It was the darkest night of my life. Now when I think back on the days and weeks leading up to that day, I can remember a growing, swirling storm of confusion and uncertainty. Things before that had been so wonderful and peaceful; more full of joy than I and so many others ever thought life could be. So none of us were sure what was happening, or where all of the discord and distrust was coming from. It really seemed to be coming from every direction at once, but at the same time from nowhere discernible. It just felt like something huge was coming.
When it came, the day began like any other. I woke and dressed early, ate a little breakfast and then went out to pick up a few things. It was promising to be a bright, sunny day, the dawn filled with happily chattering birds and brilliant blossoms dotting the landscape. As I made my way down my to-do list, I chatted for awhile with a neighbor of mine, then stopped in to see another friend’s new baby, so tiny and sweet and unaware of all of the troubles and wickedness of this world. But the just-waking neighborhood was beginning to buzz with some sort of commotion, like angry bees around a disturbed hive - concerned faces, angry faces, hot tears, harsh whispers. The news reached my ears that a terrible traitor was in our midst, and that his betrayal was fierce and more costly than any of us could have imagined possible.
How could this be? How could someone that we all trusted be so vile? The rumors were flying. The commotion grew as people everywhere were offering their opinions and venting their frustrations. Who could be trusted now? Why hadn’t anyone seen this coming? No one was untouched by the sudden dark cloud of suspicion and hatred that threatened to envelop the whole community. The anger and rage rolled like a storm, and touched everyone in its path. We were all swept along, no one sure where this was all heading, few caring, all just caught up in the growing storm.
The crowd swept through the streets early that morning, carried along by something very real, though unseen, out to the courts in front of the governor’s palace. Many had been following the storm all night. The religious people and lawyers had already brought their witnesses and spent their venom, and now the local government would have its turn. A half-hearted attempt was made to get to the truth, but the furious crowd was beyond reasoning and drowned out everything. Many in the crowd were the same who gathered just a week earlier, caught up with the prevailing emotion of that day, too; laughing and dancing and crying “Hosanna!” This time their rage exploded, and the sentence was handed down.
I soon found myself standing somewhere I never dreamed I would be, helpless to do anything but watch the events unfold. The next hours stretched on for what seemed like days, and at the same time flew by with such an intense feeling of helplessness. The beating, the blood, the mocking and jeering, the insults and ridicule of many, the desperate sadness of others. A terrifying earthquake shook the whole city, disrupting graves, and it was said that the veil in our beautiful temple was ripped in two, right down the middle. Even the sun stopped shining, and darkness swallowed everything. “It is finished.”
Slowly, the crowd dispersed and everyone went back to their homes or rooms at the inns, back to life as usual. The adrenaline and intensity of the moment was past, it seemed like it had been absorbed somehow, and many just picked up right where they had left off. But so many of us were devastated. Who could we trust; who could lead us and show us the way? Some people were so frustrated with Peter, James, and John, who had always been closest. How could they have been so blind as to not seen what was happening, and done something to stop the wicked traitor from hurting Jesus? If they had, people reasoned, maybe none of this would have happened. Now Peter had denied Jesus and all the others were hiding in fear. We didn’t know where to fix our eyes. We didn’t even feel like any of what we had seen could have been true, after all. Everything seemed like just a dream at best, or like a terrible lie at worst. I stood a ways off from the grave and watched them place His body inside; I watched the huge stone rolled in front of the tomb, and then sealed by the Romans.
Sleep evaded me that long, dark night. I tossed and turned, and tried to pray as He had taught us, but struggled to do so. A few of us met behind closed doors the next day to weep and try to comfort one another. Too many people were still jeering and mocking us anytime we went out, but we busied ourselves in making a plan for the morning, after Sabbath was finished.
We woke very early that morning, and quietly made our way back to the tomb. Everything had happened so fast, and there had been no time to properly prepare His body before Sabbath began, so we intended to do that this day while everyone else was busy with the new week. My grief was so deep, and seemed to increase with each step I took towards the place His body lay. He was so wonderful, and it was so hard to imagine that He was really gone. My heart and mind were trying to make peace with the fact that His life had made such an impact on everyone He encountered, but He was gone much too soon. All of our hopes and dreams were gone with Him. The same old questions about who to trust now, and who to follow now swirled in my mind, threatening to fill my heart with despair.
But as we reached the tomb, something was definitely not right. Something was happening. What was happening? My heart began to race and my mind felt like it was going to explode! The earth began to shake again as we drew close, and a light brighter than anything I’d ever seen blinded us all for a moment. Before any of us could react, we all watched as an angel rolled the enormous stone away from the tomb. The Roman guards were frozen in place - none of them could process what was happening, either. The angel turned and looked at all of us and spoke to us, “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.”
It took just a moment for us to overcome our shock, and we ran, crying and laughing and shouting all the way! My heart was almost bursting with joy and wonder and amazement - He had risen, just as He said! As we raced back to where the men were, my mind filled with so many other things that Jesus had said…
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
I am willing…Be clean!
But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Don’t be afraid.
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Our beautiful Jesus - God the Son; Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting One, Prince of Peace! We shall keep our eyes only on Him, the One who gave His life to set us free from our sin, and the One who bore our terrible shame. He has overcome death, hell, and the grave, and has made a way for us to be in relationship with God again. We will follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the One whose voice speaks the words of life and causes dead men to live again. I know Him and have seen Him - He is Risen indeed!
-The Other Mary
(read more about her in Matt. 27-28)
On this special weekend of Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the birthday of the Church, may your eyes fall only on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!
The last few months I have shared some of what our friends have been walking through with the life of their precious little son, Elijah. He entered into the arms of Jesus on April 25th, and just yesterday many of us were able to gather together to celebrate this little boy’s life and testimony.
This precious child’s life and story serve as a powerful reminder to all of us of what really matters. His witness underscores some vitally true and desperately important things. His life here on earth was not as long as any of us would have wished, especially his parents, sisters, grandparents, and extended family. We would all have loved to watch him grow and learn and become a man. But his life calls us to remember that this life is not all there is - there is something more, something higher, something so much better. There is so much more to his story, and to ours.
You see, we live in a terribly broken world. It can be so painful and difficult to understand things like what our good, godly friends are walking through right now. They certainly have done nothing to cause or deserve such a devastating turn in life. Looking at what happens in our own lives and all around us each day is so difficult to do if we look outside of the lens of our faith in Christ. Nothing seems "fair" or makes sense if we leave God out of the picture. But when we keep God at the center of our view, we remember that there is always so much more to the story.
Though many people and even entire cultures deny it, the Biblical account of this world is true. Life and death are real, God is real, more real than we can even understand; His adversary is also real. The effects of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden are far-reaching; death entered the picture and the enemy thought he had successfully robbed God of His children forever. But God's forethought is greater than any wicked scheme of the enemy. Every person on earth is born with a sinful nature, but also a God-given capacity to choose. With God's help the latter actually can overcome the former - the fairy tales got this right when the fairy godmothers granted Sleeping Beauty the power to come out of her deep death-sleep with the help of the prince.
Still, God’s wicked adversary is now the prince of this world, and everything in creation is corrupted by rebellion and death. Every day, there are reminders that the consequences of sin are real and cause terrible damage to whatever and whomever is touched. We are frequently faced with situations that leave us feeling that this is not the way things are supposed to be. I am quite sure that many of you reading this are in some way reeling from the effects of sin in life - perhaps someone else’s, perhaps your own, perhaps a complicated mix of the two, perhaps even just the ravaging and devastating consequences of living in a corrupted world. At one time or another, all of us will be. None of us, no matter how deeply we lean into our relationship with Jesus, are going to remain untouched by the effects of the fall of mankind on this side of Heaven.
Everyone, everywhere is left to wade through a lot of conflicting pain, anger, recrimination, unforgiveness, and dissonant noise, day in and day out, year after year. This is the world we live in - Galatians 5:19-21 sums it up nicely, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
This is a foundational truth of our faith: we are all sinners in great need of a Savior. We all hurt others and get hurt by others, and only Jesus can break our bondage to this sinful cycle. This is the entire point of the Christian worldview.
What a refreshing reminder Elijah’s life has been of the reality and wonder of our great Savior! God is not unaware of our situation. He knows of our great need for help. He is well aware of the trouble and pain caused by the effects of the fall. He is well aware of the grief and suffering of His people, and what a comfort it is to know that Jesus grieves right along with us (John 11:33-35.) God is not far off and indifferent to our pain and suffering. He is near, present, and intimately involved. He is with us in every situation. We all felt Him with us yesterday as we gathered to worship God and celebrate a precious life.
Long before any of us were here, God imagined us and dreamed of what our lives could become. The Bible teaches that He knit each of us together in our mothers' wombs, putting within each of us His own beautiful image. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed perfect unity and fellowship for time without beginning or end, and certainly did not need us for company or to relieve boredom. God wanted us, and made us so that we could enjoy perfect fellowship with Himself and one another forever.
This brings us to a second foundational truth of our faith: Jesus has given His life so that we can be with God forever.
Again, the powerful forethought of God is much greater than any wicked scheme of the enemy. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, who by His blood and through His Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. The enemy thought he had defeated God forever through the cross. I love to think of the moment that wicked creature realized his great, fatal mistake. We can celebrate the reality of Christ's victory every day, and we can look forward to all that is to come. This present world is not all there is; we who are in Christ do not grieve like people with no hope. There is so much more to the story!
Our dear friend Elijah is not gone; he lives on, with God forever. The place that he has gone is the beautiful place we all hope to be one day; the glorious place where no one will ever say or think, “this is not the way things are supposed to be.” The very last chapters of the Bible describe it, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Praise God! I am so grateful for Elijah’s life and testimony. His life reminds us all that God is so good, and that we can trust Him implicitly. Moving forward, let's keep the lessons of this precious boy's life in our hearts. Our family, friends, and neighbors need to see the strength, forgiveness, and love that real life in Christ makes possible.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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