Introduction: We so often doubt the power of the ascended Lord Jesus when it comes to the heart-breaking trials of our lives. Even though we in our heads know that God rules all things on earth and in heaven through His Son, and believe Scripture when it says that Jesus “holds all things together,” we act like our lives are somehow beyond the reach of His caring concern. We may believe the first part of Ephesians 1:22 when it says that God “put all things under Christ’s feet” – in a sort of general and impersonal sovereignty – while living as if the second half of the verse does not also impact our lives (when it says that Christ is “Head over all things to the church”). Why would Paul repeat himself, saying two times in one verse that Christ is over all things? Because we tend not to believe it to be specifically true for us. That is why. Oh may this week’s notes teach us powerfully about how much control Jesus exercises over all things – all with a special eye towards the good of His church!
Monday: read Luke 24:36-44. Jesus is concerned about recovering His followers from the fear that He would not rise from the death of the Cross. It appeared that death had won as they hid themselves for fear of the Jews. Even when the women who first saw the risen Lord told the 11 the good news in Luke 24:9-11, they did not believe what seemed to them to be a fairy tale!
Reflect: Here is a sober reality from which we ought to learn to live close to our Savior: If even those who were eye-witnesses to Christ’s mighty miracles and teaching leading up to His death were not able in their own strength to believe in their risen Savior, how could we ever maintain our professions of faith even for 24 hours? But take heart. Just as Jesus promised His own that “He would not leave them orphans” (John 14:18), so He promises to come to us promptly to help us in our times of doubt and despair. He continually prays that our faith, like Peter’s, would not fail!
Tues/Weds: read Luke 24:36-38 & Matthew 14:22-27. What a contrast between Jesus’ timely help and the terrified disciples’ repeated assumption that the worst was about to happen to them. Both before and after the resurrection, the Apostles fell into terror instead of trusting their Savior’s care. For example, why did they think Jesus was a ghost, and fail to recognize Him – both in the boat in Matthew 14:26 and hiding in the room in Luke 24:37? Because they mistakenly thought Jesus to be a million miles away from them in their trouble! At the very time when Divine help was close at hand, the Apostles expected nothing but grief in their swamped fishing boat in Matthew 14:26. In the same way, because of their fear of persecution at the hands of those who crucified their Lord, they think Jesus’ appearance in Luke 24:37 is yet another terrifying specter come to do them harm!
How wrong they were, and how wrong we are – when we think that Jesus’ physical absence from us means that we are somehow out of His mind and protection! Listen to Rev. Bill Harrell’s lesson about such groundless, unbelieving fears:
“Why are we so quick to expect evil rather than good in our lives? The Son of God draws near in the storm, demonstrating that nothing can separate us from Him and His loving power. But we are prone to misunderstand His coming, expecting something worse than the storms we are battling. As Mt. 14:26 puts it: “They thought in their terror that Jesus was a ghost.” However, though His ways can and do frighten us, Jesus does not capitulate to our fears by staying away from us. He continues to draw near, revealing Himself to us and vanquishing our fears. Grace teaches us to expect His coming to us with such loving power, to replace our fears with His peace.”
Thurs/Fri: read Luke 24:36-38 & Matthew 14:1-12. With the rise of the occult, as many have resorted to belief in ghosts and communicating with spirits in the afterlife, our culture is not much different than Jesus’ day in its unbelief and fears of the supernatural. It would benefit us, then, to pause a little this week to consider the wonderful, life-saving difference between our Savior’s rising from the dead and whatever claims to the afterlife the superstitious in our day may believe.
We turn to the superstitions of Herod Antipas in Matthew 14:1-2 and his cruel beheading of John the Baptist in Matthew 14:3-12. The driving grudge which led to the request for John the Baptist’s head lay with Herod’s wife Herodias, as well as with Antipas. This couple was full of murderous fury at John because he condemned their ungodly marriage. It was ungodly because Herodias was originally married to Herod Philip, the father of Salome who dances in Matthew 14:6. However, when Herod pays a visit to this Philip (who happens also to be his half-brother), he has an affair with his brother’s wife Herodias, then steals her from Philip and marries her after getting rid of his first wife. It is this adulterous relationship which is roundly condemned by John the Baptist. The result is a grudge which Herodias nurses until she sees her opportunity to demand from her drunk husband the head of the Baptist in Matthew 14:8-11.
But God is not to be mocked, nor his servants killed without any consequence. Because Herod delivers the head of the mighty preacher to his wicked wife, God sends the terror of guilt upon Herod, so that he begins to fear in Matthew 14:1-2 that God will wreak vengeance on him because of John’s shed blood! When he hears about the signs which Jesus is performing, he panics, even believing that John the Baptist has risen from the dead.
Reflect: Herod speaks more truthfully than he knows. Though he is wrong about the identity of the miracle worker named Jesus, he is correct to realize the reality of resurrection and the promise of judgment to come which resurrection brings with it. Think of it this way: While human superstition easily believes in the afterlife and even in ghosts, what Herod bears witness to is the reality of the resurrection! Whoever this Jesus is, Herod recognizes in His mighty deeds and words that someone with the exact same living power of God which resided in John the Baptist has come on the scene! It is the same power of God which Herod sought to eradicate by beheading John – now alive again in the ministry of Jesus! This is what Herod’s guilty conscience bears witness to: nothing less than the Holy Spirit of God alive from the dead in the person of Jesus as He had been in John!
Meditate and Pray: Let us praise God that His power & presence can never be denied, ignored or eradicated! John spoke of the very same resurrection power which Herod now beholds in Jesus Christ! Herod is haunted by the same message of repentance in the living ministry of Jesus that He had heard in the dying ministry of John!
Sat/Sun: Further Reflection: The truth of resurrection on the lips of Herod is most amazing to think about! Some scholars think that Herod was a member of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection (compare Matthew 16:6 and Mark 8:15)! But now God awakes his conscience, and he testifies to a resurrection reality which only God can convey in a moment upon the consciousness of the unbeliever! Think further of the way the doctrine of the Resurrection connects not only with our hopes, but with our consciences and our minds:
First, with the help of C.S. Lewis:
I heard a man say, “The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.” On that view what happened to Christ would be what happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival.
I don’t mean that the disciples disbelieved in ghost-survival. On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost. The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the Universe. Something new had appeared: as new as the first coming of life in the Garden of Eden. This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse.” A new mode of being as arisen. That is the glorious Gospel story. What are we going to make of it?
Second, with the help of Rev. William Harrell, my mentor from Immanuel PCA, Norfolk VA:
It is popular today, as it was long ago in Corinth, to deny the supernatural elements of the gospel while extolling its moral elements. The thinking is that while some aspects of the gospel, such as the resurrection, are incredibly untenable, others, such as love and patience, enable men to live this life better than otherwise.
However, the gospel, at its best, offers little hope for this life. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” For those desiring to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12), and their Lord commands them to hate their lives in this world (Jn 12:25), to bear their crosses daily (Lk. 9:23), to hate their families (Lk. 14:16) and love their enemies (Lk. 6:27). From the terms which Christ has declared it is clear that He came not to make us more competent and comfortable in this world, but to lead us on pilgrimage from this wilderness to the city of God – a city inhabited and enjoyed by resurrected saints (Heb. 11:10, 14-16).
In the face, therefore, of the vain denials of resurrection skeptics – who would, like Delilah with Samson, have the gospel shorn of its strength – the apostle Paul declares the glorious truth that Christ has been raised from the dead. His resurrection was no empty wonder, but the divine pledge and promise of our own glorious, bodily resurrection (Rom. 8:10, 11). Who would prefer empty dreams and denials to this substantial and empowering truth?
Pastor Carl’s Conclusion: How amazing that such a stern and self-denying gospel of the kingdom of God should survive amidst selfish, materialistic humanity for more than 2,000 years. The only reason for the way of the Cross to still be hoped in as the way to resurrected life, is that there is a real, risen Savior who gives such an ‘unpopular and unattractive’ gospel new, life-giving power every day! So much for those who think Christianity has only survived as an ‘opiate’ of comfort for this world, when it actually markets itself as a way of pain for this life, and only ultimate comfort for the next!