Scripture Reading: April 16 &17

Jesus Has Risen

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.


On the Road to Emmaus

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. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

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?”

“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. 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. 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.”

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.

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.

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 recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 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?”

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 recognized by them when he broke the bread.


Jesus Appears to the Disciples

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”


The Ascension of Jesus

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:1-53 NIV)



Sacrifices of Easter

by Laura Courtney

Easter is a real celebration for us, but it can’t come without Good Friday. Good Friday marks the day that Jesus, the Son of God, died for us so that we could be reunited with God the Father. We often take time to reflect on the suffering Christ endured and the sacrifice Jesus made out of love for us. But I want to reflect for a moment about another sacrifice that was made that day too (and hopefully this doesn’t sound too blasphemous or anything by the end… I’m no theologian here people).

I’ve been thinking recently about the sacrifice God the Father had to make that Good Friday. He had to watch and, in a sense I believe, give approval of His Son’s death. It was no surprise to either Him nor Jesus and it was not without their love for us that it happened. But it still had to happen.

Christ suffered tremendously and had to bear the weight of all our sin – the whole world’s sin – on the Cross. I cannot imagine having to go through that myself and obviously I never could have done it which was why Christ had to. But at the same time, I cannot imagine the part of the Trinity that is God the Father who had to watch His Son suffer. I think that is almost the harder thought for me. As parents we want to keep our children safe, protect them from harm, and surely would rather give our own life for our child(ren). If asked the question would we rather have to suffer excruciating pain ourselves or watch our child go through it, I think we all would volunteer as tribute without second thought.

But God is so much greater and stronger than we because He knew this was the only way to reconcile the entire world to Him again. And so He did. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)

We read a foreshadowing to this in Genesis 22 when God asks Abraham to do a similar act with Isaac. Abraham is willing yet God does not make Him go through with it. However, in the Gospels there is no other way. The sacrifice God asked Abraham to make He now has to make Himself. He watches His Son suffer a brutal and agonizing death; to then die and be officially and completely separated from Him.

 As a parent would I – could I – let my only child die knowing that I could stop it all instantly? And what’s more, let my child die for the worst of people? Maybe I could better rationalize it to myself if I knew my child was dying for “good people”. But Christ didn’t die just for those who were good and who would one day go to heaven…He died for all sinners, then and now; the most horrible, heartless, and evil of us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV)

I keep hearing the lyrics,  “How deep the Father’s love for us, How vast beyond all measure, That He should give His only Son To make a wretch His treasure.” It is only because of God’s great love – His unconditional, everlasting, patient, perfect love for us – that He would do this. In my opinion, we never were and never could be worth that sacrifice of a Father letting His Son die. But because He is good and He is love, He believes that we are. Are you living your life in honor of the sacrifices (both of them) of Easter?

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11 NIV)

Father your love is greater than we can ever know or comprehend. It is unfathomable to me at times how you could even love us. Yet I am so thankful you do. Thank you for the sacrifices of Easter that you endured so that we could be reconciled to you. May we live each day worthy of those sacrifices. Amen.


What The Lord Has Done

by Jacqui Forde, WOH Uganda

But God who is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4 NIV)

It’s good for God to remind us of what we used to be.

His purposes for doing so are
(1) to help us to be humble
(2) to deepen our gratitude
(3) to understand that it is by His grace
(4) to glorify God, who alone is able to take nothing (what we were) and make something (what we are now) out of it.

The reading of the book of Ephesians helps us to see that we were spiritually dead because of our sins, walking in iniquity, in bad shape, following foolish fads and fashions, and influenced by the devil. We were disobedient, living in lust, rebellious, governed by the desires of the flesh and mind, condemned, children of wrath, and bound for hell.

What a background.

But God, who is rich in mercy, loved us when we were unlovable and sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us. But we are reminded again of God’s grace, mercy and love. Thank God today for His mercy.


There’s a chorus we sing, a chorus of victory:

What the Lord has done for me I cannot tell it all
What the Lord has done for me I cannot tell it all
What the Lord has done for me I cannot tell it all
He saved me and washed me with His blood

So I can sing hallelujah
I can shout hallelujah
I can sing Praise the Lord
So I can sing hallelujah
I can shout hallelujah
I can sing Praise the Lord.


What is Your Ebenezer?

by Pastor Todd Witmer

Ebenezer is one of those funny Old Testament words that I hear occasionally (even sing from time to time – in “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”) but never quite understood. As a matter of fact, it may be more familiar to me as the first name of an infamous penny-pincher with the last name of Scrooge than in its biblical setting.
The term comes from a time in Israel’s history when Samuel was the spiritual and political leader of the nation. In I Samuel 7, the Israelites come to Samuel asking for help to rededicate their lives to the Lord. They wanted Samuel to cry out to the Lord on their behalf. As the nation gathered for worship, the Philistines seized the opportunity to attack. The sacrifice of rededication took on the added purpose of a call for protection and courage in battle. While Samuel sacrificed the lamb, the Lord “thundered” against the Philistines. Israel won a great battle that day. Samuel set up a stone in the middle of the battlefield. He called it Ebenezer – “stone of help”, to remind the people that God answered in the middle of their struggle as they cried out. 
This Old Testament word took on new meaning a month ago as I was working through my morning coffee. These days I’m listening to a radio feature that I previously missed. A little before 8:30 am, the unmistakable voice of Joni Eareckson Tada brings a devotional thought that often stirs my cloudy, start of the day thinking. For those who are not familiar with Joni’s story, I encourage you to look it up. Simply put, a little more than 50 years ago, Joni dove into the Chesapeake Bay and hit the shallow bottom. Since that time, she has been a quadriplegic.
This morning, Joni’s message addressed the concept of Samuel’s Ebenezer. She went on to explain her “stone of help”. I was expecting her to describe an inspirational event (she has spoken at Billy Graham crusades and countless gatherings worldwide), or perhaps a friend who has been encouraging at a time of struggle. To my astonishment, Joni stated that her wheelchair is her Ebenezer! She went on to explain how she sees God’s help in countless ways through this piece of equipment that is her support and transportation.
I felt an uncomfortable conviction. If I were in her seat, I’m afraid the wheelchair would be a constant reminder of the terrible accident that made it necessary. How could Joni keep her focus on God’s “help” when it looked like a symbol of failure and unanswered prayer? I obviously have some soul-searching to do. What could I be viewing as a symbol of failure or misfortune that, if seen through eyes of faith, would be a reminder of God’s help? It is so easy to feel sorry for myself when my plans or expectations are not realized. What if God is at work, but His answer to my prayer is in an unexpected form?
In this season we remember the greatest “help” God provided for sinful humanity. What looked like total failure became the victory that brought salvation, available to all. May He give us eyes to see his “help” in the midst of our struggle. What is your Ebenezer?



A Record of the Blood

by Joe Becker

Pennsylvania Preacher, A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) is quoted to have said, “One passage of Scripture is never enough to establish a doctrine.”

If that view is accurate, then we can hardly expect to establish a doctrine with just one verse of Scripture, much less by setting apart any one word of the Text. Yet a certain value may be attached to that principle when the occasion of a word is found only once in all of Scripture. Unfolding its context and definition does not lessen but endears and deepens the Holy Word and Spirit of God to our hearts.

Each year during the Church’s observance of Lent, I recall the lone reference of the term: “Agony”, as it appears in Luke’s Gospel:

               “…and being in agony, (a struggle), He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 KJB)

Note, this is the scribes’ only use of the word agony in the entire King James Version of the Bible. It amazes me how Luke would, -with this single word-, preserve the Lord’s Spiritual state and exact for us the very essence of Christ’s heart and mind, in the Garden setting. Being concerned not with His own interests but those of our Father in Heaven, “He prayed more earnestly” Luke22:42 (KJV)

Then it becomes a matter of intrigue to review Luke’s Text from the garden to the grave. Ironically, nowhere does the Physician expound on Jesus’ physical condition. Nowhere does he examine or record the wounds or stripes of the tortured Christ. There is no reference to the scourge from Luke’s account, but it is covered in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John. Similarly, there is no reference to the agony by Matthew, Mark, or John but it is wonderfully cared for by the Doctor/author, Luke.

In keeping with the record of the blood, let us remember without any inadvertence, that Jesus was known as the man of sorrows. Here the Hebrew word for sorrow is used of both physical and mental pain. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah53:3 KJV)

Most merciful Father,

Thank you for so many levels of your provision of love for us. May we say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” Thank you for the outcome of Your will, which is grace and mercy toward us. Thank you, AMEN.


Wishing This Plague Would Just Passover

by Michael Freeman

Each year, around Easter, I look forward to what has become a tradition in my home… preparing and sharing a Passover Seder with our family and friends. This is not something we did in my house growing up. Though my father was raised Jewish, and my grandmother and aunts and uncles all celebrated Passover together, our family did not participate. I’m sure my parents had their reasons. Maybe they thought that combining religious traditions would confuse us as kids. Maybe that week was already busy enough with Easter traditions… Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday service, searching for eggs and Easter baskets at my home and my grandparents’ house, the big family meal. I even remember doing a homemade Easter bonnet parade in elementary school. As a kid, that time was fun and busy… too busy to wonder why we never celebrated Easter with my Dad’s mom. As I got older though, I wanted to know more about my Jewish family and the customs and traditions that marked out their year. So, I started to look into it. It wasn’t until we had young children of our own that, with the support of Bethanie, we celebrated our first Passover Seder. We have continued the tradition every year since… adding chairs and additional tables to the meal to accommodate more and more guests.

Last year, during the height of the pandemic, I had the opportunity of welcoming my church family into my home (via video) to celebrate Passover together. This year, we are preparing to share a Seder at the church during Holy Week. This has become an important tradition in my family so I thought it might be a good opportunity to reflect on just some of the lessons that celebrating Passover has taught me.

  • God is faithful to keep His promises. Passover is a time when we celebrate the miraculous Exodus story, where God brought His people out of bondage in Egypt. If He can keep a 400-year-old promise to Israel, we can trust His promises to us.

Do we trust Him? John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  • Sometimes, God needs to get our attention. During the telling of the Exodus story, there is special attention given to the plagues on Egypt. As a Christian, it is often hard to understand how Pharaoh didn’t just acknowledge the power of God and set the Israelites free.

How many ways does God try to capture our attention while we are busy going about our lives? Romans 1:18 – “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

  • We have to share the story. The Passover Seder is a tradition that is meant to be shared with others. It is built around encouraging children to ask questions and to spend time answering those questions. People are also encouraged to open their homes and tables to others.

Do we open our lives to others? Are we ready to share the story of God’s faithfulness to any who would ask about it? Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.”

  • He’s coming back! Though the Passover Seder is a powerful tradition for the Jewish people, it has such a richer meaning for Christians. Whenever we participate in Communion, we are actually participating in a tiny part of the Passover Seder. Christ used this celebration to point to Himself. The plague of the Death of the Firstborn, opening the door to wait for the prophet Elijah to return, the symbols of rebirth throughout the celebration… there is so much here that points to God’s larger plan to not only bring His people out of bondage in Egypt but to also release them from the bondage of sin.

Do we live like we know He is coming back? Do we make room for Him at our tables and in our lives? Luke 22:15-16 – “And He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’”     

After my grandmother died, we were invited to celebrate Passover with my Jewish relatives for the first time. Sitting around their table, I had the excitement of a kid again on Easter morning, just waiting for the day to unfold. Surrounded by family, laughter, storytelling, and song, I discovered a new appreciation for my Christian faith. Participating in this ancient Jewish tradition, one that was so important to Christ Himself, I felt like I had an inside track on what this celebration was all about.

God has always had a plan for His people. He is faithful, loving, and can be trusted. For a reason that doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, He intends for us to have a role in that plan… to participate in reconciling the world to Him. Can we still see Him working that plan out in our lives? Are we in a season where He is trying desperately to get our attention? Are we willing to open our lives and our homes to others who are seeking? Do we live our lives with the expectancy that He is coming back at any moment? I pray that this season, as we prepare to celebrate His resurrection, some of these lessons from the Passover Seder might help to strengthen our faith and witness.