Easter Is Not “The End.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 8.45.14 PM
Jesus will always be there for us on the road of life.

The Lord Jesus came back to life on the third day, but the story doesn’t end there.

When most people celebrate Easter each year, they usually tend to focus on the climax of our Savior’s sacrifice, namely His death and subsequent resurrection. However, the rest of the story sometimes gets unintentionally overlooked, the part where Jesus spends a short period of time walking on Earth in His new body. After Jesus arose from the tomb, He walked alongside His disciples on Emmaus road, and also visited some of His faithful followers inside their homes for food and fellowship.

The purpose for Him doing this was not only to provide living proof of His glorious miracle, but also to show His followers that He still cared about them and loved them very much. You see, from a human perspective, it would seem that the first thing Jesus would want to do is go back to Heaven immediately, after He had endured so much suffering here on Earth. Yet our Savior was the very Portrait of unselfishness as He went out of His way to spend time with those He loved before He ascended into the golden clouds of Heaven.

Why is this part of the Easter story so important to remember?

While it may be easy to see the latter part of the Easter story as less exciting, there are many meaningful lessons to be derived from our Lord’s final chapter on Earth. When I think about this part of the story, the first thing it reminds me of is how much Jesus loves us. He certainly didn’t have to stay behind and spend extra time with people, but He chose to because He loved them. He could have decided to leave for Heaven immediately, letting His followers believe the miracle of His resurrection by faith alone; but He wanted to show up in person before their very eyes to make their faith whole and complete.

The next thing this part of the story reminds me of is how the Lord desires to comfort us. When Jesus walked and talked with His disciples and other followers after His resurrection, He was calming their hearts from the fear they had of the Jewish leaders. Jesus knew that His followers would undoubtedly face persecution for their faith in Him, and wanted to assure them that any future attacks on their faith should not dissuade or discourage them. The disciples and other followers of Jesus would have felt absolutely helpless against the world without the loving, comforting words they received from Him.

The last thing this part of the story reminds me of is how the miracle of Easter continued to give people hope even after the Lord’s resurrection. When Jesus visited His disciples and followers, He encouraged them by telling them that the story wasn’t over yet. He let them know that another Comforter would come to them, the Holy Spirit, and that someday He would return again a second time as King of the whole Earth. Even more exciting news for His followers was the fact that after Jesus’ second coming, they would all ascend up into Heaven to live with Him for all eternity.

For Christians, the Easter story continues to go on every day in their hearts.

When I was younger, I used to be sad the day after Easter, thinking that because the official holiday was over, that meant we could no longer celebrate the Lord’s resurrection. However, now that I am older, I have realized that Christians NEVER have to stop celebrating Easter; in fact, they should be celebrating it EVERY DAY! You see, the Lord IS risen. That is a present state of being. Yes, He arose from the grave over 2,000 years ago, but He is still alive! Because He is still alive today, and sitting at God’s right hand in Heaven, Christians should ALWAYS have a cause to rejoice and be glad in their hearts! The story of Jesus’ Easter miracle is eternal, and those who know Him in their hearts will always have a reason to celebrate it, because He conquered the grave by coming back to life! What a wonderful thought it is to meditate upon! The Lord Jesus Christ provided a way for us to have eternal life through His temporary death on the cross. Because of His sacrifice, those who believe on Him can partake of His joy daily, and enter into eternity with a sense of fulfillment for their existence.

How can we continue to celebrate Easter after the official day is over?

There are many ways to continue celebrating Easter as a Christian, and not surprisingly they aren’t that different than what Christians should be doing to worship God daily. The best way to celebrate Easter every day is by offering praise and thanks to God for all that He has done for us. Specifically, we should thank Him for the amazing sacrifice of unconditional love that His Son Jesus performed on the cross for our sake. The more we show God our constant appreciation of His love for us, the more He will be inclined to show it to us more apparently each day. Also, another way to honor Easter in your heart every day is by simply remembering the events of Jesus’ loving sacrifice. The more you ponder upon the details of His journey on earth and all He endured to secure your eternal life, the more you will feel grateful to Him. Place yourself back in time over 2,000 years ago on the morning that Jesus Christ arose – imagine that you are one of His disciples, eagerly anticipating His imminent resurrection. Once you fully consider all of the circumstances surrounding the miracle of Easter, you will experience the great joy that the disciples felt when they ran to the tomb and found it empty!

What does the rest of the Easter story mean for us today?

The miracle of Easter provides eternal hope for mankind, ensuring that God is powerful enough to save us from spiritual death. After Jesus Christ ascended up into Heaven, His disciples were watching Him with their eyes lifted up to the clouds in the sky. Immediately after Jesus’ ascension, an angel appeared to them and commanded that they get busy doing the Lord’s work to further His eternal kingdom of reconciled souls. In the same way, we should also be busy today, doing our best to give the world an example of Christ’s love. While we should celebrate the miracle of Easter every day in our hearts, we should also be looking forward to eternity, and possess a sense of urgency about the countless lost souls that are at stake. When the Lord does eventually return, He should be able to find us diligent in His service, spreading the truth of the gospel and winning souls back to Him. We are not to forget about Christ’s return, but instead be eagerly awaiting Him when He decides to appear in the clouds of Heaven.

 

Here are the Lord’s own Words and promises to help us celebrate Easter every day:

 

Luke 24: 13-32 “And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

“And he said unto them, ‘What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?’ And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, ‘Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?’ And he said unto them, ‘What things?’ And they said unto him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:  And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.

“‘But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.’

“Then he said unto them, ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

“And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?'”

John 14:1-3 ~ “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

John 14:16-18 ~ “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Matthew 16:27 ~ “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Matthew 24:30-31 ~ “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Matthew 28:6 ~ “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

Acts 1:9-11 ~ “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward Heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into Heaven.'”

Psalm 51:12 ~ “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.”

 

In the meantime, while Jesus is physically in Heaven, He is always with us spiritually.

 

Just as Jesus surprised His disciples by walking with them on the Emmaus road, He is always desiring to walk with us on our journey down the road of life. Whenever we need His help, He is there to guide us and also to comfort us. His Holy Spirit lives within the hearts of those who believe on Him, so that they are never alone under any circumstances. Jesus was more than willing to teach His followers more about Him as they walked together, and He is also happy to teach us too, answering our questions about life’s tricky twists and turns. The Lord certainly has not left us comfortless, as He stated in His Word: He gave us His Holy Spirit, His Word, and the privilege of constant communication with His Father in Heaven through prayer.

Jesus is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother, and He will always be there for us no matter what, as He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. While we serve Him each day, we can look forward to His glorious return in the golden clouds of Heaven. If you do not know Him today, I sincerely encourage you to meet Him today – He is waiting for you on the top of a hill along the road of life, lovingly reaching out His hand for you to join Him so you can walk together. Will you accept His invitation of eternal fellowship by asking Him to come into your heart and save you? The Savior is waiting for you, calling you by name to come follow Him before the sun sets and eternity begins.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Betrayal By A Loved One

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 10.14.20 PM
When someone betrays us, we can choose to become bitter, or better.

It was a dark, foreboding night.

Jesus and his disciples were spending their last few moments together in fellowship during supper in an upper room. Before their meal ended, Jesus made a sudden, alarming announcement that someone, one of His own disciples, would betray Him. An instant panic ensued as the disciples one by one began to repeatedly ask, “Lord, is it I?” However, there was one man at the table who remained silent after Jesus’ announcement, waiting impatiently for the awkward conversation to end. Then Jesus calmed the anxious questioning by declaring, “‘He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.’ And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.” (John 13:26)

Now when Jesus handed the dipped piece of bread to Judas, many Bible scholars believe that He was symbolically offering Judas one last chance at redemption before he committed his horrible treachery. However, in spite of the Lord’s mercy, Judas had already made up his mind and his heart, and prepared himself to leave the room, separating himself from his Lord and fellow disciples. “And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

After leaving the last supper with Jesus, Judas Iscariot made his way to the Jewish temple, where the Sanhedrin of Pharisees awaited him. Without any hesitation due to being possessed by the Devil, Judas, a former disciple and follower of Jesus, betrayed his Lord to his worst earthly enemies for thirty pieces of silver. The same man who had heard all of Jesus’ teachings, seen all of His miracles, and witnessed His divine identity up close was also the man who disregarded the privilege of knowing the Lord for material riches. Judas even went so far as to betray Jesus with a kiss right before He was captured, revealing himself to be the two-faced snake he really was.

Why did the Lord allow Judas to betray Him, when He knew it would lead to His death?

While it doesn’t make any sense from a human perspective for Jesus to let Judas leave the room to betray Him, it made perfect sense inside of His own mind and heart because of His Father’s will. The whole reason Jesus came to earth was so He could die for our sins, paying the penalty for our own wickedness. Even though Jesus was all too aware of the terrible torment ahead of Him,  He knew that Judas’ betrayal of Him would serve the important purpose of fulfilling God’s will. It must have broken Jesus’ heart to watch one of His own former disciples walk out that door, with no intention of repenting from his evil plan. Judas had no idea how much his Lord loved him in spite of his depraved heart, choosing to follow through with his scheme after refusing His offer of mercy to him. However, this changed nothing about how much Jesus loved Judas’ soul.

How could Jesus love Judas after what he did to Him?

The fact of Christ’s love for Judas should hardly surprise us, since Judas’ soul was just as valuable to God as anyone else’s. God’s love is so great and incomprehensible, that it surpasses all of our corrupt nature in a sweeping, unconditional tide. Unconditional love is defined by loving a person no matter what, even if he chooses not to return it or appreciate it in his free will. Even when Judas’ loyalty changed, God’s love for him never did. In fact, it is because of Jesus’ love for Judas that He allowed him to betray Him. God would not be loving to Judas if He didn’t allow him to have a freedom of will. Also, Jesus knew that by letting Judas leave that room, it would ultimately lead to His death on the cross, resulting in an opportunity for Judas to receive salvation if he chose it. Because Jesus loved Judas’ soul, He willingly let him leave to go do his damage, so he could eventually partake of eternal life after repentance. Although Jesus provided a way for Judas’ redemption, He could not force Judas to follow that path against his will.

Was Jesus’ love for Judas in vain?

Sadly, the Bible tells us that after the death of Christ, Judas finally realized the fatal mistake he had made, and tried to run back to the Pharisees to return his thirty pieces of silver. “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, ‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? see thou to that.‘ And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5) How tragic it is that Judas repented too late! Instead of waiting for the consequences of his actions, he could have easily accepted Jesus’ offer of mercy, and end his plot to betray Him. Rather, Judas chose to sentence his Savior to death because of his own selfishness, forsaking the loving, outstretched hand of divine fellowship that could have been his. If only Judas had waited long enough to experience the Lord’s resurrection, he could have received forgiveness and mercy without limits! Yet he chose not to forgive himself, and ended his life because of his guilt and anguish.

The most heartbreaking part of this story is the aftermath of Judas’ foolish decision. When he saw what he had done, the Pharisees couldn’t care less about his guilty conscience, as they were satisfied with finally capturing Jesus and sentencing Him to death. They basically told Judas, “That’s not our problem; get out of here.” It must have felt horrible for Judas when he realized that he had been used by both the Pharisees and the Devil. He was left without a purpose, and without a master, except for himself. Feeling that he had nowhere else to turn to, it must have been the only natural option in Judas’ mind to kill himself. He had made his life devoid of meaning by choosing to serve himself instead of his Lord. When he saw that his thirty pieces of silver were hollow and worthless after what he had done, he must have viewed those coins as a reflection of his own life.

Seeing that Judas learned his lesson too late, it might be easy to assume that Jesus loved him in vain. However, that idea is the farthest thing from the truth. Just because Judas failed to appreciate the value of Jesus’ love for him, it does not make Christ’s compassion worth any less. God has to deal with billions of sinners rejecting Him and His love every single day, but that does not change the reality of His love for them, nor the value of it. Jesus did not die on the cross in vain just because multitudes of people choose not to accept Him. Instead, Christ’s death was worthwhile because it provides eternal security for those who believe, in spite of all the ones who do not. More importantly, Jesus’ love for Judas was not in vain because it was always there for him to accept if he chose to ask for redemption. Just the fact that God’s love was available for receiving to begin with proves that it was not in vain, as Judas could have enjoyed it in his free will if he wanted to.

Who else is guilty of betraying Jesus?

The most despicable part of Judas’ story is how he betrayed the love of Christ. In reality, we all are like Judas in the fact that we are all sinners. It was our wicked hearts that put Jesus on that cross. Because He loved us, Christ was willing to endure pain and suffering for our sake. All of this occurred because God’s very first human creations, Adam and Eve, chose to betray His love by disobeying Him out of discontentment. And Judas wasn’t the only disciple who betrayed Jesus. While he didn’t betray Him directly, Peter was guilty of betrayal by denying Jesus three times in a row. Afraid of being punished by the Jews, Peter pretended that he never knew Christ, his own Lord and Master. Before Peter’s denial of Christ, all the other remaining disciples had abandoned Jesus after His capture, fearing that they might be taken next.

The most sobering thought of all is how God’s own creations, the Jews and the Romans, betrayed Jesus by sentencing Him to death. They chose to release a convicted murderer named Barrabas over a holy, perfect Man Who had never done anything wrong in His whole life. While Jesus hung suffering on the cross, He had to endure the taunts and jeers of the crowds of people watching Him die, knowing that just a week before they had been praising and worshiping Him. Every voice that mocked Him and scorned Him belonged to a soul that His Father knew intimately, the very reason and cause for His death. In the darkest moment of history, the Almighty Creator had to look down in agony as He watched His only Son being disrespected and betrayed by His very own creations.

Betrayal can happen to anyone, sometimes from the very people we trust most.

I too have experienced betrayal on more than one occasion. While many times I experienced it at school growing up, the one I will never forget came from the one particular Judas in my life. I thought that he was on my side for the longest time, until he showed his true colors to me during an already difficult time I was dealing with. In spite of the deep hurt he caused me, I offered him mercy and forgiveness several times, thinking that would be enough to change his heart. Unfortunately, he only threw it right back in my face each time, making me regret that I had ever trusted him in the first place. By the third time, I knew ahead of time that he was going to betray me again, and I let him do it out of respect for his free will. I was angry and bitter for a very long time, wanting revenge as it was clear that he showed no remorse or any signs of repentance. However, I asked God to forgive me, and to give me the strength to finally forgive him, even though he never asked for it. I realized that I was required to show the same mercy and forgiveness to him that God showed to me unconditionally, regardless of whether or not it would ever be recognized or appreciated. I never felt true peace in my heart until I let go of my anger and accepted that God would deal with my Judas in His time, holding him accountable for his actions in either this life or the next. All that really mattered was that I was right with God in my heart, even if he wasn’t right with God in his. However, even though it has been many years since my betrayal, I still haven’t forgotten the hurt it caused me, and I probably never will. I believe that the greatest hurt that anyone can ever experience comes from being betrayed by someone you once trusted with all your heart. Yet I am thankful to God for allowing me to experience something that constantly reminds me of my constant need for Him.

How do we respond to the Judas in our lives?

If you have been alive for a significant time on this earth, chances are you’ve gone through the awful experience of someone betraying you. The worst part about betrayal is the realization that someone whom you believed was your friend has revealed himself to be your enemy. When this happens, we are presented with a choice – to become bitter, or better. The natural, human tendency is to become bitter, harboring anger and hatred long after the time and culprit of the betrayal has disappeared. However, the unnatural, spiritual tendency is to become better, by choosing forgiveness and mercy regardless of our traitor’s actions or lack of repentance. Perhaps you have encountered more than one Judas in your life. I know I have. Maybe there is one Judas in your life who stands out as the worst offender from all the rest. No matter what our personal situation is, we are expected to respond as Christ would, without giving place to wrath and a desire for revenge.

 

As God Himself knows what betrayal feels like, His Words best describe how we should respond to such a situation:

 

Luke 22:48 ~ “But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?”

Romans 12:19 ~ “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Psalm 41:9 ~ “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.

Psalm 55:12-23 ~ “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance.

We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company. Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.

As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me: for there were many with me.

God shall hear, and afflict them, even he that abideth of old. Selah. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God. He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: he hath broken his covenant. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. 

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee.”

Proverbs 20:22 ~ “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.”

Isaiah 53:4-6 ~ “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Colossians 3:13 ~ “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Matthew 6:14-15 ~ “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 ~ “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

 

Will you choose to become bitter, or better?

No matter what the circumstances of your betrayal are, I hope that you can find the courage to rise above them in Christ. You must realize that He is in control of ALL things, and His purpose will prevail in your life no matter what man does to you. No matter what evil has happened to you, God can turn it around and use it for good, if you allow Him to take away your pain and anger. Once you release yourself from negative feelings of bitterness, you will be free to experience God’s power in your life more openly. God can use your circumstances to grow you spiritually into a better person, a mature soul who reflects His wisdom in all aspects of life. Satan wants to defeat you by keeping you a prisoner to bitterness, but Jesus can help set you free through His keys of forgiveness. Only through God’s help can you gain the victory over bitterness from betrayal. But you alone must decide how you will respond – will you give in to Satan’s wishes by locking yourself behind bars of bitterness? Or will you give yourself over to God’s power by following Jesus’ example of forgiveness? The second option is the only way to feel better.

– Gloria D. Hopkins