Thursday, April 24

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Oh yeah, by the way…He is still risen!

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said,  “Surely this man was the Son of God!”   - Mark 15:37-39

Mark doesn’t use a lot of words to tell us what is going on, but there is a lot of meaning packed into those few words.  The moment that Jesus dies, the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom.  Keep in mind that this temple curtain was no flimsy drapery, it was not a shower curtain.  The curtain which separated the Holy of Holies was heavy and thick, almost as substantial as a wall.  According to the Rabbis the curtain was a handbreadth in thickness, and woven of seventy-two twisted plaits, each plait consisting of twenty-four threads.  It was sixty feet long and thirty wide.  Two of them were made every year, and according to the Talmud, it needed three hundred priests to manipulate it.  The holy of holies symbolized the very presence of God and only the High Priest could enter there once a year on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  The people depended on the High Priest to make the acceptable sacrifices for their sins.  Look at what the writer of Hebrews has to say about how Jesus Christ has changed our access to God by His death on the Cross.

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  – Hebrews 7:25-27

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,  
- Hebrews 10:19-22

Jesus is our High Priest!
The Temple is His Body!
The massive curtain that kept us out has been removed!
The perfect sacrifice has been made!
We can come in now with confidence and assurance!
Do you grasp that?  We can come in!

Right here in this passage, Mark shows us the first person to “enter in” after the crucifixion.  His confession, “Surely this man was the son of God” is momentous because the very first line in the first chapter of Mark refers to Jesus this way, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  (Mark 1:1)  Up to this point, nobody had yet figured out just who Jesus really was.  Even Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Christ (Mark 8:29) proved to be a partial understanding until after the resurrection.  The first person to “get it” was a Roman Centurion!?  

The only person a good Roman would ever call the “Son of God” was Caesar himself, but this man gave that title to Jesus.  This Centurion would have been a hardened and brutal man, used to seeing blood and death.  But something about the death of Jesus so deeply impacted him that he was moved to confess the deity of Christ.  The Centurion had seen it all.  The loud cry of Jesus is unusual because victims of crucifixion usually have no strength left, especially when near death.  But Jesus’ death was no ordinary one, nor was his shout the last gasp of a dying man.  It was not a cry of defeat, but a shout of victory.  At the beginning of the crucifixion he was an unbeliever.  But he heard Jesus pray for him,  “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

It really is amazing to think about the fact Jesus’ disciples, who had been told by Jesus repeatedly that this would happen, were confused and they all fled in fear.  The religious leaders and teachers of the law, who studied the Scriptures daily, rejected the Son of God as they stood mocking Him in the crowd.  It is a pagan Roman soldier (and a dying thief) who “gets it” and “gets in”!  

Nobody is beyond the love of God!  Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done…The love and forgiveness of God is available to you through Jesus Christ!  His death has paid for your sin, and his resurrection from the dead promises you eternal life!

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, April 23

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Just another reminder that…He is still risen!

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They asked her,  “Woman, why are you crying?”  “They have taken my Lord away,” she said,  “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  “Woman,” he said,  “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”  Thinking he was the gardener, she said,  “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  Jesus said to her,  “Mary.”  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic,  “Rabboni!”  (which means Teacher).  Jesus said,  “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them,  ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:  “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.  
– John 20:10-18

On the morning of the Resurrection, Jesus didn’t want Mary to hold on to Him, why not?  I have often wondered about this passage in John’s gospel.  I have wondered why Jesus would tell Mary not to hold on to Him?  Is it a bad thing to cling to Jesus?  Aren’t we supposed to stay close to Him?

One thing is clear, Jesus didn’t mean that Mary was not to touch Him at all, because He told Thomas to touch Him and to see that He was the real thing (John 20:27).  He told her not to “hold on to Him”, but what did He mean?

Mary had experienced a powerful encounter with Jesus. But He didn’t want her to
stop there.  Mary still wanted to hold onto Him.  Mary’s reaction was likely motivated by several things.  One is simply her loving devotion to the Lord.  Mary is overwhelmed by the events of the morning, and as her grief turns to joy, she naturally embraces Jesus.  Another motivation is Mary’s desire to restore the fellowship that His death had broken.  She had lost Him once, and she was going to make sure she didn’t lose Him again - she wanted to keep Jesus with her always.  But Jesus spurred Mary on and commissioned her to share with the disciples about His resurrection.  Jesus had not yet risen with God – He was still on the move.  He was essentially saying, “It’s not going to be the way it used to be.  You can’t hold on to Me in the old way.”

In loosening Mary’s hold on Him, Jesus was, in effect, saying this: “I know you desire to keep Me here, always present with you. I know you want everything to be just the same as before I died. But our relationship is about to change. I’m going to heaven, and you will have the Comforter in My place. You need to start walking by faith, Mary, not by sight.”

Jesus told us that it was better for us that He return to the Father. We, like Mary cannot cling to Jesus’ physical body, we need to know Him, and cling to Him through faith.  We do not need to physically hold onto the "man" Jesus. We need to embrace Him, through faith.  One day we will see Him face to face, but for now, we know with Him and we live in His presence by faith.

One of the biggest tasks we have as Jesus' disciples is to not cling to Jesus, not to hide ourselves away in a church and in the presence of the Lord at the expense of going to share His love with others.  We have a message of hope and forgiveness to share with others who are trapped in hopelessness and despair.  As His disciples, we are not to spend the majority of our time in “holy huddles”, but in out in the world, reaching the lost and the hurting and offering hope in the risen Jesus. 

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, April 22

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Just in case you have forgotten already  - He is still Risen!

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.  Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.  But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.     - 1 Corinthians 15:3-14

Many biblical scholars agree that the first few verses of this passage are an example of the earliest Christian creed.  A creed is a clear statement intended to be recited in order to teach and affirm certain beliefs.  Creeds were very important in the early church because only the wealthiest individuals could afford to own a written copy of Scripture.  Usually a church or group of churches would own a few copies of portions of Scripture.  The idea of a personal Bible was totally unheard of in the first century.  Believers would recite and memorize creedal statements together as a form of worship and as a way of encouraging and strengthening their faith in Jesus Christ.

The truly remarkable thing about the passage above is that it is entirely centered on the resurrection.  In other words, the origin of the Christian faith hinges on the historical reality of the resurrection.  Notice how specific Paul is in this passage.  He mentions names and numbers of people to whom the risen Jesus had appeared.  Then he goes on to say that most of them are still alive!  Why would he mention this?  Even in the earliest days of Christianity there were skeptics and doubters of the resurrection.  Paul is essentially saying that anybody who doubts can simply go and ask these folks if it is true.  How could Paul make such a statement in a letter that was going to be widely read and circulated if Jesus had not appeared to these people?  

The very fact that Christianity started and grew at all is evidence for the resurrection.  The philosopher and scholar William Lane Craig writes: “Even skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.”  For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.  The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion!  The Messiah, who had died, is risen!  The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity.  The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Listen again to what the apostle Paul says about the importance of the resurrection.  “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The early Christians clearly grasped the tremendous importance of the resurrection; they understood that everything about their faith depended on this singular historical fact.  Should we do less?  Let’s take a cue from our spiritual ancestors in the early church and affirm the fact that our Lord is risen and our God has conquered the grave every time we come together.  The resurrection is not something that we should remind ourselves of one Sunday a year, it is the truth that we should celebrate and affirm every moment of every day that we live!

Jeff Frazier

Monday, April 21

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Well, Easter is over with for another year.  Actually, it's not done.  According to the Christian calendar, Easter is not just a day, it is a season, 50 days long.  But let's face it, most of us don't really celebrate Easter as a season.  We have one busy Sunday, and then a few more days of making ourselves sick with chocolate eggs and jellybeans.  Then it's back to normal (whatever normal means).  The day after Easter often strikes me as a little bit of a let-down.

Why does this happen?  For those in ministry, I can say that one reason may be the fact that we run around like crazy during holy week, planning a bunch of different services and events.  Easter morning is a marathon, and then we crash.  Perhaps you haven’t been a part of 11 services in 3 days, but all the same, I'm guessing you can relate to having a bunch of work go into something, and then, when it's done, feeling more tired than happy.  But besides the fatigue factor, I think there's a deeper reason for the day-after-Easter blues.

Easter is filled with the message of the power of new life, of death's defeat.  Jesus triumphs over his death and over ours, and it's a day full of hope and joy.  So we sing with all the joy we can muster.  We're full of hallelujahs as we get into the spirit of the day. "Christ is risen!" we say as we shake hands.  " Risen Indeed!"  The resurrection seems true on Easter Sunday.  It seems possible to believe that things can be different than what they are.  This hopeful feeling may stick with us through a nice family get-together, but then...In a lot of ways, we're still waiting for the resurrection, and it's hard to celebrate while you wait.  

Even when we do experience little bits of the life of Christ growing in our souls, it's never a complete transformation.  We sing about resurrection but we also know that we're not there yet.  For all our Easter joy, we're still the same people that we were before Sunday.  We still have to go to a job that we don’t like, or we wish we had a job that we didn’t like.  A friend still has cancer.  There are still bills we can’t pay.  People are still hungry, and sad, and struggling with painful relationships, agonizing decisions, and a thousand other things.  

I don’t think it was this way for the disciples on the say after the resurrection!  I don’t think they were sitting around depressed and bored when they heard that their master was alive, do you?

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.   – John 20:19-20

I have often thought about the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples, saying "Peace be with you."  And I have thought about Jesus showing them the wounds on his hands, and in his side.  You know, even Jesus didn't get rid of all his scars.

It's easy to fall into a pattern of wishing that faith would fix things, that God would intervene and immediately turn our confusion to clarity and our sadness to joy, and then feeling disillusioned when it doesn't work out that way, and wondering if there was something wrong with us... or with God.  It's a hard pattern to live in.  We want solutions, and when there aren't any surely it must be somebody's fault.
Perhaps the resurrection doesn't work in the way we expect it to work.  Perhaps we experience God's grace, and all the new life that comes with that, but we still have the same wounds and scars we did before.  Jesus is transformed in the resurrection, but not so much so that he loses his injuries - they just aren't killing him anymore.  Maybe that's how resurrection works in our lives, too.  We carry scars and wounds, but because of the resurrection, we know that they are not fatal.

Easter isn't supposed to magically change everything... it's supposed to remind us that everything has already been changed because of what happened on the third day!  So let’s live this day with grace and courage, with patience and hope. The resurrection is real, even if it's not easy.

Jeff Frazier

Friday, April 18

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Revelation 22:17-21

The Spirit and the bride say, Come!And let him who hears say, Come!Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

He who testifies to these things says, Yes, I am coming soon.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with Gods people. Amen.

When our boys were very young my wife and I shared bedtime duties. Typically, one of us would do bath time, get their pajamas on, teeth brushed and get them all tucked into bed. Then the other would come up and do bedtime story and prayer time.

One particular night Lorene went up to take care of the first part of the bedtime ritual. When she was finished she called down to me to let me know the boys were ready for me.

However, I was in the middle of doing something important, like watching a Bulls playoff game, so I told her to tell them I would be up in a minute.

Well, evidently the game got interesting because I completely forgot to go upstairs and do my part. Some 40 minutes later my wife came into the family room and asked, “Did you say goodnight to the boys?”

Dooohhhhhppp!” I said, “I completely forgot.”

So I ran upstairs knowing they would already be asleep but figuring that when they asked in the morning if I had come up I could tell them that, yes, in fact, I did come up but that they were already asleep.

And I was right; the first three I checked on were dead asleep. But when I stepped up to look in on our 5 year old, who was in the top bunk bed, I was shocked to find him still awake. He was clutching his favorite blanket and he looked at me and said, “I knew youd come Daddy.”

My five year old son had stayed awake waiting for me to come because he knew I had promised. And to think I almost missed such a beautiful expression of trust and faith!

The whole Bible ends with these words from the Apostle John:

He who testifies to these things says, Yes, I am coming soon.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with Gods people. Amen.

We have already seen that the central revelation of the book of Revelation is Jesus Christ. Here John tells us the final thing we need to know about Jesus: he is coming soon.

The Bible tells us something is broken in the world and something is broken in us. That something is sin. Jesus came to defeat the power of sin and death, which he did on the cross and through his resurrection. Thats what we celebrate at Easter.

But even though we have been saved from our sins and have the hope of eternal life, we look around at the world and things dont seem to be getting better. Rather, we can all sense the world hurtling toward the chaos and suffering described in the strange images of the book of Revelation.

While many have tried, no one can predict the future with absolute certainty. We simply dont know what tomorrow holds.

But with the final strokes of his pen, John tells us what we can know with certainty. We can know that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who rules today in heaven and who will rule one day over the new heaven and new earth. And John tells us that Jesus is coming soon.

So now we are waiting for Jesus just as my young son was waiting for me. And we are waiting because he promised. May we trust his promise; may we find hope in his promise; and may we stay awake!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, April 17

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Revelation 1:1-3; 9-11
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw - that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lords Day I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me aloud voice like a trumpet, which said, Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches; to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

One of the most common misconceptions of the last book of the Bible, the book called “Revelation,” is that it reveals to us how the world will end.

Now, in fairness, the book does include fantastic apocalyptic images of beasts and dragons; wars and plagues; fire and destruction. Revelation does clearly indicate that the world as we know it is temporary when set against the eternal world for which we were created. But the author begins by saying quite clearly the intent of the book:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.

This opening sentence can be understood in two ways.

First, we can read it as saying that Jesus is going to reveal to us what is going to happen as God brings about the end of this world and the inauguration of his eternal kingdom. And that is true, although not in the sense many assume.

The second way to understand what John is saying is to see the whole book of Revelation as being, first and foremost, about revealing Jesus; who he is; and the role he will play in the drama that will be the consummation and judgment of all things.

I think its a mistake to focus on what Revelation may say or not say about how history will end. Its much more important to focus on what Revelation says about Jesus Christ.

Revelation 1:17-18
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

John is telling us Jesus Christ is the eternal One.

Revelation 4:11-12
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!

John is affirming that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Revelation 19:11-16
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter.He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Here John sees Jesus as the conquering king of heaven who will come to judge all things.

Years ago I heard a speaker point out that in the ancient world a king would often ride into a conquered city on a white horse as a symbol of his power and strength. The Bible tells us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem before his arrest and crucifixion he rode on a donkey, which was the symbol of humility. The book of Revelation tells us that the next time we see Jesus he will come not on a donkey, but a white horse; he will be coming not in humility but in his triumphant glory.

Indeed, the apocalyptic images of Revelation seem to point to the world falling into terrible turmoil before the end comes. But we need not fear all of that because the one revealed to us in Revelation the One who is the first and the last; the One who is sovereign king of heaven and earth; the One who will judge the living and the dead; and the One who was slain so that we can know the hope of his salvation in the New Heaven and New Earth.

The One revealed in the book of Revelation is Jesus Christ.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, April 16

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John 19:25-27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mothers sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Dear woman, here is your son,and to the disciple, Here is your mother.From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

I think this is one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking and human stories in the entire gospel story. As a pastor I have   had the privilege of walking with dozens of families through “end of life issues.” Most often these issues revolve around adult siblings making decisions about caring for aging parents. Occasionally parents need to make extremely difficult decisions having to do with medical treatment for terminally ill children. Here we see a wrenching combination of both.
Mary is watching the life drain from her first-born son as he dies a horrifying and humiliating death. Jesus, as eldest son, bears responsibility for the care of his mother. (Most scholars believe that Joseph had passed away some years earlier which left Jesus in the position of responsibility.)
We know from other places in scripture that while Jesus had younger brothers (Matthew 13:54-57) they did not believe in him or follow him at this time (John 7:5). That might explain why Mary was with John at the foot of the cross instead of with one of her other sons.
We also know that John refers to himself several times as “the disciple Jesus loved.” While this seems almost arrogant to us - didnt Jesus love all his disciples? - it may have been just the opposite. Many scholars believe John was actually displaying humility in refraining from using his own name as he wrote his gospel account. By referring to himself as “the disciple Jesus loved” John is simply telling us that he came to find his identity and calling in the love of Christ.
In 1 John 4 we read:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. (1 John 4:7-10)
So when Jesus looked down and saw his mother with John he loved them both. He loved his mother by entrusting her to the care of a man he considered faithful, and he loved John by entrusting him with his mothers care.
While we cant know exactly why Jesus chose to ask John to care for his mother, I think we see in this story a picture of the love Jesus intends for his followers to have for each other.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

Pastor Brian Coffey