Rested on the Sabbath

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).

It was the day in the middle of the most important events in human history. We can only imagine how it must have been.

Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and now lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:1-55). He was in Paradise as He had promised (Luke 23:43), and perhaps this is the time when He preached to spirits in prison, but there is no basis for being definitive here (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6).

Those who had sought to put Jesus to death must have been content. They could now enjoy the high Sabbath of the Passover week in relative peace. Another Messiah had been executed, no longer to be a threat. They would not miss Jesus’ antagonism. Their vision of Judaism remained as it had been, and in their estimation, all was well.

Since it was still the Passover the Roman authorities would still be on high alert. Mass sedition and riot was avoided over the matter of Jesus of Nazareth, but there could be any number of reasons for a new uprising or threat to Roman power. It is possible that Pilate had some twinges of guilt– perhaps he meditated a little bit about his strange interaction with that interesting Man. But there’s no reason to believe that Pilate was overly disturbed about his conduct. As for Herod, well, there was one fewer antagonist stirring up the people in Galilee. Whereas he took the blame for killing John, Jesus’ death was at least off of his head.

The people who cried for Jesus’ death would rest as pious Jews, looking forward to continuing the Passover festivities. Despite the hype there would be no revolution during this Passover. Another so-called Messiah had come and gone, and life continued as it always had.

Yet there were many others who did not consent to Jesus’ death. They would still be smarting from the injustice that just took place. One day He was teaching in the Temple – the next, crucified as an insurrectionist, having been arrested and tried in most dishonest ways. Here was a great hope – a wonderful proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God – and yet again, the forces of darkness seemed to prevail.

And then there were the women who followed Jesus to the very end (cf. Luke 23:49, 55-56). So many hopes seemingly dashed – so much promise now gone. They had seen where He was entombed, and they awaited the morning to finish the preparations of His body that had been hastily begun before the previous sunset.

Finally we have His disciples. A cloud of suspicion was over them – what would they do? Yet they were not a threat. Instead, they were left to wonder what had happened. They had seen Jesus do so many amazing things. He said the words and did the things that the Messiah would say and do. They would remember that He said that He would die – but it still did not make any sense, for He also talked about the coming of His Kingdom. How could a dead Messiah rule over a Kingdom? There was this talk of Him rising from the dead, but the disciples knew that the dead remain dead, and that the resurrection would come on the final day for everyone (cf. Daniel 12:2-3, John 11:24). Now what would they do? How could this make any sense whatsoever?

We know what will take place the next morning and that, from then on, nothing would be the same. Yet, as we consider that high Sabbath day so long ago, perceiving the last day that things had been as they always had been, we understand all the more just how profound the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is.

It has become popular in many circles to believe that the disciples made up the resurrection of Jesus. Such seems almost laughable when we understand the attitudes and conduct of those disciples during Jesus’ final week. It is not as if all the disciples and women are counting down the hours and minutes of the Sabbath awaiting the resurrection. We greatly err if we think that they were so much more ignorant or superstitious than we are to just expect Jesus to rise again. They knew as well as we that the dead stay dead and that the end of not a few Messianic movements came when the Messiah was killed. Even though Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. John 2:19-22, Luke 9:22), the disciples were manifestly in no position to understand what He meant or to be prepared for it. It is little wonder that they all disbelieved at first when it happened (cf. Mark 16:11-13)!

We do well, at times, to place ourselves back on that high Sabbath of rest – the moment of pause during the most momentous events in human history. It increases our wonder and awe all the more of the resurrection that will come the next day. Let us praise God that we can have the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Do Not Be Afraid

In Matthew 28:5-6, when an angel of the Lord appear before a fearful set of guards and the women gathered with Mary, he begins his revelation of Christ’s resurrection with these words: “Do not be afraid.”. The resurrection is a core of the New Testament. In I Corinthians 15, Paul devotes most of that long chapter to the subject of our bodily resurrection, drawing parallels with Christ’s own resurrection. Acts 23:6 and I Peter 1:3 both refer to the resurrection as a hop that we have. Why, then, does the angel admonish those gathered to not be afraid?

In Matthew 26:56, Jesus’ disciples flee after the mob comes to seize Jesus. They are scared for their lives. After the crucifixion, only two – Joseph and Nicodemus – come to claim Jesus’ body. In Mark 16, after Mary and the other women see the angel of God, they flee in fear, and John 20:26-28 finds the disciples gathered together behind locked doors, fearful of the Jews (see verse 19). Jesus’ followers live in fear at this time, but the resurrection brings a reason to end those fears.

Driving Away Fear with Joy

In John 20:11-18, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and she joyfully tells the other disciples what she has seen. Luke 24:13-35 records Jesus’ encounter with two disciples who are distraught because of recent events. His revelation to them brings them a joy that they begin sharing with others in verses 36-43. In John 20:20-28, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples behind those locked doors brings them gladness, and they bring the news to Thomas. Apart from Jesus, those disciples had many reasons to fear, but His presence brought joy.

We can see this transformation from fear into joy in the life of Peter. In Luke 5, Peter recognizes Jesus’ divinity, and his initial response is one of fear. He falls at Jesus’ feet, asking Jesus to depart from him and his sinful nature. When Pater comes face-to-face with God’s power, he sees his own shortcomings and wants to hide himself from divinity. Jesus response begins with familiar words: “Do not be afraid.” John 21 stands as a contrast to these events when Jesus repeats this sign after His resurrection. This time, instead of cowering from Jesus, Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore, desperately trying to draw closer to his resurrected Lord. He is no longer afraid.

Living without Fear

In Acts 2, this same Peter proclaims Jesus’ resurrection before the Pentecost crowds. In Acts 3:14-15, Acts 4:10-20, and Acts 5:29-32, Peter continues to preach a risen savior before those who should otherwise bring him fear. His actions stand at contrast to the fearful man we see in Luke 5. He preaches in confidence because of the joy he has in Christ’s resurrection. This is the hope Paul writes in I Corinthians 15. Joy overcomes fear; forgiveness overcomes sin; confidence overcomes guilt; and defeat is swallowed up in victory.

When we approach Jesus, how do we react? We can shirk from Him in guilt and fear, or we can draw closer to him. We can be reconciled to Him and obtain a new life, free from guilt sin. We can live joyfully in the hope of resurrection.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Suffering Before Glory

In I Peter 2, Peter describes what Jesus underwent on our behalf, and he holds up that sacrifice as an example to us. In verse 21-25, Christ’s suffering is the basis of our calling. Philippians 2 then gives a clearer picture of what Jesus would go through before His exultation. In his book, Peter relates suffering to glory. Our endurance and perseverance leads to God’ glory and our’s in Him. Paul, in Philippians, details that suffering, that endurance, that perseverance. In recognizing that God has highly exalted Jesus, we must first appreciate the extent to which he submitted Himself.

Christ’s Humility

II Corinthians 8:9 records Paul writing that Jesus made Himself poor, and he writes, in Philippians 2:7, that Jesus submitted as a servant. The Creator of John 1:1 becomes as the created – subject to pain, sorrow, frustration, sickness, and death. In Matthew 20:26-28, when Jesus’ disciples begin to argue over who should be highest in Christ’s kingdom, Jesus remonstrates them to put such thoughts aside, that they should seek servitude as He lives in service.

In Philippians 2:8, Paul writes that Jesus humbled Himself, and this humility would be prerequisite to His coming in the form of man, living in service, or submitting to obedience. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul pleads for Christians to live in humility, and Ephesians 4:1-3 appeals to a walk of humility. I Peter 5:6 and James 4:10 call on us to humble ourselves before God. Jesus emptied Himself, became a servant, and He learned obedience in humility. In the gospels, He is obedient, even to a humiliating death on the cross.

Emptying Ourselves

Knowing these things and applying them are two different things.

  • Where we would be full of ourselves, our Savior emptied Himself. Galatians 2:20 reminds us we must dethrone self and allow Christ to reign in our hearts.
  • Where we would have others serve our interests, Jesus was servant to all. Whether foreign, poor, rich, sick – Jesus reached out to their needs. Our lives should be ones of service.
  • Where we would exalt ourselves, Jesus humbled Himself. We need to start with humility so we can look to the needs and interests of others.
  • Where we want to do things our way, Jesus willingly and unconditionally obeyed His father. We should have the same trust we see in His submission.

Conclusion

In I Peter 1:22, Jesus calls on us to love one another fervently, living and abiding in the word of God. When we can empty ourselves, humble ourselves, serve others, and obey God, we purify our hearts before the Lord. We should be amazed at what our Savior was willing to do for each of us. The one who knows all things and spoke all things into existence – He did much for us in humility. He faced endurance and suffering before glory and exaltation. We should expect and be willing to submit to no less than that.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Mustard Seed – Part 1

And he said, “How shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or in what parable shall we set it forth? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof” (Mark 4:30-32).

Many of Jesus’ teachings regarding His Kingdom were set forth in parables. This is understandable, for it is difficult for humans to wrap their heads around the realities of a spiritual Kingdom while living on the earth. We understand things best when they are compared with things we know and understand.

The Jews of first century Palestine would understand the mustard seed and the mustard plant. The mustard seed was incredibly small, about three millimeters in diameter. Nevertheless, when the mustard seed was planted and the plant grown, it far exceeds the size of other herbs, looking like a shrub or a small tree, large enough for birds in which to lodge. The mustard plant, therefore, is a story of growth explosion from a small beginning.

Jesus found the example of the mustard seed and plant quite useful and applied its lesson in different ways. In Mark 4:30-32, the mustard seed and plant represent God’s Kingdom. Its beginnings would seem rather insignificant: Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in the relative backwater of Galilee and Judea in the days of Tiberius Caesar (cf. Mark 1:15, Acts 10:38). Around Him gathered a small following of devoted disciples of whom He selected twelve to be His special representatives (Mark 3:14-19). Neither Jesus nor His representatives seemed very significant – He an unlearned son of a carpenter from Nazareth, His followers mostly Galileans, many of whom were relatively ignorant fishermen (cf. Mark 6:3, John 7:15, Mark 1:16-20, Acts 4:13). This Jesus went to Jerusalem in triumph and yet was soon executed by the Romans (Mark 11:1-10, 14:1-15:47). All of this did not seem to be that earth-shattering.

Yet, on the third day, this Jesus was raised by the power of God from the dead, and He instructed His followers in all things concerning Himself (Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53). After He ascended to His Father, His representatives, the Twelve Apostles, received power from the Holy Spirit and began proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in power to all the Jews (cf. Acts 2:1-36).

At first there was the One (Luke 17:20-21). Then there were 120 or so (Acts 1:15). After the first lesson there were over 3,000 (Acts 2:41). Soon after it would be 5,000 more (Acts 4:4). The message would then spread from Jerusalem throughout Samaria and Galilee (Acts 1:8, 8:4), and then throughout the Mediterranean world, and ultimately into all the world (Acts 1:8, Colossians 1:6). The Kingdom is proclaimed to this day, almost 1,980 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth!

Thus the Kingdom is like a mustard seed: it started extremely small but expanded out into all the world, and its message and those who proclaim it are a refuge for those who despair. Let us be part of that Kingdom and promote that Kingdom in our lives!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Our Bodily Resurrection

In I Corinthians 15, Paul covers the concept of the resurrection in detail. While the Corinthian Christians seem to have faith in Christ’s bodily resurrection, they have problems with the concept of our own physical resurrection. Paul discusses the hope and power of the resurrection as well as the implications involved in denying the resurrection. He sets the stage in verse 20, referring to Jesus as the first-fruits of those raised from the dead. Continuing into the subsequent verses, Paul states that those who belong to Christ will also be raised.

Principals of the Resurrection

From here, Paul begins to address some concerns regarding the resurrection and some principals surrounding the event. In verse 35, he asks what matter of body in which the dead will be raised. Addressing this, Paul uses an illustration of plantings, but he does not give a specific answer. Instead, he claims a body can be different while remaining the same in verses 38-41. God maintains a distinction between different types of bodies – each remaining its own. We will have a resurrected body, but it will be incorruptible and in glory according to verses 42-44.

Why does Paul deem it necessary that we cannot deny the physical resurrection despite the difficulties in comprehending such? This can be a signal to be more careful with the bodies we have now. We will be raised with a body – a spiritual, unique, and perfected body. Still, such knowledge should give me pause to consider how I treat the body I have in this life. I Corinthians 6:19-20 describes our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and a vessel in which to glorify God.

Additionally, as Paul argues for the idea of a bodily resurrection, we cannot disassociate what we do with our bodies and our spiritual state. This is a problem the Christians at Corinth have. In chapter 6:18, he addresses the thought that sins committed happen outside the physical body, but Paul reminds his audience that anything affecting the body affects the spirit. Verses 13-16 remind us that our bodies are not our own, and the actions we take in this body reflect the health of our spirituality. Romans 14:12 and Matthew 16:27 speak of personal accountability before God, but, in II Corinthians 5:10, Paul speaks to the same accountability in terms of what we do in or with these bodies. Again, we cannot disassociate our physical activities with who we are spiritually, and our bodies belong to Christ.

Conclusion

I Corinthians 15:51-58 tells us we will be raised to put on immortality and incorruption, calling upon us to be steadfast in our labor for the Lord. Our worshipful service is not empty. It is not unproductive. The knowledge that we will be raised to eternal life should challenge us to live as Christ would have us. God through Christ has given us the victory over sin and death. Ours is to reflect that spiritual state in our lives now, so we can put on an incorruptible body in the resurrection.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Power of the Resurrection

I Corinthians 15 centers around the idea of resurrection – not only of Christ but of ourselves as well. The saints at Corinth do not deny that Jesus is bodily raised from the dead. What they have a problem with is our own bodily resurrection. In the first few verses, Paul establishes three facts about the resurrection: the resurrection as the source, the course, and the force of the Bible.

The Resurrection Driving the Gospel

Verses 1-4 record Paul stating that their faith is based on the doctrine of Christ’s death and resurrection. That Christ died and was raised is a nutshell of the gospel. Spiritually, sin puts us under the condemnation of death, and Christ’s death and resurrection provides us with a path of reconciliation with God. If He had died and remained in the grave, we would be without hope, but the resurrection provides foundation for our hope.

From here, Paul describes how the resurrection is verified in the gospel. It is the course of the gospel. He brackets the process of the death, burial, and resurrection with the phrase “according to the scriptures” in verses 3-4. Psalm 16:8-10 is quoted in Acts 2:25-29, and Peter applies this passage to Christ. From here, Paul appeals to eye witnesses in verses 5-8 of I Corinthians 15. He walks among others for forty days before His ascension to Heaven.

Finally, the resurrection is the motivator of the gospel. I Corinthians 6:9-10 speaks of the sins in which these brethren had once been involved, but they had been redirected by the gospel – God’s power of salvation according to Romans 1:16. In chapter 15: 9-10, Paul then uses himself as proof of the power of the resurrection. After seeing the Lord, Paul recognizes his own need for salvation. I Timothy 1:13 records Paul describing himself in hostile terms, but his exposure to the resurrection fundamentally changes his character. It requires him to redirect his energies.

Applying Ourselves In the Resurrection

When we think of the resurrection, we should be like Paul and let that message of the risen Messiah motivate us to examine ourselves, change our character, and redirect our energies. Being a successful Christian is not a passive experience. We must be energetic for the Lord.

If indeed Christ is raised and we will be raised, there are some glorious results. I Corinthians 15:20-23 describes a great gathering of the faithful – made alive to be united with Christ and with each other. We will be raised to never face death again. It is the culmination of God’s plan according to verses 24-28 when all shall come under subjection to God, and the spiritual kingdom – of which we are a part – will be given over to God, abolishing death for all time.

Anticipation of this event should produce perseverance within us. I Corinthians 15:29 begins asking a series of questions regarding the point of our faith and the resultant trials if we have no hope of resurrection. However, that hope should sustain us and give us the confidence to look forward to that day when we will be reunited with our Lord. Paul is dramatically changed by the power of the resurrection, and we can be likewise changed. Our hope and confidence drive us to put away our sinful selves and fully center our lives around Christ who was raised and who will raise us.

lesson by Tim Smelser