Here’s a series of links to help you follow Jesus’ footsteps each day of Holy Week.
Esther was Trafficked!
Esther is remembered for standing up to a foreign king on behalf of her people. She is regarded as a hero and rightfully so, but most of the time that her story is told, we skip over the fact that she was trafficked. Think about it. Originally, Esther was a humble little girl who was mistreated and forcefully placed into an environment where she would be trafficked for the pleasure of a powerful man, the king.
Let’s go back and consider this part of her story a little more. It actually starts with a decision by Queen Vashti.
Esther Chapter 1 describes a 180 day feast hosted by King Xerxes for all his nobles, governors, officials, and servants to display his greatness.
Does it really take 6 months of partying to demonstrate your power or is this guy a little self-centered? Or maybe he’s using this feast to compensate for some sort of insecurity?
Anyway, a 6 month party is pretty extravagant. After this party, he throws another 7 day party for all the people in the city. It’s a high-brow affair with very over-the-top food, drink, décor, golden vessels, couches, marble, and all the finery. The wine was being distributed freely without any restrictions on anyone. It was an open bar for everyone.
It most likely devolved into a drunken brawl rather quickly – a week long tailgate.
Queen Vashti (Xerxes’ wife) had a smaller feast for the women in the palace during this time too, but she was interrupted on the 7th day by a request from her husband. He was “merry with wine” and wanted her to come to his “feast” wearing her crown so all his drunken “friends” could see her “beauty.”
This sounds like an insecure man to me again – drunk and insecure so he had to bring her in so others could gawk at her and be “impressed” that he had such an incredible woman.
There’s something else you miss here if you don’t study the culture. You see, the custom of the day invited wives to these banquets too, until the time when the men began to get drunk, and at that time the “dancers” would come in to “entertain” them. Wives typically left the banquet when the “dancers” arrived. When Xerxes asked her to come to the banquet, it seems obvious that she had already left the party. Most likely the men were already drunk and the “dancers” were busy “entertaining.” Also, when Xerxes asks her to come wearing her “royal crown,” most Biblical scholars understand this to mean that he was asking her to appear before them all wearing ONLY her crown. Xerxes was asking her to appear naked in front of a bunch of drunk men who were in a party environment where they were free to touch and play with all the other women “dancers.” She knew her husband. He was insecure and was just trying to show her off in front of these other men. She understood the danger that she would be putting herself in. He is equating her with the “dancers.” At this point, he is no longer treating her as his “wife.”
Queen Vashti refuses his invitation. I mean, it’s no wonder she refused. What self-respecting woman would have appeared? Right? When she refuses to join him, she is actually risking her life. King Xerxes, of course, is angry and so he goes to his “yes” men to have his ears tickled and get the emotional support that he needed. Again, we see his insecurity playing out in these behaviors. They basically say, “Forget her. Let’s go find you ‘the most beautiful girl in the world.’” Queen Vashti is banished from the kingdom and Esther Chapter 2 begins with a description of the process of the search to find a replacement wife for King Xerxes.
Now, Esther was a young woman who lived with her older cousin Mordecai because she had lost both of her parents. He loved her “as his own daughter.” When Xerxes’ order was proclaimed, she “was taken” into the custody of the man in charge of the harem. She was forced out of her home. In time, Esther impressed him and won the favored position among the girls. During her preparation time in the palace, Mordecai walked around the courtyard so he could keep his eye on her. He truly thought of her as a daughter and was concerned for her safety and well-being. He had warned her not to let the king know about her lowly Jewish heritage.
It must have horrified him to imagine the things she would have endured and the abuse that awaited her as one of the girls in the king’s harem. As her adopted father, it must have pained him greatly knowing that there wasn’t really anything he could do to get her out of this awful situation. In spite of the way this is often taught, this was no beauty pageant with a scholarship and glamorous travel schedule awaiting. In reality, it was a series of events that started with a forced removal from their homes and ended in sexual assault. These girls were taken away from their families and homes, isolated from the relationships that rooted them, denied the practice of their faith/beliefs, pressured into changing their appearances and mannerisms, stripped of any self-expression so they could conform to the whims of another, and they were eventually sexually assaulted with no other intention than to pleasure the king until he had chosen a bride. Esther wasn’t a pageant girl. She was an innocent young woman who was forced into sexual submission by her circumstances and a king with an inferiority complex and low self-esteem. He was using her to fill his own emptiness and desires. Esther was trafficked. And there were countless others who not only allowed it to happen, but encouraged it and aided in the process.
After abusing Esther as well as many other young women, King Xerxes eventually chooses her to take the place of Vashti and be his wife. From our vantage point it may appear that there were some privileges and advantages to the title of Queen, but that’s what a trafficker does. He makes “the life” appear to be a great opportunity. The reality however, is that none of those things could give back her innocence. None of those things could heal the trauma or fill the void left by the abuse that she had endured. She may have had the title of Queen, but she was damaged, hurt, and broken by this forced relationship and the constant suffering of the continued abuse.
However, as the book continues and the story develops, we find Esther to be a wonderful example of a woman of faith. In the midst of her circumstances and her abuse, God was with her. She may have been damaged, but as one of God’s chosen people, she still found her identity in the Lord. When a plot to kill the Israelites (her people) is revealed, she risks her own life and goes before the King to save her people. There are at least 5 risks she took.
- Initiating a conversation with the King broke the law and could result in death.
- In order to make her request, she had to reveal that she was a Jew.
- Laws were irreversible in the Persian Empire.
- Haman was 2nd most powerful man on the earth.
- Esther had to be extremely gentle and careful with her speech because the King had so many insecurities. It’s difficult to get someone to change their mind without offending their pride.
In spite of her lowly heritage, Esther uses her position of influence and her relationship with the king, to stand up to him, and save her people. Rather than asserting power and making demands, Esther works behind the scenes relationally to influence and lead the people around her. It is her quiet strength that influences the evil king.
Esther and Vashti are both women to be admired. Both stood up to injustice.
Vashti represents one way of handling the evil requests of ungodly men. She starts from a position of power and stood for what she believed was right, but she also had to be willing to sacrifice her power/position to make her stance.
Esther represents another way. She starts in a humble position and plays along working behind the scenes to build an influential relationship. Out of this relationship, she stands up for what she believes is right as well.
Both women are guided by their conscience. Esther is empowered by her faith.
Now let’s be clear: In spite of how this passage is sometimes taught. God did NOT put Esther in this situation. It was NOT God’s intention for her to be trafficked. Human sin, and specifically King Xerxes and his men are the abusers/traffickers here. God however, is able to reach into any and every situation and rescue us or use us for His glory and His purposes. As Genesis 50:20 describes, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” When we experience evil, we must recognize that God can turn it around and make good of it. As a loving father and one who is all powerful, He is able, and He is willing.
What does this mean for us? How should we respond? I’d encourage you to ask yourself several questions:
Like Vashti, is there some evil that you need to stand up against or a wrong you could make right? Are you willing to pay the price of your own reputation, wealth, or social standing to do the right thing?
Like Esther, what kind of influence do you have with the people who surround you? Is there someone who could serve as a Mordecai for you who encourages and supports you through your difficult circumstance? Do the people around you notice your Godly demeanor? In what ways do you stand out from everyone else? Is Jesus’ name lifted up? Are people encouraged? Are people being treated well or even rescued/saved due to your influence? Is there a way God could use you in a difficult situation? Is He calling you to be involved in His work?
Esther was trafficked, but you and I have been too. God created you, but sin has coerced and convinced us that it has a better way. Its intent is to enslave us where we will be used and abused for the sake of its own glory and satisfaction. The world wants to use and abuse us for its own purposes. It seeks to isolate us from those who truly care for us so it can have us all to itself. Sin “crouches at the door and desires to have us.” (Gen 4:7) It will use us and destroy us just as Xerxes did to Esther. Like her, we have been trafficked.
There’s good news though. In the midst of her enslavement, God made a way for her people to be saved. Esther suffered through all kinds of abuse, but eventually God used her to save His people. In the midst of our enslavement, God has made a way for us to be saved too. Jesus’ blood on the cross is evidence of the suffering He endured, but through this suffering, God has provided a way for us to be rescued as well. Jesus is our rescuer. He is our Savior.
Esther was trafficked.
You have been trafficked.
Esther was used by God to save others.
Will you allow God to use you?
PS – If you’d like more information about Human Trafficking, check out Refuge for Women .
Thank you to Sarah Manning who first shared these ideas with a women’s group from our church. (Grace Bible Church, Clute TX) Here’s a pic from my house a few years ago. My daughter, Kesleigh (now a 7th grader) decided that she wanted a smurf in our nativity. He sorta looks like a shepherd right?!?! Over the years we’ve had lots of different characters join our nativity – Lightning McQueen, Larry the Cucumber. . . you name it. I guess the truth is we all have some unwanted guests in our nativitys. They might be people, but grief could be an unwanted guest too, or disappointment, or feelings of inadequacy. Are there some people or circumstances this year that just “aren’t right?” Christmas can be hard – really hard. Maybe you’ve lost someone and Christmas is just gonna be hard. Maybe you’ve been forced to rethink your finances and you can’t do Christmas the way you’d like to. Maybe you’ve got crazy people in your family and getting together just isn’t enjoyable anymore. Whatever it is: You’ve got a dragon in your nativity. Yes – I said a dragon – big and overbearing, disgusting. Maybe your dragon spews fire with its’ words, or lurks around the season looking for the moment to break in and destroy something. Or maybe he quietly torments your innermost thoughts.
Dragons. We’ve all got ‘em. I’ve got a dragon in my nativity too. This year will be one of the first Christmas’s since my brother passed away. We’re going to have some tough moments and there’s no question that my sister is gonna cry over it at some point. There’s a dragon in my nativity too. He doesn’t belong. He seeks to destroy our celebration and ruin the whole thing. He will sneak into our celebration to try to have his way with us.
But here’s the thing. Maybe you never knew it, but there’s a dragon in the real nativity too. Revelation 12:1-6 describes a pregnant woman who is about to give birth when a dragon appears and waits so he can “devour the baby the moment he is born.” The dragon stands there ready and waiting to bring destruction. However, the child is saved and then the woman goes into the wilderness.
This is the Bethlehem story. Herod is the dragon. He plots with the wisemen so he can discover where Jesus is and go kill him. When the wisemen don’t fall for his scheme, he decides to kill all the babies under the age of 2, but God warns Mary and Joseph and they flee to the wilderness of Egypt for a while.
There was a dragon in the first nativity. His name was Herod.
There are dragons lurking around the corner throughout all of Scripture: (throughout all of our lives too)
The dragon in the Moses story is the Pharaoh who tries to kill all the Jewish babies. Of course God makes a way for Moses to live and eventually rescue the people.
In the garden of Eden, the snake tempts the woman and seeks to bring destruction upon she and Adam. (Which by the way, Genesis 3 says the woman’s offspring will destroy the serpent.)
In the other garden where Jesus prays the dragon reveals himself as Roman soldiers who arrest Jesus and begin the process which would lead to His death on the cross.
GK Chesterton wrote, “Fairy Tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
I’m going to steal his quote and change it, but here’s what I believe.
“The Bible doesn’t tell people that dragons exist. People already know dragons exist. The Bible’s intent is to tell us the dragons have already been defeated.”
You have a dragon in your classroom. It’s exactly the same dragon that’s in my classroom. And by the way, it’s not the kid that popped into your mind. The dragon is the fear, sin, death, and destruction that surround that kid. It’s the evil that influences him and the evil that he allows to control him like a puppet.
The true dragon slayer doesn’t destroy people. He captures hearts and works diligently and sacrificially to destroy the fear, sin, death, and destruction that influence and them. During the worst possible situation, on the cross, enduring unimaginable torment, Jesus isn’t angry with his captors. He actually says “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus’ attitude in that moment is compassion. He doesn’t actually do it, but when I reflect on this whole thing, I hear “Capturing Kids Hearts” questions with Jesus saying, “What are you doing? What are you supposed to be doing?” It’s a compassionate response, but forces our students to own their behaviors.
The point is, Jesus doesn’t destroy the people who are trying to destroy Him. Let’s be clear. He could have destroyed them with just a word, but the people aren’t the dragon. The true dragon was Jesus’ objective. The dragon is the fear, sin, death, and destruction that controlled those people. The people are just puppets under the influence of the dragon.
And here is the good news!! If you go back to that passage in Revelation, you see it too. The people triumph over the dragon, “by the blood of the lamb.” Yes! We win!! Jesus, our knight in shining armor, withdrew His sword (which according to Heb 4:12 is the Word of God) and conquered the dragon. On the cross He stepped into death and then walks out of the tomb defeating the dragon. The power of fear, sin, death, and destruction had no hold on Him. And when we walk in faith, it has no hold on us either.
Yes – there is a dragon in my nativity, and in my house, and my classroom, and everywhere I go, BUT there is also a dragon slayer named Jesus who was born, and lived to destroy that dragon. And now by faith, the dragon slayer lives in me, and you, and all of those who call on His name.
Whatever dragon you encounter this season and whatever power it holds on you, remember that you have a greater power, a dragon slayer. He is just a prayer away. He has already defeated your dragon and empowers you with a sword of your own – the Word of God.
Romans 8:37 “We are more than conquerors, through Him who loved us.”
Here’s a great video that goes with this message too:
Summer is here! And that means students from all over the country will be attending church camp. New friends, crazy games & competitions, times for worship, bible study & prayer – all this combines and intersects with the work of Jesus in students lives and create an incredible experiences. Thousands will make decisions for Christ over the next few weeks, but what does that mean? How will they move forward in their faith when they go back to their ordinary lives? That’s what this post is about.
The decision to follow Christ is not just a decision. It’s a commitment. I would say this decision is like a wedding. (and I believe I can show that Jesus likens it to a wedding too, but that’s another post.)
Before Miranda and I got married we lived separate lives. We lived in different homes. She had her job and bank account and I had mine. Although there were some who had in common, we had our own sets of friends. Our own habits and routines, our own lives. We were separated. On our wedding day, we stood before almost everyone we knew and proclaimed the decision that we had made – a decision which was a clear reflection our relationship. From that day forward, we were choosing to live differently. . . . . to live “with” each other. . . . . to live together.
This is what the decision for Christ is. It is a reflection of the relationship you have with Him. It is a decision to live “with” Him. . . . . to live together with Jesus.
At our wedding the pastor asked us a few questions. You probably know the questions.
He said, “Steve, will you take Miranda to be your wife, to live together in a holy marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”
Notice how the questions are worded. “Will you take. . . . .” Will you love. . . . .” In our pre-marital counseling, the pastor explained that the answer to those questions would simply be, “I will.”
What would have happened if I had said, “I will, if I feel like it?”
The crowd would have gasped and Miranda probably would have slapped me across the face. “If I feel like it” isn’t a commitment.
The correct answer is simply “I will.” There are no ifs. When we make a commitment, we are saying that we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. We’re willing to make sacrifices and do the right thing even when things look bad. I will choose to act in love for Miranda even when she treats me bad – even when I don’t like her – even when things are tough. Love is not a feeling. It is a choice. Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross. He chose it in spite of how He felt. (Remember, how He asked God if there was another way, but then committed to God’s will? Check Mt 26:39) “In sickness and health, for richer or poorer,” no matter what, Miranda will receive my love. I will choose to love her. That is commitment. There are no ifs.
Our relationship with Jesus is like this too. If we want a real relationship with Jesus our answer is also, “I will.” Unfortunately, I see people adding many “ifs.”
– I’ll spend time with Jesus if I don’t have to get up early.
– I’ll go to church if my friends are going to be there.
– I’ll do what He asks as longs as it doesn’t cost me something.
– I’ll read the Bible if I have time.
– . . . . if it won’t be awkward.
– . . . . if I can still hang out with my old friends.
– . . . . if I don’t have something else going on.
NO!!! The answer to the question is a simple, “I WILL.” If we’re committed to Jesus, we must make time. We must be willing to put Him first. We must make sacrifices. We must be willing to follow Him even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.
Church camp is great in many of the same ways as a wedding. Miranda and I had an incredible wedding. The people who surrounded us mean the world to us. That day we hung out with friends. We laughed. We read Scripture. We cried. We worshipped. We prayed. We ate. We danced. And then we left. Our family and friends threw stuff at us as we ran to our cars. Miranda jumped in her car and I got in mine and then we drove off and went our separate directions.
. . . . . . . Hold up.
. . . . . . Wait.
You did what? Separate cars? Separate directions?
NO – of course not. We rode off together in one car and began our life together. There’s sort of a crazy story, but we actually had a friend who drove us. The commitment that we had just made was starting and from that day forward, we have been together. Scripture says that the two of us “became one” that day, and since then, our lives have never looked the same. It’s been 17yrs and our commitment has grown over time. It’s a beautiful relationship.
Unfortunately, I think church camp decisions for Christ often look the other way. Students have incredible experiences at camp and decide to follow Jesus and live differently, but they don’t really understand the commitment side of it. The church camp experience has offered them all the things my wedding did: Friends. Laughter. Bible Study. Worship. Tears. and incredible joy. Students begin a relationship with Jesus, but on the last day of camp, they leave in separate vehicles.
Charles Spurgeon (Mark 4 Commentary) says, “There are many more, whose religion must be sustained by enthusiastic surroundings. They seem to have been baptized in boiling, water; and unless the temperature around them is kept up to that point, they wither away . . . the religion that is born of mere excitement will die when the excitement is over.”
Friends. Don’t let this be you. Don’t leave camp in your car. Get in Jesus’ car and let Him drive you home. Allow Jesus to be in control. Remember that if you have committed to following Him, then you are “one” with Him. He also gives you the Holy Spirit to empower you to make the right decisions. Recognize that He is always with you. Allow Him to shape your daily schedule and calendar. Find time – be intentional about doing all the things you did at camp. They will deepen your “oneness” with Him.
– Hang out with Christian friends
– Study Scripture
– and find ways to serve others.
I understand that none of these things is probably as easy to find as it is at church camp, but they are all important in deepening your relationship with Jesus. Your relationship with Him IS absolutely worth it. The effort you put into these things is a reflection of your commitment to Him – that means that your effort in making these things happen is actually an act of worship. By working behind the scenes to deepen your relationship with Jesus, you are honoring and valuing Him and that is what worship is all about. The effort alone will draw you closer to Him.
Oh – and by the way. You’re not alone. God has given us the church (His people not the building) to help us. Find someone else to help you with these things or to walk you through the process of starting your relationship with Jesus. It could be a friend or someone more mature in their faith. Youth ministers and youth leaders usually love this sort of thing too so they’re usually easy to ask. There are also some great books that can help. Here’s one from the guys at YM360: New: First Steps for New Christ Followers
PS – I just spent an incredible week of Church Camp with a bunch of really fine people! Although I spent more than 20yrs in ministry, this was my first time back with them in over 10yrs. It was great! Everyone was wonderful! Shout out to:
God used this team to stretch our students in their spiritual lives. He used them to draw them closer to one another and to help them see the bigger picture of the body of Christ outside their own church walls and even into other parts of the world. God used this team to strengthen relationships in people who have attended church together for years, but have never really spoken to one another. God used this team to convict us of sin, to direct us to the forgiveness found in Jesus, and to begin to think about new ways of living in light of the Gospel. Thank you for serving. Thank you for allowing God to use you.
Our students won the volleyball tournament!
Like Moses standing before the Red Sea with Pharoah’s army at his heels, last August we stood before a school year with Covid restrictions and virtual students and we were overwhelmed. We were trapped with an ocean of obstacles ahead and Covid at our heels. “Impossible,” we thought. But you Lord. . . . but YOU LORD, have brought us through. As we bravely determined to march ahead, You moved the waters. You went before us and made a way where there was no way. Digital technologies made virtual learning possible. Masks allowed students to return to regular classes. Teachers worked together to find good strategies for teaching in this new learning environment. We see Your hands at work in all of these things.
You LORD brought us to THIS DAY! Today we celebrate You for guiding us through the depths of destruction of Covid and the barriers to teaching that were literally strapped to our faces. In the desert, You miraculously provided manna and water for Israel. As we marched through our educational desert, and in spite of the odds, we had virtual students who actually grew and learned new concepts. You refreshed us in those moments. Now, at the end of this long trek, today we celebrate how You brought us to the promised land of summer break and we remember the depths from which we came.
You provided everything that was needed for Israel to be free from slavery in Egypt so they could become the people You had called them to be. . . . . your people. . . . . people who would represent you to the world. As teachers, you have brought us through our struggles for a purpose too. You are calling us to represent You as well. These struggles have shaped us. They have brought us together and strengthened our relationships. They have forced us to let go of some of our own burdens and begin leaning on one another. You have brought us to this place today so we will be “better together” . . . . . so we will be able to represent You to our students. Lord, continue to guide us to become the people (and teachers) that You have called us to be.
Lord, today we are excited for summer break, but we also remember all that You have done and we celebrate You! You are worthy of all our worship, not because You brought us through this crazy year, but simply because You are God and because You have loved us so greatly. Your son, Jesus is the full expression of Your love and for Him, we give You thanks and praise. It’s in His name that we pray.
Darkness closes in. The silence is deafening. My vision is clouded. I can’t see a way out. Death marches on, threatening, intimidating, and piercing the very depths of my being. There is nothing I can do but wait. . . with heavy breathing and an anxious spirit, I wait for the inevitable. These are dark times. I shovel the darkness out as fast as I can only to discover that another onslaught of more darkness has already arrived in its’ place. I just keep shoveling, but I don’t seem to be making any progress. I am overcome by the throng pressing in and I can’t seem to find a footing.
What should I do? Or maybe the better question – What did Jesus do?
Luke 22 describes the events right before Judas’ betrayal – right before the crucifixion. When the darkness had amassed its’ hordes and was preparing to destroy Him. . . when death came knocking, with the cross just ahead of Him, Jesus sat down to a Passover meal with His friends. There, He took bread and gave thanks. Jesus took the time and gave thanks right before His ultimate battle with darkness. Think about it. He could have done anything He wanted, but He chose to hang out with friends (disciples), remember all His Father had done (Passover meal), and give thanks. The sword Jesus wielded that night was gratitude. And make no mistake. . . gratitude is a sword. It pierces the darkness with light!
Think about it. Gratitude is worship. It’s a recognition of who God is and what He has done. This is worship. Even when we are grateful for a kindness of another person, those things are ultimately a picture of the Gospel. A “thank you” is the acknowledgement of an undeserved kindness, and that’s the Gospel – an underserved kindness. When we are surrounded by darkness, we can choose to try to shovel out the darkness or we can choose gratitude. When we thank God, we remember who He is and what He has done and we begin to reflect the glory of the Gospel. Jesus’ light pierces that darkness as our gratitude remembers, and praises and talks about His work and His character. Darkness trembles at His name. Darkness flees. There isn’t even a battle between light and darkness. Light wins every time. With even an ounce of light, darkness hides it’s face. Gratitude is the sword that defeats the darkness. Gratitude shines the light of Christ into every circumstance. Since it brings light, gratitude always wins in a battle against the darkness. (nerdy sidenote: Gratitude is probably more like a “Light Saber” than a sword.)
Here are a few Scriptural examples of God’s people remembering and being grateful before a battle with darkness:
- 2 Chronicles 20:22 – Jehoshaphat and his men praised God and then the LORD set an ambush against the horde.
- Daniel 6:10 – When he found out He would be thrown into the lion’s den, Daniel thanked God.
- Psalm 40; Psalm 69 – David thanks God and praises Him in song over and over again in the book of Psalms.
- Joshua 5 – Israel’s priests and trumpets lead the army around Jericho before the walls crumble.
- The Passover meal itself (instituted by God) is a thanksgiving remembrance of what God has done and who He is intended to give His people strength and reassurance in all their circumstances.
Thanksgiving/gratitude are also good for us ‘because they reframe our thoughts about our circumstances. When I spend time reflecting on all my blessings, the things God has done for me, the things He has given me, I enter life with a willingness to give and to be a blessing to others. On the other hand, when I’m not mindful of my blessings, I’m more likely to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. In those moments I feel inadequate and sometimes even cheated. I enter life looking for what I can get out of the situation or what I can take for myself. Gratitude allows me to see the truth that in Christ I am “more than a conqueror” and He is “all that I need.”
Ann Voskamp has done some studies in conjunction with her book, “1,000 Gifts.” She asked people to write down 3 things they are grateful for each day for a year. In the end, they will have collected a list of over 1,000 gifts. Her theory is that this practice changes our outlook, our attitudes, our choices. . . in short, it changes our lives. Here’s a quote:
“If they wrote down just three things a day they were grateful for, they were less depressed, less suicidal, less apathetic, than those who didn’t practice lifestyle gratitude. . . . Research indicated that recording those blessings was cognitive training, a way of reorganizing your brain to focus on goodness. It increases an individual’s positive focus by 25%. . . . Those who practice this type of lifestyle gratitude have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, optimism, attentiveness, energy, they were more motivated, likeable, other-oriented, forgiving, generous, helpful, more likely to volunteer, and more likely to give back. Giving thanks and giving back are ‘Siamese twins.’ They move as one.” – Ann Voskamp
Here’s a link to download a sermon I preached on this topic:
Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-21:25
Early Sunday morning a group of women took anointing oil to Jesus’ grave. However, what they found was not what they expected. They would not be anointing His body that day. Instead, an angel rolled away the stone entrance to the grave and told them that Jesus had risen. He said that they should go and tell the disciples. Then, Jesus appeared to them Himself and they attempted to worship, but He told them to tell the disciples to go the Galilee and meet Him there.
Jesus was alive!! He was determined to confront all His enemies that week. He came up against the Pharisees, chief priests, scribes, Samaritans, Herod, Caiaphas, and Pilate. He had been betrayed by one of His own disciples and fought against sin even so far as being separated from His Father in death, BUT Jesus was alive! What does it mean for us if Jesus can do this?!?!?! HE IS GOD!
As we look back at the week, it seems clear that all along, Jesus was walking a very intentional path. He was choosing the cross and death with each decision. Jesus never wavered. In John 10:18, Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” It was always about His Father. He asked Him to “take this cup from me” but chose to honor His Father anyway saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus’ first allegiance was to His Father. This was His Father’s will. Jesus loved His Father so much that He was willing to give His life for Him and for us. God the Father loved us so much that He sent Jesus to be the bridge which would allow us (sinners) to be in His Holy presence. We can be in relationship with God and are adopted into His family because Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave….” He loved so He gave. Jesus chose to live, to do ministry and miracles, to die, and to rise again, because of His great love for His Father and His disciples.
In His resurrection, Jesus proves that He is better. He is better than all His enemies – Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, etc. He is better than the ways of life offered by the world – possessions, money, fame, glory, fun – temporary enjoyments. He is better than the sin that we so often choose. He is better than friends, and family, and popularity. He is better than having a good reputation. No matter where we find ourselves: in sorrow, in sickness, in loneliness, in victory, in joy, in comfort, in riches, in power…. Jesus is always better. Jesus is better than anything and everything. Why? Because He is beyond. He is something other. He is set apart. Jesus is Holy. Jesus is different. He is God.
He is alive! He is Risen!
Jesus is better!
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know His heart beats
make my heart believe
In all my victories, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Than any comfort, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
More than all riches, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Our souls declaring, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Our song eternal, Jesus is better
Matthew 27:62-66; Luke 23:54b
There is simply not much written about Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath day which followed Jesus’ death. It’s an empty day. The hearts of His disciples were empty too. They were hurting and mourning. They were fearful for what their own future held and overwhelmingly disappointed as their hopes and dreams had been destroyed. It appeared that Jesus had not been all that they had believed. They were wrong. He was much more than they imagined, but they didn’t see it yet. Saturday was as empty day for them. Rock bottom. An interesting note though is the traditional reading which would have been brought up the Sabbath (Saturday) following Passover and prior to the First Fruits Festival which started on Sunday. The reading was from Ezekiel 37 where the Lord instructs Ezekiel to declare to a valley of dry bones, “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (vs 5) Even in their lowest moments, when they were in shock over Jesus death, God was speaking to them about resurrection. Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I wonder what went through their minds as they heard these words that day in the synagogue? Did they think “Oh man, this is ironic.” or was there some sort of hope still lingering within them?
The chief priests, on the other hand were elated that day. They had accomplished their goal and rid themselves of Jesus. The only thing Scripture tells us about Saturday is that the chief priests went to Pilate to have him secure Jesus’ tomb. They tell Pilate that they remember Jesus saying that he would rise after 3 days so they wanted a Roman seal and a Roman guard to make sure that the disciples didn’t steal His body and claim resurrection.
There are a few interesting points here:
1) Even with the Scripture reading reminder or resurrection that day, Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to believe His promise about rising in 3 days, but His enemies were taking his words seriously.
2) The disciples have run away and are fearful of being arrested themselves. Are the chief priests really afraid of the disciples stealing the body or are they afraid that Jesus might actually rise from the dead?
3) David Guzik (in his commentary) makes this point. The power of Jesus’ resurrection overcomes physical obstacles (the stone), human authority (Roman seal), and human strength (Roman guard). Nothing stands in God’s way.
Luke 23:54b tells us that the disciples rested on the Sabbath day. I don’t believe it would have been quite so restful inwardly, but it seems as though they continued in the patterns and rhythms of life they had developed throughout their lives.
Inner monologue: In what ways do I live as though Jesus is dead? How often do I make decisions relying upon human strength or reason rather than on the power of God or upon His Word? Am I broken and empty when I imagine a world without Jesus or is it business as usual? Will the patterns and rhythms of life I’m choosing now be helpful when I go through tough times? How can I prepare myself to notice His work in the tough times? How can I hear His voice when all the other voices are so loud and my emotional state is overwhelming me?