An original definition of the word sacrament was simple. It meant “a visible sign of an invisible grace" according to Augustine of Hippo or as many still teach today, “all of life is a sacrament.” Eastern Orthodox call these sacraments mysteries because we see one thing and believe another. Let us pray to see God’s invisible grace in the visible things around us. For instance, communion bread is far more than a mere symbol. It is a sacrament, a visible sign of an invisible grace through which Jesus the Messiah is revealed to us. Has the mystery also been revealed to us that, “The Lord is risen indeed” (Luke 24:34)?
Along the road to Emmaus two disciples encountered Jesus, but did not recognize Him. He explained the Scriptures to them, but they did not recognize Him. He almost departed from them, but they invited Him to stay. Then, the guest became the host, as Jesus broke the bread at the meal table. “Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:31) Is this a picture of our lives? Does Jesus join us on our journeys? Does He expound the Scriptures to us? Do our hearts burn? Does He then open our eyes at simple events like a meal?
Imagine your pastor preaching, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart” as Jesus did in Luke 24:25. Joining two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (verse 27) Yet, they failed to recognize Him until later that day. He also talks with our hearts as we hear the Holy Scriptures read. He speaks to us softly through every living thing. He discusses issues with our consciences as we do daily tasks. Yet, often, like the two disciples we see Jesus and don’t recognize Him. Is it because “faith is the … evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)?
On the road to Emmaus we read in Like 24:15b-16 “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.” Two disciples thought Jesus was a stranger. Is He a stranger to us who faithfully attend church? They were well-known to Jesus. As close as they may have been, they did not recognize Him. Sometimes, those who are closest to the Church also do not recognize Jesus. We are distracted by events and material things that take our minds off Him. Yet, in the midst of all the paths life takes us, Jesus is there gently walking alongside of us.
Luke 24:13 says, “Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.” That road once led west out of Jerusalem through a landscape of trees and fields to a warm spring and a town called Emmaus. The ruins are by Route 1, 40 minutes west of Jerusalem at the Latrun exit inside Canada Park, a national park maintained by a Canadian Jewish fund with beautiful trees and fields. Along the ancient road Jesus met two disciples and their eyes about to be awakened to the resurrection. Do we recognize Jesus on our travels? They did not at first.
At the cross all the disciples abandoned Jesus. He appeared to them and offered his peace. Thomas confessed very personally, “My Lord and my God!” He did not say OUR Lord or even THE Lord, but MY Lord and MY God. This is what is meant when people speak of a personal relationship with God. Jesus went on to give a special blessing to us who would believe even though we have not seen. We see Jesus, not with physical eyes. When we see Jesus with spiritual insight, we also believe like they did. And as Jesus revealed himself to those disciples, so he reveals himself to each of us.
In John 20:23, does Jesus contradict his instructions mandating forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer? The gospel message is a message of forgiveness of sin to those who accept it, but those who refuse forgiveness are not forgiven. Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds, but faith is evidence of things without visible proof (Hebrews 11:1), a mystery. All the disciples doubted, not just Thomas. This is written that we might believe and that believing we might have life through his name. Faith is a gift from God. God entrusts incredible authority to faulty disciples. We accept the message of Jesus, delivered by ordinary faulty people, and will be forgiven when we do.
Does John 20:23 mean confession to a priest? Early church fathers taught confessing to God for most sins and in public for grievous sins. In the early Church, confession was before all. Western practices are from the 7th to 11th centuries and are not the most ancient interpretation of this passage. In the east, sins are confessed to God and witnessed by a priest. For practical purposes the priest represents the entire community. Verse 23 literally means, “their sins have already been forgiven” i.e. by heaven. This instruction was given to all those assembled. Anyone sent in power of the Holy Spirit is sent with this message of forgiveness.
In John 20:19, what did Jesus mean, peace be with you? He said it on Resurrection Sunday and the following Sunday. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is." The apostles began their letters with this greeting. Christians ought to offer peace to friend and foe alike. Many churches offer peace before communion. Jesus came to the disciples in their fears and brought them peace from heaven. They were then sent with the message of peace, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
After our risen Lord called out Mary Magdalene’s name, she addressed Him very personally, “ῥαββουνί” (rabbouni, my Teacher). He asked her not to touch him because he had not yet ascended to heaven and she needed to go to the other disciples and tell them that Jesus is ascending to His and her Father and His and her God. Jesus told Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” (John 13:36) But, he told Mary the disciples were his brothers. Mary exclaimed to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” John saw the empty tomb and believed. Mary heard Jesus and believed.
After investigating Jesus’ empty grave two of the disciples went to their separate homes (John 20:10-16). Mary Magdalene was left crying at the tomb. Looking inside, she saw something quite different to what the two men described. Mary saw two angels. They asked her, ““Woman, why are you weeping?” In very personal terms she described Jesus as “my Lord.” Unlike the disciple that Jesus loved, who simply believed, Mary’s focus was on the missing body. Then Jesus asked her the same question adding “Whom are you seeking?” At first she thought he was the gardener and then He spoke her name, “Mary.” She seems to have immediately recognized his voice.
Written as an eyewitness account, John 20:6-9 details what Peter saw when he looked into Jesus’ tomb, the burial cloths and the head cloth rolled up separately but no body. Then the beloved disciple went in and believed, implying that he was now convinced. Perhaps this was not yet a full resurrection faith, “For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead,” (verse 9; Psalm 16:8-11; Psalm 22:16-24; Isaiah 53:3-12) but it was a beginning. Jesus had earlier said, “I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.” (John 14:29).
Mary Magdalene was from Magdala a wealthy town on Lake Galilee. John 20:1-5 records that she went to Jesus’ grave site early in the morning perhaps just to see it. She had accompanied the disciples on their travels and contributed to their support financially. Had Jesus’ body been moved? Mary ran to Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Although he arrived first, the disciple that Jesus loved seems to have deferred to Peter to enter the tomb. Peter’s denials do not seem to have damaged his reputation among the disciples, probably because they all knew that they had fled and Peter at least had stayed around for a while.
Matthew 21:9 Jesus approached Jerusalem with bands of Passover pilgrims chanting "Hosanna" or “Yashá Na” in Hebrew (“save please” Psalm 118:25) to the King of Peace, who brings a peace that passes all understanding. Worldly business, worldly government, worldly entertainment are not there to give but to get. They are there to get our money, to get power over us and use us for selfish purposes. Palm Sunday is to remind us that there is need for a new king, a king who will bring reconciliation between people and between people and God. Let us welcome Jesus into our lives as the peacemaker between ourselves and between all of us and God.
Matthew 21:8-9 A younger generation once expressed their struggle against evil as “rage against the machine.” Christianity is a protest movement against all the corruption and greed that has destroyed our world. Jesus’ triumphal entry was a real success, though not in the manner that the world views. The world does not see triumph in the cross, but self-sacrifice is the ultimate victory. It is the victory over self-centeredness. It is a victory over all the forces of evil in our world and worthy of a parade. Overcoming is our triumph and must also be like that of Jesus, refusing to win by worldly means with violence but by godly means with self-sacrifice.
Matthew 21:8-9 Easter heralds a change in world power. Jesus conquered the powers of this world: death, sin and evil. Jesus triumphed over death and we celebrate the beginning of a new creation. Jesus’ new world order has put an end to a world overrun by sin. Palm Sunday remembers a parade celebrating that victory. Forgiveness of sin is now a way of life. Jesus offers humanity the freedom of life without condemnation. This evil world only had the power to put Christ on the cross. He willingly allowed it because he has power beyond the grave. Our dead lives have been raised with Christ as a new creation where love prevails.
Matthew 21 There is historic evidence that Pilate was marching in parade into west Jerusalem with his army to police the large Passover crowds as Christ entered from the north. Jesus’ procession challenged and mocked the government of the day. Perhaps this is why Pilate acted as he did at Jesus’ trial. The world believes that the solution to human problems is a war horse instead of a peace donkey, using the word “donkey” as an insult instead. A world that more than ever disparages the Gospel and Christianity, is more than ever in need of it. Let us rejoice with a Palm Sunday parade in our hearts that heaven’s king is coming.
Matthew 21:8 Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt mocked Pontius Pilate’s proud tradition as a cavalry officer. History records Pilate as a Roman knight of the Pontii family from the central Italian region of Samnium. He was a cavalry commander appointed military ruler of Roman Judaea to police and collect taxes. Roman Judea included historic Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Pilate insulted the Jews by hanging worship images of the emperor throughout Jerusalem and minting coins with both pagan and Jewish religious symbols. Jewish criticism of Pilate made him vulnerable to discipline from Rome. The Jews capitalized on this and Jesus’ insulting parade to obtain a death sentence on our Lord.
Matthew 21:5 Contrast the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem on a colt with dignitaries of this world. One monarch has over 100 coaches and carriages in the royal collection. One is covered with gold leaf, weighs four tons and requires eight horses to pull it. Contrast that with Jesus’ royal entry into Jerusalem on a colt with its mother trailing behind. The old world order is over. The new kingdom is already here preparing a people. Old world leadership was self-aggrandizing and arrogant. New world leadership is self-effacing and humble. The colt symbolizes a new day for humanity, a change in leadership style and those who change will join Jesus at his return.
Matthew 21:5 As Jesus calmed the storm, he calmed an unbroken colt. Our lives can be like a wild colt, untamed and unpredictable. But, if we let Jesus take the reigns, he’ll calm things down. In business, if a person does not want to help, bosses yell and blackmail workers with their pay check. We cannot steer a church like a business, because a church is made up of volunteers. Churches cannot be yelled at unpleasantly or blackmailed. People just leave. So, as in all volunteer work, we are grateful for those who help, but we do not browbeat those who do not. We look to Jesus the colt whisperer, to change hearts.
From the day we are born we begin to die. Our bodies are winding down. We are already dressed in grave clothes. Life’s greatest enemy is death. Jesus has the power over life and death. As "God in the flesh", Jesus resurrected people temporarily from death, which was a foretaste of the resurrection to eternal life. In a skeptical world it is quite a challenge to hear that whoever lives by believing in Jesus will never die. That’s what he said as he boldly claimed, I am the resurrection and the life. So let’s take off the grave clothes of doubt and fear. Believe in Jesus Christ and live forever.
When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”, it was a claim to divinity. He has the power over resurrection and life. Notice that Jesus said “I am” and not “I will be.” He personalized resurrection in himself. Jesus demonstrated his authority over life and death by raising Lazarus. Then he said, “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” The resurrection of Lazarus was a temporary example of what Jesus will do for all believers after death of the body. The body dies, but the spirit lives on, received into heavenly places.
A close friend of our Savior, Lazarus from Bethany, died. His sisters were Mary and Martha. The resurrection of Lazarus is a vision for the future and for today. When speaking to Martha, Jesus did not say that he would be the resurrection on that final day, although he certainly will be that too. He spoke in the present tense, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Could it be that when we believe in Jesus, we already enter from death to life? We live in fear of death. God helps. We no longer need to fear death, because when we believe in him who is life, we have life too.
Jesus taught us to pray in private (Matthew 6:6). Why did others pray publicly in God's house (Matthew 21:13), in small groups (Acts 1:14), by a river (Acts 16:13), on the seashore (Acts 21:5) and everywhere (1 Timothy 2:8)? The context of Jesus’ instructions regarding private prayer, with other examples, shows that he wanted to highlight what our motive ought to be in prayer. If we are uncertain that our motive may be to show off spiritually or promote ourselves as super-spiritual, then it would be better to pray in private. In John 11 Jesus prayed in public to help others, that they may believe.
When Lazarus was reported dying why did Jesus delay (verses 5-6)? Why did disciples try to dissuade Jesus (verse 8)? Why did Thomas disparage Jesus’ plans (verse 16)? Why did Martha (verse 21) and Mary (verse 32) blame Jesus that if he had been there their brother would not have died? Why did Martha doubt that anyone could do anything after her brother had been dead four days (verse 39)? Is your marriage dead? Is your business dead? Are you too old to do God’s work? Are your hopes and dreams dead? That’s the perfect time for Jesus to come. God may delay answering prayer but he’s always right on time.
Jesus wept. Why? Theologians speak of Jesus having been the most complete human being to have ever lived since Adam. Adam sinned. So have we. Jesus did not. He was like Adam in every regard except one — he never sinned. He had human nature in its pure, unblemished form. He was the only man who ever lived to have pure, untainted manliness, as God intended it to be. We see that Jesus was deeply moved. It is not manliness to show no feelings. Was it anger or heartfelt compassion upon people with so little faith? It’s hard to tell. One thing is sure: a real man was moved to tears.
Sometimes we pray and God delays. Why? Perhaps the healing of Lazarus will provide a clue. When Jesus heard of his friend’s sickness, he indicated that the illness would be used for God’s glory. While others panicked and were concerned, Jesus was calm in his faith. Then he went on to say that God’s purpose was “so that you may believe.” Lazarus’ sisters both responded quite emotionally that if Jesus had been there sooner he would not have died. By this time, he had been dead four days. Again Jesus emphasized the necessity to believe. Even his prayer, which was a public prayer, was said so that hearers may believe.
After the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well, we read in John 4:42, Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.” The Samaritan woman went on to become a famous evangelist. According to tradition, she was baptized by the apostles with the name Photina, also known as Saint Photina and Saint Svetlana. She and her family became evangelists, moved to Carthage to preach the Gospel where her elder son Victor was taken prisoner to Rome where he converted his jailer.
The disciples asked Jesus if he was hungry, and we read in John 4:34, Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. Jesus had food to eat that the disciples knew nothing about. Our food is also to do the will of God and finish his work. A harvest is ready to be reaped. God has already prepared that harvest in our community. Hearts are ripe for harvesting a new crop of Christians. A lone Christian who goes to church and hides all week long cannot harvest. We need to be in our communities and know our neighbors.
After meeting Jesus at the village well, a Samaritan woman said to her fellow villagers in John 4:29, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” Professional evangelists put on an expensive show and leave a church with a flash of excitement and very little growth. The best evangelists are ordinary people. We don’t know the Samaritan woman’s reputation. She may have been a loner, who fetched her water at a time when the crowds were not there. The best evangelists are often new people and those from the fringes, but always those who have had an encounter with Jesus.
Let’s read John 4:23-24, But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Outward things like music, languages, robes, crosses, gestures and liturgies are NOT worship. They may accompany worship, but true worship is in spirit and truth, true or sincere. We do not need to feel judged or compelled to conform to any outward physical gestures or show of religion. We are free to worship the Father in spirit and truthfully.