Tag Archives: Easter

The First Witnesses

Controversies around the Passion of Christ are numerous. Some people are desperate to find evidence that would prove the story false. Was there really a man named Jesus? Did He actually die on the cross (or did he swoon or faint or pretend)? Was there a substitute on the cross who just looked like Jesus? Were His followers complicit in a cover-up to steal the corpse and then spread wild rumors of His resurrection? You get the idea.

Often we speak of the first witnesses to what happened at the garden tomb. How many were there? Who was first to arrive? Were there two angels or just one? The gospel writers convey a chaotic scene but one common element is that women were the first to witness the empty tomb. From His birth to His resurrection, there is irony as to those who were the initial witnesses. In Luke, we are told that the angels announced to a band of shepherds that the Savior was born. In all of the gospel accounts, women came first to tend to the hastily buried Jesus.

The irony is that shepherds were held in low regard and were not trusted to give testimony in court. They were too unreliable. Women were thought to be unworthy and unable to bear witness. God chose a surprising audience for world-changing events!

But who were the first witnesses? In Matthew 27, the Jewish Temple leadership approached Procurator Pilate with a request: “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’” They wanted Pilate to station guards at the tomb because they feared the disciples would steal the body and then claim the words of Jesus had come true. It seemed they put more weight in those words than His own followers did!

Pilate agreed to the guard and placing a seal on the tomb. Some combination of Roman soldiers and Temple police formed the guard. The seal would have been Roman, meaning that  breaking the seal would have been a capital offense.

Matthew 28:1-4 explains the events at the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on that Sunday morning. The guards were at their posts when an angel of the Lord rolled away the stone then sat on it. So much for the power of Rome. The text reads: “The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.”

Have you ever wondered what happened to those men? Later in the chapter, some of the guards reported to the leading priests what had happened. They were given “a large bribe” to spread the news that the body was stolen while they slept. How interesting. If those were Roman soldiers, they would have been executed for being asleep at their posts. The priests promised the soldiers that they would take care of them if they would participate in the cover-up.

They fade from the historical record but they were the first to know that death could not hold Jesus. How could they witness such a miracle and not have been changed? It seems that there are still many who seem unfazed by what occurred. Here it is: Jesus died on a Roman cross, bearing the sins of the world. His battered and desecrated body was buried in a borrowed tomb. On the third day, JUST AS HE PROMISED, He broke the power of sin, death, and evil. His resurrection gives any who would believe the assurance of life eternal. Happy Easter!!


“Presumably [Jesus] could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why? I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin WAS the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering. I take hope in Jesus’ scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe – the crucifixion – Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus’ scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start.”                                                                                                                       Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.

Friday comes before Sunday every week … just like the cross comes before the tomb. We cannot truly celebrate if we do not understand the cost of the victory Christ won for us. “Jesus fought the battle, but it would be against the forces of evil, corruption, and death itself. Jesus came to believe that the only way one could defeat death itself, and thereby launch the new creation was to take on death itself.”

He bore the wounds of the battle. He carried the scars. The cross is not a piece of jewelry; it is a stark reminder of a cosmic contest that used the most powerful weapon against our most powerful enemy. With His love, Jesus killed death, robbing it of its power.

Easter is about new beginnings, renewal of life, hope, and joy. But the scars … don’t forget the scars. His scars make ours bearable. He is risen! “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again” (John 11:25).

Make up your mind

In our postmodern, even post-Christian times, it seems fashionable to deny the possibility of the resurrection. Most arguments against start with a presupposition like that from James Tabor who is chair of the department of religion at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. According to him, the suggestion of a resurrection could be ruled out from the beginning. He wrote: “Dead bodies don’t rise – not if one is clinically dead – as Jesus surely was. So if the tomb was empty the historical conclusion is simple – Jesus’ body was moved by someone and likely reinterred in another location.” Dr. Tabor has also revealed that Jesus was probably buried in Galilee, outside the city of Tsfat.

Being exposed to such an open mind makes one confident that the religion students at UNC Charlotte have the opportunity for a world-class indoctrination, not education.  Tabor is not alone. He has plenty of company who have already decided that Jesus could not possible rise from the dead. Christianity can be simply dismissed.

Concerning such matters, the Apostle Paul agreed to a point: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). If the Muslims are right, Jesus never actually died on the cross, much less returned from the dead. A prominent Hindu leader opined: “Jesus was only injured and after treatment returned to India where He actually died.

This past Sunday, Kim and I attended a worship service hosted by Rise Again Ministries. Among the speakers was Bishop Roberts from Lynwood Park United Church of God in Christ. He preached with great energy and enthusiasm, underscoring his deep beliefs in the faith he calls his own. One line he spoke remains with me: “Your arms are too short to box with God.”

There are plenty of skeptics and cynics. In our country, they are free to express their faith or lack thereof. As Dr. Dale Moody, long-time professor at Southern Seminary, used to say about his good friend and fellow combatant Dr. Frank Stagg over all things theological: “He has every right to be wrong.”

Does Christianity rest on a sure foundation? Was Christ really the Son of God who came to earth to defeat the powers that thought they were in charge of the world? Did His death atone for our sin? Did He exit the tomb alive, having defeated our last great enemy? Does He reign supreme? Will He return in glory? Will God redeem and rescue His creation? Does any of this matter?

Make up your mind.

Christians around the world will profess their faith this week. They will celebrate Easter – not the end of the story, but the beginning of what God had in mind before creation. Will you join your brothers and sisters to worship and praise the risen Lord? Will you have someone by your side?

One More

One more. One more Sunday to worship together in the fellowship of the Peachtree Room. One more opportunity to experience the technology that has allowed us to communicate important coming events, play worship videos, assist us with Scripture and music texts, and encourage guests to get to know us better.

One more. One more Sunday until Holy Week. Next Sunday we will re-enter our sanctuary to begin the most sacred year of the Christian calendar. New opportunities await us we continue the warm and inviting environment that Wieuca as we make our way toward Easter.

We have missed some of you during this interim time. I encourage you to make your attendance and involvement an even higher priority. Let’s honor the Wieuca value of community by finding friends and inviting guests to sit close and toward the front of the sanctuary. As one of the worship leaders here, I cannot express more firmly the difference it makes when we lead people instead of pews in worship.

Please note the schedule for Holy Week this year. Palm Sunday, March 29 begins our observance and celebration. The Maundy Thursday service on April 2 is a meaningful service of reflection and gratitude as we contemplate the sacrifice of Christ. It will be held in the Peachtree Room at 7:00 pm. Wieuca hosts the Good Friday Service on April 3 in the sanctuary. Monsignor McNamee from the Cathedral of Christ the King will be preaching. Ministers from Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, and Peachtree Presbyterian Church will join me as worship leaders. Congregations from Buckhead have been sharing this special service for many years. Let’s be good hosts for this noon service. The Annual Easter Egg Hunt drew over 1000 people last year. Volunteers are needed to help us take care of the great crowd that will coming. Easter Sunday is the most glorious day we have as Christians. We join brothers and sisters around the world in proclaiming the ultimate victory over sin and death. He is risen.

It is not too early to make plans to attend the next Global Leadership Summit in August. Additional information is available in the newsletter. The full faculty will be announced soon. Mark August 6-7 to take part. We will once again offer our “50 for 50” program. The first 50 Wieucans sign up for $50.

Spring is coming. The promise of new life also encourages new commitment and renewed joy in our relationship with God and His people. It is not the same when you are not here to celebrate!

Now What?

Do you have plans on July 5th? How about the day after Christmas? Most of the really big days on the calendar are preceded with quite a build-up and followed with some kind of a let-down. It happens at Easter. Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten Season. Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday. Good Friday gives way to Resurrection Sunday. Now what? After the special activities and services, the quiet reflection and glorious worship … what are we to do now?

It seems to me that the story doesn’t end on Easter; it’s just beginning. We don’t camp out at the middle cross. We don’t pitch a tent at the empty tomb. The stone wasn’t rolled away so that Jesus could get out; it was rolled away so that we could see in … so that we could tell the story.

Everybody loves a good story. Can you think of a better one than the one about sacrifice, redemption, and love? Everybody loves a happy ending. Can you think of a better one than the one where evil is trounced and second chances are in abundance?

In Luke 24, we read about the two people walking away from Jerusalem on Resurrection Sunday afternoon. They seem to know part of the story but cannot make sense of it. They have heard rumors of the unbelievable … and they’re not sure they can believe what they’ve heard.

There are a lot of people like that. They know enough about the story to wonder, to speculate. Like those two travelers, all the pieces won’t fit until Jesus becomes real. He did become real to those two on the road to Emmaus. The seven miles they had just walked was covered a great deal faster on the return trip. What was the difference? They had a story; they had their story to tell. The truth of Easter changed their lives. How can you not tell such a story?

So, I guess the answer to “Now what?” is pretty clear. If Jesus has become real to you, you know what to do. Somebody needs to hear your story.

Three Things We Forget About Faith

On this day in 1945, after spending two years in a concentration camp, Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for being involved in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and couched his resistance to the Nazis as an act of faith, refusing several times to leave Germany to preserve his safety.

Bonhoeffer is among ten 20th century martyrs whose statues stand above the remodeled west entrance to Westminster Abbey in London. Incidentally, he’s joined in that place of honor by a Baptist pastor from Atlanta named Martin Luther King, Jr.


Bonhoeffer is not just remembered for his principled stand against the Nazis. His books continue to be widely read, and he continues to influence new generations of theologians. In The Cost of Discipleship, he talks about the relationship between belief and obedience using the calling of the disciples and the parable of the rich young ruler as examples. He argues that belief and obedience are inextricably bound as two sides of the same coin of faith. In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer–and in preparation for Easter–let me suggest three things we usually get wrong about faith.

Three Things We Forget About Faith

Many of us live as if faith were only an intellectual exercise.  Faith is more than intellectual assent to a set of propositions. Faith is behavioral.  Faith is emotional.  And faith is experiential.

Faith Is Behavioral

Faith is at least as much about what we do as it is about what we believe. Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship that “faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.” At Easter we are reminded that it is through Christ’s faithfulness, even to death, that we find our salvation. Christ’s faithfulness was not merely intellectual. Christ’s faithfulness led him one step at a time toward Jerusalem. Christ’s faithfulness led him to endure trial, scorn, mockery and death. He calls us to be faithful by taking up our own crosses. Faithfulness is lived out in grand gestures and simple actions every day.

Faith Is Emotional

Faith–if it is faith–encompasses our whole being. Faith changes our hearts. Hard-heartedness is incompatible with Christian faith. Hardened hearts are turned toward selfless generosity. Our bias toward legalistic judgmentalism gives way to compassion.  Our tribal tendency to mistrust those who are different from us is transformed into open acceptance of all of God’s children. Those who follow Jesus will discover in Christ a love that trumps self-preservation.  For Bonhoeffer, that meant execution in a concentration camp. You may be called to that kind of sacrifice,too. But for most of us it might just mean a steady shift away from indifference toward those who are suffering.

Faith Is Experiential

Faith is not faith as long as it is based on someone else’s experience. You can’t get faith from a book or lecture. You don’t inherit faith from your parents. It doesn’t rub off on you if you hang out with the right people. Faith is the result of a personal experience with Jesus Christ. Some people think that the mystical experience of faith is nothing more than overly emotional sentimentality. I disagree. This Easter, read the first part of Luke 24. It is the remembered experience of Christ that brings faith in the resurrection…a remembrance encouraged by the mystical presence of angels.

This Easter remember those who have been willing to make great sacrifices to stand up to injustice and advance the cause of Christ. And remember that faith is more than an intellectual exercise.  God wants every part of us, not just our heads.

See you Sunday.

Generational Conflict On The Way To The Cross

Jesus was most likely in his early thirties at the time of his crucifixion. The majority of his followers were most likely his age or younger. Meanwhile, the ruling authorities so threatened by Jesus were most likely at least one generation, perhaps two generations, older.

So the conflict between Jesus and the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees and even the Roman government was, among other things, a generational conflict. When Jesus said, “You have heard it said of old…but I say to you…” (Matt 5) what some people heard was, “What these old people are saying is wrong; I know how to do it better.”

As the millennial generation comes of age, a growing divide between generations is becoming increasingly apparent. There seems to be a larger gap between millennials and older generations than anyone expected. For example, a new Pew study suggests that the cultural gap between millennials and Gen Xers is much larger than the gap between Gen Xers and Boomers or between Boomers and the Greatest Generation.

With the generational dynamics of the New Testament in mind, let me offer a few suggestions to both older and younger generations.

Three Words for Older Generations
1. You have immense power and influence. Use it wisely. The first time Jesus preached a sermon in his home church, the congregation was so impressed that they tried to throw him off a cliff. Jesus said that he was the fulfillment of scripture and the older generation who had seen him grow up wasn’t ready to accept that God had given him wisdom and authority worth listening to (Luke 4). When you fail to accept the voices of people younger than you, it sometimes feels to them as if you’re trying to throw them off a cliff.

2. Don’t look down on young leaders. Be generous. Give them more respect than they’re due. Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he was young (1 Tim 4:12). Some of us still read scripture today and adopt a patronizing attitude toward the wet-behind-the-ears Timothy, thinking, “Isn’t it nice of Paul to mentor him. I bet he eventually turned into a fine minister.” Admit it. Sometimes you think that way. Stop it.

3. Remember that the church made great advances before you got here and will continue to advance after you are gone.  Our partnership with God is not an equal partnership. We are not the star players on the team. Just as surely as God found a way to use you, God will find a way to use younger generations for the fulfillment of the kingdom. Make sure you’re an encourager and not a stumbling block to those following behind you (Matt 18:7, Rom 14:13).

Three Words for Younger Generations
1.  Even Jesus had trouble breaking into his profession. The first time Jesus preached a sermon in his home church, the congregation was so impressed that they tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4). Nobody ever promised you immediate recognition or success. Put in the hours. Do the hard work. Take your fair share of hard knocks. Your voice is valuable and it will be heard. Be persistent. Remember that prophetic voices of change must be coupled with the Biblical values of perseverance and self-control (2 Peter 1:6).

2. Paul told Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). When Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he was young, he also gave Timothy specific instructions about how to gain the respect of his elders. Paul’s advice holds true today.

3. Remember that the church made great advances before you got here and will continue to advance after you are gone. Our partnership with God is not an equal partnership. We are not the star players on the team. Just as surely as God found a way to use you, God will continue to find ways to use older generations for the fulfillment of the kingdom. Make sure you’re an encourager and not a stumbling block to those you’re serving with (Matt 18:7, Rom 14:13).

And I guess we all ought to remember that when Jesus got to Jerusalem, there was a cross waiting for him. Generational conflict can lead to extraordinarily poor decision making. During lent it’s tempting to say that sometimes following Jesus means ending up with our own crosses on our own hills with our own ultimate rejections.

But that would be wrong. That’s not where Jesus leads at all. Jesus leads to resurrection.

Three Things to Remember from Easter

Lent is over. Holy week has passed. The glow of Easter morning is already fading. Now our attention turns to summer, baseball, weekends at the lake, and whether or not this is the year we finally buy a new grill. But before we move on to more earthly pursuits, I wonder if there are a few things from this Easter worth taking with us into the summer months. In that vein, I offer three things to remember before Easter gets away from us.

First, don’t take yourself too seriously. Pride in who you are and what you do is misplaced. If we can learn anything from Easter, it is that our well-being is not wrapped up in our own abilities and our own performance. Our well-being is entirely wrapped up in who Jesus is and what God is doing. During Holy Week, Jesus tells the religious leaders of Jerusalem that they’re not exactly at the front of the line when it comes to entering the kingdom of God (Matt 21:31). I suspect that many of us will have to wait our turn as well. So don’t take yourself too seriously, and remember that all that we are and all that we will be is the gracious gift of God.

Second, it’s not okay to take the wisdom of the world and claim it as the gospel. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that people will look all over the place to find something to believe in, something to hang their hat on (1 Cor 1:22), and during Holy Week Jesus tells the crowds that many will come claiming false messages of salvation (Matt 24:5). We look in all kinds of places and turn to all kinds of remedies to make our lives better, easier, and more fulfilling. And the world offers all kinds of new and improved methods for self-improvement. No matter how enticing it might be to take the wisdom of the world and put a Christian label on it, it’s not okay. Paul says we ought to go on preaching Christ crucified. Paul reminds us that even the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. As Christians, one of our goals ought to be to provide an eternal, time tested alternative to the new and improved self-help regimens that seem to pop up every week and disappear just as quickly.

Finally, remember what we claim when we claim Christ. We claim God on earth in human flesh. We claim our limitations and our sinfulness. We claim love as the greatest good. We claim self-sacrifice over selfishness. We claim resurrection, the opportunity for new and different life. We claim that the wisdom of this world is not sufficient. We claim a history and a heritage and an identity that the world will think is sheer silliness. We claim a God whose actions and power fly in the face of conventional wisdom. We claim a God, who even in weakness, is stronger than the best the world has to offer. We claim eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

Easter is now behind us on the calendar. But the truths of Easter ought to remain before us. The wisdom of this world will pass away, but God’s love endures forever. Alleluia.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!


Image from Christimages.org

“Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” Dead man walking? Not on that Sunday. The man brutally executed on Friday, laid in the borrowed tomb that evening, was supposed to stay dead. The women came to the tomb wondering how they would move the massive stone. They came to offer Him one last honor. They certainly didn’t expect what they encountered.

Death couldn’t hold Him. The stone wasn’t moved so He could get out; the stone was moved so we could see in. He is not some dead martyr. He is the living Lord. His victory over sin and death and evil was accomplished so that the world He came to save would have hope.

We can live without many things but we cannot live without hope. Easter brings hope, new life, renewal, and a reason to tackle whatever life might put in our path. It isn’t easy, He never promised it would be. He did promise that He would never forsake us, that He would give us sufficient grace to live meaningful lives.

Friday was for mourning. Good Friday … Black Friday.

Sunday is for rejoicing. Glorious Resurrection! Easter Celebration!

He is risen! He is risen indeed!