Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

Mark’s Gospel ends on a puzzling note.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

They needn’t have worried because when they got there, the stone was rolled away and instead of finding Jesus’ body they were greeted by, and rather frightened by, a young man dressed in a white robe – presumably an angel – who said:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “

And did they go off rejoicing to tell the “disciples and Peter” as the young man had instructed them?


Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

It’s an unexpected ending, abrupt and incomplete. But our Bibles tell us that that is where the earliest and most reliable manuscripts end. Verses 9-20 are included invariably with the comment that they are from later manuscripts. What is going on here? Many Christians, scholars and non-scholars, have puzzled over Mark’s abrupt end. I’m not going to discuss the theologians.

Instead I want to recommend a book written by Cedric Longville, a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland colleague and former Legal Adviser to the Secretary of State of Wales.

Cedric had pondered this puzzle for a long time – and researched it. Mark’s Gospel was (obviously) written by Mark and probably dictated by Peter. It was Peter’s story. Why did Peter stop at verse 8? Was it something to do with his denial of Jesus? Why did Peter not tell how he was re-instated and commissioned by Jesus to lead the early Christian church? Why was that left to John?

Cedric decided to write a Bible mystery story and since Peter is central to the mystery, he called it The Sea Walker.

You can download The Sea Walker from Kindle. I hope you enjoy it; I did.

Some Kindle reviews:

An enjoyable journey through second century Roman Empire times to propose a reason for the abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel.

A thoroughly enjoyable read! Murder, mystery, suspense – it’s all there. And some excellent devotional Bible teaching along the way

What do you think…


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It must have been in the early 1990s, in my first year or so teaching at Vavoua International School in Côte d’Ivoire. I had taught History for years in a Belfast school, but at VIS I taught more English in the early years. There was a book of short stories – and one of the short stories was called Let’s go to Golgotha by Gary Kilworth… not that I remembered either the title or the author when the Easter account in Mark’s Gospel earlier this week sparked the memory.

So I went online and found the title and author, but not a way to see the text of the story. Solution – Facebook message some of my VIS English students from around that time and off went the following query to Michelle, Kristin and Anna in Australia and New Zealand.

Hi Guys! Do any of you remember reading a science fiction story in a book of short stories published (I think) in Australia. It was about time travel tourists at Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.The punchline was that the crowds shouting for the release of Barabbas and Jesus’ crucifixion were…
But let’s not spoil the story!
Within an hour or so, I got a message back from Michelle:
Stuart Townend and Keith Getty’s hymn How Deep the Father’s Love For Us has these lines:
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life.
I know that it is finished.
And this is what Kilworth’s science fiction story Let’s go to Golgotha is all about. Jesus’ once for all sacrifice on the Cross dealt with the sin of every human being that had lived, was living or was to live. It includes every one of us.
Gary Kilworth creates a society in which people can not only go on a package holiday to exotic places worldwide; they can book with their Time Travel Agency and choose a trip to any time or place in history. The people in the story chose Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion of Christ.
Pilate presents Jesus to thew crowd

Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd

Time Travel Agency employed a clergyman to brief the tourists on the Crucifixion Tour…

We will arrive on the day that Pilate asks the inhabitants of Jerusalem whom he should set free, as the citizens are permitted to grant amnesty to one prisoner over the Feast of the Passover.  When the crowd begins to shout “Barabbas”, as we know it must, then you must shout it too. You must not appear to be different in any way from the rest of the citizens. This is vitally important. You have to appear to be in agreement with the rest of the crowd.
And on the trip, that’s more or less what happened – except that the tourists discovered something that neither they (nor presumably their clergyman briefer) expected.
All the inhabitants are in their houses, praying.
And then it dawned on them, the horror of what they had done.
Look at the crowd! Look around you! There are no Jews here. No natives. The only ones here are us. The holiday-makers. Do you realize the enormity of what we’ve done? The whole guilt of mankind rests on our shoulders.

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We’re now halfway through and it’s Easter.

Along with many other people here in Ireland, I’ve been taking part in…

100 days of prayer for 100 years of history – a movement of prophetic prayer for healing of the past, honour in the present and hope for the future.

2016 is a year of centenaries – the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising. In this moment, we are inviting Christians to unite and prayerfully engage in our nation’s story – to grasp this unique pastoral and prophetic opportunity.

Read more about 100 Days for 100 years here

The Easter weekend readings adapt the Bible to our local context and turn our thoughts to prayer!

Day 49 Good Friday? Mark 15

And Friday is good. Jesus died that we might live. He was made sin for us. Satan was defeated. Death was beaten. Mercy and truth met together. Righteousness and peace kissed. On that Friday, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. On that Friday, tombs were opened and bodies raised. On the cross that Friday, He declared – “It is finished.”

We have our own reason to call this Friday ‘good’. The Belfast Agreement is often known as the Good Friday Agreement. It proved to be a significant stepping stone to peace. It wasn’t perfect, and those on both sides of the conflict have had to accept developments that they had previously declared to be unacceptable. Political tensions and ambiguities have continued to the present day, yet almost everybody agrees that it has changed Northern Ireland for the better.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are possible because of what happened that first Good Friday. And so we pause, we reflect, and we wait in the darkness.


They looked upon the One they had pierced and thought that they had won
The Word of God was silenced
The Light of the World was extinguished
The Way was blocked
The Truth questioned
The Life was dead
So great a love
So great a sacrifice
Amen                                                                           Peter Lynas

Day 50 Waiting for Resurrection Isaiah 61

I can’t help but feel we are still living in Easter Saturday here; we know something significant has happened with the transition to politics instead of terror, but we haven’t yet experienced resurrection to something new. We’re still fighting, albeit it is usually now just with words.

The prophet Isaiah, among his various messages, brought one of comfort, including this: ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.’ Every time I drive down Oxford Street, I’m reminded of how this is true for Belfast. As I child, I remember being quickly herded into the bus station and minutes later a bomb destroying buildings around. Today, I see the Waterfront and new modern buildings, a testament to how far we have come.

But Isaiah also talked of deeper issues; broken hearts healed, prisoners freed, comfort for the mourning, justice marking society, joy instead of despair. In that sense, we’re still in between what has happened and what we still long for – it’s still Easter Saturday to an extent and we’re waiting for resurrection.


Father, thank You for the hope that Easter brings, for the reminder and promise of resurrection. In this time of waiting, we’re grateful that things are better than they used to be! But we’re not satisfied, and we bring our discontent to You; we long for healing, for comfort, for justice, for real peace that will permeate our country and our relationships.
As we wait, help us to hold fast to the hope for better, not merely to settle for what we have now. Help us to be agents of the resurrection life and hope that we long to see in our day.
Stephen Cave

Day 51 He is risen! John 20

Picture the scene. Jesus’ disciples are in a room three days after His death. The doors are locked and they are riddled with fear.  Imagine their emotions as they contemplate their uncertain futures. After ‘selling out’ to follow the Rabbi Jesus, they believe His dead body now lies limp and lifeless in a tomb.  They are flooded by doubt, consumed by disappointment and apparent failure, which is all compounded by the immediate fear for their lives from the Jewish leaders.

Then like a scene from a sci-fi movie, Jesus shows up! He is right there in the room with them. But how? The doors are locked! Scholars disagree as to whether Jesus actually walked through the walls or not but one thing we can definitely surmise is that walls can’t keep Jesus out.  I wonder if in this act, Jesus was telling us something about what the resurrection would mean for us, for all of creation. Still carrying the scars of the cross, Jesus in His physical post-resurrection body steps through the walls to show us that it truly is finished – everything, absolutely everything the curse of sin sought to destroy of God’s good creation has been dealt with in Christ’s own body and even death, the final enemy, has been conquered! As Paul a few decades later would declare, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God.’  Every wall closing in around us can be smashed by the wrecking ball of the love of God. A love so strong that is raises the dead.

The walls that have separated us from one another can also come crashing down.  Jesus’ all-conquering love carries the power to destroy our divisions and pride, making us one.  As He declared to those startled disciples, having appeared in the Upper Room, who He came and stood beside on resurrection Sunday ‘Peace be with you.’


Father, thank You that walls can’t keep Jesus out, yet we recognise that we can keep them up.
Help us to follow Jesus’ example of self-sacrificial love, to deny ourselves, say YES to Your ways and allow Your love to flood our hearts.
May that love overflow to our neighbours, even our enemies.                 Alain Emerson
Good Friday has passed; we have waited through Saturday; we rejoice today that Christ is risen!
Peace be with you.

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Life can become overwhelming at times. Database frustrations at work. Car needing fixed unexpectedly. A dodgy washer in an overflow pipe. Family illnesses and daily hospital visits. Worries and concerns about children and grand children. Losing something that seems important but probably isn’t.
All too easily we allow life to get way out of proportion.

Judas betrays Jesus

Judas betrays Jesus

Are you reading the Gospel accounts as Easter approaches? I’ve been reading Mark’s account along with many other people following SU WordLive; last Friday it was Jesus’ betrayal and arrest in Mark 14:43-52.

This is not what the disciples were expecting. This is not what contemporary understandings of the Messiah expected. But Jesus, throughout all he was and was still to suffer, knew that events were going exactly as God intended.

 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Then everyone deserted him and fled. ” Mark 14:48-50

So the disciples fled. Soon Peter would deny Jesus. In the SU WordLive commentary, Graham Cray writes some encouraging words in the Deeper Bible study section:

They were not a hopeless crowd. Jesus chose them, as he has chosen us. Judas’ duplicity and the arrest at night ‘with swords and clubs’ (v 43) was far more cowardly. Despite their promises and the brief flash of a sword, there was little the disciples could have done. They could not change the physical circumstances, while spiritually the work of the cross was something Jesus must achieve alone. God’s purpose prefigured in Scripture was being fulfilled. God’s plan is not dependent on our successes.

The New Testament is clear that it was their encounter with the risen Jesus and empowerment by the Holy Spirit which later made these disciples such effective witnesses. Fruitful and faithful discipleship is not a matter of inherent strength of character but of dependence on God and encounter with the Holy Spirit. Jesus can turn cowards into martyrs, but more often he takes ordinary, reasonably competent human beings and teaches them that to be of service they need to trust his power, not their competence.

This ordinary, somewhat competent, human being takes comfort from Graham Cray’s words, but much more from the fact that everything was not going wrong – Jesus was fulfilling his Father’s plan of salvation.

I’m looking forward to Easter weekend and to going on the Passion Walk in Belfast on Good Friday morning.

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“If that is the word of God why don’t people want to share it with others?”

Oral Bible storying workshop in Liberia

Oral Bible storying workshop in Liberia

A report on a language project that Wycliffe Bible Translators is involved with in a central African country raised a number of interesting reactions.

Following some oral Bible storying in the region one woman said, ‘We are suffering because the first humans disobeyed God.’ She concluded that we must obey the word of God.

One father confessed, ‘I’ve never spoken to my children about the word of God.’

Another said, ‘I’ve never heard such a message anywhere!’

A religious leader said, ‘If that is the word of God why don’t people want to share it with others?’

Oral Bible storying is simply telling the stories of the Bible to others in a way they can understand and in their own language.

This weekend we celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus willingly went through this horrific yet ultimately glorious event so that people would get to know God.

If that is what Jesus did; if that is what the Bible tells us – are we sharing it with others everywhere?

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Oku couple, NW Cameroon, reading their newly published New Testament

Oku couple, NW Cameroon, reading their newly published New Testament

Often when I speak in churches, I encourage people to listen to the familiar Easter story as if for the first time. There are three reasons why I think this is a good thing. First, as Christians it is good to re-visit the reality that is the basis of our faith. Secondly, others may come to faith. And thirdly, it helps people appreciate what it means to literally hear the story for the first time!

So when my friend, Marlene Ferguson, recently wrote an article for her Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church website, I asked her permission to re-blog on John 20:21.

A woman from Burkina Faso, baby tied to her back, clutching the New Testament which she had just received in her Bissa Lebir language


Imagine that this year you hear the Easter story and truly understand it for the first time…

Jesus willingly allowed men to kill him in an extremely brutal way.  Why? Because he loved us.  He did it because we deserve a brutal punishment for selfishly sinning against God, but He wanted to save us from such punishment.  He did it because no-one else could have stood in the gap like that for us.  He also knew that only He could conquer the power of death and when he rose from the dead, death was conquered – once for all.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a ‘once for all’ event.  Once only did he die; once, through which all men might receive salvation. After he rose, he asked the apostles to make disciples of all nations. He still asks that of us. Indeed, it is prophesied in the book of Revelation that there will be people from every nation, tribe and language worshipping the Lord in Heaven.  That’s all nations, all tribes and all languages represented before the throne of God, adoring him with one unending song of worship.

Unfortunately, there is much confusion among people who still don’t have access to God’s Word in their language.  A pastor of an Asian language group without God’s Word once asked “Is the resurrection for white people only?”  Of course not! The resurrection is for all people.  Wycliffe Bible Translators are working to ensure that all language communities receive this message in a language that they can understand and Ballyhenry is playing its part to support this goal. Through God’s power at work in us, people from all language communities will have the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation to worship the Lamb in eternity.

There are 2,195 Bible translation projects currently underway around the world and it is thought that 1,860 are still in need of work to begin in their language!  Wycliffe Bible Translators supports Bible translation in order that all people will be able to hear the Easter message of salvation in a language that they can understand.

I’d encourage you to check out a short video on YouTube by one of our partners, the Seed Company, entitled ‘The Gamo see Jesus’ to be refreshed by the reactions of a group of Gamo people of Ethiopia as they watch the Jesus film (based on Luke’s Gospel) dubbed in their language for the first time.

This Easter imagine that you are one of those people who will finally hear the Easter message and understand it for the first time.

Thank you, Marlene!


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Jesus and Peter

It’s too easy to criticise the disciples as Jesus approached Easter and crucifixion. Why didn’t they understand what Jesus was telling them?

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26

Why were they so confident that they would not deny Jesus? That they would not let him down? And it was all of them; not just Peter. Are we tempted to say… well, if I had been there, I would have understood. I would have got it! I wouldn’t have said such things.

SU WordLive helps us put ourselves there with the disciples by making us look at ourselves in our own context.

Have a read of Ben Askew’s meditation

‘Even if all fall away I will not’ – I’d never get caught saying that!
Never looked at the other Christians around me and thought, ‘What are they playing at!?’
Never got frustrated that I’m one of the few at my church that really takes this seriously.
Never taken on a bit of ministry, or service thinking. ‘If I don’t do it no one will’.
Never done something good, or noble, because I thought I should do rather than because I wanted to.
Never placed myself in a league table of holiness with the Christians around me, so that I know just where I stand.
Never overestimated my own abilities and gifts, or underestimated the contributions others could make.
Never let an appearance of boldness or confidence cover up just how scared I am inside.
Never forgotten how much I am in need of someone to save me.
No, of course not! I’d never let God down like that.

Ben Askew for WordLive  © Scripture Union 2012

So many of us have the Bible in our languages. We have little, perhaps no excuse for not recognising what the crucifixion and resurrection was all about, what Easter is all about.

1,919 language groups are still denied that privilege, that opportunity.

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Easter 2013 in N. Ireland. Too much snow, power cuts, inconvenience in the towns, serious anxiety for sheep farmers. Surely it should be sunshine, daffodils and crocuses, pleasant walks in pleasant temperatures, cute lambs in green fields.

Easter for the 21st century. Eggs, bunnies, chicks and chocolates or an eternally pivotal Christian festival…

crown of thorns

The first Easter appears at first glance to be all confusion.

A derisory king: mocked, abused and tortured by cruel soldiers.

A rejected king: accused via trumped up charges, his death demanded by power threatened priests.

An alternative king: proclaimed innocent, misunderstood and oddly feared by a puzzled Pilate.

The King of Kings: crucified to rise again by God’s plan to bear our sins and re-establish God’s true kingship on earth.

Confusion at Easter? Not for God nor for his son Jesus. Ultimately not for us either.

With thanks to SU WordLive today and especially Derek Tidball’s Deeper Bible Study

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These words, the last words of Jesus on the cross before he died, changed everything for everybody for all time. We may never fully understand, but we can, as we look forward to Easter Sunday, read, pray, meditate and rejoice.

John Grayston in today’s SU WordLive leads us through the levels of understanding of the onlookers at the crucifixion site…

Who can know what is going through Jesus’ mind at this point. Luther, it is claimed, said, ‘God forsaken of God: who can understand it?’ The onlookers do not understand (v 35), failing to see the significance of Jesus’ quotation from Psalm 22:1; a psalm which was on his mind and shaped his understanding of his death. Perhaps they are influenced by their expectation that Elijah would return as a herald of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5).

The women (vs 40,41) may not understand, but at least they are there. The word ‘follow’ is the language of discipleship (Mark 1:16–20); in our concentration on the twelve we forget that Jesus, radically, included women among his disciples (Luke 8:1–3). They may not understand, but at least they are there, showing solidarity with and concern for their Lord. It is they, not the twelve, who are the witnesses of his death, burial, and, initially, of his resurrection.

The centurion does not understand, but he does have a profound insight. In what Dick France describes as ‘one of the Christological high points of the Gospel’ (Gospel of Mark, p659) he has captured something that the devout and expectant Jews missed – yet more irony, and a reminder that Jesus, as he had pointed out (John 10:16; 12:32; Matt 22:1–14), has come for all humanity.

We ourselves do not understand, at least not completely. We can rejoice in the new access symbolised by the torn temple curtain, knowing that at the moment of apparent failure Jesus has accomplished the perfect will of God and has opened the way into the presence of God for all. We can have confidence that the old order has gone and the new has come. But there are depths to God’s love for broken men and women that will always lie beyond our full comprehension.

With thanks to SU for the amazing way they help us as we study God’s Word daily.

See also the Easter meditation from SU:  Morning by Julie Sharp

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How do you respond to scenes of extreme violence?

The opening words as I read SU WordLive this morning. “How do you respond to scenes of extreme violence?” It is a very sober treatment of the passage in Mark 15:16-20 when the Roman soldiers torture Jesus cruelly and viciously before he was taken off to be crucified. It’s worth a look and a read and some meditation…

John Grayston comments…

Roman flogging was so vicious that victims sometimes died. The pain was intense, the blood loss considerable. Jesus would have been a pitiable figure by this point. The rough mockery of the soldiers simply adds to that. How could such a figure be a king?

But back to the opening question: How do you respond to scenes of extreme violence?

Recently I walked out of a film for the first time in my life. It was an Argentinian thriller and there was some excellent camera work, but the violence became just too much for me. I like a good thriller, but this was descending into violence and horror – and I’d had enough.

How will I cope tonight? My church is showing The Passion of Christ as part of our Easter week programme. Quite rightly the announcements last Sunday pointed out that this movie is very graphic in content; strictly over 18s only.

I saw Mel Gibson’s film in the cinema when it first came out. It’s a tough watch. The violence is probably worse than that in the Argentinian thriller – but there is a difference! It is what happened when Jesus Christ, the Son of God willingly submitted himself to the injustice and cruelty of both Jewish and Roman authorities and died so that my sins could be forgiven. Jesus suffered this awful pain and violence and death for me.

It is a real part of the Easter story. I will rejoice on Easter Sunday as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. This evening I want to remember what it cost him in human pain. I want to see my own life situation in perspective. I want to say, thank you Jesus, for what you have done for me,

I want to remember that this lies at the core of why I work with Wycliffe Bible Translators; why as I approach retirement age, I am still passionate to do what I can to resource the translation of the Bible into heart languages so that speakers of over 2,000 languages can read or hear the story of God’s love for them in the language that they understand best. So that they can acknowledge Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

To end, another quote form SU WordLive this morning:

The story we are to see here is the story of the Creator and King of the universe establishing his reign through sacrifice, not the exercise of power. Jesus’ story has been of true greatness, revealed through humble service and sacrificial giving. Seen like this, the figure of Jesus is not one for ridicule but for worship. Here we see ‘love vast as the ocean’ (William Rees, 1802–83) which will, if we understand it correctly, leave us awed and overwhelmed. Throughout the passion story we are on the holiest of ground, gazing into the face of a mystery deeper than we can ever understand.    John Grayston

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