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jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomThe readings for Easter Day, along with a number of my previous posts about the Resurrection, can be found here.

I have chosen John’s Gospel, rather than Luke’s, because in 2021, most of the Lenten and Holy Week readings have come from his book.

John refers to himself in verses 2, 4, 5 and 8. Emphases in bold are mine:

John 20:1-18

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

20:2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

20:3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.

20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

20:5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.

20:6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,

20:7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

20:8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;

20:9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

20:10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

20:11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;

20:12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.

20:13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

20:14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

20:15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).

20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

20:18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is one of the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection: the first Christian sabbath, as Matthew Henry’s commentary states.

John MacArthur tells us:

You need to understand that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is not just a feature of Christianity, it is the main event; it is the main event.

Resurrection is the point of redemption. The whole purpose of God in creating and redeeming His people is to raise them to eternal glory so that they can worship Him forever. That is the point of His redemption resurrection to eternal glory in not only glorified spirits, but glorified bodies. Our resurrection is secured by the power of God, the power of Christ demonstrated in His resurrection. Because He lives, we will live.

The resurrection is not only a demonstration of power, it is also a validation of His offering, because God was satisfied with the sacrifice Christ offered for the sins of His people. God raised Him from the dead, validating His work on the cross. He said, “It is finished!” God said, “I am satisfied,” raised Him, and He ascended to eternal glory, sat down at the right hand of God to intercede for His people and bring them all into eternal glory spiritually and in resurrected form.

The resurrection then is the greatest event in history – in redemptive history, or in history period. It is the most significant expression of the power of God on behalf of believers. It is the cornerstone of gospel promise. We are saved to be raised from the dead, and into heaven we go forever in that resurrected form. The purpose of salvation, again, is a resurrected people.

Because Christ conquered death, because He conquered sin, we will be raised to dwell with Him forever. How important is this? Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The Passover Sabbath had ended, and Mary Magdalene went to our Lord’s tomb in the darkness just before dawn the next morning (Sunday), only to find that the stone had been removed from the tomb (verse 1).

Matthew Henry says:

This was the first Christian sabbath, and she begins it accordingly with enquiries after Christ.

MacArthur ties together other Gospel accounts to put a timeline in place:

… it was John who said “it was still dark” when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. What that tells us, and what we know to be true from the other writers, is that she was the first one there; she was the first one there. Dawn happens fairly rapidly; but when she came, being the first one, it was still on the dark side of dawn.

Now she didn’t start out alone. According to Matthew 27 another Mary, Mary the mother of James and Joses, was with her; so she wasn’t alone. But she got there first. She’s in a hurry to get there, and she gets there before the other Mary. Matthew tells us in Matthew 28:1 both Marys headed for the tomb. But now we know Mary Magdalene got there first.

Now there were even other women who were coming along as well. There were women at the foot of the cross. The same women who were at the foot of the cross were there on Friday when Joseph and Nicodemus were burying the body of Jesus. It says in Luke 23:55, “The women who had come with the Lord out of Galilee saw the tomb and where the body was laid.”

Shocked by the sight of an empty tomb, she ran to tell Peter and John that someone had taken the body of Jesus (verse 2).

The two Apostles set out to see for themselves (verse 3). As John was younger than Peter, he outran him and reached the tomb first (verse 4).

John saw the burial linens from outside the tomb (verse 5), but Peter entered the tomb for a closer look (verse 6). He also saw the linen wrapping that had been placed on our Lord’s head, which was rolled up and set to one side (verse 7).

Henry says it is very unlikely that, as according to doubters, someone had stolen the body of Jesus, since His burial linens were still in the tomb:

Robbers of tombs have been known to take away the clothes and leave the body but none [prior to the practices of modern resurrectionists] ever took away the body and left the clothes, especially when it was fine linen and new, Mark 15:46. Any one would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. Or, if those that were supposed to have stolen it would have left the grave-clothes behind, yet it cannot be supposed they should find leisure to fold up the linen.

MacArthur adds:

Now none of these people know what’s happened on Saturday. They don’t know that the Sanhedrin got a Roman guard to guard the tomb, and then put a Roman seal on the stone so that no one would come to fake a resurrection. They put a seal, a Roman seal, which meant that it would become a crime, a violent crime, if you broke the Roman seal; and they put a significant amount of Roman soldiers there. They don’t know that.

They also don’t know that in the deep, dark night of Sunday, God sent a very localized earthquake. But before He sent the earthquake, He put all those soldiers under some kind of divine anesthesia, and they all went to sleep. And then came an earthquake, and with the earthquake the stone was rolled away. Matthew 28, verses 1-4 describes it.

The soldiers didn’t know what happened. The soldiers fled the tomb. Why not? They checked it. He’s gone. They can’t figure out why they went to sleep, because they were professional soldiers, and that was a violation of duty that had severe repercussions. They don’t know where the earthquake came from. They don’t know how the stone was rolled away. They don’t know why the body isn’t there, but it’s not. So there’s no reason to stay, so they leave.

We know they’re gone, because Mary Magdalene never refers to them when she gets there. The other women never refer to them when they get there. Peter and John never refer to them when they get there. They’re gone, startled awake in the deep Sunday darkness, shaken by the earthquake out of their divinely-induced comas.

As Peter had the temerity to enter the tomb, John followed his example. Being in the tomb, ‘he believed’ (verse 8).

John admitted that none of them understood the import of Scripture and Jesus’s own teachings: that He must rise from the dead (verse 9).

Therefore, that is further proof none of the disciples expected the Resurrection. MacArthur says:

The point that I want you to notice is that they had no expectation that Jesus would rise: the women didn’t, the leaders of the apostles didn’t.

The disciples returned home (verse 10), yet Mary Magdalene stayed and wept before bending over to look into the tomb (verse 11).

She saw two angels in white, sitting where our Lord’s body had been at rest — one at the head and one at the foot (verse 12).

They asked why she was weeping. She replied that she was concerned for Jesus: ‘they’ had taken Him away and she didn’t know where (verse 13).

It could be she was blessed by the angelic presence because she, unlike the others, stayed behind to keep a vigil over the tomb.

Henry’s commentary agrees:

This favour was shown to those who were early and constant in their enquiries after Christ, and was the reward of those that came first and staid last, but denied to those that made a transient visit.

MacArthur tells us part of the reason why Mary Magdalene was so attached to Jesus:

This woman rescued from seven demons had been in the sweet fellowship of the blessed Son of God, Son of love.

She received a further reward when she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, although she did not recognise Him (verse 14).

Jesus asked why she was weeping and for whom she was looking. She thought He was the gardener and pleaded with Him to tell her where her Saviour was so that she could take His body away (verse 15).

MacArthur says that the resurrected Jesus looked different to the Jesus that they knew during His ministry:

… by the way, every time Jesus appeared after His resurrection He had to identify Himself, because He was in a different form; He had a glorious resurrection body. And while there would have been familiar elements to that body, this was not the body that went to the cross, this was an eternal resurrection body that would never die and never be decayed. That is why on the road to Emmaus, as recorded in Luke 24, when Jesus joined those disciples on that resurrection day and walked along with them, it says, verse 16 of Luke 24, “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”

Jesus called out her name and a relieved Mary, recognising His voice, replied in Hebrew, calling Him ‘teacher’ (verse 16).

Then, she touched Him in a manner of worship, a detail which John omits but which Matthew includes. MacArthur tells us:

we know she falls at His feet, because that’s what all the women did. Matthew 28 says that when the women met Jesus they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. They just put their arms around His feet, prone in front of Him, clinging to Him, worshiping Him.

And that’s what Mary does. The shock of being more sorrowful than you’d ever been in your entire life to a moment of the most exhilarating explosive joy ever comprehended, the transition is to profound, and the one thought she has in her mind is, “I don’t want to lose Him again.” And so she takes hold of His feet kind of like the Shulamite woman in Song of Solomon who said, “I found him whom my soul loves. I held him and would not let him go.” So she holds on, not going to let Him go again. This is pure love.

Jesus corrected her and said she must not do that because He had to ascend to the Father — therefore, He could not stay with her and the disciples. He then sends her on a beautiful mission (verse 17). He tells her to give the disciples — ‘my brothers’ — the news of their encounter:

and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

MacArthur notes our Lord’s use of the word ‘brothers’:

That’s the first time believers have been called brothers in the gospel of John. This is new. “We are called” – as the disciples were – “friends, slaves, but never brothers. This is a first. How did we become brothers who were once friends and once slaves? How did we become brothers?” The cross made us brothers. The cross made it possible for us to become the children of God, brothers and sisters.

Hebrews 2:9 says that “Jesus suffered death, suffered death, so that He could bring His own to glory because He’s not ashamed to call them brothers.” This stretches any kind of thought in Judaism. To say that you are a son of God individually is to claim to have the divine nature, and it’s blasphemous. To say you are the brother or sister of deity would be equally blasphemous, but it’s the truth. By His work on the cross we have been placed in Christ, in His death, in His burial, in His resurrection. We are in Him everlastingly. We are now His brothers, and He is not ashamed to call us brother.

We can be sure she must have set off like lightning to tell them her story, which she did (verse 18). Unfortunately, the disciples dampened her joy, as MacArthur reminds us:

Luke 24: “The women came telling these things to the apostles.” Eventually the other women showed up. “They’re talking to the apostles,” Luke 24:10 – “but these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.”

They did not believe in a resurrection. They didn’t even believe when somebody they knew well said, “I have seen the Lord.” But their turn’s coming later that night.

The lesson to be learned from this reading is that spiritual endurance and love of Christ is rewarded. We might not see angels or the Lord Himself in this life, but we will have assurance in our faith that Jesus and God the Father have a very special love for every believer who stays the course, who puts the Triune God above all things.

May all my readers enjoy a very happy and blessed Easter.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThis is the final instalment of verses from Luke’s Gospel which have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Many churchgoers do not notice the truncation of the Scripture readings for Sundays and weekdays. Anytime we see an ellipsis in our church bulletins listing the readings for the day — … — we would do well to go back to the Bible and note carefully what has been omitted. Often, these are difficult verses, pointing to our own weaknesses in character and faith.

Today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry.

Luke 24:11-12

11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.

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It was nearly two years ago to the day — March 16, 2013 — that I began going through the passages from Luke which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. As with my similar studies of Mark’s and John’s Gospels, they are a revelation. You can read them all on my Essential Bible Verses page in canonical order.

These last two verses pertain to our Lord’s resurrection. The empty tomb is confusing and puzzling. His female disciples among the 72 went to the tomb to find it empty. They told the Apostles, likely to have been in their own homes and not together. Luke 24:10:

10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles,

The Apostles immediately dismissed their testimony. Why? Were they associating it with the notional female hysteria, emotion and fantasy? No doubt.

Yet, who was at the Crucifixion? Only one Apostle — John. The others were women.

Who denied Him, as our Lord had foreseen only hours earlier? Peter.

Who stayed away a week after the Resurrection before daring to show himself and, even then, in doubt? Thomas.

Yet, these eleven promised they would always be with Jesus. Matthew Henry wrote:

One cannot but be amazed at the stupidity of these disciples …

This is one reason why egalitarians in terms of marriage have a difficult time accepting male supremacy in all things where women and children are concerned. Men do not have all the answers. They need women — and not just for cooking, cleaning and childbearing.

Jesus’s female followers were there throughout in dangerous circumstances. The men were afraid, fearing imprisonment, torture or death. The women powered on regardless.

Verse 12 tells us that Peter had visited the tomb — but only after Mary Magdalene told him it was empty. The coast was clear. Henry chides the Apostle’s cowardice (emphases mine):

Peter hastened to the sepulchre upon the report, perhaps ashamed of himself, to think that Mary Magdalene should have been there before him and yet, perhaps, he had not been so ready to go thither now if the women had not told him, among other things, that the watch was fled. Many that are swift-footed enough when there is no danger are but cow-hearted when there is. Peter now ran to the sepulchre, who but the other day ran from his Master. 

Not only that, but Peter was every bit as sceptical as Thomas was eight days later. He entered the tomb to verify that it was empty and to see the linen cloths for himself. Henry:

He was very particular in making his observations, as if he would rather credit his own eyes than the testimony of the angels.

Students of the Bible must wonder why, with all of Jesus’s many words regarding death and resurrection, the Apostles did not grasp what had happened. Even when they encountered Him on the road to Emmaus later in Luke 24, they still didn’t understand fully. We see that temporal glory was still at the forefront of their minds:

21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

One cannot say any of us would be better. We focus on incidental or non-essentials instead of the essentials, then wonder why our churches are empty and why young people find Christianity irrelevant. Henry reminds us:

Note, A seasonable remembrance of the words of Christ will help us to a right understanding of his providence.

And:

There is many a thing puzzling and perplexing to us which would be both plain and profitable if we did but rightly understand the words of Christ, and had them ready to us.

Something to ponder in the approach to Easter.

Next time: Matthew 1:1-17

My reader underground pewster reviewed his church’s Easter Sunday 2014 sermon, which happened to include a mention of Mary Magdalene’s association with the egg, which came as news to me (emphases mine):

This Easter’s sermon at our church started out as a good affirmation of the Gospel witness that Christ arose from the dead, but as it went on, my mind bgan to wander as we heard stories of surviving cancer being likened to “resurrection” (not exactly of the same significance to the world IMHO). As my mind drifted, the tale of the red Easter egg was recounted. I am not sure if I heard any caveats, and two witnesses likewise do not recall hearing a disclaimer to the story of Mary Magdalene standing in front of the Emperor who said to her that he would no sooner believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead than he would believe that the egg she was holding would turn red, which of course it promptly did.

That story is not in the Bible, and probably should have been prefaced with a clear statement of its folklore status.

Apparently, according to Wikipedia:

she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.[85]

Wikipedia says there is another tradition, more common among the Greek Orthodox:

Another version of this story can be found in popular belief, mostly in Greece. It is believed that after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary put a basket full of eggs at the foot of the cross. There, the eggs were painted red by the blood of the Christ. Then, Mary Magdalene brought them to Tiberius Caesar.[citation needed]

The site also tells us why eggs are exchanged at an Orthodox Easter service:

The eggs represent new life, and Christ bursting forth from the tomb. Among Eastern Orthodox Christians this sharing is accompanied by the proclamation “Christ is risen!”

Lenten fasting and abstinence from all meat related products — including eggs and dairy — was common throughout the early Church. Those Lenten disciplines also lasted 50 days, not 40.

By the end, one would have been very happy to begin eating eggs, along with meat and dairy products.

So, the highly portable egg became associated with the joy of Christ’s Resurrection and new life, which the faithful share, as well as the temporal anticipation of permission to return to normal eating habits.

Therefore, it is wrong for Protestants to label the Easter egg ‘pagan’, as it has clear Christian significance dating back to the early centuries of the Church.

Furthermore, there would have been an abundance of eggs accumulating during this time from the chickens, ducks and geese that people owned. Presumably, the faithful had a way of keeping them fresh and safely hard boil them over an open fire prior to Easter Day.

To carry them to church or a neighbour’s house, they would have used a basket — as it was believed Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus did — hence the Easter basket, also not ‘pagan’.

There does not appear to be firm source material for the Mary Magdalene and the egg legend. That said, there was a very real devotion to her, particularly in the South of France.

According to legend, Mary Magdalene sailed along the Mediterranean preaching the risen Christ. The early Christians also identified her as Mary of Bethany, Martha and Lazarus’s sister. (It would not be until the Reformation when the distinction between the two became widespread.)

These stories were not written up by doctors of the Church until the Dark Ages and Mediaeval Period:

Gregory of Tours, writing in Tours in the 6th century,[68] supported the tradition of the eastern Church that she retired to Ephesus, with no mention of any connection to Gaul. But for most of the Middle Ages the Western church believed that after her period as a disciple of Jesus Mary Magdalene had travelled to the south of France, and died there.

How a cult of St. Mary Magdalene first arose in Provence has been summed up by Victor Saxer[69] in the collection of essays in La Magdaleine, VIIIe – XIIIe siècle[70] and by Katherine Ludwig Jansen, drawing on popular devotions, sermon literature and iconology.[71] In Provence, Mary is said to have spent her last years alone in the wilderness, fasting and engaging in acts of penitential self-discipline, behavior that was rewarded with experiences of ecstatic union with the divine. Depictions of the Penitent Magdalen became enormously popular in preaching and art (see above).[72]

St. Mary Magdalene’s relics were first venerated at the Abbey of la Madaleine, Vézelay in Burgundy from about 1050.[73] Jacobus de Voragine gives the common account of the transfer of the relics of Mary Magdalene from her sepulchre in the oratory of Saint Maximin at Aix-en-Provence to the newly founded Vézelay;[74] the transportation of the relics is entered as undertaken in 771 by the founder of the abbey, identified as Gerard, duke of Burgundy.[47] The earliest mention of this episode is the notice of the chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux (died 1112), who asserts that the relics were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens.

The entry on Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume — referred to in the purple highlight above — includes more information:

It lies 40 km (25 mi) east of Aix-en-Provence, in the westernmost point of Var département. It is located at the foot of the Sainte-Baume mountains: baume or bama is the Provençal equivalent of “cave”. The town’s basilica is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.

This is because:

The founding tradition held that relics of Mary Magdalene were preserved here, and not at Vézelay,[2] and that she, her brother Lazarus, and Maximin, a 3rd-century martyr who was now added to earlier lists of the Seventy Disciples, fled the Holy Land by a miraculous boat with neither rudder nor sail[3] and landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the Camargue near Arles. She then came to Marseille and converted the local people. Later in life, according to the founding legend, she retired to a cave in the Sainte-Baume mountains. She was buried in Saint-Maximin, which was not a place of pilgrimage in early times, though there is a Gallo-Roman crypt under the basilica. Sarcophagi are shown, of St Maximin, Ste. Marcelle, Ste. Suzanne and St. Sidoine (Sidonius) as well as the reliquary, which is said to hold the remains of Mary Magdalene.

Later:

The little town was transformed by the well-published discovery, 12 December 1279, in the crypt of Saint-Maximin, of a sarcophagus that was proclaimed to be the tomb of Mary Magdalene, signalled by miracles[1] and by the ensuing pilgrim-drawing cult of Mary Magdalene and Saint Maximin, that was assiduously cultivated by Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples. He founded the massive Gothic Basilique Ste. Marie-Madeleine in 1295; the basilica had the blessing of Boniface VIII, who placed it under the new teaching order of Dominicans.

That is the French story behind Mary Magdalene.

My apologies to underground pewster for not writing about this sooner. I also apologise for not being able to respond to his query:

I read the in biography of a Confederate soldier who had to steal eggs from a farmer’s hen house as he hiked home after the war, and there is a proper way to steal the egg while not causing a noise in the hen house in the middle of the night. I’ll leave it to Churchmouse for the rest of the recipe.

For that, I refer my reader to the old cartoon series Deputy Dawg! The hen house featured prominently and, if I remember rightly, in one episode Muskie and Vince came very close to stealing eggs successfully in the middle of the night. Perhaps it reveals the Confederate soldier’s secrets in this regard!

 

Bible boy_reading_bibleContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 8:1-3

Women Accompanying Jesus

 1Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

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In these three verses, St Luke gives us more of an insight into our Lord’s ministry.

Jesus did not shy away from the countryside; he visited villages as well as cities (verse 1). He and his disciples travelled by foot, the exception being His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.

What of His message? He does not speak of ‘social justice’ or ‘political change’. He speaks of ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’.

Charity and justice are not restricted to Christians. They are standard operating practice for world religions and secular humanism. To place those two planks — worthy though they are, and, yes, Jesus did say ‘love they neighbour’ — above salvation would be erroneous. Yet, this is what postmodern clergy — including the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury — promote over faith, repentance, grace and the promise of eternal life.

When we have faith, we will naturally love our neighbour and practice charity because we have a better understanding of God’s sovereignty, His love and that Man was created in His image.

Jesus preached about His Father’s kingdom.  He did not come to transform or rescue Israel from the Romans. He was not an earthly king in the way His contemporaries and we understand kingship. He spoke of more; He was the fulfilment of the Scriptures in a way that many then and now refuse to or cannot comprehend. He lived humbly. He was accessible. He was among people nearly every day.

The Twelve, Luke tells us, were with him (verse 1) as were three women. Our commentators, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur, surmise that the women were there regularly, probably until nightfall. They no doubt provided help with food or practical items to make the day’s journey and evening meal easier.

In addition to the Twelve and these three women, there were other disciples on these forays who felt compelled through faith to follow Jesus, whom they loved as a brother, a teacher and a healer. Matthew Henry says:

Some of them are named; but there were many others, who were zealously affected to the doctrine of Christ, and thought themselves bound in justice to encourage it, having themselves found benefit, and in charity, hoping that many others might find benefit by it too.

The three women whom Luke names in verses 2 and 3 were healed of demons or another illness. They also voluntarily contributed financially toward the upkeep of our Lord’s ministry.

The first woman named is Mary Magdalene. Magdalene refers to her home town of Magdala (Migdal, today). We often think of her as having been a prostitute, yet, both Henry and MacArthur say there is nothing in the New Testament to indicate this. The detail to remember is that Jesus cast out seven demons from her. It is a pity, then, that these verses have been omitted from the Lectionary; otherwise, every churchgoer would know this.

Then we have Joanna, who is married to Chuza, manager of King Herod’s household. Of her, Henry writes:

She had been his wife (so some), but was now a widow, and left in good circumstances. If she was now his wife, we have reason to think that her husband, though preferred in Herod’s court, had received the gospel, and was very willing that his wife should be both a hearer of Christ and a contributor to him.

MacArthur doesn’t say whether Chuza was still living at the time Joanna was a disciple, however, he says of both:

This is very, very, very high ranking. This is an official in the very palace of Herod, maybe the manager of Herod’s personal estate who ruled over his own household …

You have a woman who was from the highest possible state in the land.

Mary Magdalene and Joanna were among the first to find our Lord’s tomb was empty at the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene was also at His Crucifixion.

As for Susanna, we do not know any more than that she was a faithful disciple. This is the only time her name appears in the New Testament. MacArthur surmises:

We could assume that because there’s nothing to describe her that she was among the many non-descript who just came from the poor who dominated the land of Israel.

It is marvellous that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write of these ladies, all three from different social circumstances. I say this because a small minority of conservative American Christian men control everything their wives do. Some will not let them out of the house without permission and need to know every detail of their day. (Christian blogs on toxic churches have many stories of women who have sought divorce because they have been abused and treated like prisoners.) May these three verses remind our men not to act like obscurantist Muslims!

These three women — ‘and many others’ — gave of their savings to this divine ministry. Jesus had no real home anymore; His life was largely spent on the road, as it were.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus’ ministry was supported by those whose lives He had changed. And that’s really the model of ministry. His ministry depended on the generosity of those who had been changed by that ministry. And there were many of them, no doubt women and men. They had a purse, John 13:29 says, they had a purse, they had a treasurer named Judas. They had more than enough because they were able to take out of their purse and give to the poor. Yet they didn’t have any possessions. The disciples had left all. Jesus had left all, didn’t have anywhere to lay His head, “The foxes have holes,” He said, “the birds have nests, I don’t have a place to lay My head.” At the end of His life they [the Romans supervising the Cross] gambled around the cross for the only possession He had and that was the clothes He was wearing. So they were dependent upon these contributions.

Henry draws a larger message for us today, which is that, when we are in need because of adverse circumstances, we should not be too proud to gratefully accept charity from our neighbour. Our Lord did:

Let none say that they scorn to be beholden to the charity of their neighbours, when Providence has brought them into straits; but let them ask and be thankful for it as a favour. Christ would rather be beholden to his known friends for a maintenance for himself and his disciples than be burdensome to strangers in the cities and villages whither he came to preach.

Next time: Luke 8:4-8

On Easter, Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’s Resurrection — His rising from the dead.

This feast is the most important in the Church calendar.  To find out why, please see ‘Easter: the greatest feast in the Church year’ and ‘Easter Sunday: Thoughts on this greatest of days’.

During Holy Week 2011, I have been sharing with you excerpts of sermons by the Reformed (Calvinist) pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California.  Today, let us see what he says about Christ’s disciples, particularly the women who had the boldness to go in search of His tomb.  The sermon is called ‘Beware of Easter!’ and takes as its text Matthew 28:1-20. Emphases mine below.

Joseph of Arimathea provided a tomb for Jesus, which Roman soldiers guarded.  Shortly after His burial, the sky around Jerusalem turned black and the Earth shook.  What must it have been like to be in the city or surrounding area that weekend?  Terrifying, no doubt.  A trumped-up trial, the Crucifixion, an earthquake.  People must have been wondering if they were suffering a judgment from God.  In a way, they were.

We always hear about the disciples — with justification — but where were they after Jesus was buried?  Note who went to the tomb with oils to anoint His body:

All these horrible events were observed by Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had driven out many devils, and some other women from Galilee who had ministered to the needs of Jesus. These women loved Jesus dearly and would not leave him. They stayed near him while he suffered on the cross, they watched Nicodemus and Joseph bury him in the tomb, and they made plans to come again Easter morning to anoint his body. They did all this out of love for Jesus. Where were the male disciples? Only John is mentioned being near the cross, and then we see him disappearing. All the others had gone away, just as Jesus had predicted: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matt. 26:31).

Meanwhile, the Jews felt victorious.  They had rid themselves of the troublemaker Jesus. Nothing more could happen now, even if they had heard Him say that He would rise again on the third day:

The tomb was closed with a huge circular stone and sealed with the authority of the Roman empire. The Jewish leaders then went home to celebrate. Their nation was at peace.

But, at the time of the earthquake:

According to the Father’s command, the angel arrived in Jerusalem and made his way to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He broke the seal of the Roman empire, lifted the huge stone, threw it on the ground and sat on it. Oh, hear the laughter of God! Did the angel do this to let Jesus out of the tomb? No. Jesus had already risen from the dead. His resurrection body is glorious, immortal, imperishable, honorable, full of power, and able to go through material obstacles like stones and closed doors. So the angel was not letting Jesus out of the tomb. Instead, he opened the tomb as a mockery of man’s stupid attempt to thwart the work of God, and also to enable Christ’s loyal friends see that for the first time in history, a tomb had become empty. Christ had been resurrected from the dead as decreed by God from all eternity and as Christ himself predicted again and again.

What happened to the Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb? We read that they trembled with fear and fell down like dead men.

The angel is there to speak to Mary Magdalene and her companions when they arrive:

In the Greek it says, “You, don’t be afraid,” and the word “you” is emphasized. The angel understood why the women were there, and he wanted to reassure them

Then the angel made this great proclamation: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Now, if you go to any cemetery, you will not find these words written anywhere. You will only read “Here lies so-and-so” on every headstone and tomb. But here is one tomb where it is stated, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”

Imagine hearing that.  Even the faithful women at the tomb didn’t quite believe Christ would rise from the dead.  After all, that is why they carried anointing oils.  And, still no sign of the apostles!

But in spite of their unbelief, the angel told the women, “Come and see the place where he lay.” What did they see? An open tomb. Strips of linen placed in an orderly fashion. But something was missing. Jesus was not there. Why? He had been raised, just as he said. So the angel instructed the women, “Go quickly and tell his disciples.”

The men were in hiding, afraid for their lives but also feeling dejected.

The angel proclaimed the gospel to the women, told them to come and see, and then go and tell the disciples that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee, just as he said. You see, Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), and what he promises, he fulfills. Jesus Christ predicted that he would die, be buried, and be raised from the dead on the third day. We have all confidence that every word he said is true, which includes the promise of his coming again and judging everyone who does not believe in him.

The women left the tomb with fear and great joy. It was not great fear and joy, but fear and great joy. They still had some lingering fear, but it was not great. What gave them such great joy? I am sure they were thinking about what the angel had said, and were saying to themselves,”It is true. Christ lives! He was right. Remember, he said he would rise from the dead on the third day? This is the third day, and the tomb is empty. Jesus is risen! He has conquered death forever.” That was the cause for their great joy …

In verse 8 we read an interesting statement: the women ran to tell the disciples, in obedience to the angel’s words.

And as they were running, Matthew says, Idou -meaning, “Behold, look!” What did the women see? Jesus. Oh, if you are fearful, meeting an angel will not be sufficient. You will still have fear. But if you want to deal with all of your fears, you must finally meet Jesus himself. Behold, there was Jesus!

In the Greek we read that Jesus greeted them with the word Kairete . Now, some people would translate this as a more casual greeting like “Hello” or “Hi.” Judas Iscariot used the same word in Matthew 26:49, greeting Jesus as he was in the act of betraying him. But I do not translate Christ’s word kairete as “Hi!” I am going to give its full meaning, which is what? Rejoice! Rejoice! Be not afraid, Jesus is saying. And I am sure at that moment all the residual, lingering fears of the women evaporated. They received strength from the living Christ.

Note that the women did not hug Him or clasp His hand.  No, they fell down and clasped His feet, recognising Him as Lord:

In the ancient Near East, vassals sometimes kissed the feet of the suzerain (the great king) to express their worship and submission. King Cyrus stated that people came with tribute and kissed his feet. But here was the King of kings and Lord of lords! The women were worshiping Jesus, the risen King, God. They believed the gospel.

The saddest aspect for me about Easter is that so few people see the Resurrection as the fulfilment of Jesus’s words of truth and of God’s sovereignty.  You might feel similarly. Some of us must celebrate this wonderful feast day alone, surrounded by unbelievers or deniers. Mr Mathew explains:

Just as the authorities tried to seal the tomb and stop people from believing in Christ, people today are still trying to cover up the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Sin manifests itself in unbelief. Haven’t you heard the lies of sinful man? Some say that Jesus was stolen by his disciples; or that he just swooned on the cross, and in the cool air of the tomb he revived, forced open the stone, came out, and disappeared–no one knows where. Others say that the women, misty-eyed from weeping, came to the wrong tomb where a young man told them, “He is not here,” meaning it was not his tomb. Others say that those who saw Jesus after his resurrection were hallucinating. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 St. Paul says that the living Jesus met with five hundred people in Galilee but unbelievers would say that all five hundred were hallucinating at the same time. And the most modern theory of those who would cover up truth is that the resurrected Christ was just a vision–that all the reports of his resurrection were self-induced visions, based on no objective reality. But if any of these stories were true, I wonder why the authorities did not produce the body of Christ. If they had done so, they could have stopped the rise of Christianity right then and there.

Like the chief priests and elders, people today continue to suppress the greatest truth ever told and the greatest event that ever happened in time and space–the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why? Why will a person believe in everything but the resurrection? The reason, Paul says, is that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God.” Such a person does not compute God’s truth. There is a deliberate rejection of truth–“for [it is] foolishness to him, and he cannot understand [it] because [it is] spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 1:14).

In Romans 1 we are told that sinful man is ever engaged in the suppression and cover-up of truth by his or her own wickedness. We also read in Romans 1 that man is exchanging truth for a lie continually. In Romans 8 Paul says the sinful mind is hostile to God and does not submit to God’s law, nor can it. Sinful man is totally unable to receive, embrace, and believe the gospel because Satan has blinded his understanding.

If you do not believe the gospel, please do not blame women with misty eyes. The problem is the mist in the depth of your heart. Paul says you are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). In Luke 16 Jesus himself told of a rich man who wanted someone to rise from the dead and declare to his brothers that there is a hell. What did Jesus say? “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,” meaning the Scriptures, “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31)

Even when Jesus was on the cross, some said that if he came down, they would believe. But when the soldiers reported that the tomb was empty and Jesus had come out, did the authorities believe? No. They gave the soldiers a large amount of money and told them to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. And I presume that the rulers also had to give money to Pilate to silence him.

For unbelievers, Christ and His fulfilment of His prophecy is threatening. Just think of all the news items over the past decade which deny Christian feasts, Christian worship and Christian witness.

There is a day coming–a day of judgment–when everyone will believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as every word of the Scripture. Those who have denied God’s word will believe in the virgin birth, in miracles, in creation–in everything they have denied from God’s word.

When Paul spoke of the resurrection of Christ to the Athenians, they sneered at him. They were the scientists of their day, and they mocked his message, saying that after a man died, he could never rise from the dead physically. The Athenians did believe in the immortality of souls, but they laughed, sneered, and mocked as Paul spoke about physical resurrection.

But Paul told the Athenians … “He has given proof of this [coming judgment] to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Jesus never lied to His disciples.  There is not one word or deed of His which was ambiguous or left to rationalisation.  He fulfilled His promises to us.  If He said He would rise from the dead and did, we can be sure that He will come again in glory — and in judgment.  But waiting until Judgment Day to believe will be too late for some.  So, for those curious about Jesus and His divine love for sinners, why not open a Bible and read online resources to help better acquaint you with Him?  What could be a more glorious time than now?

Let us pray that the risen Christ remains with us every moment of each day. Jesus Christ is not only our only Mediator and Advocate but also our only Way to eternal life.  May we keep Him foremost in our thoughts and in our hearts, today and always.

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