What is the message of Easter morning to us today?
5 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? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 'The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"
Week 14 (April), Commentary on Luke 24
It was Easter Sunday morning. The Florence (Italy) congregation was singing a classic Easter gospel song, Ei vive ("He lives"). As the voices echoed off the masonry walls and terrazzo floors, a special spirit seemed to envelop that little building on Toscanini Street.
Suddenly, just before the last verse, I felt impressed to ask if there was someone would like to stand and give a personal affirmation to the reality of that chorus, Io questo so con veritá, ch'ei vive nel mio cuor ("I know He lives within my heart").
To my surprise, up stood Laura Tardelli. This young wife had begun coming to church only a few weeks before. As we had been singing, her heart had been warmed with the inward witness to a new birth she had experienced in her home.
It was a beautiful moment as Laura said simply, "I do know that Jesus lives because He lives in my heart." [ Missionary stories from Italy ]
It was no doubt a similar kind of burning witness that the two men on the road to Emmaus experienced that first Easter day.
Jesus Christ is alive. It wasn't His ghost that appeared to those men. There was not a dead body left in that tomb. It was indeed He. Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and Christianity was thus transformed from a mere body of religious teaching into real, redemptive power.
I was pastoring in Texas when a parishioner brought me a copy of a newspaper article on the Shroud of Turin. This piece of cloth is claimed by its Roman Catholic owners to be the burial cloth of Jesus.
It is not on permanent display in that northern Italian industrial city, but it has occasionally been put out for months at a time. During those times, scientific experts have had limited opportunities to do some tests on the shroud. Results have been too varied to be conclusive. I do know, however, that my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ will neither be weakened nor strengthened by those results.
Our faith is not one that claws at the air, grasping at straws of evidence. The bodily resurrected Christ was seen by at least 500 persons on several different occasions. All were convinced that it was He -- not His ghost, not an apparition, but Jesus Christ in person.
In all this furor about the Shroud of Turin, it has been useful for me to remember that the inspired biblical record concerns itself with the appearances of the resurrected Christ rather than with what happened to the burial cloth.
Jesus' resurrection was not, of course, an arbitrary miracle. As Jesus talked of His ministry to the men on the road to Emmaus, He pointed out that His death and resurrection were all part of God's prophesied plan to bring redemption to mankind.
As they walked along, a new understanding of the nature of the work of Christ dawned on those two men. No wonder their hearts burned within, hearing such a sermon from a preacher.
The Christian message does depend on Easter. On this Easter Sunday, let's remind ourselves that without our strong proclamation of the bodily Resurrection, the Christian message would stand discredited.
It doesn't matter whether you say "Egli vive," like Laura Tardelli, or whether you sing "He lives" with Alfred Ackley, just make sure that on Easter Sunday morning, you proclaim it loud and clear.
He is risen. He is risen indeed! [ another Easter devotional ]
These devotional thoughts were written while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. They originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.
Alfred Ackley was a Presbyterian minister who was also a very good musician. For a few years, he worked with evangelist Billy Sunday while also serving as an assistant pastor of a Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania. Ackley wound up composing 1,500 songs (secular as well as religious). The best-known of Ackley's songs is "He Lives," a composition also published with the title "I serve a Risen Savior."
In 1932m while pastoring in California, Ackley made friends with a young Jewish man. The man attended an evangelistic service or two at Ackley's church. He was puzzled as to why Christians worshipped someone who died centuries ago. One day, in a conversation with Ackley, the student asked, "Why should I worship a dead Jew?"
Using both the Bible and his own personal experiences, Ackley tried to answer the young man. Later, that question -- "Why should I worship a dead Jew?" -- kept nagging at him.
Months passed, and, on Easter Sunday of 1933, Ackley was up early preparing for his church's morning service. He turned on the radio and listened as a well-known liberal preacher from New York said, "Good morning. It's Easter! You know, folks, it really doesn't make any difference to me if Christ be risen or not. As far as I am concerned, His body could be dust in some Palestinian tomb. The main thing is, His truth goes marching on!"
Startled, Ackley turned to the radio and shouted, "It's a lie!"
That Easter Sunday morning, worked up by what that preacher had said on the radio and filled with the Bible passages he had earlier shared with the young student, Ackley preached a passionate sermon on the reality of Christ's resurrection from the dead.
That evening, he couldn't quit thinking about two things: One, what he heard a preacher say on the radio and, two, the question posed by the young Jewish man -- "Why should I worship a dead Jew?"
Finally, Ackley's wife told him to channel his emotional energy into doing what he did best -- write a song.
Ackley sat down and re-read the story of Jesus' resurrection in Mark's Gospel. Words for a song began to pour out onto paper. Then, he went to the piano and added music to his words. The result was a response to both the radio preacher and the Jewish young man:
"He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart."
"We believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He truly arose from the dead and took again His body, together with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith He ascended into heaven and is there engaged in intercession for us."
-- Excerpt from Articles of Faith, Church of the Nazarene
"He is not here; for He is risen." Matthew 28:6, as rendered in the King James Version as well as in the American Standard Version, Darby Translation, Jubilee Bible, and Revised Geneva Translation
Note: Help me out! I tried to get all the transliterations correct for languages using a form of writing other than the modern Latin or Roman alphabet. If I messed up, please let me know and I'll make corrections.
"This so-called foolish plan of God is far wiser than the wisest plan of the wisest man" (1 Corinthians 1:25, The Living Bible)
Jesus died while nailed to a crude wooden cross above Jerusalem's garbage dump. As his life ebbed away, cynics talked smut, a thief cursed, and soldiers gambled. To passersby watching him suffer and die, Jesus' claim to be the Son of the Living God must have seemed absurd. To those who called him Master and Lord, Jesus' public execution surely must have dashed hopes that He was indeed the Savior of the world.
As Jesus' friends took his body down from the cross that afternoon, the world scarcely took notice. As a messiah, Jesus appeared to have been a failure. But he wasn't. He has, in fact, emerged as the triumphant victor, the Messiah he claimed to be. His crucifixion has become one of the pivotal events of world history.
Self-denial has proved to be more powerful than self-assertion. Divine love, grace, and mercy had devised a plan of salvation so radical that some still refuse to accept it. Jesus' suffering, self-sacrifice, devotion to principles, and heedlessness of immediate consequences run contrary to all human wisdom.
But out of all that has come the greatest good the human race has ever known.
These devotional thoughts appeared in what is now published quarterly as Reflecting God by The Foundry.
Is "giving up something for Lent" a good thing? Can it turn out to be self-serving and even narcissistic?
I've known people who give up chocolate for Lent. I've known people who give up Starbucks for Lent. I've known people who give up cheese for Lent. I've known people who give up . . . . well, you get the idea.
People who "give up something for Lent" often say they are doing so with the goal of being able to better reflect on the self-emptying and sufferings of Christ. So, does giving up chocolate for a month help me to identify with the sufferings of our Lord? Actually, I'm starting to wonder if giving up something for Lent is, at least in U.S. culture, colored with tinges of selfishness (since it often seems aimed at self-betterment rather than serving others).
Adding to that perception is the fact that I do not hear the words "repentance" or "restitution" mentioned in regard to the "what I am giving up for Lent" conversations. If the giving-up-something-for-Lent action is to be truly transformative, shouldn't the issue of repentance and perhaps even restitution be mentioned?
"Giving up a want to meet a need" was a phrase coined by Elizabeth Vennum some years ago. Her brainstorming around that phrase led to what Nazarene churches know today as the Alabaster offering. That Alabaster offering is the denomination's international building fund.
Elizabeth Vennum's phrase speaks to me during this Lenten season as people ask one another: What are you giving up for Lent?" If you're giving up something during this Lenten season (the 7-week period prior to Easter Sunday), why don't you go the next step and "in order to meet a need"?
Why not take that money you would have spent on chocolates or Starbucks or cheese and give it to "meet a need"? Let me suggest the Alabaster offering as a worthy recipient of your giving.
Our Lord Jesus said we should deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Let's not let Lent be simply a season of self-denial. Let's make it a season of following Christ in the example of servanthood.
This Lenten season, why don't you meet a need? Don't allow "giving up something for Lent" to be just a selfish act aimed at improving yourself spiritually. Turn your giving up something into a chance to minister to others. Give up a want to meet a need. If you've given up something for Lent that has a monetary value attached, make a donation equivalent to that amount to a non-profit urban ministry center.
These reflections originally appeared in Southern Nazarene University's student newspaper, The Echo.
-- Howard Culbertson,
For a look at the bizarre lengths people in Ecuador go to during the final days of Lent to try to identify with the sufferings of Christ, take a look at this parade for the climax of Lent in capital city of Quito