"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb."
– Matthew 28:1 (NIV) –
Still grieving, they approached the tomb. Jesus was dead. His gentle nature and compassion for humanity had been met with calloused scorn and a betrayal of His love. He had been slaughtered by those who would seek to dilute the truth of His message and end His life. And so, they approached the tomb of the slain Savior…
"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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
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.”
– Matthew 28:2-7 (NIV) –
They find an empty tomb. Elijah did not come to save Jesus. Moses didn't intervene. Jeremiah had no part...for, Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, needed no assistance in winning the war over sin and death. The earthquake...the angel...an empty tomb... The sovereignty and eternal power of God was on full display this morning in ways that had never been seen. His Son no longer occupied the dwelling place of the earthly dead. No, He was free from man's schemes to overpower His message, and in that, He had proven His identity...
"So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy,
and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said.
They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
– Matthew 28:8-10 (NIV) –
Jesus overcame. He became the eternal hope to an entire world engulfed in hopelessness. Before the eyes of God, He became sin, and the wrath of God was poured out on Him. In the completed work of Jesus Christ, we find the only solution to our sin debt and the only promise of eternity in the presence of God. He overcame sin, and, in that conquest, He has become our righteousness.
Today, the grave remains empty, and Jesus is alive and well. His message of truth compels us to follow the resurrected Christ...making Him known so that others may know of the salvation found only in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our beautiful Savior absorbed the torment of the cross, not for us, but in our place. He hung on the cross as us, and because of that incredible gift, we can claim the freedom that salvation through His blood offers. That gift is not church; it is not religion, and it is not legalism. That gift is relationship wrapped in inexplicable grace.
I thank God for the Easter story, because in it is found a purity of purpose that has no equal. An innocent Christ willingly crucified for the sins of those nailing Him to the cross. What manner of love equates to that example? It's the story of an innocent dying for His enemies. It's the story of the flawless taking on the sin and shame that could only belong to the flawed. It's the story of the precious Son of God and His great love...a love that is given to a world without merit, and a love that is given without end. It's much more than a story, and He is much more than a Savior. He is, and forever will be, our resurrected King.
Make Him known.
"Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away."
– Matthew 27:59-60 (NIV)
The effort to kill the mortal body of Jesus Christ had been successful by all earthly standards. Many witnessed the scourging, the beatings, and the inevitable crucifixion of an innocent man. Even as God looked away, and the sky darkening in midday, those who would see Jesus killed were unhindered in their pursuit of His demise. So, His bruised and battered body was removed from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. The Son of God, who in life had no place to lay His head, was, in death, laid to rest in a borrowed grave. The stone was rolled into place, and it was finished.
Consequently, there were a few who were still concerned...
"The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.
“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said,
‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.
Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been
raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”
So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard."
– Matthew 27:62-66 (NIV)
The religious elite of the day were concerned about the previous words of Jesus Christ. They had heard Him say that He would rise from the grave after three days, and they remembered these words of prophecy. And so a guard was posted and a seal was placed on the stone covering the entrance.
To mankind, Jesus was dead. Anyone who had witnessed his body hanging on the cross would have known that death was inevitable. To the observers on that day, death would have certainly been identified as a welcomed relief to the pain and anguish of this condemned man that the Pharisees had called a "deceiver." They had witnessed the miracles and observed His impact on the people of that day, yet they failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God...or did they? After being scourged, beaten, and horrifically crucified, the Pharisees were still unsure that Jesus would remain in the grave. I find it amusing that they felt a seal and a guard would prevent the Son of God from escaping death. Deep in their hearts, they must have known that this "Man of no reputation" was innocent. Seeing His miraculous works, they knew that He was different; they knew that He challenged their religious authority, and they knew that He must be dealt with. And so, they killed Him...or did they?
What they didn't know is the fact that there is a violent earthquake coming. It's very near. You see, a mighty angel of God has already been dispatched to come to earth and pay a visit to the borrowed tomb of this man the Pharisees called a "deceiver." He's coming. He’s on his way. There's a victory that has already been planned, but today is not the day. Today, outside the tomb, all is quite. The mourning for those who loved Jesus still continues, and the grief is real. But, inside the tomb, there's a battle raging. The majesty and glory of God, sacrificed on the altar of my sin and shame, on this day, is waging a war for my eternity. Mankind is convinced the story is over; God has other plans...
It's almost time for Jesus to surrender His spirit. At this point, He has hung on the cross for almost six hours. The frailty of His human flesh is completely exhausted. The nerve endings in His feet and wrists would be burning as if they were on fire, radiating unimaginable pain throughout His whole body. He's been slowly suffocating. But it's almost over...
"From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
– Matthew 27:45-49 (NIV) –
Elijah never came to save Jesus on this day. He couldn't. Even God, His Father, had to look away. The scene would have been horrific. Jesus, horrifically beaten and physically dying...about to give up His very life for those who had falsely charged and convicted Him. It has been said that love held Him on the cross, and I would agree; however, let us never forget that we mercilessly nailed Him there, as well. Let us never forget the great pains than humanity carried out to be assured that this innocent Savior was exposed to torturous punishment and inevitable death. He was draped upon a cross of our sin, and on that day, and on that cross, He became our sin.
"With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last."
– Mark 15:37 (NIV) –
And so, around 3:00 PM, this terrible injustice had been carried through to completion. Jesus Christ was dead.
"At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open."
– Matthew 27:51-52a (NIV) –
The earth itself responded violently as the innocent Lamb of God breathed His last. Rocks shattered, graves opened, and a Roman centurion had a moment of clarity...he understood the full scope of the atrocity that he had just participated in. He knew, at the point of Christ's death, that they had just killed the Son of God.
The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom...exposing the most holy place on earth. It was done.
"As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that
it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.
He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away."
– Matthew 27:57-60 (NIV) –
So, mankind carried out the actions it thought necessary to rid themselves of Jesus. He was convicted, beaten and killed, and now He was buried...never to be heard from again.
Or, so they thought..
Are you in a small group Bible study? If the answer to that question is ‘no,’ then you’re missing out on much more than you may realize.
God’s Word is magnificent, and, when read, the beauty that Word will add into our lives cannot even be explained. For the individual who is really seeking to follow Christ, studying the Word of God is of paramount importance, because the path of Christ is well explained in Scripture. A mature and growing walk with God is directly proportional to our time in His Word, because that Word contains the truth that should be our foundation. Dwight L. Moody said, “Merely reading the Bible is no use at all without we study it thoroughly, and hunt it through, as it were, for some great truth.”
The words of God, when read and understood, create the foundation for our faith and our works. They define for us the depth and depravity of man’s sinful state, and they offer mankind the glorious and unmerited hope that is only contained in the completed work of Christ. Moreover, the Word of God is a powerful means of communication between a loving God and His children. To say that you’re a “Christian” should, by default, lead to the natural assumption that you read God’s Word daily. If you do, I applaud your pursuit of God. Keep pursuing. If you don’t seek God through His Word daily, then I would venture a guess that your intimate walk with God is profoundly shallow, and I would encourage you to open this powerful book, a book which is the written manifestation of the very heart of God.
“I will study Your commandments and reflect on Your ways.
I will delight in Your decrees and not forget Your Word.”
Individual time with God in His word (and in prayer) is most assuredly the basis of our personal walk with Jesus, and it should be. Our passionate knowledge and application of Scripture is the determinate of the height and breadth of our walk with God. Scripture defines God, and it should define us. If God, through His Word, doesn’t define us, something else most certainly will. So, Bible study is important.
But, I want to discuss another aspect of our walk with God that is often overlooked among Christians. That is small group Bible study. I don’t know of anyone who truly identifies themselves as a follower of Christ that would disavow the relevance of digging into Scripture with others, but I do know many who set it aside, because it’s not something that pings very high on their list of priorities. Whether it trails down the list because of a busy schedule, or they feel that they “really get enough Bible study on Sunday morning,” there’s a world of Christians in our culture who are missing the bus where small group Bible study is concerned.
Below is an excerpt from an article by Ray Higginbottom that explains the importance of small group Bible study in musical terms…
“Give a skilled trumpeter his horn and a solo, and he can pin back your ears or prick your heart. He can draw out emotions you’d locked away or inspire grand thoughts of beauty and grace. There is power and clarity in his notes. Now put that same trumpeter in a jazz band and listen again. As the instruments swell and fall in concert, you’ll hear a richness and depth that a soloist cannot produce on his own. It isn’t that the music is better; both can be profound and beautiful.
Without hours alone in the practice room, the trumpeter misses out on technique, skill, and precision. Without a band, he won’t learn to listen, react, follow, or lead. He needs both settings.
So it is with Bible study. The majority of your Bible study will likely take place in private. This is the necessary foundation for a life of loving God and living faithfully in the world. But if you study the Bible only by yourself, you’ll miss the concert. Work on your breathing, perfect those scales, and come join the band.”
If you’re studying alone, then know that God will work in your life, but if you’re bringing the wealth of knowledge that God imparts to you in your personal times with Him into a small group, then know that God will work in many lives! Iron sharpens iron, and so it is with God’s children. We should always seek out other followers of Christ and engage the majesty of God’s Word with them. The result is spectacular…and contagious!
In his article, Ray identifies three very valid reasons why small groups are important:
Small Group Bible Studies Help You Study the Bible
“We all need as much time with the Bible as possible, and a small group gives you extra exposure every week or so. …This will accelerate your development and strengthen your (spiritual) muscles. A good leader will ask questions that lead your group through the observation-interpretation-application process and help you to advance in each area.”
Placing God, and the study of His Word, on our calendar in a consistent manner through a small group will keep us plugged in, and it will also keep us accountable to pursue Christ through His Word, because we know that others are sharing in our journey. A journey with others creates more opportunities for growth, because the addition of others brings with it a dynamic that cannot be reproduced alone.
Small Group Bible Studies Remind You that You Need Other People
“God has made us relational, social beings who thrive in community. Because of our sin, relationships can be difficult, but without other people we shrivel up and dry out. We need contact with others from different ages and life situations to appreciate God’s faithful and diverse working throughout the church.”
We don’t like the idea of “needing” anyone, but, my friends, we do need each other. Ray points out above that we are “relational, social beings who thrive in community.” I agree with him. The rugged individualist may appear to be strong, self-reliant, and extraordinary in nature, but there will always come a day when you need friends. When that day comes, it’s of utmost importance that our real friendships are developed through one common thread, the love of God and His Word. Surrounding yourself with men and women who have a passion for God and His Word is the formula for success. There’s a saying, “If you want to be successful, surround yourself with people who are good at what you’re not.” God speaks truth through Scripture, and, in the small group dynamic, He can certainly speak truth through others. Get in a small group, and let God use that group interaction to disciple all involved. You’ll make new friends, form deep bonds of trust with others, and the Holy Spirit will have a fertile environment to move freely.
Small Group Bible Studies Remind You that You Need Other People to Study the Bible
“…we need community to apply the Bible. But, this isn’t just true for application. Fellow Christians also help us observe the important aspects of a Bible passage and interpret (it) correctly. We need others to help…sharpen, clarify, and correct what we think. In the same way that you need others, others also need you."
Some of you will disagree that we need others to study God’s Word, but let’s understand that we need others period. Studying alone will reveal great depths of knowledge to the soul that is pursuing Christ with all his heart, but engaging Scripture in a small group setting will reveal, as Ray says, “the richness and depth that a soloist cannot produce on his own.” Study the Bible alone and then bring the depth of your knowledge into the midst of others who are adamantly seeking, as well. Converse about Scripture, and let the Holy Spirit lead. Ask questions…hard ones…and seek the answers as a group through the text of Scripture. Pray for and with each other. Develop and share relationships that are transparent and accountable. As Ray mentioned above, “don’t miss the concert; come join the band.” You will find that it’s enlightening in ways that studying alone can’t equal.
Both individual study and small group study are important, and both are used by God. There’s a dynamic to small group study that has been much more than beneficial to me in my own life, and I encourage you to explore it as an option. If you want to break through the barrier of a nominal Christian walk, Bible study is always the first step in that direction, and involving yourself in a small group study with others who are seeking the Lord is never a mistake.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!