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Hope...is something we all need.
A good friend of mine shared this Easter Bible study on her Facebook, and I am grateful she has allowed me to share it here with you!
How many times in our lives do we find ourselves in the midst of a blank space - a place of waiting where hope almost seems lost? Be encouraged! The Jesus of Easter is alive and well in the midst of our blank spaces! Don't give up HOPE!
Begin this Easter Bible study by reading through Matthew 27-28 asking God's Holy Spirit to speak to your heart right where you are in life...maybe in the midst of a blank space.
In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 27-28 tell us the story of Jesus’ sacrifice and the greatest miracle that gives us hope today. Chapter 27 picks up with the story after Jesus has been betrayed by one of His very own disciples, Judas.
Let’s not rush over Judas. I was talking with a friend recently who shared this observation: Judas looked like the other disciples on the outside. He was included in the group of 12 who walked, talked, fellowshipped, and ate with Jesus. He witnessed the miracles,
He saw the healings. But, his heart was far from Him. It reminded me of the verse in Isaiah that says, “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.” (29:13).
Judas sat at the table with Jesus yet walked away. How many times have we sat back in disbelief that he would do such a thing? Yet, we also push back from His table. We leave the intimacy of His presence to chase lesser things and we betray Him as well. Yes, we may honor Him with our words but our hearts are far from honoring Him.
As Chapter 27 begins, we see Judas again. He has already betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and has collected his “reward.” Verse 3-5 says, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that he had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
One of the most heartbreaking things in this story to me is that Judas was there when Jesus taught about forgiveness. Judas was there when Jesus told about why He was sent to the Earth. Jesus offered Judas the same forgiveness as He does to you and me. I wonder if Judas had accepted Jesus’ forgiveness would he have heard the same words found in Genesis 50:20 spoken to him that says, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
Before we look down our nose at Judas too harshly, let’s take time to examine our own hearts this Easter season. How many times have we pushed back and betrayed Him? How many times have our hearts been far from Him? Let’s not make the same mistake as Judas. Let’s do the one thing we wished we would have read about Judas. Let’s repent and run back to His arms and bask in the intimacy of fellowship with Him. He is waiting with open arms. How do I know? Because the story was far from over. Our story isn’t over yet either. If we are still breathing, there is still time for our comeback as well.
Jesus knew all along that He was born to die. He also knew that He would be betrayed by those closest to Him. Yet, He still went willingly in order to save me and to save you. The story is far from over.
Chapter 27 continues with a story that seems to have a hopeless end. Jesus is on trial yet He spoke not a word. He takes the place of a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. In a great exchange, Barabbas, a known criminal, is set free and Jesus, an innocent man, was sentenced to die in his place. Jesus was beaten, mocked, humiliated, and then crucified on a cross between two thieves. Jesus didn’t just take Barabbas’ place. He took mine. Verse 50 says, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.”
It seems as if hope died. The One the disciples had followed over countless miles, the One who had performed countless miracles, was dead. Hopelessness reigned.
Scripture records for us that when Jesus had breathed His last breath, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”
Can you just imagine the sight? Can you feel the fear? But, can you also see the significance in the veil being torn? Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, He made a way for you and for me to have direct access to God the Father! No longer do we need a priest to intercede to the Father on our behalf. His sacrifice opened the way for us to talk to and have fellowship with God Almighty!
Look back at the story. In verse 54, it says, “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Think they got it?
Jesus’ dead body was then given to a man named Joseph. All we really know is Joseph was a rich man from Arimathea who had also become one of Jesus’ disciples. Joseph took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which had been hewn out of rock. He then rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and left.
The next day, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate. They reminded Pilate about Jesus’ saying that He would rise again in 3 days. The men knew that without a body, people would still follow and seek after Jesus. But, with a dead body lying in a tomb, their hope would be gone completely.
So, they asked Pilate to have the tomb sealed shut and guards posted at the grave until after the third day had passed. Their fear was that Jesus’ disciples would come and steal the body away and then claim, “He has risen from the dead.”
Remember, the Pharisees plan was to kill the leader and watch the followers fall away. Pilate agrees to their requests saying, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.” (Vs. 65-66)
There is then a blank space found in my Bible between chapters 27 and 28. It is in this blank space that hope can be found. It is in this blank space that things seem to be quiet and nothing is happening. Have you ever lived in a “blank space” moment?
It’s quiet, things seem hopeless, and it appears that nothing will ever change. But, it is in this blank space that the greatest miracle is taking place. May we never forget that in our blank spaces we have a mighty God that is still in the miracle business. He is still moving mountains on our behalf. He is still breaking chains. He is still resurrecting dreams. He is still saving lives. He is still on His throne! He sees! He knows! He’s working even when all we see is a blank space!
Chapter 28 opens after this blank space with Mary Magdalene and Mary coming to the tomb on the third day. Because no work was allowed on the Sabbath, the two ladies have come early on the morning after the Sabbath. It says that as they arrived, another earthquake hits and an “angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it.” It says that the posted guards “shook for fear and became like dead men.”
Don’t miss verses 5-8! “But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. HE IS NOT HERE; FOR HE IS RISEN AS HE SAID. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you. So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.”
Hopelessness was defeated with the proclamation, “HE IS NOT HERE; FOR HE IS RISEN AS HE SAID.” That blank space becomes God’s greatest miracle and plan and our greatest answer to our desperate need.
Charles Swindoll talks about this miracle when he said, “The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out. It was rolled away to let us in to see the empty tomb.” Jesus was already out of the tomb before the stone was ever rolled away! He had already risen! He had already defeated death and our hopelessness. His resurrected body wasn’t held by a stone. Remember Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room? He certainly didn’t need a door! Think He can’t get to where you are to reach you? Think again. He’s already there – right in the middle of our blank space.
The story in Matthew’s gospel isn’t over yet. It says that as Mary Magdalene and Mary were sent on their way by Jesus to tell the good news to the disciples that the soldiers were on their way to give their report to the chief priests about what had just happened. Can you imagine this scene and conversation? “Um, well, see…what had happened was…we, um, well, we lost the body.”
Scripture tells us that the elders and Pharisees then paid a large sum of money to keep the soldiers quiet about what they saw. They paid them to say, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.” Now, I don’t know, but, someone asleep is not a good eyewitness to anything! Nor, do I want someone guarding me to sleep so hard that they can’t hear a large stone being moved and a grown man’s lifeless body being stolen away! But, the soldiers were promised that if they stuck to this story and were ever called on it, they would be taken care of and protected. Verse 15 says, “So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
How sad to think that for some, hope is still in a grave because of a lie. As believers, we hold the greatest news of all time. Hope is alive and His name is Jesus! Look into the empty tomb and see for yourself! “HE IS NOT HERE; FOR HE IS RISEN AS HE SAID. COME SEE THE PLACE WHERE THE LORD LAY.” Now, go and tell!
We know the truth and we know the truth to be that Jesus is alive! The great deceiver is still in the world, telling people the lie about Jesus. He wants people to live in utter hopelessness and separated from Jesus Christ. We have to tell.
At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus came and spoke to the disciples after His resurrection. In case you were wondering, dead people don’t speak either! Another proof that He was alive! He gives the disciples, as well as you and me, the great commission. He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (vs. 18-20)
Even in our blank spaces, Christ is alive. Go and tell! Go and live it out! He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive!
© Copyright 2018 Joy Thomas
Take time now to stop and worship remembering we can live because He lives. "Ask me how I know He lives...He lives within my heart." And because of Jesus Christ - we have HOPE!
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