Easter Chapters

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Chapter 9 - EASTER TRADITION

Christmas and Easter are the main Christian holidays and events associated with these occasions are explicitly recorded in the Bible. Still, most aspects of our Christmas and Easter celebrations are mere tradition and have little or nothing to do with the Biblical account.

Most would agree with me when I give Jingle Bells and Santa Claus as examples, but if I declare that neither kings nor wise men visited Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, I am called a heretic! If I claim that eggs and rabbits have nothing to do with Easter, some would agree, but when I say that Jesus didn’t die on Friday, I am worse than an infidel, destroying people’s faith! You have borne with me in the chapters on Christmas; now please stay with me in the next two chapters. You may even decide that I could possibly be right after all!

The Good Friday Tradition
Although the crucifixion is generally believed to have taken place on a Friday, there are problems with this contention. The first problem is found in Matthew 12:40, where Jesus clearly states that he would be in the grave for “three days and three nights.” By counting a few minutes of Friday and Sunday as two days, it would be possible to speak of one full and two partial days, but there can in no way be three nights. If we are to discount the one, how can we uphold the other? And if Jesus said that this is a special “sign,” then it must be taken seriously!

The reason why Friday was determined as the day Jesus died is because of the statement in Mark 15:42, that it was “the day before the Sabbath.” I agree with that statement, but few Christians are familiar with Jewish holiday traditions. The Sabbath mentioned was not a weekly Sabbath, but the first day of the Passover, which would have been considered a Sabbath no matter what day it fell on. John speaks of there being a “great Sabbath” in that year (John 19:31). Some expositors claim that this refers to a coinciding of the weekly and festive Sabbaths, but it more than likely indicates that there were two consecutive Sabbaths that year. This postulation would solve the aforementioned problem and indicate that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday.

The Wednesday Theory
Some theologians contend that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday. The best known of these is A.W. Tozer, who also concluded that Jesus was resurrected from the grave in the evening rather than early Sunday morning. Otherwise Jesus would have been in the grave longer than three days and three nights. Tozer believed that Jesus arose on Saturday at sundown, which would have been the beginning of the Jewish week.

Palm Sunday Tradition
The tradition which states that Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday is based on the premise of a Friday crucifixion. According to John 12:1, Jesus traveled to Bethany six days before the Passover, or on the 9th of Nisan. He took part in a great meal in that town during which Mary anointed him with ointment worth a year’s salary. The triumphal entry is said to have taken place “the following day” (v.12), on the 10th of Nisan. The Bible, however, does not say that the triumphal entry into Jerusalem occurred on a Sunday. If it had, then the previous day would have been a Sabbath, and the distance from Ephraim to Bethany, about 30 km, would be too far for a legal Sabbath day’s journey (John 11:54; Acts 1:12).

We read in Mark 15:42 and John 19:14-42 that Jesus was tried, crucified and buried on the day of preparation for the Passover feast, which would have been the 14th of Nisan. Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus had to hurry with his burial because it was nearly sunset at the beginning of the festive Sabbath, the 15th of Nisan. This may be one reason why Joseph offered his own tomb for Christ’s burial (John 19:38-39).

The 15th of Nisan was a Friday and the 16th was Saturday, or the weekly Sabbath. Jesus was resurrected from the dead on Sunday morning, the 17th of Nisan. This means that he would have been in the grave three nights, but only part of the third day. This however, does not present a problem since Jesus prophesied that he would be resurrected “on the third day.”

Objections to a Thursday Crucifixion
The King James Bible says, Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover? (Matthew 26:17). For this reason, some argue that Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover feast like all other Jews.

The Greek merely says, “the first day of unleavened bread” and the word “feast” is inserted in italics. This is an important distinction, for the “feast of unleavened bread” was eaten on the 15th of Nisan (after sunset), but the first day of unleavened bread was the 14th of Nisan, the day of preparation.

John’s Gospel speaks of a “supper” and even states emphatically that “it was not yet the Passover” (John 13:1-2). Although this meal was not the regular feast of unleavened bread, it was celebrated as such because Jesus wanted it that way. He said, I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.(Luke 22:15).

He would be in the grave when the Jews ate their feast, but he yearned to partake with his disciples. It is interesting to note that Leviticus 23:5-6 says, "In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD."

According to John 13:30, it was already night when Judas left. The other disciples assumed that he was going shopping for things they would need for the actual Passover feast. The markets were still open. This would not have been possible if it had been on the 15th of Nisan, which was a holy day.

About Jewish Sabbaths
The Jews not only kept a weekly Sabbath day, but other holy days which were treated as Sabbaths. The first day of the three main festivals, the Passover, Feast of the Tabernacles and Pentecost, was always a holy day. The same rules applied to these holy days as pertained to the weekly Sabbath (Exodus 12:15-18; Leviticus 23:4-8 and Numbers 28:16-25).

The Feast of the Tabernacles lasted eight days, the first and last days being holy days. The “days of unleavened bread” during the Passover lasted seven days, the 15th and 21st of Nisan being holy days. Although these holy days didn't always fall on a weekly Sabbath or the “seventh” day, they were referred to as Sabbaths because they were treated as such.

Rules of the Passover Feast
Exodus 12 gives us the basic rules for the feast of the Passover. The month of Nisan was the first month of the Jewish year, which like all other months, began with a new moon. A perfect lamb was to be chosen for the Passover feast on the 10th of Nisan and masted until the 14th. By sundown on the 13th of Nisan, all leaven was to be removed from the homes. The lamb was slain on the afternoon of the 14th and eaten the same night (after sundown). Jewish days begin at sundown, so this meal would have been eaten on the 15th of Nisan (v.8). The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was always the 15th of Nisan (full moon). No matter which weekday the 15th of Nissan fell on, it was regarded as a Sabbath.

Before you toss this book into file 13, I want to say that there is a big difference between traditions based on misconceptions such as the examples I have given in this chapter and teachings which stand in direct opposition to scriptural truth.

No one will go to hell because he or she believed Jesus was crucified on Friday or because they thought the wise men found Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem. Jesus used extremely harsh language, however, in speaking to the scribes and Pharisees. He called them hypocrites, a brood of snakes and children of hell. He said they were full of wickedness and compared them to tombs filled with rotting corpses (Matthew 23). Jesus showed that many of the Pharisee’s traditions and teachings were not only wrong according to the scriptures, but deadly and dangerous both for themselves and for those whom they influenced.

There is much more to learn from the biblical Easter account.

Chapter 10 - HAPPY EASTER!

The word “Gospel“ means “joyful message” or “good news.” It is just that, but only because of Easter. The three main events of the Christian church are the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, but without that last event, the former would be of no significance. There are many circumstances in the original Easter story and in our Easter celebrations today that might seem funny, hilarious or ridiculous, if they were not so tragic!

According to I Corinthians 15, our faith is worthless if there is no resurrection, yet millions of church members celebrate Easter who do not believe in a resurrection. How ridiculous!

In 1999, I conducted an Easter Sunday service in Austria. Among those in attendance was the director of a local college prep school who had two doctorates, one in philosophy and the other in theology. He said that his family enjoyed the service, so I asked him a few personal questions. It soon became clear that he didn’t believe in a resurrection of the dead. Upon further questioning, he argued that few educated people believed in a life after death. Because of his education and prominence, however, this man is often called upon to speak at Roman Catholic conferences and gatherings.

Scriptural accounts of the resurrection offer many opportunities to wonder about the sanity of those who deny the resurrection. Two followers of Jesus, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, placed the mutilated body of Christ in a tomb and rolled a heavy stone across the opening. Two female disciples watched the hurried embalming process from a short distance (Matthew 27:57-61; John 19:38-39). On the following day, the High Priests and Pharisees requested of Pilate that the tomb be sealed and a military watch be dispatched to prevent the disciples from stealing the body (Matthew 27:62-66).

If the disciples had planned to steal the body, they would have done so the evening before – or not have buried him in the first place! While the High Priests and Jewish leaders worried about the disciples stealing a corpse, those same disciples were hiding in a room with bolted doors and closed shutters for fear of being captured and killed!

It gets more ridiculous.

It is not clear how many soldiers watched the tomb. Pilate said to the High Priests, “Ye have a watch” which could mean that he sent Roman soldiers to guard the tomb. A Roman watch was composed of four soldiers, two of which would do guard duty while the other two slept. It is also possible that “Ye have a watch” referred to temple guards, which were at the disposal of the High Priests. A temple watch consisted of ten soldiers. I rather believe that both were present, because only some of them reported to the High Priests. If this is the case, there were fourteen soldiers who had the easiest job in the world — and got paid for it.

The apostle John gives us a vivid description of the turbulent scene at the tomb Sunday morning. Half the soldiers are sleeping or resting while the others have guard duty. In the early morning darkness, they hear footsteps and turn to see two women approaching, talking and carrying packages. Before the soldiers can ask any questions, there is a great earthquake, similar to the one that occurred three days earlier at the crucifixion. Now all the soldiers are wide awake and see a brilliant flash of lightning. As their eyes adjust, they see a figure in snow-white garments sitting on the stone, and the grave had been opened!

On a recent trip to Turkey, we visited the caves and underground cities where early Christians had fled following persecutions in Jerusalem and elsewhere. I was especially impressed with the ingenious way in which massive stones were used to block passageways in the tunnels. The stones rolled into place quickly and easily, but they were just about impossible to remove, once in place.

It was not the earthquake that moved the stone from the grave, but an angel. And he didn’t roll away the stone to let Jesus out. Jesus was already free! If Jesus could enter the room with locked and bolted doors where his fearful disciples were hiding, he didn’t need anyone to let him out of the tomb. The stone had to be rolled away for the world to see. The soldiers were first to see the open tomb and began to shake all over. They then fell to the ground and “became as dead men.”

Our son read these words when he was about ten years old. He came to me and asked, “What is the difference between “as dead men” and “like dead men?” I thought for a minute and gave an answer that has since become a family joke. I said, “ If you smell as a dead man, you can’t smell, but if you smell like a dead man, you stink!” It’s okay to laugh; Happy Easter!

The soldiers smelled “as dead men” – they were clueless, but Jesus was alive and well! They had been guarding an empty tomb, for how long we do not know. That all depends on whether Jesus was resurrected Saturday evening at sunset or Sunday morning. I often wonder if they heard a commotion inside while Jesus untangled himself from the embalming wrappings and the head cloth. Perhaps he gave thanks to his Father in heaven and sang a hymn or two. That would have made the guards edgy! Come on, you can at least smile!

While the soldiers were lying on the ground “as dead men,” the angel ignored them and spoke to the women. He instructed them to go tell the disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead and wanted to meet them in Galilee.

The women departed and the soldiers gradually came to their senses, staring at the empty tomb. Not only was the Roman seal broken and the stone rolled away, but the body they had been charged with protecting was also gone. They looked at each other with horror-filled eyes and then looked back at the tomb. They realized that they would likely face execution for failing to fulfill their responsibility.

Most of the soldiers fled for their very lives, but Jesus didn’t leave the area until he had assured the women that he was alive.

Some of the soldiers, probably those of the Temple Guard, went to the High Priests and unintentionally became the first post-resurrection evangelists. And the High Priests became the first to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. They called a special meeting of the Sanhedrin to discuss what should be done about it—not to determine if it had happened!

The High Priests and members of the Sanhedrin obviously believed the soldiers’ story, but it certainly didn’t seem like “good news” in their ears. Gamaliel would have been among those present when the Sanhedrin decided to pay the soldier-evangelists to go into all the world and preach another gospel!

Instead of receiving due punishment, the guards were paid generous bribes to lie about what happened! Can you imagine them dutifully spreading the word throughout the land? “We were charged with watching a tomb sealed with a Roman seal. We were to keep the corpse from being stolen. But we slept on our watch and the disciples were able to break the seal and move the heavy stone without waking us. They got away with the body and we don’t know where they put it. Even though we were sleeping, we know exactly what happened. Believe us!” Why did the Jewish leaders believe the soldier’s story? I personally think that the combined events of the passion week, from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and commotion in the temple when Jesus threw out the money changers and sellers of animals, to the solar eclipse, earthquake and rent temple veil, had all left an indelible impression on them. This was just one more unusual happening in a long chain of uncanny events which they had to deal with.

If the disciples had really attempted to steal the body, the armed and trained soldiers could easily have overpowered them. Historians tell us that the wrappings used to embalm a body weighed 100 pounds. Even if all eleven disciples had been present, who for the most part were tough fishermen, it would have taken several of them to move the stone and extract the body while the others held the soldiers at bay. The soldiers would have been handsomely rewarded had they prevented the disciples from stealing the body but sleeping while on watch was punishable by death.

People who heard this tale must have asked themselves why a search party had not been sent out to find the body and capture the disciples. The disciples could not have made very rapid progress carrying a corpse! Their capture would have been the best proof that the resurrection had not taken place. Even while the story of the soldiers was circulating, the disciples were preaching openly, and although they were arrested for preaching that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, they were never accused of stealing his body!

The Jewish leaders not only paid bribes to the soldiers for telling a lie, they also promised to bribe the Governor if he should get wind of the matter (Matthew 28:14). Both the soldiers and Jewish leaders could have faced execution for giving or receiving bribes.

After the terrible attacks of September 11th, I heard a prominent Austrian psychologist state over the radio, “One of the greatest dangers in our society is the belief in life after death.” He went on to explain that it was belief in a resurrection and afterlife in paradise that motivated Muslims to become suicide bombers. He conveniently overlooked or ignored the fact that most crimes are committed and wars are waged by people who, like himself, do not believe in a resurrection.

Both the denial of a resurrection and the belief in a resurrection that rewards killers of innocent men, women and children are destitute of all logic! The Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection and the Pharisees did, but together they demanded the worst possible form of death for a man who was totally innocent even by Pilate’s standards. And when their own paid temple guards gave testimony to his miraculous resurrection from the dead and reported seeing an angel, both Sadducees and Pharisees collaborated to bribe them generously to tell a blatant lie!

When we stop to think about it, the followers of Jesus present the best case against the resurrection of Christ. Consider the following facts:
• Mary Magdalene knew Jesus very well, yet she didn’t recognize him at all. She thought he was the gardener.
• Two of his disciples spoke with their resurrected Lord for hours while walking with him to Emmaus. They assumed he was a stranger!
• The disciples who wrote the gospel accounts admitted to their own fearfulness. They were hiding in a locked room and when Jesus appeared, they thought they were seeing a ghost!

The Jewish leaders, however, describe the disciples as bold, brave and courageous fighters who managed to outsmart and outrun a bunch of trained soldiers.

At least one of the soldiers must have become a Christian, but there were likely several. From the time Jesus was taken captive in Gethsemane until his resurrection, he was constantly surrounded by soldiers. Many details would not be known to us if at least one soldier had not been converted and told the disciples (Mark 15:16-20 for example). We do know that a centurion and others recognized Jesus to be the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).

God’s Wonderful Parable
Jesus was known for his many parables, and I believe that the Jewish Passover feast is God’s own parable of the ultimate sacrifice — the “Lamb of God” was sacrificed for the sins of man. It is really too bad that Gamaliel was blinded to the beauty of this wonderful parable.

CHOOSING THE LAMB
Explicit rules for the selection of sacrificial animals are outlined in the Old Testament. There were many types of offerings and for each a specific animal was required. A few exceptions were made for the poor, but every animal was to be "without blemish."

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Although this scene is depicted on many Christmas cards and played out in church programs, few give the matter much thought.

Normally, sheep were kept in a stall or fold at night. One shepherd would have sufficed to watch over a flock of sheep. The shepherds mentioned in Luke 2 were obviously watching sheep that were on their way to be sold in the courtyard of the temple.

In earlier times, most Jews kept animals, including sheep, but the times had changed when Jesus was born. Many lived in towns or cities, had shops or worked at trades like the carpenter, Joseph, and the disciples, who were mostly fishermen. Not a few pilgrims traveled great distances to get to Jerusalem, so it was more convenient to purchase sacrificial animals in Jerusalem.

Shepherds were always on the lookout for suitable animals for sacrifice because these could be sold at the temple for a higher price. Some drove flocks of sacrificial animals over great distances to be sold in the temple courtyard. They were careful not to drive them too hard. Upon arrival, the animals needed to get rested, fattened and cleaned up before they were saleable. The rural environs and close proximity of Bethlehem to Jerusalem made it the ideal "holding area" for sacrificial animals.

The Passover lamb had special significance. Exodus 12:3-6 gives instructions regarding the Passover lamb. It was to be a yearling male without blemish. It was to be separated from the flock at the latest by the 10th of Nisan (also called Abib), groomed and masted until the 14th, and finally, it was to be sacrificed by priests in the temple on the 14th. Its blood was sprinkled on the altar and the lamb was then eaten by the family with unleavened bread after sunset, on the beginning of the 15th. This feast marked the beginning of the week-long Festival of Unleavened Bread, the most important Jewish holiday.

CLEANSING THE HOUSE OF LEAVEN
Before the feast of the Passover could be celebrated, the houses had to be cleansed of all leaven. Homes were searched between the 10th and 13th of Nisan to ascertain that no trace of leaven remained by the evening of the 14th, when the lamb was slain and the Passover meal prepared.

The Apostle Paul gave this practice new meaning for Christians when he wrote, "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (I Corinthians 5:7-8)

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple area and physically threw out the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals. The “cleansing of the temple” took place at the time when Jews were searching for and ridding their homes of leaven in preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

An explanation is in order here. Jewish leaders insisted that the tribute money required of every adult be paid in the special coinage of the sanctuary. The same was true for purchasing (over-priced) animals for sacrifices. This money was only available at exorbitant exchange rates from official money changers who sat in Solomon’s Porch or the Court of the Gentiles. Jewish leaders should have forbidden such an unethical practice, for it was explicitly forbidden in Proverbs 20:23 and other Old Testament passages. Instead, they actually endorsed the practice because it had become a lucrative source of income. Jesus claimed that they had turned his house of prayer into a den of thieves!

PARADE OF THE LAMBS
Over the years a cult-like tradition had developed around the Passover lamb. When the shepherds brought their animals into Jerusalem, it was a festive occasion that drew crowds of spectators much like our July 4th parades today. I am reminded of the festive end-of-summer cattle drives in the Austrian Alps, when cows are decorated with flower garlands and bells for their return to the valley for the winter.

Shepherds carried their carefully manicured lambs on their shoulders, on donkeys or on decorated wagons through the streets of Jerusalem as people cheered for their favorites. Great care was given to keep the animals spotless. Those with money would later vie with one another in the temple courtyard to purchase the nicest lamb while lesser endowed pilgrims had to settle for whatever they could afford. The poorest had to wait until the afternoon of the 13th or find another poor family to share the cost of a lamb. There was a certain stigma associated with being poor and piety was measured by a persons financial status.

We can now perhaps better imagine the scene on that eventful 10th of Nisan when the lambs were paraded into the city to the joyous cheers of thousands of pilgrims. Right in the center of all that activity, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21 and Luke 19). The crowds recognized him and began to shout, “Hosanna thou son of David!” They spread their garments and palm branches on the road before him. We are reminded of the words of John the Baptist in John 1:29, "Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!" Children and disciples continued to shout praises even after Jesus entered the temple. It is easy to understand why the Pharisees became furious and demanded of Jesus that he silence his worshippers. Instead, Jesus admonished the Pharisees for not knowing the scriptures and said that if these should be silent, the rocks would cry out!

THE DAY OF PREPARATION
The 14th of Nisan was the day of preparation for the feast of unleavened bread. The Passover was to remind Israel of God’s salvation by sacrificing a perfect lamb, and it was on this afternoon that the Passover lamb was to be slain.

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, all nature has been under the curse of sin. There has, consequently, never been a perfect sacrificial lamb. All those millions of animals sacrificed in Old Testament times could only be symbols of the perfect Lamb of God which would someday be slain for the sins of all mankind.

The disciples celebrated the feast of the Passover with the very Lamb of God! After the crucifixion of Christ, no further sacrifice would be necessary for the forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 10:12-18). At this meal, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and shared the cup and bread with them as symbols of his ultimate sacrifice for their sin.

After Jesus ate the meal with his disciples, he went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray. While he prayed, sweating great drops of blood, three disciples who accompanied him slept. Shortly afterwards he was betrayed by Judas and taken captive by the soldiers. He was persecuted throughout the night. A crown of thorns was pressed onto his head. Soldiers spit on him, beat him and mocked him.

When it was morning, the cock crowed and Peter went out and wept bitterly. The Day of Preparation had dawned. On this day, Jesus was tried and pronounced “not guilty” three times, yet in order to appease the Jews, Pilate delivered him to the executioners. Jesus was crucified in the third hour and he died at the ninth hour. There was a great darkness and an earthquake. The crucifixion of Christ took place at the very time in which the Passover lamb was normally slain!

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemas placed his body in the tomb shortly before sunset on Thursday, the beginning of the 15th of Nisan.

THE CELEBRATION
The 15th of Nisan began Thursday evening at sundown. This was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and a holy day. The Jews celebrated their deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

Following the death and burial of Christ, Jewish leaders celebrated their victory by eating the Passover meal. In that first Passover night, God’s people were instructed to be prepared to flee at a moment’s notice. Exodus 12:11 says, And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S Passover. Certainly this described the anxious disciples hiding behind bolted doors.

Today, we celebrate the Lord’s supper looking back on the cross. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death (I Corinthians 11:26).

But we are also partakers with him in the present. We are told to contemplate what it may cost us to be faithful. Jesus told his followers that they must take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). The Lord had not yet been crucified when he made that statement but the disciples knew exactly what he meant.

Finally, the Lord’s supper looks ahead — till he comes. Jesus is coming again, and we must wait patiently.

AN INTERIM OF WAITING
The 15th and 16th of Nisan were days of rest. The Pharisees, Sadducees, High Priests and Scribes rested from the strenuous activities of the past few days. Only the Levite priests fulfilled their normal obligations in the temple. The body of Christ had been laid to rest in the tomb and his spirit was resting in Paradise. The disciples awaited their uncertain destiny in a room with the doors secured. Several of the women were waiting for the Sabbath to end in order to buy embalming spices. Soldiers waited at the tomb. Theirs was an easy task, preventing frightened disciples from attempting to move the heavy stone and steal the body of Jesus.

We too must wait while evil men seem to be in control. Waiting is not easy and it tests our faith, often to its limits. Although the price has been paid for our sins, eternal life is assured us and the enemy was defeated on the cross, we must wait and endure until that glorious appearing of our Savior.

THE RESURRECTION
The gospels give varying accounts of what happened early Sunday morning and Bible critics delight in pointing out the minor differences in these eyewitness reports. Mark and Luke speak of three women while Matthew mentions two Marys and John only speaks of Mary Magdalene. Three gospel writers mention two angels but Matthew only one. What is of utmost importance, is the proclamation of the angels and witness of the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead!

Mary Magdalene stood near the empty tomb weeping. There was much she could not understand. Jesus asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary thought he was the gardener. Why the gardener? Might he who would not break a bruised reed (Matthew 12:20), have been straightening flowers which the soldiers had trampled under foot in their hasty retreat from the tomb? Jesus then called her by name, “Mary!” Only then did she begin to understand (John 20:1-16).

THE MYSTERY OF IT ALL
There are portions of the Bible that I do not comprehend, but God only expects me to obey what I do understand. I refuse to place myself in a position above the Bible. I subject myself to God’s Word and blame my own inability to understand rather than question the Bible’s credibility.

Like the patriarch Job, I personally know that my Redeemer lives. He calls me by name and leads me like a shepherd through dark valleys and on mountain tops. He answers prayer and gives peace and joy in spite of difficult circumstances. This cannot be understood by anyone who does not believe. Some call me a fool for believing, but after nearly half a century of living for and serving Christ, I don’t regret a moment of it and encourage others to do the same. If I have been deceived, I certainly didn’t miss anything good and I’ve been spared much evil. People should be thankful that I was somehow deluded at 19 years of age in a Memorial Day service at Camp Haluwasa, in Southern New Jersey. They should be happy that my life took a dramatic turn for the better! Those drug addicts who were freed from the chains of addiction during our years of youth work in Linz, profited immensely by my “delusion.” The young people who were trained in our Bible Institute to become missionaries, pastors and Christian workers, have enjoyed the blessings of their “delusion” as have those individuals whose lives were touched by these graduates.

No, it is not those who give their lives in service to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who are deluded and missing out on life. People who attempt to live godlessly are to be pitied. They have nowhere to turn for comfort and help when life takes a bad turn and no one to thank for sunshine, rain and the beauty of nature.

Perhaps you believe that Jesus is dead. You believe the soldier’s fantastic tale, that they saw the disciples break the seal and roll the heavy stone from the tomb and steal a corpse while they slept. Or you may deny that Jesus was crucified or that he ever existed. Perhaps you believe the disciples wrote those unflattering tales of their own failures and weaknesses in order to win a following. Are you any better off for believing that? Or does your belief allow you to live immorally, to be dishonest, untruthful, and to seek your own advantage at the expense of others?

If so, you are not much different from the Pharisees of Jesus day. They concocted their own religion which allowed them to take advantage of poor pilgrims for their own enrichment. They ridiculed and slandered the innocent, the righteous and repentant sinners. They robbed orphans and widows while praying pious prayers. They tortured and crucified a man whom they knew had done no wrong. They paid bribes to the traitor Judas and lying soldiers, and when they were finished, they sat down to enjoy their religious feasts - just like many hypocrites do at Christmas and Easter today.

A sealed tomb could no more contain the living Christ than a barricaded room full of scared disciples could prevent him from entering, but disbelief can keep him out of your heart and life. I prefer to believe, for even when I doubt, Jesus breaks through and assures me of his living presence!

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