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He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Easter is the most important event in the Christian faith. Normally Easter Sunday sees church buildings filled, often with the largest attendance of the year, as believers gather together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

The word “Easter” does not appear in the Bible, but what it commemorates is clearly Scriptural. Easter week is a time when Christians celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It begins with what we know as Palm Sunday, and event described in all four gospels.

THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
John 12:12-15 has one of the accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’”

THE LAST SUPPER
The last supper that Jesus had with His disciples was His celebration with them of the Passover Feast. After partaking together of the Passover meal, Jesus initiated what we now know was the Lord’s Supper or Communion.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” Matthew‬ ‭26:26-29‬‬‬

UNDERSTANDING PASSOVER
Passover is the Jewish commemoration of God’s liberating the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, as described in Exodus 11 and 12. When Moses went to Pharaoh asking him to let the people go and Pharaoh did not agree to do so, God sent ten plagues against Egypt designed to make Pharaoh change his mind. The first nine did not change Pharaoh’s mind.

The final plague was the destruction of the firstborn of all the people and animals. The Israelites were commanded by God to take the blood of a one year old lamb without blemish and smear it on the doorposts of their houses. When God saw the blood, He would “pass over” that house.

The first Passover is described in Exodus 12:8. “They shall eat the flesh (of the Passover lamb) that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” This was the night before the exodus from Egypt, and from the first anniversary of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt the Jewish people have celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s faithfulness to them.
‭‭‬‬‬‬
1 Corinthians 5:7 identifies Christ as our Passover Lamb. He is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood covers the sin of those who believe in Him, causing God’s judgment to pass over them.

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
After celebrating Passover with His disciples, Jesus left to go to Mount of Olives, to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. As was His custom, Jesus went to pray and His disciples followed him. This event is found in all four gospels, but Matthew gives the most detailed account.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.” (Matthew‬ ‭26:36-44‬) ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

In this passage, we see the humanness of Jesus showing through. In His flesh, He did not want to go to the cross. But He was willing to do the will of the Father. Before He and the disciples were able to leave the garden, the story takes a major shift. It is now time to face the suffering ahead of Him. Matthew’s account closes with these words.

“Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew‬ ‭26:45-46)‬ ‭‬‬‬‬

Matthew closes his account with some of the saddest words of Scripture, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” (Matthew‬ ‭26:56‬b)‬‬

GOOD FRIDAY
What we know as Good Friday commemorates the day of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. On that day, the wrath of God against sin was poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, making a way for us to be forgiven and receive salvation. He became the final sacrifice for sins. The writer of the book of Hebrews summarizes it in these words, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Hebrews‬ ‭10:12).‬ ‭‬‬‬‬

Through Christ’s offering of Himself, the penalty of sin has been paid. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is available as a gift of grace to all who believe and receive forgiveness. And that’s why we can call this day GOOD!

445C11A1-A04D-4794-8FF1-1AA0353E17A2In this time of “Social distancing” and “stay at home orders” due to the coronavirus, our Easter celebrations will be different this year. Most of us will not able to gather in our church buildings, but Easter will still be celebrated. Churches around the globe will be unable to meet in their buildings, but the church is more than buildings. The true church is made up of people, and as Sunday morning comes instead of being gathered in a few buildings we will be gathering in our homes.

While we may grieve that we are unable to celebrate the resurrection together this year, what will not be stripped away is the truth that we have a risen Savior. While we may not be able to gather in our church buildings, this year we will be the church scattered on digital platforms around the world.

When Sunday morning comes, I hope to be sitting beside my husband in our living room, watching the live broadcast of our church’s Easter service on my iPad. Then we will tune into a Zoom broadcast so we can spend Easter with some of our dearest friends, our small group from our church, separate for safety but together in Spirit.

No, this Easter won’t be like those in past years. But it will still be a time of celebrating our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as we move forward into the next week of this season of social distancing and staying at home, I want to remember an important truth. If Christ conquered the grave, surely He has the power to conquer this tiny virus that has caused drastic changes in our lives for the last few weeks.

I also want to remember that neither locked doors nor overwhelming fear are an obstacle for our risen Lord. On the evening of the very first Easter, Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed by fear, hiding away in self-preservation so that the religious and government leaders who crucified Jesus wouldn’t be able to do the same thing to them. But Jesus came to them, through the locked doors and in spite of their fear.

John 20:19 says, “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.’”

Our risen Savior Jesus Christ is our source of hope and peace in a world filled with fear and anxiety, one that is groping in the darkness for peace! Let’s put our trust in the One who conquered death and rose again. And then let’s look around us where people are desperate for the peace and hope we have in Christ. We have the answer so many are looking for, and there is no better time than Easter to share it.

Jesus’ resurrection is our living hope. See this pandemic as an opportunity to move beyond the closed doors of our churches and share the Good News with those who have no where to turn for hope or peace in this pandemic. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus and share the hope and peace we have in our resurrected Lord.

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Overcoming Prejudice: A Lesson from Acts 10

I feel very blessed to have a primary doctor who is a woman who really cares about her patients. But earlier in the history of our nation, this was not an option.

Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. (1821-1910), was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States and America’s first woman doctor. She began her practice in 1851 in New York, but not without having to overcome some big obstacles. Her first hindrance was finding a place to rent for her practice – no one would even rent her a room once she mentioned that she was a doctor. Finally, after weeks of trudging the streets, she was able to rent rooms from a landlady who asked no questions about what Elizabeth planned to do with them.

But when the office was set up, for some time she had no patients. Some Quaker women finally became her first patients, but then she faced another barrier – no hospital would allow her on it’s staff. In 1853, Dr. Blackwell was finally able to open her own clinic in one of New York’s worse slums, announcing that all patients would be treated for free. Again, for several weeks no one showed up.

Then one day a woman in such agony that she didn’t care who treated her, staggered up the steps and collapsed in Elizabeth’s arms. This woman was treated and recovered, and she told all her friends about the wonderful woman doctor. After that, her practice gradually expanded, later moved, and became a branch of the New York Infirmary on East Fifteenth Street, which is still there today. And women doctors are now an accepted part of American medicine.

In my personal Bible study time this week, I’ve been reading about another pioneer, not in the medical field but in the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those in the Gentile world. Jesus Himself had made it clear that the truth of who He was and what He came to do was not only for the Jewish people. In Mark 16:15, Jesus said the Gospel was to be preached to “all the world,” not just to the Jews. He said to His disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

Now was the time for this to begin, and yet for that to happen God had to do a major work in the apostle Peter’s life. As a Jewish man, he had accepted the prevailing understanding of the Jewish nation that they were called by God to remain completely separate from Gentiles. While the Old Testament did teach that the Jewish people were to be a separate people, the early Jewish leaders took this command well beyond what God had intended. In an attempt to build a fence around the Old Testament Law so people wouldn’t even come close to breaking God’s commandment, they had come up with an almost unending list of oral traditions the Jewish people were to live by. These extra-biblical rules were taught by repetition to the young Jewish men, then later (around A.D. 200) written down in the first major work of Rabbinic literature called the Mishnah. This “oral Torah” included laws related to every aspect of the Jewish life: agriculture, relationships, ritual purity, the Temple, the Sabbath, Jewish festivals, fast days, and other holidays.

Because of the “oral Torah” that he had been exposed to since his youth, Peter would have nothing to do with Gentiles, whom he considered unclean. The oral traditions he had grown with prohibited him from being a guest in the home of a Gentile, inviting a Gentile into his home, eating food prepared by a Gentile, and even required purifying any cooking utensils purchased from a Gentile before using them. So God had some essential lessons to teach Peter in Acts 10.

The chapter opens with a vision given to a man named Cornelius. Scripture tells us he was a Roman centurion, not a Jew but a devout man who feared God with all his household, prayed continually, and showed generosity in giving alms to the needy. But since Cornelius was a Gentile God-fearer and not a circumcised Jew, all of his good works were not enough to make him acceptable to the Jews – or to earn salvation – so Cornelius needed to hear the Gospel. And God chose Peter to be His spokesman.

As Cornelius was praying around 3pm, the Lord sent a vision of an angel with a message. His prayers had been heard, his alms had ascended as a memorial before God. He was instructed to send some men to Joppa to bring Peter to his house. This seeker did exactly as he was instructed by the angel, called two of his servants and a devout soldier who attended to his needs, and sent these three men to Joppa to complete their mission.

While Cornelius’ servants were in route to Peter’s house, the day after this vision, Peter too was having a time of prayer. And as with Cornelius, God sent a vision to Peter. In it he saw what looked like a sheet with all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds in it. He also heard a voice, saying, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” But unlike Cornelius, Peter resisted the message. Instead of saying, “Yes, Lord,” he responded, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. The voice spoke again, saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Apparently Peter was still not convinced, because verse 16 says, “This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

‭‭Even after seeing this vision three times, the Scripture says Peter was “inwardly perplexed.” But the Spirit spoke some clear instructions. “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.’”(Acts‬ ‭10:19-20‬ ‭ESV). The three men from Cornelius arrived, and this time Peter obeys.‬‬ He got some of the brethren to accompany him and then left with the entourage for Caesarea and Cornelius’ house.

In the meantime, Cornelius had called together some of his relatives and close friends. At the sight of Peter, the first thing Cornelius did was to bow down at his feet in worship. Verse 26 says Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

‭‭After sharing with those gathered what God had shown him, the next words out of Peter’s mouth reflect a changed heart. He says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts‬ ‭10:34-35‬‬‬)

And for the first time, a group of Gentiles hear the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, believe in Him and receive that forgiveness. The men who had accompanied Peter were amazed, as they observed God confirming pouring out the Holy Spirit on these new Gentile believers, in the same way as He had been poured out on the Day of Pentecost. This chapter ends with Peter asking those who accompanied him, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”(Acts‬ ‭10:47‬) There was apparently no objection, because Peter then commands these new Gentile believers to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ.

So why is this chapter of Acts so important? It teaches us two major truths concerning salvation:

  1. No man or woman is saved by their good works. If that weren’t true, this whole chapter could have been left out of the book of Acts. Being a God-fearing man wasn’t enough to secure a relationship with God in Cornelius’ life, and it isn’t enough in our lives. (For more on this, check out my article on Cornelius at the following link, https://hopeandlight.blog/2019/05/29/are-you-a-god-fearer-or-a-born-again-christian/lives)
  2. Salvation is available to anyone who believes, Jew or Gentile (non-Jew). God does not favor any one group. His Word makes it clear that He desires all men and women to come to a knowledge of the truth and be born again. In 1 Timothy 2, we are urged to pray for the lost, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy‬ ‭2:3-4‬)

I am grateful that God was able to open the apostle Peter’s eyes to the truth that the good news of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was for all people. This was the turning point in the early church, as it moved out to continue fulfilling the commission Jesus had given the apostles. This commission to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth wasn’t just for these leaders of the early church. It’s also our calling, that all who are willing may be saved.

Because God enabled Peter to overcome his prejudice against Gentiles, the Gospel was available for me when my heart was ready to move past a works-based faith in Jesus to believe in salvation by grace through faith. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Yes, I’m grateful to have a doctor who is a woman (and also a Christian), who understands the emotions I face in dealing with a long list of chronic illnesses. She has been a God-given blessing in my life. But I’m even more grateful that Peter overcame his prejudices against Gentiles and partiality toward Jews and was a pioneer in spreading the Gospel to the Gentile world. If you are a Christian who is not from a Jewish background, you too should be grateful that the Lord was able to overcome Peter’s limited understanding and swing open the door of the Church to Gentile believers. Grateful enough to allow God to reveal any prejudices in your heart that are hindering you from being the witness He is calling you to be.

Are You a “God-fearer” or a Born Again Christian?

I’ve been doing an in-depth study of the book of Acts, and today’s lesson was on the beginning verses of Acts 10, which focus on Cornelius. Luke, the author of Acts, describes Cornelius as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2), yet as the chapter continues we learn he was still a man who needed to hear and receive the good news of salvation by grace.

My Christian life began in a series of Methodist churches, so when I read the following quote by Warren Wiersbe comparing Cornelius to John Wesley it stood out to me.

“In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, a minister, and the son of a minister. He belonged to a ‘religious club’ at Oxford, the purpose of which was the perfecting of the Christian life. Wesley served as a foreign missionary, but even as he preached to others, he had no assurance of his own personal salvation.

“On May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a small meeting in London where someone was reading aloud from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. ‘About a quarter before nine,’ Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ The result was the great Wesleyan revival that not only swept many into the kingdom, but also helped transform British society through Christian social action.”

This is also a good description of my life. From the time I was a small child, I was in church most Sundays. But like John Wesley and Cornelius, while I believed in Jesus Christ, I did not trust in Him alone for salvation. My trust was in my good works. That changed when I was in my first year of teaching kindergarten, when my eyes were opened to the need to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross alone for salvation.

What about you? Are you like Cornelius at the beginning of this chapter, “a devout man (or woman) who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts‬ ‭10:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬) Are you a seeker or a true believer in Christ?

Salvation is by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a gift of grace, based on what Jesus has already done.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans‬ ‭10:9-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Religious Lifestyle or Living Relationship?

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us as Christians to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ – in other words, to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to share our personal testimony of how we came to know Christ. I especially like the New Living Translation wording of this verse.

“… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”

During recent weeks, our iConnect Bible study class members have been taking turns sharing our personal testimonies of how we came to know Christ. The goal has been for each of us to prepare and share a brief, two to three minute testimony of our life before knowing Christ, how we came to know Him, and how receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord has changed how we live. Then, when God opens the door to  share this with someone who does not know Christ as their personal Savior we’ll be prepared to explain what God has done in our lives and what He is able and willing to do in their life.

This is my personal testimony.

I was born into a Christian family. My father and my mother had both accepted the Lord as their personal Savior at an old fashioned camp meeting revival before they were married, and by the time I came along over 20 years later, our family lived a Christian lifestyle.

Two of my earliest childhood memories are of my father sitting in his red leather rocker every morning before leaving for work reading his Bible, and of my mother kneeling beside her bed each night praying. And going to church was simply what we did – every time the doors were open. It was as much a part of my lifestyle as a child and teenager as going to school.

We attended a Methodist church that was at the end of the block where we lived, and I remember walking to the church early every Sunday morning. During the week, I also spent lots of time at the parsonage which was next door to the church, visiting with some of my best friends, our pastor’s daughter and another friend who lived next door.

My father was a deacon in our church, my older sister who still lived at home a children’s Sunday School teacher and choir member. And by the time I was in high school I was either working in the nursery or teaching the youngest class of children most Sundays.

When I went away to college in 1966, I continued to attend church. A large local Methodist church sent a bus to the campus to pick up students, and I seldom missed a Sunday.

When I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to the town north of Baltimore where I had a job teaching kindergarten, one of the first things I did after my roommate and I got unpacked and settled in an apartment was to start looking for a church. I found a nearby Methodist church and started attending. And this church is where my life changed.

At this church, my life changed when Christianity became more than a religious lifestyle. It became a relationship, a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It was in this church that I first understood that the only way to be a real part of God’s kingdom is by being born again. For the first time, I understood that my religious lifestyle wasn’t enough. I understood that my sin separates me from God, but that God had provided a way to bridge that gap.

Even though I had attended church all my life, even though I considered myself a Christian, for the first time in my life I recognized this wasn’t enough.

For the first time, I understood why Jesus had to die on the cross, and the steps I needed to take to benefit from His sacrifice.

  1. I now saw myself as a sinner who needed salvation.
  2. I understood that the just penalty for sin is death.
  3. I acknowledged that Jesus paid that penalty for me when He died on the cross.
  4. I recognized that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, one we accept by faith.
  5. I received that gift by faith, as I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And I was born again – and since that day my life has never been the same.

My life as a new Christian began me down a new road, one that definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve never regretted the decision I made so many years ago. Jesus has been with me, walking at my side, through every trial I’ve faced, and my relationship with Him has been my source of strength.

Do you have a similar story you can tell? If not, now is the time to take these same steps I took. Moving from religion to relationship has the power to transform your life.

If you’ve already received this free gift of salvation by faith, are you prepared to share the reason for the hope you have found in Christ Jesus? Have you taken the time to prayerfully prepare a brief testimony of the work of God in your life to bring you to salvation? Acts 1:8 says the Lord has called us to be His witnesses, to our Jerusalem (the city where we live), our Judea and Samaria (the area nearby), and to the ends of the earth. Are you prepared to be His witness whenever He opens the door for you to do so? If not, don’t wait another day to get ready.

 

St. Patrick’s Day: The True Story Behind the Annual Celebration

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated each year on March 17th, is about more than shamrocks and leprechauns. St. Patrick’s Day commemorates the life of an early Christian missionary.

In the fifth century, Ireland was a beautiful island enshrouded in violence and spiritual darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. But one man would be used by God to break through the darkness and introduce the light of Christ to this heathen land.

The man we now know as St. Patrick was born in Roman ruled Britain to a middle-class Christian family around A.D. 390. The grandson of a priest and son of a deacon, Patrick was exposed early to the truth of the Gospel, yet by the time he was a teenager he had rebelled against his Christian upbringing to the point that he was pratically an atheist.

Then his life took a drastic change for the worse. Irish raiders attacked his home and he was abducted from his village and thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland. At 16 years of age he found himself a slave in a foreign land, separated from everything he’d ever known. He was sold to an Irish chieftain named Milchu, who put him to work as a shepherd.

Patrick saw this difficult situation in his life as God’s chastising him, believing he deserved what had happened because of his rejection of the faith of his fathers. And while a slave in Ireland, his life began to change. Instead of becoming bitter, he turned to the God he knew about but had previously refused to acknowledge as his God.

Rev. Brady, the Roman Catholic Archbiship of Armagh and Primate of All of Ireland, says of young Patrick,

“He says, ‘I prayed a hundred times in the day and almost as many at night,’ Through that experience of prayer and trial, he came to know another God — God the Father, who was his protector. He came to know Jesus Christ in those sufferings, and he came to be united with Christ and he came to identify with Christ, and then of course, also the Holy Spirit.”

Patrick’s hard years of slavery came to an end six years later, when during a time of prayer and fasting God spoke to him that he would soon return to his own country and gave him clear direction when it was time to leave. He escaped and traveled 200 miles to the west coast, where he found a ship – the ship God had shown him in prayer – ready to sail. Though at first refused passage, after desperate prayer Patrick was allowed aboard. He returned to his home and family, where he began to study for the ministry.

Patrick had no desire to return to Ireland, but that was exactly what God asked of him. Philip Freeman, author of St. Patrick of Ireland, says:

“One night, he had a dream. There was a man who came from Ireland with a whole bunch of letters. And he opened up one of the letters and it said ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And then he heard a voice coming out of this letter that said, ‘Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.'”

Patrick struggled in his soul, not convinced this dream was from God and having no desire to return to Ireland and minister to the same people who had enslaved him. Once again, he turned to God in prayer. He received the answer in a dream. God truly was calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary, and he stepped out in obedience to God’s leading.

Patrick gave 29 years of his life to ministry and established the first Christian church in all of Ireland. During that time, he preached the Gospel, baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and planted 300 churches. Freeman declares, “What Patrick did was really lay the groundwork for Christianity.” Because of Patrick’s willingness to die to his own will and return to Ireland, the land of his suffering, in obedience to the Lord’s call, that nation was forever changed. Reflect on this truth as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.

“Walking and Leaping and Praising God”

For the last couple months, I’ve been using Rachel Wojo’s monthly Bible Reading Challenges to put together a weekly blog post, daily adding a brief reflection and graphic on that day’s passage. I still plan to continue doing this, but as I was reading today’s passage from the Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Challenge, God opened my eyes to some encouraging truths and I felt compelled to go beyond my short entry for the weekly post and do a separate blog post.

Today’s Everything Beautiful passage is found in Acts 3:1-10 and tells of one of the miracles during the early years of the church. It took place at the gate of the temple that was called the Beautiful Gate, probably so named because of it’s ornate decorations, but commentators are divided about the actual location of the gate. It was apparently one of the gates or doors through which the Jewish men who came to worship entered, but it’s exact identity is of little importance. The emphasis in this passage is on what happened here.

It was the hour of prayer, and Peter and John were on their way into the temple when they saw a man who was lame from birth being carried to the entrance where he habitually spent his days asking alms of those who were entering the holy place.

Doubtless, Peter and John had seen him many times before, but this day was different. At the man’s request for alms, Peter stopped and spoke with him. The man was hoping for silver or gold to meet his material needs, and he probably had a sense of disappointment at Peter’s first words, “I have no silver and gold.” But Peter’s next words changed his life. “But what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

If you’ve been a Christian for many years, this is probably a familiar passage. But the Holy Spirit loves to give us new insights as we spend time daily in God’s Word. This morning, the words following the actual miracle stood out to me, “and (he) entered the temple with them (Peter and John).”

As I read these words, I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart that this was of great significance to this newly-healed lame man. So I did some research to confirm what I was sensing. If the lame man had never before been allowed to enter the temple, was this somehow a case of looking down on those who had less than perfect bodies? As a woman with a long list of chronic illnesses and disability as a result of an automobile accident and actively involved in ministry to others with chronic illness, this definitely had my attention.

Were the blind and lame restricted by God from entering the temple, forced to stay outside the temple gates because of their infirmities? Scripture does tell us (in Leviticus 21:16-23) that the blind and lame were excluded from serving as altar priests, presenting sacrifices and food offerings to God. But there are no specific verses that teach the physically disabled were to be banned from the tabernacle or temple. So we know this was not God’s plan.

Yet there are extra-biblical sources that seem to indicate this was common practice by the time of Jesus. The fact that the man was at the gate, which Peter and John were about to enter, and not inside the temple, seems to confirm this. If so, it came about either through Jewish tradition or the misreading of Scriptures such as Leviticus 21 and 2 Samuel 5:8, where David is quoted as saying on the day he was anointed as king, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the house.” But this could not refer to the temple, since it had not been built at that time, and in context doesn’t even appear to refer to the physically blind and lame.

We do know, according to Matthew 21:14 and other passages, that Jesus healed the lame and blind in the temple. This shows they were at least able to go into the court of the Gentiles, and it along with the many healings during His earthly ministry show us Jesus’ heart was to include those who were afflicted or disabled.

If the lame and otherwise afflicted were actually banned from the temple, as many believe, when the previously lame man who had been healed entered the temple with Peter and John he was probably as excited about this as he was about being able to walk. No wonder he was “walking and leaping and praising God!

Today, regardless of what was true at the time this miracle took place, we can be confident that chronic illness neither separates us from God’s presence not makes us unqualified for ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection instituted a new way of life, a life described in Hebrews 10:19-20 as “the new and living way.”

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,”

We are no longer under the law. We now live by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Romans 6:14 clearly states that we are not under the law but under grace. Why is this true? Because one of the things Jesus came to do was to fulfill the law (see Matthew 5:17).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬ ESV)‬‬

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

And that’s such good news that we, like the once-lame man of Acts 3, should be “walking and leaping and praising God!”

Jesus Christ, Risen Lord

During the Advent season, our focus as Christians is usually on the birth of Jesus Christ. But the Good News of Christmas is about more than His birth. Jesus came for a purpose, and that purpose can’t be separated from His coming. He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of His sacrificial death on the Cross, we can be forgiven.

But if we stop here when sharing the Gospel, we are missing the equally important second fact that is also a part of the Good News. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not still on the Cross. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, but His body is not still in the tomb. He arose from the dead. He is alive forevermore!

So why is it so important that we believe Jesus is the Risen Lord? The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof that He is who He claimed to be and that He accomplished what He came to accomplish. ‬‬

Some reasons why the resurrection of Jesus Christ is important:

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, as He claimed to be.

“(Jesus Christ) was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,”  Romans‬ ‭1:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that we are justified or declared righteous before God.

It will be counted (as righteousness) to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans‬ ‭4:24-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our assurance that our sins have been forgiven.

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” ‭‭I Corinthians‬ ‭15:16-17‬ ‭NKJV

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof that He defeated death.

We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” Romans‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our promise that those who know Him as Savior and Lord will also be raised from the dead.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:20-22‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ is our assurance that we who have placed our faith in Him will one day stand in His presence.

knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I am eternally grateful thank Jesus Christ paid the penalty for my sins through His sacrificial death on Calvary’s Cross. But I am also grateful that He is no longer dead. He is my RISEN LORD, and I hope He is your RISEN LORD also.