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In Winston-Salem the Moravian Christians hold a major celebration annually at Easter. In that community they call the cemetery “God’s Acre.” The saints of God from prior generations have been buried under simple white stones – a reminder to the Moravians of the “democracy of death.”

During Holy Week the people come with brushes and pails to scrub these stones. On Saturday, they put a bouquet of fresh flowers on every single grave. Before dawn on Easter morning the whole community meets at the church. Then, to the subdued sound of a brass band, they march to the cemetery. There among the orderly rows of white stones they joyfully celebrate the resurrection of the dead.

Every Easter the Moravians in Winston-Salem, along with Christians around the world, celebrate the hope that the apostle Paul expresses so well in the powerful and poetic eighth chapter of Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . For I am sure that neither death, nor life . . . . nor things present, nor things to come . . . nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Christian hope of resurrection to eternal life rests solidly on the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God is at the heart of Easter – not you, not me – but God! Easter affirms, among its many affirmations, that those who are dead may – and by a new creation of God – have new life. It is what Benjamin Franklin affirmed prior to his death when he wrote his own epitaph:

The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer,

 (Like the cover of an old book,

 Its contents torn out,

 And stript of its lettering and gilding)

 Lies here, food for worms!

 But the work shall not be lost,

 For it will, as he believed, appear once more

 In a new and beautiful edition

 Revised and corrected by the Author.”

For centuries, the motto of Portugal was a Latin phrase meaning “Nothing More Beyond.” Only that part of the world that wrapped around the Mediterranean Sea was known at that time. It was believed that if one sailed beyond Portugal out into the Atlantic Ocean he would fall off the edge of the world. The Portuguese prided themselves in being at the extreme end of the world. Thus, they proudly displayed the phrase, “Nothing More Beyond.” It was shattering news when they learned that a new world had been discovered on the far side of the Atlantic. They decided to strike out the negative in their motto so that it read “More Beyond.”

That is precisely what the Easter message is all about: Individuals who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord do not have to fear when their journey on earth is coming to an end, for there is “MORE BEYOND!

Hallelujah!

 

The determination by Jesus to complete the mission assigned to Him by our Heavenly Father was severely tested in the Garden of Gethsemane. People had come from every direction of the compass to be in Jerusalem to participate in the Passover Feast, one of the great feasts annually celebrated by God’s people. The Passover lamb had already been chosen that would be sacrificed later that week on the Temple altar.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem fully aware that He would become the Passover Lamb that would be sacrificed for the sins of the world. He had seen many people charged with a crime, tried, found guilty, and crucified. Dying on a Roman cross would definitely not be an easy thing to do. He asked the Father if there might be another way to redeem and reconcile humanity.

There was no other way, for “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since we are all sinners, we must either die or have someone die in our place. That is precisely what God’s Son had come into the world to accomplish. “God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Scripture tells us that Jesus sweat great drops of blood as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a medical condition known as hematidrosis, associated with only the most severe cases of psychological stress. No human has ever been asked, or will ever be asked, to do what Jesus was asked by the Father to do.

Jesus faced not just an agonizing death but probably the most agonizing death ever devised by man. Those who were crucified often took several days to die. At the moment of our Lord’s death He was carrying the weight of the sins of the entire world – past, present and future tense:

  • Every rape, every murder, every lie, every betrayal, every adulterous relationship, every act of child abuse, every act of spousal abuse.
  • Every selfish thought and evil deed, every attempt to gain an advantage at the expense of others, every expression of envy, jealousy, and prejudice.
  • Every addiction, every image from the sordid world of pornography, every rattle of slavery’s chains of whatever form.
  • The hunger pangs from every famine, every shudder during the winter by those who are homeless and live on the streets.
  • The evils of terrorism and genocide, war and oppression.

Could there possibly be a more agonizing death than that of crucifixion? But that was not all Christ had to face as He hung on that Roman cross. During those excruciatingly painful hours up until the moment of His death, He lost fellowship with the Father for the very first time ever.

God, being holy, could not look upon His Son during those moments when He became sin for us. The community of the Trinity was broken, and Jesus was left utterly and terribly alone. That is why He cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

No wonder great drops of blood oozed through the pores of his skin the night before He was crucified as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was fully aware of the events that would take place in the following twenty-four hours — but He would not turn back. After a night of heart-wrenching prayer had confirmed the desire of the Father’s heart, Jesus willingly submitted to the goal of fulfilling His mission. With the struggle settled, He prayed: “Not my will, Father, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus embraced what every Christian throughout history has been called upon to accept: (1) God’s sovereignty over our personal desires, and (2) our radical trust in His leadership.

Have you accepted Him as your Savior and Lord? If not, He is standing at the door of your heart knocking to gain entrance (see Revelation 3:20). He will not knock the door down to gain entry. He does not force Himself upon anyone. You must choose to open the door and invite Him in.

If you come to the end of your life on earth without having made that decision you will regret it throughout eternity.

 

During His ministry Jesus made numerous remarkable claims – that He and the Father are one, that He can forgive sin, and that any person who believes in Him has eternal life. Even so, I believe the most remarkable claim He ever made was His bold statement: I am the truth.

This statement was not a metaphorical one, as when He referred to Himself as “the way” . . . “the door” . . .”the vine.” The dictionary defines truth as “genuineness or veracity, as that which conforms to reality or fact.” In claiming to be the truth He is not just asserting veracity about Himself; He is boldly claiming that He is the truth — not one truth among many, but the ultimate reality.

In claiming to be the truth, Jesus was affirming the first four words in the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God . . . .” Astronomers have asserted, as has the pagan world, that the cosmos is eternal, that there is no need for God to have created the world and the universe. Scientists have said that the universe started with a tiny ball that exploded with such a powerful force that it expanded across millions of light years. And the universe is still expanding. This, they say, happened without any need for a Creator.

By any known law of physics this is incomprehensible to me. Those who accept the view that the universe with its unbelievably large amount of mass containing both diversity and unity — could have come into existence all by itself need to explain how that can happen. Did it just create itself? Believing that would take more faith for me than believing it was created by a thoughtful all-powerful God.

Ultimate reality embodied in God and Christ is the most consistent theme in the Bible. When God identified Himself to a terrified shepherd named Moses, He said, “I am who I am.” No wonder the unbelieving Jews wanted to stone Jesus when He said to them, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He was not claiming to be like God or that He was sent by God. He was claiming to be Yahweh – the “I Am.”

The writers of the New Testament describe Christ as the logos. This Greek term is translated into English as “word” because there is no adequate corresponding word in English. It is a word that contains the concepts of “intelligence, reason, and truth”—the very concepts found in the first chapter of Genesis that describes God as the ultimate reality.

Under the influence of Enlightenment thinkers, the modern world has separated faith and reason. In the last two centuries that divide has become virtually unbridgeable. But understanding Christianity as the truth means more than simply deducing reality through what we can see and examine. The truth described as ultimate reality is not limited to what we can observe in our material universe.

Christians believe that there is no gap between faith and reason. In fact, most of the early scientists were Christians. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Pascal were all Christians who believed that the world had an orderly structure that could be scientifically studied because it was created by an orderly God.

Christianity is not just a religious structure or social institution. It is not merely a set of beliefs or creeds about the nature of reality. The Christian faith rests on the truth – Jesus Christ. The Christian experience begins with a personal relationship of faith. Pilate had ears, but he did not hear. He turned away, asking, “What is truth”, even as he stood before the truth Himself.

If you are not a Christian, don’t make the same mistake that Pilate made.

 

Archeology was one of the required courses when I attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1953. On the first day of class our professor, Dr. Marc Lovelace, walked into the classroom with a shovel across his shoulder. He plumped it down on the desk at the front of the room with authority. His first words were, “Brethren, if you get out of this course with a good grade, you are going to have to dig!”

It was an emphatic introduction to the study of archeology. I’ve never forgotten it. He was definitely trying to make a point, and we understood very clearly what that point was. Archeologists have an interesting job. They dig where past history took place. They have excavated countless sites where the events described in the Bible happened. The archeologist’s goal is to find all kinds of stuff – but especially bones!

Bones are important – and you are full of them. Babies are born with 300 bones, but by adulthood that number is reduced to 206. Some of the bones, like skull bones, get fused together, reducing the total number. The 206 bones in an adult include the following: hands – 54; feet – 52; skull – 8; vertebral column – 26; legs – 8; arms – 6. If your body had none of these bones, it would not be able to function.

There are three additional bones every person needs in order to enjoy life. They will keep us moving forward in a productive way, especially when the tough times roll. You will not find these three bones listed in any encyclopedia or medical book. They are: the backbone, the wishbone, and the funny bone.

The backbone stands for the strength and courage you need when you face challenges or have difficulties to overcome. Paul, the apostle, faced numerous difficulties – he was severely beaten more than once, stoned, shipwrecked, bitten by a serpent, imprisoned, and so on – but he kept going with courage to accomplish the mission he had been assigned by God to accomplish. He had backbone. It is the only way any of us will get through the kind of things we will likely have to face in life. A strong backbone is important.

The second bone, your wishbone is linked to your dreams and goals. Perhaps your dream is to finish college or other specialized training school to become a physician, a teacher, a scientist, or something else. Those who have no dreams have no need of a wishbone. Do you have one? If so, is it in good working order? What are you doing to make your dreams come true? Or has your wishbone been buried under a list of obstacles that you believe stand in your way? Let God guide your dreams.

The third bone you will need throughout life is a funny bone – that is, if you would like to experience joy and fulfillment. Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher in the Tabernacle Church in London many years ago was criticized again and again by some of his fellow ministers for what they said was “bordering on frivolity in the pulpit.” Spurgeon occasionally used humor in his sermons, and they thought it less than dignified.

With a twinkle in his eye, Spurgeon said to one of his critics, “If you only knew how much I hold back, you would commend me.” They thought it a crime to cause momentary laughter in church. Spurgeon said, “To cause someone to laugh is infinitely better than providing a half-hour of profound slumber.” Right on, Brother Spurgeon! Are you listening, Brother Pastor?

I read somewhere that the average person has seventeen laughs per day. A sourpuss has a lot less; joyful people often have more. I believe laughing is good for what ails you. I have no way of knowing how many laughs you have each day, but I sincerely hope you enjoy every one of them to the fullest. If having a long face is what it takes for a person to be considered a dedicated Christian, Maude and Claude, the mules with which my uncle Bennie plowed his fields back in the 1940’s, were the two finest Christians I ever knew.

 

Prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to those who serve Him. “Will not God vindicate His elect, who cry to Him day and night?” (Luke 18:70). Those who hem in both ends of each day with prayer have discovered that they are not as likely to unravel in the middle. Prayer equips us for service. However, too many Christians are like the Baptist deacon who prayed, “Use me, O Lord in your work – but only in an advisory capacity.”

Nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God. Out of the 667 prayers recorded in the Bible, there are 454 recorded answers. The following four thoughts about prayer dramatically demonstrate why it is one of God’s greatest gifts to every believer:

The privilege of prayer: Because Christ has entered through the veil into the Holy of Holies before us, we through faith have direct access to the very mercy seat of God. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker saw prayer as a privilege. He said, “Prayer has been the greatest source of help in my life. I never go to sleep at night without saying the simple prayers I learned at my mother’s knee. During the day I ask God’s help about my business problems, my friends, my family, and my country.” No one can live in doubt who has prayed in faith.

The purpose of prayer: Prayer is not simply petition and repetition, feeling and sentiment; nor is it a sanctified form of begging, or convincing God of something He already knows and thereby compels Him to take some sort of action. It is primarily an act of devotion whereby Christians dedicate, submit, consecrate themselves to God, and can be brought to the place where God through them can accomplish the very things for which they have prayed.

The power of prayer: It lies not in its particular method or exercise, nor in the number of hours spent in that exercise. The power of prayer lies in God. To pray in power means to pray in faith, to pray Spirit-guided prayers. Prayer provides power, poise, peace, and purpose. Therefore, when our outlook is bad, we would be well advised to try the “up-look.” Why is this true? God is never more than a prayer away.

Missionary William Carey, realizing the limitless power of prayer, said, “Attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.” An anonymous poet expressed the power of prayer in this way:

“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring:
For His grace and power are such.
None can ever ask too much.”

The persistency of prayer: If an unjust judge, who had regard for neither God nor man, would yield to the persistence of the unknown widow mentioned in Luke 18:1-8 because he was afraid she would annoy him by her repetitious requests, how much more willingly will a just and merciful God respond to and reward the persevering petitions of His own loved ones who cry out to Him in prayer?

 

 

H. Auden, the British-American poet, once labeled the day in which we live “The Age of Anxiety.” The word anxiety literally means “to be pulled apart.” It would be difficult to find a more accurate description of what worry and anxiety does to a person – it pulls us apart.

Dr. Charles Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said: “Worry affects circulation, the heart, the glands, and the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but I have known many who died from worry.” According to Joe Graedon, author of “The Aspirin Handbook, “Americans pop 80 million aspirin tablets every single day – 29 billion per year – a figure that works out to 117 aspirin tablets annually for every man, woman and child in the country.”

What do we worry about? You name it and we worry about it. Big things, middle-sized things, little things, even non-existent things. We worry about things that happened yesterday. We worry about things that may never happen. You cannot improve the quality of your life by worrying, but you can foul it up. Worry will not change your grade or make you more beautiful or handsome. You cannot change what is already an established fact.

Anxiety is a universal problem, but some people seem to enjoy the experience. They are miserable and want everyone around them to be miserable also. The end result of worrying is that we can guarantee the end result that we fear may happen – insomnia, fatigue, neurosis, and eventually an emotional breakdown. Earl Riney, in Church Management, expressed the same thoughts in a humorous way: “Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime, and too sleepy to worry at night.” It is not wise to take tomorrow to bed with you when you retire at night.

It has been said that two out of every three persons have emotional problems. Any time you are with two other people, evaluate them. If they seem totally normal to you, guess which one of the three has emotional problems.

We should never worry about the past, for it cannot be changed. Nor should we borrow trouble from our tomorrows. Thomas Carlyle was right when he said, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly in the future, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” An old idiom expresses it this way: “Life is hard by the yard, but by the inch it’s a cinch.”

The right way to deal with worry and anxiety is have a deep, vibrant, and growing faith in God. Jesus said that we should start by setting productive priorities. Decide what is important, what is most important, and what is unimportant. Realize that meaningful living does not have to consist of an overabundance of things. Live one day at a time.

You may ask, “But how can I do that?” Just follow the recommendations found in I Peter 5:6-7 – “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” Charles F. Deems, in Epigram, beautifully expresses the truth found in these two verses:

“The world is wide
In time and tide,
And God is guide.
Then do not hurry.
That man is blest
Who does his best
And leaves the rest,
Then do not worry.”