Approaching Easter with Jesus- The Gardener’s Voice

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

As the rising sun just started to warm the dark, eastern sky behind the Mount of Olives, someone approached the garden tomb of Jesus. Perhaps we’d expect it to be one of the big-name disciples: Peter, James, or John, but in fact, we notice it’s a woman.


*A video I recorded of a Sunday Morning sunrise over the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It was in this setting that the woman came to the tomb.

Coming closer to the tomb, she immediately recognizes that something’s terribly wrong. The massive stone which covered the entrance had been rolled away.

Taking off in a sprint, all of the grief of the past few days filled her heart and eyes as she rushed to tell Peter and John the horrid news. His unjust execution was enough to bear, but now this. After hearing the news, Peter and John took off in a run, as all three made their way back to the grave.

After arriving, the two disciples conducted their own investigation inside the tomb but emerged finding only grave clothes. The body of Jesus was gone. Still coming to their own conclusions, the disciples left the woman at the tomb and returned to their own homes.

Standing outside the tomb, the woman began to weep. “How could this happen?” “Why would someone do this?” raced through her mind. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she stooped and peered into the tomb to face the grim reality herself.

Strangely though, she didn’t find it empty. As she looked in, the woman saw two angels sitting on the very ledge which should have held Jesus’ body. Looking up, they asked, “Mam, why are you weeping?”

Between her sobs, she answered, “They’ve taken my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” Then backing out of the tomb she turned with tear-filled eyes to see another man. Looking at her he asked, “Mam, why are you weeping? Who are you seeking?”

Supposing this man to be the gardener, exasperated she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.”

Looking at her, the man replied only with her name. “Mary!” And in a moment of impossible surprise, the garden was no longer filled with the sound of weeping but with the woman’s shout, “My Rabbi!” Tears of hopeless sorrow had now become tears of indescribable joy. Standing right before Mary, alive in the flesh, was Jesus, risen from the dead.

To this Jewish woman, news that would change the world was first entrusted. Looking at Mary, Jesus said, “Go to my disciples and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your all’s Father, to my God and your all’s God.“

And for the second time that morning, Mary ran with news. This time though, the message was unimaginably different. Running as fast as she could, Mary burst into the homes of the disciples, announcing in a loud voice, “I’ve seen the Lord!”

Many things have changed in Jerusalem since that first Easter morning but some things haven’t. The sun still rises over the Mount of Olives the same way it did on that day, the birds still sing in the early morning twilight, and Christ’s tomb is still empty. May we join with Mary as we joyfully announce the news today. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Now go and see it for yourself in John 20:1-18!

The Garden Tomb. Photo Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at Bibleplaces.com.

**Thank you for joining us in this series of devotionals on Approaching Easter with Jesus. It’s my hope that they have in some way renewed your sense of wonder at the awesome God we serve and his redemptive story.

I would be wrong not to thank Pastor Don for giving me this opportunity and his constant encouragement in the process; my wife Samantha, for her willingness to help record some of the podcasts and put up with my shenanigans; and finally, many of you all for your kind words and feedback throughout the week.

Lastly, I urge you today to find an evangelical local church, and encounter the risen savior yourself. May Christ increase, and may we decrease!

Approaching Easter with Jesus- A World Without Jesus

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

Jesus of Nazareth was dead.

It’s difficult for us to imagine today, as those so familiar with the end of the story, the effect those words would have had on the disciples of Jesus. In our hurry to push on to the exciting events of the next chapter, we often fail to feel the disciples’ gut-wrenching despair in a world suddenly without Jesus.

The outer western wall of Jerusalem at night. Photo courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at BiblePlaces.com.

For over three years, these men had spent countless days with this man. They had watched him weep, laugh, and smile. They had eaten with him, talked with him, been scolded by him, and yet always felt his love. This was the man who was God in the flesh, the one who had calmed both the sea and their fears, the one they had watched touch and heal lepers, restore vision to blind eyes, bring power and strength into mangled limbs, and even forgive sins.

This man had called them from their careers to follow him, he had showed them how to pray, revealed God to them, and taught them how to serve. Yet the man who had raised others from the dead was now himself gone, his lifeless body lying stiff in a cold Jerusalem tomb. Could this nightmare be real?

Haunted by their failures to even stay awake with him in Gethsemane and their scattering in terror after his arrest, the grief and guilt the disciples experienced was crushing.

To think that just a few days ago they were with him, watching him teach in the Temple. Closing their eyes, they could still hear his voice. That only the other night, they had eaten dinner together for the last time. And now, looking down at their filthy feet, they could see him stooping again, and washing them. How could this be real, how could he be gone?

As they rehearsed each moment, again and again, it only filled them with more regret and despair. At every rooster’s crow that day, a tough old fisherman wept like a child. Men, once so full of pride and ambition, now lay broken in the stillness of a Jerusalem Sabbath.

Trying in vain to go to sleep Saturday night, the disciples dreaded the thought of waking the next morning to face the same news and feelings. To try to again cope with the unbearable reality of their new world, a world without Jesus. How could this be the end of the story?

 

Approaching Easter with Jesus- On Skull Hill

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

*Also a very special thank you to my wife Samantha for helping out on the audio recording since my voice is still out of order from allergies. Thanks sweetheart!

Just outside of Jerusalem’s walls sat a miserable outcropping of bedrock called Skull Hill. It was here where criminals of Rome faced the most demeaning and cruel punishment the Empire could offer, crucifixion.

Located in the Israel Museum, this is a replica of the heel bone of a crucified man (with iron nail) that was found in Jerusalem and dated to the 1st Century AD. Image courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at BiblePlaces.com.

Being stripped naked, they were nailed to the cross and hung suspended until, too weak to inhale, they suffocated. Many men had graced the hill before that day: ruthless scoundrels, murderers, and rebels. But the one who came today had a unique title placed above his thorn-crowned head, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

On Skull Hill, Jesus was forcibly disabled, paralyzed to a wood cross, and humiliatingly exposed to the jeering crowd hurling insults and spit at him. Though the physical sufferings of Christ make us wince, we find that his spiritual sufferings were far more hellish.

Paul, a former enemy of Jesus turned follower, described this as “the one who did not know sin, God made sin for us.” Jesus, the holy Son of God, for all eternity had never even dabbled with sin and never felt its effects and consequences. Yet because of his love for us, he bore our sin and all its effects in order that the punishment we deserved might fall on him. The just had died for the unjust, the sinless for the sin-full. Jesus Christ, as our substitute, perfectly satisfied the Triune God. When he exhaled his last breath on that cross, it was our curse he bore and our death he died.

On Skull Hill an exchange had taken place. As Paul went on to explain, Christ was made sin for us, “so that in Christ, we should become the righteousness of God.” Not only was our sin charged to him, but, through faith in his person and work, Christ’s righteousness was credited to us. When God looked at Christ on the cross that day, he saw you and I, and now through faith in Christ, when he looks at you and I, he sees only his Son.

 It is for this reason that Christians can journey today to Skull Hill and see the horrible terror of the cross. There on that hill we see the brutal reality of what our sin brought about and what it deserved. Yet, on that same hill we see something wondrous. For it is only in the cross of Christ that we find salvation. May we boast in nothing else…

Approaching Easter with Jesus- From Failure to Victory in a Garden

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

*Also a very special thank you to my wife Samantha for helping out on the audio recording since my voice is still out of order from allergies. Thanks sweetheart!

It’s difficult to make sense of anything in the Bible or our world without first understanding something that took place in an ancient garden. In a world crafted by God, our ancestors, Adam and Eve, found themselves in a paradise made for their care and enjoyment.

Into that garden though came the presence of a clever rebel. “Did God really say…” slithered easily off this one’s deceitful lips as he questioned Eve about God’s words, undermining his character, subverting his authority, and introducing doubt in God’s love.

In one fatal decision, Adam and Eve, and all humanity in them, chose to doubt and rebel against the greatest good, our God. Humanity now lived in a thorny world under the influence of Satan. Separated from God by sin and facing the dread of looming death, they were unable to save themselves. This garden, Eden, stood as a tragic reminder at the beginning of the Bible to humanity’s sinful failure.

Years later though, a young man and his disciples came late one night into another garden, one called Gethsemane.

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at BiblePlaces.com.

Having just been served a large meal and with the night getting late, the disciples foremost concern was sleep. Jesus’ though was prayer. Taking three of them apart with him, he spoke in a troubled voice, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” Walking away to pray though, it was not long before their heads began to nod off in sleep.

At this moment, it’s impossible for us to grasp the utter loneliness Jesus must have felt. His closest disciples had chosen sleep over him, and one of his inner circle was actively betraying him for a pauper’s price to priests who would soon demand his arrest and crucifixion by the Romans. This looked like another garden failure.

But Jesus was different. Instead of failure, three times God the Son called out in perfect submission and dependence to God the Father, praying “not what I will but what you will.” Facing the dreaded thought of himself, God the Son, becoming sin and receiving our divine punishment for sin, he willingly submitted to the only way God’s redemptive plan could be accomplished.

Rising from prayer as torch lights from the approaching mob flickered in the distance, Jesus had remained faithful in the garden. Where Adam had failed in the best circumstances, in a garden of paradise, Jesus had proven faithful in the worst circumstances, alone in a garden of agony.

May it never be doubted, the victory that would be accomplished at Calvary was won in Gethsemane.

Now go and read it yourself in Mark 14:34-42.

Approaching Easter with Jesus- Modern Evidence of an Ancient Prophesy

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

*Also a very special thank you to my wife Samantha for helping out on the audio recording since my voice is currently out of order from allergies. Thanks sweetheart!

Today let’s hop on a plane to Israel together and journey to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount to walk on a street Jesus and his disciples would have used. “Market Street” is a first-century paved street that ran along the western wall of the Temple Mount, and as we arrive, one of the immediate things you notice is that it’s covered with piles of massive stones. To figure out why, let’s look to the Bible.

*Please excuse my shaky hand as I walk down “Market Street.” Jesus and his disciples would have walked on this same street in the 1st Century.

In Mark 13, Jesus left the Temple for the final time before his death and set out for the Mount of Olives. Being joined by his twelve disciples, one called out, “Teacher, look at those tremendous stones and buildings!” awestruck at the sight of the Temple Complex.

Begun by Herod the Great, the renovation and construction of the Temple Complex as a whole took over 80 years to complete and was one of the most impressive building projects in the Roman World. Sitting on top of Mount Zion and facing east towards the Mount of Olives, the Temple shined as an opulent pearl to Herod’s building prowess and as the revered location where the Jewish people met with God. In the eyes of the disciples that day, there was nothing more permanent in all the world. Made of colossal pieces of cut limestone and staffed by thousands of priests, scribes, and workers, both the structure and the institution of the Temple seemed built to last.

Instead of responding in amazement himself, Jesus shockingly saw something else as he looked upon the Temple. “Do you all see these great buildings?” he said to the Twelve. “Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

The Twelve would have surely been in stunned silence for the rest of the walk. How could something so new, so sturdy and sizeable, a structure so seemingly essential for God and his plan be destroyed? Such a claim seemed ludicrous. What would prompt such a destruction? How would God then relate to his people? Surely, Jesus couldn’t be serious.

Now some 2,000 years later, as we look out on Market Street and see the great piles of stones lying in the street from the Temple’s awful destruction in AD 70 by the Romans, we’re struck with the truthfulness of Jesus’ words. It also reminds us of another temple Jesus once said would be torn down, but one he would raise up again in three days. Surely he couldn’t be serious…

Now go and see it for yourself in Mark 13!

Approaching Easter with Jesus- Beautiful Tombs and Empty Lives

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

As you make your way up to the Temple, you can’t help but stare at a couple of stone structures down in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Cut straight out of the limestone bedrock and polished to a shine, these huge structures glisten in the noon-day sun.

To all who pass by, they stand as a visual reminder of the power and wealth their owners and families held. These are the ornate tombs of the Family of Hezir and Zechariah, and it was that image that came to mind the moment Jesus of Nazareth made a statement the week of the Passover in the Temple.

(On the left with columns) The 1st Century BC tomb of Benei Hezir, “the sons of Hezir,” a priestly family. (On the right with a pyramid top) The mid-1st Century tomb of Zechariah. Jesus and all those in Jerusalem would have frequently seen these tombs. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at Bibleplaces.com.

For hours, the Pharisaical scribes and rabbis, Sadduceean chief priests, and even sympathizers with Herod had all been arriving to challenge this itinerant preacher from Galilee who had setup shop another day in the Temple. The school of Jesus was open and enrolling students, and the religious leaders were furious.

After astonishingly overcoming each attempt by the groups to trap him in a loaded question, Jesus turned the tables on them once again by asking his own questions that embarrassingly revealed their pride and corruption to the hundreds gathered to hear him on the Temple Mount.

Then turning to the crowd, but looking at those still standing in the back who opposed him, Jesus spoke in a voice that filled the court of the Temple.

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites!

He then called out seven cries of woeful distress about Israel’s leaders, but it was the sixth one that really stuck in my mind.

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs which from the outside appear beautiful, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, you also appear righteous from the outside but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

With those brilliantly white tombs in the back of everyone’s mind, Jesus’ charge of hypocrisy against the religious leaders was vividly clear. Here were both tombs and people who, to all who passed by, appeared powerful, impressive, clean, polished, and especially religious and holy. They were envied and honored. Yet in reality, on the inside they were shrouded in darkness and full of death.

Jesus’ point was powerful. Don’t be a beautiful tomb! And the contrast was stunning. Compared to the religious leaders we’d heard all of our lives, this young man was completely different. Of humble appearance and status, there was nothing outwardly impressive about him. But his words and works revealed a life that made us wonder whose son this was. He spoke of and lived out true righteousness. Rather than being full of death; this Jesus seemed full of life.

Now go and see it for yourself in Matthew 21:23-23:39!

Approaching Easter with Jesus- Divine Authority at the Divine Dwelling

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

I’ll never forget that day. For years I had watched my Father leave to go to the Temple each year to celebrate the Passover. But now my time had finally come to go up with him. Coming up the southern steps and through the gates, we popped out on top of the massive Temple complex.

An aerial view of the Temple Mount from the southeast. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at Bibleplaces.com.

The large, open squares were full of people preparing for this week’s feast. In the outer courts, designated for the nations (non-Jews), we found an active market organized by the High Priests for all those streaming into the city. For the right price you could get all you needed: wine, oil, salt, and even clean animals for sacrifice. Plus, if you didn’t have the approved coins for the Temple tax, they even had folks who could give you the right currency, but at a cost of course… For the priests, their religion had become a booming business. It had made them incredibly wealthy, powerful, and, many like my dad would say, corrupt.

That’s when it happened! From behind me I heard a mix of yelling and coins crashing on the stone pavers, and turning around I caught the flash of a young man moving with purpose among the mob of people.

Next, a cheer went up from the growing multitude when, with a deft flip of his wrist, the young man started overturning the chairs of those selling doves and drove them out like a herd of cattle toward the exit.

From behind us a group of priests came running into the crowd to see what was the commotion. Stopping and out of breath at the sight of the mess, I heard one of them groan, “It’s him again.” Their eyes full of both envy and hatred. Had they seen this before?

The message was clear to all present. The market was now closed, and the Temple Mount was, for the moment, under new management. This huge facility (35 acres in size, and holding hundreds of thousands of people during the feast) was now captivated by a single man, one who acted like he owned the place.

The young man then turned to face the now thousands who were waiting to see what he would say. His voice rang out clear that morning. “Is it not written?”

“My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” And looking sternly at the priests gathered in the corner he continued, “But you have made it a den of robbers!” As he taught, every onlooker set in silent amazement at each word.

This young man, Jesus of Nazareth, was literally turning more than just tables upside-down. After he left and the crowd broke up, I looked up at my dad and asked what all this meant.

He said, “Jesus was explaining that this area of the temple was specifically set apart by God for the nations to come and worship Him. It’s sacred space, not a religious convenience store.” Then looking me in the eye he said,  “God desires to reach and show his lovingkindness to all nations Jonah, not just ours.”

“Hmm,” I replied. “Well, if that’s God’s mission and with this kind of authority, it seems like this Jesus is going to reach the whole world.”

Now go and see it yourself in Mark 11:12-18.

Approaching Easter with Jesus- The King! or the King?

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

Jerusalem is bustling this morning. In and around the city, nearly all of Israel is gathering together to participate in the upcoming feasts. You can smell fresh bread baking, you hear the bleating of sheep as they’re being moved up and down the narrow corridors, and as you walk to the east side of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives and Kidron Valley look like they’re covered with a sea of people.

The Mount of Olives and Kidron Valley looking east from the Temple Mount. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at Bibleplaces.com.

Just as you turn to walk away though you start to hear something, a faint cry in the distance. It’s low at first, but before long it starts to rise and become clear. ”Hosanna!” “Hosanna!” “Hosanna!” That’s strange, you think to yourself. Though Hosanna (which means “O Lord, save”) was a common line of praise to God used during the feasts, you notice it seems to be being directed towards someone in the crowd. Someone who’s just coming around the crest of the Mount of Olives. As the sea of people starts to part, you can just barely see a young man riding on the back of donkey. You decide to walk down and investigate.

Upon reaching the mount, the cry of “Hosanna” is now being accompanied with adoration. As you get closer, onlookers are throwing their own cloaks and palm branches in front of the donkey’s path, but most shocking is the next shout that goes up from the crowd. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”

Now everyone around is paying attention as the chant grows louder. The king of Israel? Is this Messiah? The long-awaited descendant of David who has come to defeat Israel’s enemies, to restore the nation, and set-up his everlasting kingdom. Surely this can’t be the one Daniel prophesied about or the day of his coming. He’s on a donkey, not a war horse, he looks like a humble laborer. In fact, he’s not even smiling or politicking with the crowd, but strangely, as he passes, you can trace the lines of tears that have recently run down his cheek.

As he enters into Jerusalem, the whole city is stirred up. In fact, you can’t remember the city this on edge since a whole company of magi from the east showed up here a few decades ago looking for the next king of Israel. You can’t help but think though that if this truly is Messiah, then you’ve been expecting the wrong person.

You lean over to the disgruntled looking Pharisee standing next to you and ask, “What’s his name?” He replies gruffly, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“What do you think of him?” you ask. “Do you think this is the Messiah?”

Turning away he replies, “I think he’s a dead man walking.”

Now go and see it yourself in Matt. 21:1-11 and Luke 19:29-44.

Approaching Easter with Jesus- Dinner with a Former Corpse at the Leper’s House

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

 

Six days before the Jewish Passover, an ironic dinner party began to assemble one evening in a small town on the outskirts of Jerusalem called Bethany. Let’s go join the meal.

A view of modern Bethany, the present-day city of al-Eizariya (translated, the City of Lazarus). Photo Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands from BiblePlaces.com.

The first person we run into is a smiling old man welcoming us into his home with a hug. He introduces himself as Simon, but tells us that for years around here he was known by a little longer name, “Simon the Leper.” Suddenly, that hug doesn’t seem so um… clean, as you wipe off your sleeve.

“But not anymore,” he quickly adds with a tear draining down his cheek. “Not since he touched me,“pointing to a figure inside the home. “Now come in and eat! Make yourself at home!”

As we walk in the home, we see a large feast being served to men reclined around a large table, the room is full of conversations and laughter, when bump.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, my apologies,” says a woman serving. But before we could even offer a reply, she was off! Darting back and forth from guest to guest like a hummingbird, refilling cups, putting fresh bread on the table.

Turning to the man beside us who was also watching the woman with amusement, I whispered, “She’s seems a little busy.” To which nodding and smiling he said, “Yep, that’s Martha for ya.” “She’s my sister.”

“Really” I responded, “So what brings you all here tonight.”

“Well,” he says, “this is our hometown too.” “We just live across the street, and I’m a pretty close friend to the main guest over there,” pointing across the room at a young man. “In fact, he recently did my funeral.”

That last line bumps into you worse than his sister. “Your uh, funeral?”

“Yea, it’s a bit of a long story. I was dying and he came later than expected, but I’m alive today because of him,” gesturing again with his eyes towards the man across the room. “I’ll never forget that moment, when he called my…” He was interrupted by a voice from across the room. “Lazarus! Hey Laz, come sit down.”

“Well, it was nice meeting you all, I’ve got to run,” and with that he turned to go and sit down with the others.

Looking at each other with a blank look, we could only wonder what was going to happen next. A dinner party at a former leper’s house attended by a recently dead man… who but God could ever write a guest list like this. Who was this young man?

Finally, as the party was wrapping up, a woman came in carrying something small and precious in her hands. As she knelt at the feet of the young man (the same one both Simon and Laz had earlier gestured towards), the whole room grew silent. It was obvious from across the room that she was pouring some type of fragrant oil on his feet, because the entire room was filled with an overwhelming scent. The stuff had to be outrageously expensive because you couldn’t hardly breathe.

What made this final act so startling though wasn’t the smell so much as the young man’s response to the act. Instead of condemning it as wasteful, he said it was appropriate and done in preparation for his burial! With that, everyone in the room was at a loss. What on Earth was he talking about? A burial? He looked tired but not terminal. What made him think that he was about to die?

Beginning today and continuing through the next week, we’re going to explore that question as we walk with Jesus each day as he approaches the culmination of his ministry during his first coming to Earth. Will you join us?

Now go and see it yourself in John 11-12:11.

Special Revival Announcement

40 Days of Increase | Days 37, 38, 39, and 40

You are invited.

Jesus Christ will be magnified.
The Bible will be preached.

May God guide us with His Spirit
May God revive us through His Word.

All are welcome for our 2017 Spring Revival at Antioch.

Sunday, March 26 at 11:00 am
Sunday, March 26 at 6:00 pm
Monday, March 27 at 7:00 pm
Tuesday, March 28 at 7:00 pm
Wednesday, March 29 at 7:00 pm

Speaker: Chris Weeks, Lead Pastor of Kent City Baptist Church, Kent City, Michigan

Bible preaching: by Pastor Christopher Weeks
Special music
each service.
Wednesday is youth emphasis night with the young people leading the service and providing the music.
Nursery for babies and young children provided each service.

He must increase, but I must decrease.
—John 3:30