New Lent email devotionals available at Bible Gateway

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Looking for some Lent devotional reading as Easter approaches? Our sister site Bible Gateway has just launched two new email devotionals centered around Easter: a read-through-the-Gospels Bible reading plan and a Lent devotional email. Both begin on Ash Wednesday (March 9) and run through Easter, and both are aimed at helping you focus on Jesus during the Easter season.

Take a look—and if you have a favorite Lent/Easter devotional to recommend, let us know in the comments below!

Today’s devotional: Christ’s resurrection is central

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Does belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ really matter? Is Jesus’ resurrection just an epilogue to his ministry… or is it the centerpiece of everything he did? In this Morning and Evening devotional, Charles Spurgeon explains the centrality of Christ’s resurrection:

The whole system of Christianity rests upon the fact that “Christ is risen from the dead;” for, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain: ye are yet in your sins.” The divinity of Christ finds its surest proof in his resurrection, since he was “Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” It would not be unreasonable to doubt his deity if he had not risen. Moreover, Christ’s sovereignty depends upon his resurrection, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” Again, our justification, that choice blessing of the covenant, is linked with Christ’s triumphant victory over death and the grave; for “He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

Read the full devotional at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

There is no part of the Christian life that does not rest on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ did not rise from the dead, all of Christianity is cast into doubt… but if he did, then we have a powerful hope indeed!

After the Resurrection: the excitement of Eastertide

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Easter is several weeks behind us now; the last of the Easter candy is long gone and the Easter-themed services at church have been replaced with more typical fare. But did you know that the Easter drama hasn’t yet concluded?

There are two important events coming up that, with Easter, are generally seen as the culmination of Jesus’ ministry on earth. The first is Ascension Day, which marks Jesus’ departure to heaven; and the second is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus’ disciples, as Jesus had promised.

These two events (which fall into the liturgical season of Eastertide) are of immense significance themselves, but they also serve as reminders to modern Christians of the turbulent, exciting weeks that must have followed Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospel accounts tell us relatively few details about the time between Easter and Pentecost, but it’s easy to imagine the chaotic excitement of those days.

The reports of Jesus’ resurrection must have spread like wildfire, frustrating his enemies and giving new life to the fledgling Christian church. Yes, Jesus’ resurrection completed his saving work, but it was in the weeks following it that his disciples began to understand the true extent of that work, and to accept the task of spreading the Gospel to the world.

Are you looking ahead to Ascension Day and Pentecost? Do you see their connection to Easter Sunday? Can you imagine the excitement that must have gripped Jerusalem in the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection… and do you feel an echo of that same excitement today?

Today’s devotional: life after Easter

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Easter’s come and gone… now what?

No other holiday except for Christmas is the subject of as much anticipation as Easter. But now that Resurrection Sunday is behind us and the distractions of spring and summer are right around the corner, it’s easy to mentally set the message of Easter aside until next spring.

At A Slice of Infinity, Margaret Manning calls us to keep Easter on our minds and not let the joy of the Resurrection fade. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t something to celebrate once a year and then forget about; it’s something that should influence and redeem our behavior every single day:

If we’re honest, many of us do wonder what difference the resurrection has made in the practical realities of our lives. We still argue with our spouses and loved ones; we still have children who go their own way. We have difficulties at work or at school. We still see a world so broken by warfare, selfish greed, oppression and sin. Like the two men on the road to Emmaus recounting the events surrounding Jesus, perhaps we wonder aloud: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a). Things seem pretty much as they were before Easter Sunday, and the reality of our same old lives still clamor for redemption.

This is often the way we feel if we have only understood resurrection as an event long past that only speaks to a future yet to come. We feel this way if we do not connect Jesus’s prayer for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” with the reality of the cry, “He is risen, as he said.” The glimpse into the kingdom of God that we get in the life and ministry of Jesus is ratified through the resurrection. New creation, new life, resurrected living is now a possibility for those who follow Jesus.

Read the full devotional at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Does Easter already seem like the distant past? How are you keeping focused on Jesus and his Resurrection now that Lent, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday are behind us?

What Was Your Easter Service Like?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Yesterday, churches around the world held special services to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The worship service I attended was one of the most energizing I’ve ever participated in. After the sermon, the congregation read the Apostle’s Creed aloud together, then shared communion and ended the service with over 20 baptisms. Each person emerged from the baptismal water to the sound of clapping and singing, and found hands reaching out to embrace and pray for them.

It was just the sort of triumphant celebration that I imagine the early church held in recognition of Christ’s return.

What was your Easter service like?

Hallelujah, He is Risen!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Easter is here!

After the dark drama of Good Friday, God’s power over sin and death is made inescapably clear in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No commentary could improve on the Gospel description of Easter morning:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

This is the source of all our hope. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and will return again. Praise God!

Were you there? Reflections on Good Friday

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Today is Good Friday, the bleakest event in the Gospels. Reading the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion today, we have the benefit of knowing that it’s all leading up to the triumph of Easter. But to the Jesus-followers present at the scene, it must have seemed that the world as they knew it was falling apart.

If you haven’t read the complete story of the crucifixion recently, today’s a perfect day to revisit it. The Gospel of Luke’s account of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion tells the full story. As you read, consider these questions:

  • Jesus several times predicted not only his death, but his resurrection. Why do you think his disciples failed to understand him? When Luke records that Jesus’ “meaning was hidden from them,” does that refer to a simple failure to comprehend, or was God deliberately keeping the meaning from them?
  • What do you think was going through the disciples’ minds as the evening unfolded? What would you have been thinking if you had been there?
  • Can you think of anything that would explain the Jerusalem crowd’s abrupt shift in attitude over the course of Easter week? Just a few days earlier they had praised Jesus and welcome him like a king, but days later “they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
  • What would have happened to the early church if Jesus had not been raised from the dead? Would there even be a church?
  • One of the challenges of reading the crucifixion story two thousands years after the event took place is that it’s difficult for us to empathize with its participants. From our perspective, the Easter crowds seem insanely fickle; Jesus’ disciples seem utterly clueless; the members of the Sandhedrin contemptibly evil; Pilate laughably corrupt.

    Those things are true. Nobody except Jesus behaves well in the Good Friday story. But it’s these very people—fickle, clueless, evil, corrupt—that Jesus died for.

    The truth is that we have much in common with the fools and villains of Easter. The wonder is that Jesus loved them, and us, enough to submit to foolishness, injustice, and death. The miracle is that three days later, he rose from the dead to offer us salvation. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

    Pharaoh’s Resistance and God’s Deliverance

    Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

    Passover, described in Exodus 12, is one of the foundational stories of the Bible. It’s an illustration of human hubris and the power of God, and it has much to teach us about sin and deliverance as Easter approaches.

    On one side of the story is Pharaoh, refusing to free the oppressed Hebrew people… even after Egypt is afflicted by horrifying plagues. On the other side is Moses with a divine ultimatum: let God’s people go or face God’s wrath. Can human pride and stubbornness prevail over God’s will?

    Ultimately, God’s will is done, but Pharaoh’s continued refusal to listen to God has terrible results for his country and his own household. It isn’t until the tenth plague that Pharaoh relents. It claims the lives of every first-born child in Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own son. Death spreads across all of Egypt, with one important exception: any household whose doorpost is marked with the blood of a lamb is spared.

    The story of Passover is closely intertwined with our Easter celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Passover imagery is seen throughout the Easter story, Jesus himself taking on the role of the sacrificed Passover lamb. Pharaoh’s refusal to obey God mirrors our own spiritual lives without Christ: left to our own devices, our recalcitrance leads us to spiritual death. But when we trust in the power of the blood of the Passover Lamb, we find life.

    Our stubborn refusal to listen to God may not have the outwardly dramatic results that Pharaoh’s did. But how often has a spiritually hardened heart led to even more heartache in your life?

    There’s nothing spiritually magical about the observation of Easter, but it’s a good time to assess ourselves. Is there any part of your heart that you’ve hardened against God? What do you need to do in order to soften your heart?

    Does your church hold a special worship service on Good Friday?

    Monday, March 29th, 2010

    One of the most memorable church services I’ve ever attended was a Good Friday worship service. The service was held in a large auditorium with a single large wooden cross standing at the front.

    The service itself was familiar—we read the Bible account of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion, sang somber Easter hymns, and heard a short sermon. But as the service progressed, the auditorium lights were slowly, almost imperceptibly, turned down. The room slowly grew darker until, at the end of the service, the only source of light was a single pool of illumination around that wooden cross. A simple lighting gimmick eloquently conveyed the twin emotions of Good Friday: spiritual despair at Christ’s brutal death and impossible hope in the promise of resurrection.

    Does your church hold a special Good Friday service? What is your Good Friday service like, and how does it differ from a normal worship service?

    Share your thoughts!

    The Triumph of Palm Sunday

    Sunday, March 28th, 2010

    Entry of Christ into JerusalemWith palm branches waving and people singing, we finally see Jesus granted the welcome he deserves. Passion Week begins and ends in exaltation, yet in between is a cornucopia of other emotions. We see Jesus overturn tables; people hanging on Christ’s every word; cloak-and-dagger deals made to kill the Messiah; proclamations made and prayers offered.

    From our perspective today, Palm Sunday is just another milestone on the road to the Resurrection, but think about what it must have been like to be in that moment—the King you have waited and wished for is finally here! Here’s how the Gospel of Luke describes the “triumphal entry”:

    When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

    “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
    “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

    Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

    “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

    I have to think that even if the stones were crying out in that moment, they would have gone unheard for the joyful song coming from the crowd.

    It’s hard to throw ourselves into the celebratory spirit of Palm Sunday knowing Jesus will be crucified by the same hands that are here waving in adoration. Soon the sea of gratitude will become a a storm of mockery, and even Christ’s disciples will lose faith. But when we gloss over the exaltation of Palm Sunday, we miss a valuable part of the Easter story: the sense of expectation.

    Palm Sunday is a vivid example of Jesus giving us not what we want, but what we need. The crowd wanted an earthly king, someone to free them from the oppression of the Romans. But Jesus’ ultimate goal was not freedom from sin, not from earthly governments. He came to bring life where there was none.

    Palm Sunday remains a day of expectation, even if our expectations differ from those of the crowd that welcomed Jesus. Today, we are expectant of the glorious event at the end of the week, when Jesus returns as the King of Kings to bring forgiveness to all those who want it.

    The image above is from the IMA and is titled Entry of Christ Into Jerusalem.