Tag Archives: Bible Study

The Way to Pentecost: Doubt

So, Jesus has now revealed himself to his disciples in many ways – in gardens, on roads, in locked rooms. It’s interesting that he didn’t reveal himself first to his apostles, but instead to women and others who were only mentioned once or twice in all of the New Testament. But even among the apostles, there is still one who hasn’t seen Jesus in person yet.

Doubting Thomas, from The Passion of Christ, plate 28 by Gru00e9goire Huret is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Thomas, also known as Didymus, which means twin, is only briefly mentioned in lists of the apostles in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, John mentions him a few times more, which is also where the story of his doubt is written.

His first mention in John is when they find out that Lazarus has died and Jesus wants to go to Bethany to visit Martha and Mary. Thomas says to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. Right before this, Jesus had been in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication (or Hanukkah) where he upset the religious leaders to the point where they attempted to stone him. He had gone across the Jordan and was staying there when he received word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was very sick.

Thomas knows if Jesus goes back to Jerusalem, that it will mean certain death, but at this point, he was ready to stay by his side. At the Last Supper, after Jesus discusses being betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter, the disciples are disheartened. This is when Jesus assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them. Thomas then asks him how they will know the way. And Jesus responds by saying he is the way.

Thomas is a questioner, but he is also faithful. He wants to go where Jesus goes. To stay by his side. His questions do not mean he doesn’t have faith. He seems more to just want to understand the plan. And I can relate. How many times have I asked God what the plan is? In the last 24 hours?

Also, he wasn’t the only one that had trouble believing. Matthew and Mark both include accounts of people who were doubting. In Matthew, Jesus is standing on a mountain in Galilee right in front of them and verse 14 said “but some doubted.” In Mark’s accounts of the women telling the disciples that Jesus had risen and his account of the companions on the road, he includes that the people they told did not believe them, either. Luke includes that the women were not believed because their words seemed like nonsense.

Jesus rebukes those who don’t believe, but with Thomas, Jesus invites him to touch his hands and his side before telling him to stop doubting and believe. And yes, Jesus follows that up with the “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” but he didn’t abandon Thomas in his doubt.

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There are a lot of people who are questioning the church right now. And while there have been a lot of support for those who are deconstructing, the louder voices in the church have been condemning those who doubt, those who question, those having crises of faith and church. But Jesus never condemned the questioning. He didn’t condemn Thomas. He answered and invited Thomas to seek out the truth.

Thomas is mentioned another time in Acts, on the day of Pentecost. Thomas is with the other apostles and disciples in an upper room. He is constantly praying, continuing his apostolic ministry, and filled with the Holy Spirit. I can imagine the impact he might have had on other doubters, on questioners. I imagine he walked with them through it all just as Jesus had walked with him. All of the apostles played different roles and reached different people. Just as different believers today can further the kingdom of God in different ways. Those who hold doubt, and even those who hold shame…

The Way to Pentecost: Appearing to the Eleven

So much happened that first day, the day of resurrection. Mary Magdalene sees Jesus and tells the disciples that he has risen. Cleopas and his friend meet Jesus on the way to dinner outside of Jerusalem. It says in Luke that as soon as they realized that it was Jesus, they got up immediately and headed back to Jerusalem.

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Luke says it was specifically the Eleven apostles, while John just mentions disciples. But John includes that the room they where they gathered had been locked because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. That morning, at least some if not all had been present when the women claimed an empty tomb. And they were there when Peter and John returned to confirm it true. And now, two people are claiming to have actually eaten with Jesus outside of Jerusalem.

As all of this is happening, we know that the Jewish leaders are already scheming with the guards to spread the narrative that the Jesus’ followers had stolen the body. They didn’t have the body, but that couldn’t actually disprove the rumor.

And in the middle of all this fear, confusion, and grief, Jesus shows up. Even through locked doors, Jesus appears. He shows his hands and feet and invites them to touch him. He asks for something to eat, to prove his humanity, that he wasn’t just an apparition.

The grief and sorrow that had turned into fear and uncertainty finally ended that evening in joy and amazement. In Luke, he tells them to stay in the city until they were clothed with power on high, while John says that he breathed the Holy Spirit into them right then. And what ability did this Holy Spirit give them?

‘and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

Luke 24:47

“If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:23

Out of everything Jesus did, everything his disciples witnessed, Jesus wanted them to teach forgiveness. Forgiveness was their new super power.

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It reminds me of the story of the lame man in Luke 5:17-26. His friends lowered him through the roof to get to Jesus, and when Jesus saw this man, his first words were, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The religious leaders and teachers took offense, but Jesus proved that not only could he forgive, but he also healed the man right there.

At times, we get really bogged down with doing it right, saying the right things, following scripture the right way. But here, both in Luke and John, the first responsibility the disciples were given was to forgive sins. It’s creating space for growth in both ourselves and others.

Forgiveness is hard to practice. Tyler Perry is quoted, “It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” You have to let go of the right to be hurt, and give God the seat of justice.

I know that people have used the term forgiveness to withhold justice as well. To allow abusers to continue their abuse without consequence, to hide behind titles and wealth that allow them to do whatever they desire. When we don’t see the justice we desperately desire, it’s hard to continue trusting in God.

I don’t have an easy answer for why God allows bad things to happen and seemingly doesn’t dole out the justice that is deserved. But for me, forgiveness has been a way for me to let go of how trauma defined who I was and embrace the new creation God has in me. To know that God is still moving and working within all of us, for both healing and justice.

Forgiveness is a super power. And while some may try to abuse this power, I know that it is meant to be used for good. To create space for growth and healing, so that we can all experience the goodness of God and the power of Christ. Even those who may doubt.

The Way to Pentecost: The Road to Emmaus

This story is out of the book of Luke, although Mark briefly mentions a similar story (probably the same one) where two men are walking on a road and Jesus appears to them in a different form. But Luke writes that they were headed to a village called Emmaus that was seven miles from Jerusalem.

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So let’s picture the story. Emmaus means hot springs, which makes me think about Hot Springs, AR, a vacation spot with a hot spring that people believe gives health, even medicinal, benefits. In the same way, this village probably had a hot spring or fountain that was renowned for its medicinal benefits.

Of the two companions, only one of them is named in verse 18, Cleopas. This is the only time that this specific name is mentioned in the gospels, although in John one of the women named Mary at the cross was mentioned as the wife of Clopas. Some commentaries connect the two, but others say they were two different men. Regardless, they did know the women who went to the empty tomb. In fact, they were there when the women came to the disciples that morning to announce the risen Christ.

We don’t know why they were going to Emmaus. Maybe they were going to visit someone they knew, or they were just going to get dinner, maybe getting out of Jerusalem which had become quite a dangerous place for a follower of Jesus. We don’t know why they were on that road, but we know what they were doing. And as they walked towards their destination, they were discussing everything that had happened.

And it’s at this point, Jesus enters into the picture. They don’t recognize him, maybe because of a supernatural kind of disguise or maybe just because they weren’t expecting Jesus to appear at that moment. But Jesus immediately enters into their conversation. This is where we learned that they were with the apostles, at least Peter and John because of the story they recount. But they ended their tale with some serious doubt.

Jesus then takes over the narrative, beginning with “Moses and all the Prophets” and details all the ways he has fulfilled scripture, still without revealing that it is actually him. He makes such an impression on these two companions, that they urge him to stay the night in Emmaus and have dinner with them. And at first, Jesus was going to just keep on traveling.

There is a point in this story when Jesus could have just kept on going, that these two travelers might have never known who they were talking to. But the kindness, inclusion, and hospitality they showed him caused him to stay. And it was then, at the dinner table, that he reveals himself to them as he breaks the bread. Then disappears from their sight.

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When I was going through my periods of pregnancy loss, I didn’t have much control over the narrative. But the one thing I asked of God was that I see him in the details. And every time, he revealed himself through the medical staff, nature, and other experiences. Sometimes the only thing I really need in those dark moments was to know that I’m not alone. That hope is coming.

I can’t imagine the amount of grief and fear these two companions had at this point. Their teacher died only a few days before. Now, his body went missing. And the women who went to the tomb are spouting this absolutely insane story about a resurrection. While the chief priests and guards are claiming that his followers took the body. But they didn’t have a body. Would they still be held responsible?

Yet in this moment of uncertainty, Jesus walked with them. He reminded them of all the things that came before, how scriptures were fulfilled while he was alive, and how scripture was being fulfilled once again. Jesus never leaves us. He is present in our lives reminding us in times of uncertainty that he is there and that he will continue to be there.

Mark also mentions this encounter, though it’s only two sentences long. When they returned to Jerusalem, they shared their story but no one believed them. But soon, Jesus would reveal himself to all of them. Soon, everything would be made clear.

The Way to Pentecost: The Chief Priests

Between the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus among the disciples, we have this short story between the chief priests and the guard who had witnessed the events that Sunday morning. This isn’t the first time these religious leaders have made an appearance during these last days of Jesus.

It was the chief priests who gave the thirty pieces of silver to Judas in order for him to betray his friend and teacher (Matthew 26:14-16). It was the chief priests who accused Jesus before Pilate (Matthew 27:12). It was the chief priests who convinced the crowd to call for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be executed (Matthew 27:20). At every turn, they flexed their influence and power at Jesus.

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They knew about the foretelling of the resurrection because they knew the words of Jesus. That is why they went to Pilate for the guard to be placed at the tomb in the first place. They thought he had plans to have his body stolen by his followers so they could claim he had risen on the third day.

These religious leaders approached Pilate the day after Jesus’ death, during the Sabbath, to put guards in front of the tomb. The big stone had already been rolled in front of the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. But they wanted to make sure they could use every bit of their power and connection to keep Jesus in that grave. Of course, that wasn’t enough.

And now we come to our story in Matthew where the guards return to these religious leaders with an empty tomb and quite the story.

Last week, we read about the women at the tomb and their experience. But once the angel was gone, the earth was still, and the women were on their way, the guards were left an empty tomb with no easy explanation of what had happened. So instead of going to Pilate, and possibly getting into major trouble, a few of them, probably the leaders, went to the chief priests instead.

When the soldiers showed up, they told an amazing story. But the empty tomb was the only thing that worried the religious leaders. You would think it was because they didn’t believe a body could be raised from the dead, that somehow the followers of Jesus managed to steal his body from the grave. But they knew about Lazarus.

In fact, in John, it was the act of raising Lazarus that initiated the plot to kill Jesus. All the gospels talk about these leaders being concerned, even afraid, of the influence of Jesus over the people through his signs and parables (especially the parables directed towards them). They were afraid that Jesus’ influence would lead to the Romans taking away their temple and nation.

John also includes an interesting prophecy from Caiaphas, the high priest that year. According to this prophecy, Jesus was supposed to die for the Jewish nation. His death was supposed to bring together all the scattered children of God. And they used the words of this prophecy as the reason to kill Jesus.

But make no mistake, their motivation was not to fulfill a prophecy. Their motivation was power. They were used to things the way they were. They had been in control, and Jesus was disrupting that power. Even after death. So they hatched a plan. They bribe the soldiers with a large amount of money and promise to smooth things over with Pilate.

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These leaders depended on their power, influence, wealth, even prophetic words to maintain their position in society. And it’s still happening today. This story encourages discernment in leadership. It warns leaders to hold loose the influence they have and trust in God. To hold onto the narrative based in humility and love and not in power and control, to not focus on numbers for security but on a God who provides no matter the circumstances.

We also need to be discerning about who we choose to follow. Do we follow chief priests who try to control the message with money and power, or do we follow Jesus, the one who can disrupt that power?


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The Way to Pentecost: The Empty Tomb

Hello readers and friends. I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend. Today I’m going to begin a study series from the moment of resurrection to day of Pentecost. I know the stories of the empty tomb, the road to Emmaus, the doubting of Thomas, but I’ve never taken the time to just read and study what gospel has to share. I invite you to study this with me as Pentecost approaches.

But for today, let’s talk about that empty tomb.

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Each of the gospels tells a different story. From which women went exactly to what they found there. But also remember that each of these gospels were written for specific groups of people and came from the oral tradition first. There are a few things they agree on.

First, the stone was rolled away. The body was not there. In some versions, there were burial shrouds present. In others, they didn’t even enter the tomb. But all accounts agree on the stone rolling away, and the tomb being empty

Second, someone always announces the fact that Jesus has risen. In Matthew it was from an angel, in Mark and Luke it was a man (or two) in white, and in John it was Jesus, himself. But this event is made very clear what has happened. If there is any confusion, it doesn’t last long.

And finally, women were the first at the tomb. Specifically, Mary Magdalene is mentioned in all four gospels. And in all four gospels, word of the missing body of Jesus is shared with the disciples from these women.

I know that Matthew’s gospel was specifically written to the Jewish community as a bridge between the old and new testament. It’s interesting that an earthquake is included only in this gospel. I wonder if the Jews who read this account thought of the Israelites in Exodus 19:18 when they approached Mount Sinai as God descended on to the mountain, how the whole mountain trembled. Was the earthquake here in Matthew also signifying the presence of God in the resurrection?

In Mark there were women who witnessed the empty tomb and the announcement that Jesus had risen who were too afraid to say anything. It was only Mary Magdalene that ends up sharing the information with the disciples after her direct encounter with Jesus. In other accounts, more women shared the news, but there were probably some women who didn’t share the news with others out of fear. It is a challenge to remind us to share what the Spirit puts on our heart, despite the fear that may hold us back.

Luke is my favorite gospel in how meticulous he seems to write each scene. I imagine the interviews he had with people who were trying to recount exactly who was at the tomb that morning. He begins to list the names of some of the women, but then adds the “others” at the end. It would make sense that this would be a good number of women coming together to take care of Jesus’ body that day, both for safety as women traveling anywhere together and power in numbers considering they would have to convince the guard to let them in.

But John has my favorite scene. The one where Peter and John race to the tomb. John gets there first, but Peter goes inside the tomb first. The funny thing about this was that this is supposed to be coming from John’s perspective, so he had to let his readers know that he won the race to the tomb before Peter. But regardless, it isn’t revealed to either of them that Jesus has risen. That message is saved for Mary Magdalene to share. And according to both John and Mark, it was she who saw Jesus first, before anyone else did. She seems to be the costar in this story. The woman of seven demons who supported Jesus financially throughout his ministry. It was she who spoke those first words to the disciples, He has risen.

Whether it was the difference of eye-witness accounts or it was the emphasis the writer wanted to make to their audience, all of the stories agree that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and would make himself known to his followers for the next 40 days in many different ways. From Jerusalem to Galilee to right outside Bethany as he makes his final farewell. The tomb was only the beginning.


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Beloved

This year has been heavy. But even before the isolation and uncertainty that this era of the pandemic was brought into our lives, life wasn’t perfect. Throughout my life, I chased after things I thought would bring me comfort or significance or worth. Having a busy lifestyle, or connections in person or online, or accomplishing goals. I was in constant pursuit.

This year has forced me to slow down, like many other people, and reflect and reevaluate what is really important. To level risks and priorities against both mental and physical health. It has me craving the Word, the reminders of who God is, and what my relationship to him is, and I came across this beautiful blessing given to the tribe of Benjamin in Deuteronomy.

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”

Deuteronomy 33:12

Beloved. One who is much loved. A beloved person is one who is being actively pursued. Which means that God is actively pursuing us.

Even when we are chasing other things to fill the void like what is described in Nehemiah.

They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them

Nehemiah 9:17

He never deserted us. Even when I feel isolated and overwhelmed, God is still standing beside me, longing for me to be still enough to hear his whispers of comfort.

And why does he love us? More than the fact that we are each created in his image to rule together in his Kingdom. It is the simple fact that God is love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:16

So remember, you aren’t just loved, you are beloved. God is pursuing your heart and longs to be with you, to face the giants together and overcome the world. It is an intimacy I can rely on when feeling lost and facing the unknown. In that truth, I can find rest and peace no matter what tomorrow brings.

I hope you enjoyed this reminder that we are the beloved of God. If you know someone who needs this encouragement, please share this post with them today.

Clouds

There’s this quote, “Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.” I’ve heard it used in the church to explain where God is during a tragedy. That he’s still shining, present, even though all we see are the dark clouds around us. But I want to challenge that.

What if God isn’t just the sun shining behind the clouds? What if God is in the clouds themselves?

I’m not saying that God creates tragedy in our lives, but he definitely works in those tragedies for our good. When my daughters each passed away, God was preparing communities, relationships, and even my own heart to enter into that tragedy. He worked in those moments, days, and weeks to show his power and presence in my life. He never left my side.

In a recent devotional, it showed how God’s presence in clouds is depicted in both the Old and New Testament. In Exodus, the Israelites were led by a cloud when they left Egypt, and once the tabernacle was built, the cloud remained.

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.

Exodus 40:38

In the New Testament, Peter, James and John, along with Jesus, go up the Mount to witness the Transfiguration, and God makes himself known again from a cloud.

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Mark 9:7

Clouds, like tragedy, can be uncertain. Anyone who has driven through thick fog can attest to that. We don’t know exactly when things will become clearer, but knowing that God is within that uncertainty, working in ways too great for me to understand, can bring me a sense of peace and hope. One day, the clouds will part, the fog will lift, and we will see everything as clear as a bright sunny day.

Psalm 37:7

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Psalm 37:7 (NIV)

This verse feels like the opposite of the American reaction to adversity. The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and outwit the enemy” mentality. Instead this Psalm encourages stillness and putting trust in God, letting go of jealousy.

We want to see the bad guys lose, the underdogs win, but it doesn’t always happen that way. And we get frustrated. But we don’t understand the bigger plan the way God does.

Ultimately, there is a bigger picture. Whether we are called to be still or called to move forward, whether or not we overcome the obstacles and defeat the adversaries, may we continually wait on the Lord, be still in his presence and put our trust in him.