Guards Shook, Women Sent

Scripture Focus: Matthew 28.2-8
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Reflection: Guards Shook, Women Sent
By John Tillman

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have called a legion of angels to defend himself from the guards. He did not do so. He even put a stop to Peter’s sword and healed the damage Peter dealt.

In the garden of the tomb, a single angel came down bringing an earthquake with him. Just as Jesus didn’t need angels to defeat guards in Gethsemane, he didn’t need an angel to defeat the guards securing the garden tomb. However, the guards froze in fear and fell like dead men. 

Standing in front of Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus called for men to remove the tomb’s stone. The crowd expected the stench of death to emanate. Instead, Lazarus emerged, still wrapped in the bindings of the grave. Jesus ordered Lazarus set free of the bindings that still restricted him.

At the garden tomb, the angel moved the stone but it wasn’t so Jesus could hop to the exit like Lazarus. He didn’t need the angel to set him free from the bindings of the grave.

The purpose of the angel wasn’t to resurrect Jesus or to set him free by moving the stone or cutting off his grave clothes. Jesus was already free of the grave’s binding power. The grave clothes were already set aside. The tomb wasn’t opened to let Jesus walk out but to let the witnesses look in. The angel wasn’t there to incapacitate the guards but to commission the women. The guards were shook. The women were sent. 

The guards’ mission to prevent fraud (“Stop his followers from stealing his body.”) became a fraud! (“Say that his followers stole the body while you slept.”) The women entered the garden mourning death’s victory and left announcing death’s defeat. 

We may feel like the women at times. We may feel weak, ignored, and emotionally drained. When we do, simply remember that the women were chosen to carry the message and empowered to do so. We are similarly chosen and similarly commissioned.

The grave was opened and the message was passed so that we can also be witnesses. We are still carrying the message Jesus gave to the women: “Go and tell my brothers…they will see me.” (Matthew 28.10) Go tell your brothers and sisters, “He is alive.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 17 (Listen 2:30)
Matthew 28 (Listen 2:39)

Read more about God of the Weak and Doubtful
They were incredulous. They did not trust their eyes that saw or their hands that touched. They couldn’t believe it.

Read more about Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

Cherishing Chaff

Scripture Focus: Matthew 24.1-2
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Reflection: Cherishing Chaff
By John Tillman

Some buildings are great by age and grandeur and some by the gleam and glisten of modern glass and steel. However, no matter how impressive a building is when you walk, ride, or drive by it regularly, it becomes just a part of the scenery. 

How impressive does a building have to be for you to still comment on it as you pass by, years later? Why would the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the impressive buildings of the Temple that both he and they had been worshiping in their entire lives?

The Temple had been standing for 500 years and had been extensively renovated and repaired by Herod during the disciple’s lifetimes. Perhaps the disciples were happy to see some scaffolding come down on an area that had been newly restored. 

But the Temple’s shiny new sheen couldn’t distract Jesus’ eyes from the self-righteous deceit within and the suffering he saw over the horizon. The disciples saw the Temple as grand, renewed, and a symbol of strength and status. Jesus saw its present and future, sinful, destroyed, and humiliated.

Herod was a ruler of nominal faith at best. (Even that is being extraordinarily generous.) Herod was corrupt, a womanizer, boastful, and lived in a sinful relationship. He “liked to listen” to John the Baptist, but that didn’t stop him from cutting off the prophet’s head. 

Herod’s work on the Temple wasn’t faith-driven. It was a political tactic to boost his status and generate support among the people—and it worked. Even the disciples of Jesus were impressed.

The Temple, and Herod, are just two examples of things unworthy of the esteem and attention the disciples gave them. Many things the disciples prized, Jesus recognized as poison. Many things they cherished Jesus called chaff in the wind. 

What catches our eyes? What chaff do we cherish or poison do we prize? A building? A politician? A charismatic leader? An institution? Point out to Jesus what catches your eye. Seek his opinion on whether you should hold it up for honor or whether it is destined to be thrown down.

Physical idols, whether statues, buildings, institutions, or living humans, are the product of inward sin. We worship them instead of God because inwardly we refuse to trust God or we have denounced God. Allow the revelation of outward idols to lead you to discover inward attitudes that must be torn down.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 13 (Listen 3:30Matthew 24 (Listen 5:59)

Read more about Defilement, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction
Defiled structures must be completely deconstructed and rebuilt. Destruction is not God’s goal. Reconstruction is.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a monthly donor. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

What We Loose On Earth

Scripture Focus: Matthew 18.3-7, 10, 18-20
3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Reflection: What We Loose On Earth
By John Tillman

I grew up in churches that didn’t just pray for revival but planned them. A joke I often heard from preachers at revivals was that “Like taking a bath every day, we have a revival every year, whether we need it or not.” 

This joke acknowledges the awkwardness that an event on the calendar can be called a revival, but that doesn’t make it so. Calling these meetings “revivals” was aspirational. Revival was what we hoped for.

The term “revival” has often been tainted by unscrupulous, charlatan preachers of the past. Today politicians co-opt the term for political fundraisers which have little to do with the Spirit of God.

Though we can’t put revival on a calendar and we can’t remove the stain of past abuses of the term, it doesn’t mean the genuine article doesn’t exist. A revival movement with all the marks of being genuine sparked at Asbury University in Kentucky on February 8th. 

After that day’s chapel service, a spontaneous, round-the-clock time of prayer, singing, and testimony began. This was led and continued not by plans or schedules but by the hearts of students who were moved to do so. As I write this on Tuesday evening, the continuous service on campus is scheduled to end on Friday, the day this devotional will post. Services are currently being planned to continue in other locations and “The Outpouring,” as it was called, has inspired similar events at churches and other college campuses across the United States.

Many people hearing of this responded with hope but many responded with cynicism. Cynicism is just as lazy as naïveté. Neither requires thoughtful evaluation. 

We would be wise not to do anything to make these young followers of Christ stumble. Revival often begins among young people and Jesus has a special place in his heart for young believers. (Matthew 18.6, 10) Instead of doubting these young people and quenching their spirits, (1 Thessalonians 5.19-22) perhaps we should become like them. Instead of sniping from the sidelines, “Nothing will come of this.” We should pray fervently, “God, use this for your glory!”

Many great movements of God can be traced back to experiences such as the one at Asbury. We should not seek to copy-paste the Asbury experience into our communities. But we should seek God’s face, asking him to loose his Spirit on earth in our community in his own unique fashion. (Matthew 18.18)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. — Psalm 66.7-8

Today’s Readings
Exodus 7 (Listen 3:29
Matthew 18 (Listen 3:46)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 8 (Listen 5:07Matthew 19 (Listen 4:04)
Exodus 9 (Listen 5:31Matthew 20 (Listen 4:22)

Read more about Josiahs Need Zephaniahs
Josiah implemented…the most complete and remarkable revival in Judah’s history.

Read more about A Responsive Heart
Josiah’s revival was unlike anything seen before. No king ever repented and turned back to God like Josiah.

Woe, Whoa, Wow

Scripture Focus: Matthew 11:20–24
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Reflection: Woe, Whoa, Wow
By John Tillman

Keanu Reeves made “whoa” famous. Owen Wilson did the same for “wow.” These words express a sense of amazement and wonder. (Or sometimes a sarcastic lack of wonder.)

Jesus repeatedly says something that sounds similar: woe. These woes are statements of judgment, not amazement. However, as Jesus reluctantly pronounced judgment on these cities he was amazed. Despite all he showed them, including miracles and healings, people didn’t believe. Jesus said to them, as God said to ancient Israel and Judah through the prophets, “What more could I have done? Why will you stubbornly refuse to believe?” (Ezekiel 33.11)

Often, our culture thinks faith is something one must cling to without a shred of surety. We want “evidence,” “proof,” or “a sign” to believe God. Even believers want signs. We want “proof” that good things will happen when we step out in faith to witness, change jobs, or give sacrificially.

Faith can be clung to, like a life raft, in a sea of doubt. (And aren’t we glad it can?) But unbelief can also be clung to in a sea of evidence. We should ask ourselves if we are clinging to doubt. Are we using a demand for certainty to fend off faith? 

The condemned towns had a special opportunity and they wasted it. They still rejected Jesus. To whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12.47-48) We might wish that we had the same opportunity they had: to see Jesus in the flesh, to see healings, etc. But Jesus also said, “To those who are faithful with a little, more will be given.”

If we are faithful with what we are given, we will see more. There are many things given to us so that we may believe. But the best two to focus on are the Bible, a miracle you can hold in your hands, and prayer, our miraculous heart-to-heart connection with God. How we steward these gifts may affect what other signs we see. Maybe the reason we don’t see evidence of the next step of faith, is because we haven’t taken the step that we have been shown?

Also, perhaps your stepping out in faith to act is the evidence someone else needs. Just prior to this chapter, Jesus sent his disciples out to the towns with miracles, messages, and peace. To whom might Jesus be sending you?

Perhaps your faithful obedience can take them from “woe” to “wow.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
He sent forth his word and healed them and saved them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.
Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy. — Psalm 107.20-22

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen 4:54
Matthew 11 (Listen 4:06)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 1 (Listen 2:32Matthew 12 (Listen 6:41)
Exodus 2 (Listen 3:18Matthew 13 (Listen 6:41)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
John the Baptist describes a Christ who stands ready with both axe and fire.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
January is a great time to become a monthly donor. Please consider becoming a monthly donor for 2023. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Amazing Jesus

Scripture Focus: Matthew 8.16-17
16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 

“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Reflection: Amazing Jesus
By John Tillman

Matthew closes this section saying that the healings prove something about Jesus.

The central feature of this section of healings is the exemplary faith of the centurion. The centurion who previously would send the servant out on his behalf went out on behalf of his servant. Jesus is amazed. He says the centurion has greater faith than anyone in Israel. Pause for a moment and think about the people to whom Jesus compares the centurion…

No one Jesus has found in Israel has shown greater faith than the centurion? Not Mary, Jesus’ mother? Not the twelve disciples? Not John the Baptist? Not the devout leper in the previous scene who said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean”? None of them had greater faith than the centurion? Apparently. So, does it take “amazing” faith to be healed?

The other time in scripture where Jesus is “amazed” is visiting his hometown, where he would receive no honor and find no faith—yet he still healed. (Matthew 13.58; Mark 6.5-6) Faith is not a currency we purchase miracles with. If it was, how could those bankrupt of faith be healed? Jesus’ healings are connected to his identity and his mission, not our faith. 

Jesus’ healings validate his authority to teach and to forgive sins. (Matthew 9.6) But Jesus’ healings are more than a flex against the religious establishment. They tell us who Jesus is. Matthew records them to prove that Jesus is the one Isaiah prophesied. Jesus took weaknesses and sickness on himself to prove that he was the one who could take upon himself the sickness of death.

Healing is an emotional topic because it touches people we know. I have known people healed through medical science and people whose healing was inexplicable to medical science. I’ve also known people who prayed fervently for healing, yet died.

When someone dies, it sounds like an insensitive cop-out to say ultimate healing will come at the resurrection. I wouldn’t recommend it as a counseling strategy. However, we must remember that resurrection is the only form of healing that is not temporary. Every person you read about being healed in the Bible, died eventually. Every one of them will be ultimately healed at the resurrection.

Even today, healings tell the amazing story that Jesus’ resurrection is real and those who aren’t healed now await the full resurrection-healing that he promises.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life. — Psalm 90.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 47 (Listen 5:03
Matthew 8 (Listen 4:09)

Read more about Pain and Healing
Hosea shows how far God is willing to go to heal and restore. God is committed to our healing and restoration. Call on him.

Read more about The Miracle of Faith
Jesus’ greatest miracles were not stopping diseases…but…helping the faithless to believe, the cynical to trust, the hardened to love