Tag Archives: Bible

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.

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash.com

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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A Word of Encouragement

Dealing with the wait to have children and the disappointment of miscarriages happen throughout the year.  It is a constant reminder every time a commercial for diapers comes on, whenever I hear a baby cry or even particular episodes of TV shows.  As I get older, the cultural conversation of families becomes more and more frequent, whether I have kids or not.

Something that has been really encouraging to me is to read about the women of the Bible who dealt with similar things I am going through.  It shows me how much God has a heart for women, considering the number of stories written especially about this struggle.  I thought, as an encouragement, I would share these stories from my perspective and what I have learned from them.

First on this list is Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  She was older, beyond child-bearing years (which I can’t help but think of the times people have told me that it’s harder for me to have children the older I get.  I’m sure Sarah got a lot of that.).  She laughed when it was prophesied, and then tried to control the situation by convincing Abraham that Hagar was the solution.  As a fellow control freak, I understand my own voice wanting to silence the voice of God.  Trusting him in the quiet moments of waiting can be quite deafening.  Yet, still, even though she makes mistakes, God made her the mother of many nations.  It gives me peace that God has got a purpose for me, and he’s not going to back down on his promise.

Second, we have Rachel.  Now, Rachel was the favorite for Jacob.  He worked for 14 years so he could marry her.  He married her sister first, and when Leah started having children, and Rachel did not, can you imagine the pressure?  I can only imagine the whispers and pain Rachel had to live through each day, wondering to herself what was wrong with her, what she could have done better, and what she was being punished for (because the same thoughts cross my mind).  Then, when she did get pregnant, her second pregnancy was so difficult that it ended in her death.  Of course, her first son ends up saving their entire family in a famine, through the guidance of God in his life.  Her story gives me peace that whatever my family story will be, God will be there to guide that family.

A third is Hannah.  Hannah is my favorite.  She was a favorite of her husband Elkanah and didn’t get along so well with the other wife who was able to have children (which seems to be a running theme in these stories).  Though we don’t hear that seemingly drunk-on-grief prayer in 1 Samuel, we do get to hear the promise and the praise.  True to her word, she gives her firstborn son to the temple to be raised once he was weaned.  The prayer of praise in 1 Samuel 2 is one of my favorite passages which comes after she leaves Samuel at the temple.  She even goes on to have more children.  Her story encourages me to put God first always, to trust in his plans and purpose for me, and to stay in continuous praise in my relationship with Him.

Finally, there is Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.  There isn’t much about her struggle in the book of Luke, just that she and Zechariah were older, like Sarah and Abraham.  When it was time to have the baby, all the neighbors and relatives came over.  Everyone wanted to name him after a relative, just as tradition had dictated (how many traditions are pressured by society and family now?  Hmmm).  She insisted on John, and after the mute Zechariah wrote out the same, he began to speak, actually making everyone else quiet.  I learn from Elizabeth, that even when my opportunity comes, I want to make sure that I hear the voice of God over the voice of society, to do what is best for my family and not just what is expected.

I hope that this encourages you whether you have children, want children, or don’t want children.  These stories are not just about having babies.  These are stories of women who were following the voice of God in their lives. Wherever you are in life, don’t give up!  Whatever pains or pressure you are feeling, don’t be disheartened!  Just like the wonderful women in these stories, God had a purpose and plan for me and for you.