist.
Does the way we do church and its language bear out Peter’s teaching on our status and call as people of light who are living in God’s mercy?
Lord Jesus, like Stephen we look up and we see Your scarred hands extended to us in welcome and we give our lives to You again. We put our times and our actions in Your hands, pledging to keep aligned with You as Your living stones, and to represent You to others as yet untouched by Your love. Thank You for being the Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen.
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Theme: Jesus the Good Shepherd is our entrance to new life
“You are with me” is the truth that counters fear and anxiety as we, like David, look to God as provider and protector.
Jesus teaches that He is the gate to an abundant and eternal life in which He knows us and we know Him
Acts 2:42-47 text
The call of Christ is the shared experience of new life in Him that brings brings real relationship and togetherness
Belonging to the Good Shepherd is a call that brings a cost, as the new life and freedom may be a threat to some
Psalm 23 — King David calls the Lord his provider and protector
“You are with me” is the truth that answers fear and anxiety
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
“My shepherd” – David used to keep sheep and knew how dependent sheep are on on the shepherd for guidance, provision and protection. “Shepherd” was often used of kings in the ancient Near East. David is saying, Yahweh rules his life.
2-3 He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
“Makes me lie down” – to rest like a sheep in safety. The LORD brings good provision and refreshment (sheep avoid lively water) and guidance. “For His name’s sake” – about who God is, His nature to give.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
“Darkest valley” – unlike “green pastures” and “quiet waters”, ravines in dark shadow are dangerous.
“You are with me” – not now talking ABOUT God, talking TO Him. The centre point and the headline.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
“Anoint my head” – like a specially honoured guest.
6 Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
“Goodness and love” – “goodness and mercy” (ESV)…unfailing love” (NLT), covenant language revealing what God is like.
“I will dwell” – points to Jesus who said “I am the good shepherd”, John 10:11 and 14, and who laid down His life so we could choose new and eternal life by believing in Him.
There’s a profound message in this familiar psalm. Sheep need help from the shepherd to find the good places to feed and drink, and to be protected from danger. They are reliant! God our Father is the very best kind of shepherd to us, “the people of His pasture, the flock under His care,” Psalm 95:7.
Implied rather than stated is our part in the relationship – trusting God with our lives.
Of these provisions, what might we take for granted? What do we ask for?
John 10:1-10 — Jesus is the gate into abundant and eternal life
Like sheep in a flock, we know His voice and He knows us
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
“Sheep pen” – courtyard of stone walls topped with thorny branches and a single gate, offering security for several families’ flocks at night. Only a robber would enter by force.
2 “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
“The shepherd… the gatekeeper” – the gatekeeper was employed by the various families. Each shepherd knew and named his sheep, who would respond to their shepherd calling their name.
“He calls his own sheep” – Jesus knows and loves us as individuals who He has called to belong to Him; we choose to follow Him, recognising His voice as distinct from others.
4 “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
“Know his voice” – Middle Eastern sheep are obedient and follow the shepherd.
5 “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.”
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
“Figure of speech” – referring to the Pharisees’ dismissive treatment of ordinary people, similar to the abusive leadership of Ezekiel 34.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 “All who have come before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.
“Thieves and robbers” – exploiting people as in Ezekiel 34:2-4; in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees.
9 “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.
“Whoever enters through Me will be saved” – clear teaching on Jesus being the one distinct route to salvation, also Acts 4:12.
10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
“The thief” – who takes life; by comparison, Jesus confers life, eternal life which starts immediately we turn to follow Him. The saying sets Satan’s strategy of robbing people of joy and keeping them in bondage, against Jesus’ teaching that He sets people free by His truth into “having [life] to the full.”
• For further study, compare John 10:10 with John 8:32, 36.
Jesus further reveals who He is with another of the “I am” sayings, reflecting on Psalm 23 — a description of God as the very best caring shepherd.
His “thieves and robbers” are the “harsh shepherds” of Ezekiel 34 who caused the exile and scattering of the flock. Ezekiel had prophesied, also reflecting Psalm 23, “I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down… I will place over them one shepherd, [of the line of] my servant David, and He will tend them… and be their shepherd,” Ezekiel 24:15 and 23.
Jesus’ hearers, many of them Pharisees who prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures, could not have missed that reference as Jesus proclaimed, “I am the gate – whoever enters through Me will be saved.”
We live in a world of many voices demanding inclusivity in all things and despising the truth Jesus clearly taught, that He alone is the entrance to salvation, freedom and God’s provision – life to the full.
Jesus is the Way, not one of the ways, and He knows His flock in a personal relationship, as His flock also know His voice.
How do we recognise the voice of the shepherd and bringer of life, and how is it distinct from the voice of the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy?
Acts 2:42-47 — The call of Christ is togetherness in community
The shared experience of new life in Christ brings real relationship
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
“The apostles’ teaching” – like Peter’s message, e.g. vv. 22-41 which emphasised eyewitness testimony to His miraculous works and resurrection, the fulfilment of the OT prophecies about the Lord, also all that Jesus taught.
“Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” – the four pillars of the Christian gathering, a relational, participative affair. Prayer was also worship; breaking of bread was essentially a fellowship meal which also remembered the Lord’s Supper.
43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
“Many wonders and signs” – the ministry of Jesus continuing through the apostles and associates like Philip, the language of miracles occurring regularly, many more than recorded by Luke.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
“Everything in common” – the sense of possessions held lightly and used for others as needs arose. Not early communism: believers went on holding property, met in their homes, and giving was voluntary.
45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…
“Continued to meet…in the temple courts” – the centre of community life. The believers were not starting a new religion but proclaiming the reality of the salvation promised to Israel. Their call was to love one another, John 13:34-35, and share lives in a community of teaching, prayer and worship, possessions and fellowship. They gathered en masse at the Temple for teaching and met in many homes, a pattern which continued, Acts 20:20.
47 …praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
“Added to their number daily” – in a short time (uninhibited by persecution) the 3,000 of Pentecost was 5,000 men, with women also playing their part.
However many times we re-read this passage about the first believers gathered in teaching, prayer and fellowship, we are struck by the way they related and joined together in community. They had the unity of a common, shared experience — knowing Jesus the ascended Lord of lords through the power of the Spirit.
Where denominations compete, and church attenders come together in friction rather than fellowship, we have to ask: what has been lost? Is that common experience of submitting to Jesus the ruling factor? Is the essential simplicity of the early believers’ worship and spiritual lives still what we seek, or has it become complicated through man-made constructions?
Do we meet in homes, eating together with glad and sincere hearts, or is it now all front-led ‘temple’ meetings?
Is it a realistic expectation that numbers should grow through people regularly coming to salvation? At a time of such marked decline among all the traditional denominations, what priorities might need to change?
1 Peter 2:19-25 — Belonging to the Shepherd is a call with a cost
The good news of freedom is not welcomed by all
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
“Bears up… conscious of God” – slaves who had believed in Jesus were expected to follow the religion of the house. They showed the grace of God in their attitude to undeserved beatings.
20-21 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“To this you were called” – to live for the Suffering Servant Jesus, who took persecution and unjust punishment. The good news of freedom in Jesus Christ often provokes the opposite kind of reactions.
• For further study, read Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
22-23 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.
“He did not retaliate” – ways in which Jesus revealed Himself as the foretold suffering servant. In that culture honour was defended by returning insults.
24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the Cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”
“Die to sins and live for righteousness” – symbolised and made public in baptism. Jesus’ death breaks the power of sin in our lives, and His Spirit empowers us to live better in God’s sight, two vital factors that distinguish the new, regenerate life. Jesus is our substitute, not just our pattern.
“By His wounds you have been healed” – through Jesus’ physical suffering from flogging and crucifixion, our believing in Him is a healing of spirit, extending to soul and body. Matthew applies these words from Isaiah 53:4 to Jesus’ physical healings, Matthew 8:17.
25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
“Like sheep going astray” – like sheep that tend to wander, we need the guidance of the Shepherd.
• For further study, see Isaiah 53:6, Psalm 23:1, John 10:11, 14; Hebrews 13:20, also John 21:15-17.
New life in Christ brings not only different beliefs, but a different set of values – living for others and showing the grace and forbearance which was the mark of Jesus.
In a selfish, individualistic world this was, and still is, a culture clash. The slaves’ masters didn’t like it and neither do many employers, e.g. Christian nurses forbidden to wear crosses and teachers constrained by liberal views on marriage, gender and beliefs.
There’s a cost to the call and a cross to bear, as Jesus said, but the “example that you should follow” is not to seek holiness through suffering, as medieval religion taught. That is a man-centred approach which seeks to earn what can only be freely given.
The call is to accept graciously and with joy the suffering that may come BECAUSE we are holy and set apart – a very different response coming from the leading of the Spirit.
How will people see Jesus in us? How might our handling of life’s tough situations witness to Christ?
Lord Jesus, we are so grateful that You are the Good Shepherd we first meet in David’s psalm, and also our gateway into knowing the Father’s abundant life and eternal rest. We thank You, too, that we have been called into a body where everyone is valued, and the joys and setbacks of life are shared. May we reveal You by handling life’s injustices with Your grace, and by giving a good shepherd’s care to those who have needs — all to give glory and honour to You. Amen.
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The Living Word based on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, April 26, 2020. New International Version (NIV). TLW16A
Theme: Changed lives show our thanks for the price God paid for us
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 – The psalmist praises God for deliverance and pledges to make a public thanksgiving
Psalm passage verse by verse
Luke 24:13-35 — Two disciples walking back to their village are changed by learning how all the events they had seen were foretold — then Jesus reveals Himself
Luke passage verse by verse
Acts 2:14, 36-41 — Peter’s message brings conviction to the crowd for a change of heart and they respond with baptisms
Acts passage verse by verse
1 Peter 1:17-23 — As believers we are urged live up to our changed lives, able to show others the same love that redeemed us
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 – Praise for God’s goodness in deliverance
The psalmist pledges to make a public thank offering
1 I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.
“He heard my voice” – personal thanksgiving for deliverance from death. Possibly written by a king – see Hezekiah’s deliverance, Isaiah 38:10-20.
3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “LORD, save me!”
“Cords of death entangled me” – pulled towards the realm of the dead. Jonah prayed in a similar way, Jonah 2:5, also Psalm 18:4-5.
12 What shall I return to the LORD for all His goodness to me?
“What shall I return” – or render. The meaning is paying back positively. This verse acts as the the headline, or anchor verse.
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.
“Cup of salvation” – after the Passover meal and following the third cup of wine, this psalm is read and Jesus would have shared this reminder of God’s salvation on the night he was betrayed, Matt. 26:27; Luke 22:14-22.
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His faithful servants.
16 Truly I am Your servant, LORD; I serve You just as my mother did; You have freed me from my chains.
“I am Your servant” – words brought alive in John 13:1-17 by the Lord showing every disciple must be like a servant.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to You and call on the name of the LORD.
18-19 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the LORD — in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the LORD.
“Courts of the house of the Lord” – temple precincts.
The Hebrew Scriptures (OT), the good news of Jesus Christ (gospels) and Christian living in the power of the Spirit (Acts and letters) give us three different perspectives from the same author, the Holy Spirit. This OT poem of thankfulness for deliverance from death points to our living in gratitude to God for His reprieve of us, paid for in a servant-like way by the blood sacrifice of His Son.
How might the unbelieving world recognise in us thankfulness for what the Lord has done?
Luke 24:13-35 — Two disciples returning to their village get a Scripture lesson
They understand how recent events were foretold — then Jesus reveals Himself
13-14 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.
“Two of them” – perhaps husband and wife, one named Cleopas, (v.18) perhaps mentioned in John 19:25. They were, by tradition, heading north-west of Jerusalem.
15-16 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising Him.
“Kept from recognising” – Jesus needed them, first, to grasp how His life, death and resurrection were all part of God’s plan of wider salvation.
17-18 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“Who does not know” – crucifixions were carried out at main intersections, highly visible as a public deterrent.
19 “What things?” He asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.
“A prophet” – perhaps unsure of ‘Messiah’, who in popular thought was seen as overcoming, not dying (v.21).
20-21 The chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him; but we had hoped that He was the One who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.
“Redeem Israel” – Messiah, for them, would free them from Gentile rule; God’s redeeming purpose was freedom from slavery to sin.
22-24 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find His body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.
Did not see Jesus” – these two had not heard about Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene, John 20:1, 16-18.
25-27 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
“The Messiah… suffer these things” – they thought the crucifixion negated Jesus being the Messiah. It confirmed it because it was foretold.
“Moses and all the prophets” – or all of what we call the OT. The whole OT points forward to Jesus.
• For a substantial further study! Read Isaiah 50:4-9; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 2, Psalm 16, Psalm 22, Psalm 118 and see also Luke 18:32; 20:17, 23:37, Acts 2:25-28, Acts 4:25-26.
28-29 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if He were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.
“Stay with us” – hospitality was customary, but they wanted to know more.
30-31 When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him, and He disappeared from their sight.
“He took bread” – although not the host but the guest.
“He disappeared” – His resurrection body had different properties. He ate with the disciples, but also appeared, disappeared, and passed through walls and doors and covered distances in a moment. When the two had returned to Jerusalem, Jesus had already appeared to Peter (vv.33-35)
32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
“Opened” – interpreted. Scripture interprets Scripture.
33-35 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when He broke the bread.
“Appeared to Simon” – not told directly in the gospels but confirmed independently by Paul, 1 Cor. 15:5.
This in one of Luke’s longest and therefore most important stories. Two disciples, in shock after their Lord’s horrific torture and shame, are joined on their journey by someone who shares a different perspective – how this was foretold, something God knew that evil men would do. Understanding how God turns such evil to our good, and why His anointed One had to experience injustice and suffer – seeing Jesus become like a lamb made a sacrifice for our sin – changes our whole view of life. This is Jesus, who then revealed Himself as they ate together.
What is the difference between following the good example of someone who WAS, and receiving instruction and encouragement from the Lord who IS, with us?
Acts 2:14, 36-41 — Peter tells the crowd how they put to death their Lord and Messiah
Holy conviction comes on them and they respond in a mass baptism
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
“Peter stood up” – He was the first to recognise who Jesus was, Matthew 16:13-19, and led in bearing witness to Him.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
“Lord and Messiah” – Peter had already explained (vv.31-32) that Jesus, born to be Messiah and anointed at baptism, was raised to life, ascended to heaven and was now enthroned at the right hand of God.
• For further study, see Luke 2:11, 3:21-22, 4:18; Acts 2:32-33, 4:27.
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
“What shall we do?” – recognising their part in killing their Messiah: the moment of Holy Spirit conviction and new birth.
38-39 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
“Repent” – implies believing. To repent is to change what we believe, from sin and independence, to God. For the Judeans in the crowd, changing former attitudes about Jesus.
“Be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ” – a public declaration of new allegiance to Jesus following a change of heart. Baptism (the word means ‘immerse’) in the Bible cannot be separated from the conscious decision to “repent”; it then follows as a symbol of being immersed in Jesus, washing off the old life and rising into the new.
40-41 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
“Three thousand” – from the visiting Passover throng. Archaeological research has revealed large bath structures in the temple precincts, enough to baptise this number in a few hours.
Peter’s message, which established the pattern for preaching in the early church, set out clearly who Jesus is, and how we should respond. The “repent” and “be baptised” is a call to submit, a cost the proud and independent part of us is never going to accept easily! But in the same breath, Peter mentioned something enriching, that enables us to live differently. This is “the gift of the Holy Spirit”, the power that raised Jesus from the dead. He empowers us to change and submit, and shows us how to live different, thankful lives that in many small ways show our inexpressible joy and recognition what Jesus did for us.
We don’t like change but we all welcome a promise. How does the word “repent” sit with you?
1 Peter 1:17-23 — The apostle calls believers to live up to who they are
We are empowered to show the same love, which redeemed us, to others
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
“Since you call on a Father” – NASB “If you address as Father”, another way of saying ‘If you are a Christian’.
“Reverent fear” – respect for and deference to God; awe not terror.
18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
“You were redeemed” – slaves could be released for a ransom; “redeem” meant buying back a prisoner of war. Here we are prisoners of sin and sin’s curse, but we cannot raise the price. Only God can ransom us by payment in the blood of His Son, the ultimate sacrificial lamb.
20-21 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
“He was chosen” – God planned redemption through His Son from the beginning of time. Both the law and the coming of Christ were part of His plan.
“These last times” – inaugurated by the coming of Jesus the Messiah and until His return.
22-23 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
“For you have been born again” – Peter exhorts readers and hearers to ‘become what you are’. The evidence of becoming a Christian is the Holy Spirit’s transformation of character from within, hence “love from the heart”.
“Through the living… word of God” – God’s word is not magical but at the same time it has spiritual power, working in concert with the Holy Spirit.
To be “redeemed from the empty way of life” is by definition a release into new life, which is what happens when we face up to the truth about God and about ourselves, and know we have to do something about it – be born again spiritually. But is a new life that is not empty, but full – full of the awareness of God’s love for us, that redeemed us, undeserving as we were. The love that we experience, knowing God, is also the love that we give out. Any close relationship can bring friction as well as synergy. But knowing we are loved, is being able to love others, whatever is occurring.
What about God’s love for us is so special? How does His kind of love show up the gaps in our kind of love?
Lord God, we are so grateful that we can call on You as a loving and completely fair Father. And at this season of new life, new beginnings and new awareness of what Your Son Jesus has done for us, we thank you for the free choice we have. Once again we ask Jesus to take lordship of our lives so that we can believe in You, know Your love and security – and are free to share that love with others who need You. Amen.
Theme: Jesus’ resurrection is the axis our whole faith turns on
Let the whole text speak for itself first, then reflect further with the verse to verse view
Psalm 16:7-11 – David the songwriter foresaw the resurrection
The Messiah will not be abandoned but will find the path of life
Peter quoted this psalm (vv.8-11) in his address on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:25-28, below.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
“My eyes… on the Lord” – like Psalm 23, faith and trust is emphasised. A warrior stationed to the right is placed to protect with the shield in the left hand.
9-10 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will You let Your faithful one see decay.
“You will not abandon me” – Paul, like Peter, applied this to Jesus’ resurrection when speaking at Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:34-35.
11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
“Joy in Your presence” – in the context of David’s song, the expectation of eternal glory for the faithful, but prophetic of Jesus and for His worshippers.
The Jewish early church knew that significant events didn’t just happen: they understood from Scripture that “the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets,” Amos 3:7.
We will see that Peter used these words to remind the crowd gathered at Pentecost that everything that had happened – the resurrection of Jesus in particular – was part of God’s plan.
How much do we value the Old Testament to give foundation to what we learn from the gospels and post-resurrection teaching?
John 20:19-31 – The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples.
He breathes the Holy Spirit on them in an initial impartation
19-20 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
“The disciples were together” – the apostles and others, fearing arrest for being followers of Jesus. His appearance in a body through locked doors was miraculous.
21-23 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
“As the Father has sent” – Jesus is sending them to continue His work but this verse gives the full Trinitarian mandate of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“Receive the Holy Spirit” – the first of a number of occasions of receiving, preparing them for the outpouring to come, Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-47. Anecdotally we can say that people who have had an experience of the Spirit’s infilling are more receptive to further impartations.
24-25 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
“Thomas” – missed Jesus earlier and thought the others had seen a ghost, Matt. 14:26. John is careful to affirm Jesus as the incarnate Word, resurrected with a real body.
• For further study, read John 1:14; 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7.
26-27 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
“My Lord and my God” – the climax of John’s gospel which he wrote to show Jesus as the Christ or Messiah who fulfilled God’s promises to Israel by being God in the flesh.
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Those who have not seen” – are at no disadvantage; Jesus points to later believers coming to personal faith through the testimony of others. 1 Peter 1:8, 2 Cor. 5:7.
30-31 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Written that you may believe… and… have life” – the emphasis of John’s gospel.
The apostles (now eleven) and other disciples saw Jesus alive, in a resurrection body and He had close fellowship with them. These two occasions mention Thomas the twin, not present the first time. A typical ‘late adopter’, he wants to be sure for himself. On the second appearance a week later, when Thomas was present, Jesus chides him, more in encouragement than rebuke. Thomas doesn’t need to ‘test the scars’ but expresses the one of the strongest statements of Jesus’ deity in the Bible, “My Lord and my God”, and John honours Thomas in making this moment the high point of his gospel account.
Do you talk about God a bit impersonally and generally – or do you readily praise “My Lord and my God”?
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 – Peter tells the crowd he witnessed the resurrection.
It happened as David had foretold in song, long before
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
Addressed the crowd” – with a message typical of those repeated throughout the early church:
- promises of the OT fulfilled in life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ;
- apostles eyewitnesses of all Jesus’ ministry and His chosen representatives;
- call to repent and to believe; and
- salvation and Holy Spirit impartation for those who respond.
2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.
Miracles, wonders and signs” – proving Him to be Messiah and recalling Exodus 7:3, Deuteronomy 4:34-35.
3 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the Cross.
God’s… plan and foreknowledge” – God exercising permissive will which allows wicked men freewill while upholding His greater purpose.
4 But God raised him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.
“Death to keep its hold” – verse 36; Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:12-20.
25-28 David said about Him [in relation to Jesus]: “ ‘I saw the Lord always before Me. Because He is at My right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body also will rest in hope, because You will not abandon Me to the realm of the dead, You will not let Your holy one see decay. You have made known to Me the paths of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence.’
“David said about Him” – writing Psalm 16, he had a prophetic insight about the death and resurrection of the Messiah to come.
9-32 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.“
“One of his descendants” – Peter explains the significance of his quotation. Jesus, a descendant of the great King David, was the very Messiah David foretold, even down to His miraculous resurrection.
Studying the preaching that was the style of the early church – there are about 30 examples – it is noticeable how the messages concentrate on a few key facts in a way that is quite repetitive. And the fact of the resurrection of Jesus and the eyewitness evidence of the apostles is central to the Good News they were sharing. They met on the day of the resurrection, to celebrate Jesus who is resurrected and very much alive!
How could we make the resurrection, and the present reality of Jesus, more of an emphasis in our gatherings?
1 Peter 1:3-9 – Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our new hope
We can be reborn into new life because Jesus is alive
3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
“Praise be” – praise for the privileges God has given believers. Believing the resurrection of Jesus is the key to spiritual rebirth, John 3:3-8. This is our choice to enter into a new life and the promise of eternal life, a privilege which no circumstance can ever devalue.
4-5 This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
“Inheritance kept in heaven” – the promise for people of the new covenant in Jesus, safeguarded by faith and underwritten by the resources of heaven. Inheritance means both hope now and eternal fellowship with God to come.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
“Rejoice… trials” – the two sides to Christian faith. Conflicting values and allegiances bring testing, which the joy of new life in Jesus overcomes.
7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
“Genuineness of your faith” – as gold is refined in a necessary heat process, so trials refine and prove how certain we are of the final outcome with God. Peter’s readers who maintain faith without sin in trials shine like pure gold, bringing glory to God.
• For further study on refining, see Job 23:10; Psalm 12:6, 66:10; Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 48:10; perhaps Jeremiah 11:4.
8-9 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
“You have not seen him” – only a few believers had seen Jesus resurrected but before He ascended.
“Inexpressible and glorious joy” – the evidence of the new life in Jesus, v.3. The born-again Christian gains a deep inner gratitude and security in God’s love.
• More about the inner joy which is the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts on this page
The early church believers Peter was addressing faced out to a world hostile to their beliefs and values. Persecution and the trials it brought were real to them. It’s happening now! Our increasingly secular and politically-correct culture tries to block the expression of Christian faith and penalises those who uphold Christian values. Employees have been dismissed or disciplined, and businesses taken to court, for being true to their beliefs.
Peter acknowledges the reality of trials, but tells readers to hold on to the confidence given to them. As born-again believers, their destiny is certain and their faith guarded, by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection of Jesus, he says, makes all the difference. Rejoice – because Jesus, who was dead, is now alive and with us, so we have a confident expectation of the final outcome. Being born again into new life puts us on a joyful path, an inheritance of salvation now and at the end time. We know we have a destiny with Jesus, who has risen, and we don’t fear death, because He has conquered death. So we face difficulties with the Holy Spirit’s inner joy, allowing them to grow us and bring out our best.
Have you been saved or are you being saved – or both? What does “receiving… the salvation of your souls” mean?
Jesus, Lord, You lived on earth and shared our life but unlike us, sin never caused you to stumble. Unlike us, You were perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit. And on our behalf, You suffered a horrific Roman execution and then were seen alive and engaging with Your disciples on the third day and afterwards. Thank You for holding out the offer of spiritual regeneration and new life. Thank You for being with us and sharing our lives now. Thank You that our human need to worship is not left imitating the example of someone who WAS, but is met fully in the new life of relationship and fellowship with someone who IS. Amen.
Is it true?
Some recommended further reading for you to check out the evidence for yourself. A cynical lawyer, a NT scholar and a journalist bring different approaches to the investigation.
Read the passage in its entirety first, then read again in the verse-to-verse form.
Read Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 text
A prophetic Passover psalm of thanks and praise foretells Christ’s victory and resurrection Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 verse-by-verse
Read John 20:1-18 text
Disciples discover an open, empty tomb with two angels present and then Mary Magdalene hears Jesus and holds Him John 20:1-18 verse-by-verse
Read Acts 10:34-43 text
Peter relates his story of Jesus to a Gentile household as one who stood by the Cross and the empty tomb Acts 10:34-43 verse-by-verse
Read Colossians 3:1-4 text
New life in Christ is about dying to independence, gaining a new mindset and above all, growing in Him Colossians 3:1-4 verse-by-verse
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 — Christ’s victory and resurrection foretold
A prophetic Passover psalm of thanks and praise
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. 2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
“Give thanks…” – this Passover psalm was probably sung by Jesus on the night before His death.
14 The LORD is my strength and my defence; He has become my salvation.
“My strength and my defence” – Moses’ words, Exodus 15:2 and Isaiah 12:2.
15-16 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’S right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’S right hand is lifted high; the LORD’S right hand has done mighty things!”
“The Lord… has done mighty things” – shouts and declarations of victory, in the camp – and prophetically, in heaven.
17-18 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death.
“I will not die but live” – the experience of deliverance
19-20 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.
“Gate of the Lord” – like a procession through the double eastern gates of the Temple, an allusion to heaven. Jesus declared Himself the gate to salvation, John 10:9 and these words, echoing Psalm 24, show the perfect King of glory to be the only One who can enter the gates of the Lord of His own accord.
21 I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.
22-23 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
“Cornerstone” – the finest dressed stones were kept to set out the line and level of walls. Used in the OT of the Lord calling a true and submitted leader into a new work.
• For further study, see Isaiah 28:14-17; Zechariah 10:3-5 and also Mark 12:1-12. Paul taught the new work of God as the “new temple” where believers are “living stones” built around Jesus the cornerstone, Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8.
24 The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
More familiar as “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” A powerful praise declaration, especially as speaking of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This Passover psalm has so many allusions to Christ’s death being a victory, the means of salvation and the “gate” by which others can enter into salvation, it undergirds what we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday. Every line here speaks of Christ’s monumental achievement, from rejection by men to reserved selection by heaven, and its significance: the experience of God’s love for us, His strength, His gift of righteousness by which we can enter into salvation, thanksgiving – and joy. Christian faith is characterised by joy; joy comes from faith in Jesus.
Do others see in us, the joy of knowing Jesus?
John 20:1-18 — Mary Magdalene hears Jesus and holds Him
Disciples discover an open, empty tomb and two angels
1-2 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”
“First day ” – Sunday, which the first believers set aside to remember the resurrection, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2.
“While it was still dark” – she left home, arriving just after sunrise, Mark 16:2.
“Removed” – the circular stone, a metre across, requiring several people to roll it aside.
3-5 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
“The other disciple” – author of this gospel John refers to himself obliquely, John 13:23.
6-7 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.
Cloth… lying in its place” – or folded. No grave robber would have removed the (expensive) linen cloths and left them neatly. A sign to the disciples of intentional ‘undressing’.
8-10 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
“The other disciple… saw and believed” – up to this point they had no expectation of what they now encountered. Their knowledge of the resurrection came through what they “saw and believed” which they later related to Scripture.
11-13 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.”
“Why are you crying” – not the right response, as Mary was about to discover.
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
“Did not realise” – people were sometimes prevented from recognising Jesus at first after He was risen. There are hints that His appearance, in resurrection body, was a bit different – like the encounter on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.
• For further study, read John 21:4; Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:16, 37.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
“Thinking He was the gardener” – in the half light and through tears she did not see what she did not expect.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ ”
“I have not yet ascended” – Mary did not want to lose Jesus again and probably thought He would resume the former way of life. Like the others, she had yet to grasp the different reality of Jesus’ resurrected appearances, and then ascension.
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.
“Mary… went…with the news” – in Jewish culture a woman could not give witness in court. Mary, a woman healed from a broken life, had seen, heard and touched Jesus, and was now the bearer of the news to the others. No Jew of that time would make up such a story.
This story defies logic at every turn. The series of events were so surprising that it was recorded by sources of the time not sympathetic to Christians.
The stone that could not be moved, on a site under guard, Matthew 27:65-66, the neatly left grave wrappings, the dialogue with the angels, the physical contact with the risen Lord and the extraordinary choice of messenger – not to mention the raising to life of someone who had been proven to be dead on the Cross, John 19:33-34. There is too much here that we cannot rationalise.
The alternative is to accept that supernatural happenings point to a God far beyond human comprehension. To not understand is the right response, and to believe what we do not fully understand, is called faith.
Acts 10: 34-43 — Peter relates his story of Jesus to a Gentile household
34-35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.
“Does not show favouritism” – no partiality to Jewish ethnicity or a person’s station in life or religious standing. Every kind of person has the same welcome and the test for all is the sincerity of their believing and submitting to God. Peter has put in his own words the commission Christ gave the disciples before departing, Matthew 28:19-20.
36-38 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.
“The message… sent to the people of Israel” – first, but never to be restricted to them, as “Lord of all” emphasises. “The good news of peace” and “Lord of all” are the language of Isaiah 52:7 and 57:19; Cornelius and his household were always to be included.
• For further study, see John 3:16; Luke 2:30-32, 24:47; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16-17.
39-40 “We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen.
“We are witnesses” – Peter and the other disciples were with Jesus from the beginning, and saw the extraordinary events of His death and resurrection for themselves.
41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.
“Seen…by witnesses whom God had already chosen” – after His resurrection, Jesus showed Himself to believers, 1 Cor. 15:5-8, and ate with them, showing that He had been resurrected bodily, Luke 24:42-43; John 21:12-15.
42-43 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
“He is the One” – based on their own observation, vv.39-41, the apostles could proclaim Jesus Christ the One foretold by the prophets, and believing in Him as the sole qualification for forgiveness of sins.
• For further study, the whole plan of the Scriptures focuses on Christ, Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 5:39.
If the resurrection of Christ is extraordinary and without parallel, then the idea of Gentiles serving the occupying forces becoming believers in the fullness of the Holy Spirit was unthinkable – until it happened. It goes against the grain that God should favour people who, to us, do not qualify. It offends the religious mind, but primes us to the different values that prevail in His kingdom.
How naturally can you talk about who Jesus is and what He has done for you?
Believers die to their independence and gain a new mindset
Colossians 3:1-4 — New life in Christ means growing in Him
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
“Above, where Christ is” – false teachers were turning the Way of Jesus into a religion of following temporal things, like Judaism.
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
“Not on earthly things” – true spirituality is not about man-made rules but seeking a deeper relationship with Christ, Philippians 3:10, seeking His kingdom, Matt. 6:33 and living a life worthy of His name, Col. 1:10, 2:6.
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
“Hidden with Christ in God” – language from the Psalms and Isaiah expressing security and hope from having a new nature which comes from a new identity imparted in the new birth; good works and service flow as a result of this.
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
“Appear with Him in glory” – at His second coming, Rev. 19:11-13, 15-16.
Living in the knowledge of the resurrection of Christ is a call to live for Him, not in a dry memorial sense, but in active, growing partnership. Too easily this can degenerate into ritual and observance; partnership is all about relationship, a relationship in which we have given our sin-marred lives to Jesus.
The whole of the Bible, God’s revelation of Himself, turns on Christ’s victory by dying on the Cross and then His Resurrection to rule and reign eternally. But the perspectives are different, before and after the discovery of the empty tomb. Everything changes at this point. And everything in our lives changes, once we grasp the significance of it.
The only part we played in this was to help put Jesus in the Cross — our sin adding to the burden He carried. There is no good work or religious effort that could reduce that debt. We could only, as it were, watch as He paid the price for us as a suffering human but selfless and sinless sacrifice.
The Jesus we hear about now is not just a historical person, the miracle working Galilean. He is the One who has shown Himself to be Saviour and has conquered death and disempowered all the devil’s strategies. But more than that, we can know Him! Like Cornelius and his household, any of us, wherever we come from, whatever our position in life, can believe and choose to know Him personally. That decision is life-changing, and the big difference is being able to live differently as His Spirit changes us from within.
Which is the point of Paul’s reminder in his letter: “You have been raised with Christ — your life hidden in His.” This is the Good News — new life in Jesus.
Lord Jesus, as we especially focus on the discovery that Mary made — that You are alive! – help us to grasp more fully the magnitude of what you have done for us. And help us to live in it with joy, helping others to find that You are real. Amen.