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Bible Insights

Two to Emmaus

…and the Mysterious Stranger

Today’s passage: Mark 16:12–13 and Luke 24:13–18

Focus verse: As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them. (Luke 24:15)

John doesn’t mention that two of Jesus’s followers make a trip to Emmaus.

While Mark mentions this briefly, Luke gives us the full story. And a most delightful story it is. It’s so packed with interesting details that we’ll take the next several days to cover it.

Luke tells us that the same day of Jesus’s resurrection, two of his followers head for the town of Emmaus. This is the only passage in the Bible to mention Emmaus.

All we know about it is that it’s seven miles (10 kilometers) from Jerusalem. It would take about three hours to walk.

One of the two men is Cleopas. The Bible doesn’t tell us any more about him either. But at least we know his name, which is more than we can say for his traveling companion.

As they walk along, they talk about what’s on their mind. Jesus, the man they followed as the expected Messiah, died. This single predominant thought preoccupies them.

Like Mary Magdalene, they wonder what to do next. This may even be why they’re headed to Emmaus. It might be where they’re from. At the very least, they have friends or family there.

How dejected they must feel as they plod along on their journey.

And as they walk, Jesus comes up alongside them and joins them on their trip. But they don’t recognize him.

It may be they don’t see him because they don’t expect to. In their mind he is dead. Or perhaps his appearance in resurrected form is different enough to confuse them. Or maybe Jesus blocks them from seeing who he really is.

Regardless, he asks what they’re discussing.

They stop walking, their faces downcast. Incredulous, Cleopas asks the man if he’s the only one visiting Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened.

By design, a Roman crucifixion was a public event. They wanted everyone to know what happens to dissidents and troublemakers. This knowledge would serve as a most effective deterrent for anyone who wanted to oppose Roman rule.

In addition, Jesus was a public figure. Surely everyone in the area knew of his crucifixion—everyone, that is, except for this mysterious stranger.

Questions:

  • How do we respond to someone we meet who doesn’t know about Jesus?
  • How do we react when our life takes an unexpected turn, as it did for Cleopas and his friend?

Prayer: Jesus, when we don’t know what to do, may we always turn to you.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Returning to the Tomb

Who Will Roll Away the Stone?

Today’s passage: John 20:1, along with Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1–3, and Luke 24:1

Focus verse: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. (John 20:1)

With the Sabbath over, Mary Magdalene can again do manual labor. She returns to Jesus’s tomb, intending to anoint his body.

She and the other Mary prepared spices before the Sabbath, rested on the Sabbath, and now she’s ready to complete her work on the first day of the week.

Mark gives us the most detail about what happens.

He writes that besides Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (possibly also called the other Mary) and Salome go with her. It’s early in the day, with the sun having just risen.

As the trio makes their way to the tomb, a critical concern occurs to them. “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”

Who indeed.

Just two days earlier, the women stood there watching Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus place Jesus’s body in the tomb and roll a large stone in front of the entrance.

Did the women forget this important detail until this moment? Or did they realize it and decide to keep their concern to themselves? Perhaps each one hopes one of the other two has a plan to remove this obstacle.

But the three of them are no match for this massive stone. They won’t be able to move it by themselves. Unless someone else does this for them, they cannot complete their mission. This would make their preparations and journey in vain.

Despite not knowing what they’ll do, however, they press forward.

Do they expect to find someone there to help them? Do they pray God will provide a solution to their dilemma? Might they have a backup plan if they can’t get to Jesus’s body this morning?

Whatever the case, they proceed. What other choice do they have? They can’t quit. Jesus deserves better.

Questions:

  • When have we planned something without considering the obstacles we would face?
  • How do we react when we find a stone blocking our path?

Prayer: Father God, when we face obstacles on the path you give us, fill us with the needed courage—and the faith—to persist.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Easter Sunday

He Has Risen!

Today’s passage: John 20:1–18

Focus verse: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

Jesus dies. His body is prepared for burial and his human shell is placed in a tomb. A large stone seals the entrance.

But this isn’t the end. In many respects, it’s the beginning. Three days later, he rises from the dead. Here’s what happens:

After his death, Jesus’s body is laid hastily in the tomb before the start of the Sabbath. With the Sabbath now over, Mary Magdalene heads to the tomb early the next morning, while it’s still dark.

When she arrives, she’s shocked at what she sees. The stone that blocked access to his tomb is no longer there. This isn’t what she expected.

She runs to tell Peter and John (the disciple Jesus loved) what she assumes happened: “They’ve taken Jesus’s body from the tomb, and I don’t know where they put him.”

Peter and John run to Jesus’s grave. John gets there first and peers inside. When Peter arrives, he goes right in. The burial cloths are there, but Jesus’s body is gone.

Seeing for themselves, they believe what Mary said—that his body is gone—and they leave.

Mary, however, stays at the tomb, tears flowing. She sees two angels inside. They ask her why she’s crying. “They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they moved him.”

Jesus—now very much alive—walks up behind her. “Why are you crying?”

She assumes he’s the gardener and asks where he moved the body.

Jesus calls her by name. “Mary.”

She turns to him and cries out in relief.

Jesus tells her to go and tell the disciples he’s alive and will soon return to his Father in heaven. In doing so, Jesus tasks Mary to deliver the most important message throughout all history. “Jesus is alive! He has risen from the dead!”

Though her culture doesn’t accept a woman’s testimony, Jesus doesn’t care. Mary will serve fine as his messenger.

This makes her the first missionary to tell others the good news about Jesus, that he has risen.

We call this day Easter when we celebrate his resurrection from the tomb. A better label is Resurrection Sunday.

On this first Resurrection Sunday, Jesus is victorious over the finality of death. This proves his mastery over the grave. Through this resurrection power he provides, we, too, can rise from the dead. And if we follow Jesus, we will.

Then we’ll live with him and Father God forever.

Questions:

  • What can we do to celebrate what Jesus did when he died and rose again?
  • How can we best tell others about him?

Prayer: Jesus, may we celebrate your victory over death when you rose from the dead. May we tell others the good news.

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What Does the Bible Say About Easter?

Read What Scripture Says about Jesus’s Resurrection

Happy Easter! And Happy Resurrection Day!

Today is the time when we remember—and celebrate—Jesus overcoming death and rising from the dead.

Each gospel account of Jesus in the Bible tells us about Easter:

Matthew

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’’ (Matthew 28:5-7).

Mark

“Don’t be alarmed,” [the angel] 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” (Mark 16:6).

Luke

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!

Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again’” (Luke 24:5-6).

John

Simply confirms that the tomb where Jesus’ body lay was found to be empty, John simply records that he then appeared to Mary Magdalene, ten of the disciples, and lastly to Thomas, thereby confirming his resurrection from the grave (John 20).

Have a Happy Easter!

Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his return to heaven in The Victory of Jesus. The Victory of Jesus is another book in Peter DeHaan’s beloved Holiday Celebration Bible Study Series. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Study

John Bible Study, Day 37: Mary: The First Missionary

Today’s passage: John 20:1–18

Focus verse: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

Although Mary Magdalene shows up in each of Jesus’s four biographies, we know little about her. What we learn from Scripture is that Jesus casts seven demons out of her.

Though people debate what casting out demons means, the one fact we can agree on is that the healer makes her life better. Isn’t that what Jesus always does? He improves the lives of everyone he interacts with.

Mary Magdalene shows her gratitude for his healing by following him and giving him financial support. Later, she keeps vigil when Jesus dies and again when they lay his body in the tomb.

The next day, she heads to his gravesite to prepare his corpse, according to their practices. But when she arrives at the grave, his body isn’t there. 

With a mixture of confusion and excitement, she runs to find Peter and John to tell them what she saw. Though she doesn’t realize it, she’s the first to see evidence of Jesus’s resurrection. The two disciples race to the tomb and confirm it’s empty.

That makes three witnesses who can testify that Jesus isn’t there. The principle of having multiple witnesses to verify truth occurs throughout the Bible (such as Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, and 2 Corinthians 13:1).

But the evidence is circumstantial. They assume someone moved Jesus’s body. We know that Jesus rose from the dead, but Mary is clueless.

Perplexed, she cries at the opening to the bodiless grave. Mary talks to a man nearby, whom she assumes is the gardener. He’s not. He is resurrected Jesus.

He’s ready to return to his Father in heaven, and he tells her to let his disciples know he’s alive. In saying this, Jesus picks Mary Magdalene to deliver the breaking news of the most significant event in human history. 

It’s significant that Jesus chooses Mary as the first eyewitness that he is alive because that culture won’t accept a woman’s testimony. Her word carries no legal authority, yet Jesus chooses her to be the first to tell others the good news.

Mary is, in effect, the first missionary for Jesus.

Questions:

  1. How has Jesus made your life better?
  2. When God tells you to do something, do you obey? 
  3. How can you know what God wants you to do?
  4. Does God hear us when we cry? Why?
  5. Who have you told about the good news of Jesus? 

Discover more about Mary Magdalene in Matthew 27:55–61, Mark 15:40–47, and Luke 8:1–3. What insights can you glean from these passages?

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.


Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Don’t Be Afraid

Supernatural Encounters May Be Scary

The Book of Mark wraps up with three women going to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. They are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.

They approach the tomb preoccupied, wondering how they will roll the stone away to gain access. As it turns out, this won’t be a problem.

When they arrive at the tomb the stone has already been rolled away. They see a young man sitting there. He’s wearing a white robe.

He’s like an angel, but there’s no indication if they realize this or not. But his presence does surprise them.

The first thing he says is, “Don’t be afraid!” (Mark 16:6).

Encountering Angels

Throughout the Bible, whenever anyone has a supernatural encounter with angels, one of the first things these heavenly beings say is usually, “Don’t be afraid!”

I get this.

Should someone not from this world appear before us, our first reaction would certainly be fright. Without assurance, our first response would likely be flight.

It would be hard for us to hear their heavenly message if we were running away from them.

I’d like to think my reaction would be different. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be afraid of an angel that God sent to me. I’d like to think I would confidently hear everything they would say, though in awe over their presence.

But I know me. I know better. Though I might be brave in my spirit, in my mind I would fear, just like everyone else.

Encountering God

If a typical reaction to an angelic encounter is fear, what will our reaction be when we see God for the first time?

I’d like to think I’d feel peace. I’d like to think I would approach him with confidence and embrace him. I’d like to think I would remain calm.

But I know better. I know me. I’m sure I would tremble in his presence. Fear and excitement would surge through me in anticipation and apprehension, quaking in fear over the unknown.

Don’t Be Afraid

I suspect the first words God will say to me will be, “Don’t be afraid. Do not fear.”

And then everything will be okay, because I will be home, basking in the glory of his presence.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Mark 14-16, and today’s post is on Mark 16:5-6.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Was Jesus a Feminist?

Jesus Elevates the Standing of Women and Treats Them as Equal to Men

As the book of Matthew winds down, we see in chapter 28 that Jesus rises from the dead, appears to his followers, and ascends into heaven.

As he arises, he leaves us with the Great Commission: to go throughout the world and tell others about him.

In reading this chapter it’s easy to miss something that seems trivial but is actually a huge deal. When Jesus rises from the dead, who are the first people he appears to?

He first reveals his risen form to a group of women. I think this is intentional. Here’s what happens.

Jesus’s body is placed in the tomb. After the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and another Mary go to the tomb to ceremonially prepare Jesus’s corpse for a proper burial. What they encounter shocks them.

The earth quakes. An angel opens the tomb and sits there. He tells the women not to be afraid, that Jesus isn’t there and has risen from the dead. The angel shows them the empty tomb and tells them to let the other disciples know.

Jesus’s First Missionaries are Female

Jesus’s victory over death is huge news. This accomplishes what he came to earth to do. Everyone needs to know. He chooses women to carry this all-important message to his followers.

However, the culture of the day didn’t give any credence to the testimony of females. It was a male-dominated society. Women were treated as second-class citizens.

Imagine that: The world’s most important news ever is delivered by people the culture overlooks and even dismisses.

But by his example, both during his life and after his resurrection, Jesus seeks to change that. He considers women fairly. He treats them as equals to men. His attitude and actions toward women is counter-cultural for the day.

Jesus May Have Been the First Feminist

Though feminism is a loaded term—that means different things to different people—the dictionary tells us that feminism is believing in and advocating for the equality of women.

(Hold on to this long-held understanding of feminism and not the distorted view that progressive thinking is trying to force it to become.)

Though much has changed in the 2,000 years since, there is still more work to do. We, both male and female, should follow Jesus’s example and pursue gender equality.

After all, both men and women are his children. He loves us all just the same.

We should do likewise.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 26-28, and today’s post is on Matthew 28:8-10.]

Learn about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Notable Women in the Bible

Two weeks ago I encouraged you to have a Bible reading plan for the new year—and I felt a bit guilty for saying it. This wasn’t because I gave bad advice, but because I hadn’t yet figured out my own plan.

I try to never tell someone to do something that I won’t or don’t do myself. Yet I ran the risk of doing just that.

Each day I had asked God what my Bible reading should entail for next year and each day he was silent—or more likely I wasn’t listening close enough. Despite hearing nothing, I was confident I’d have my plan prior to January 1.

Yet when I picked up my Bible on the first day of the new year, I still didn’t know what I was supposed to read.

So, I asked God, “New Testament or Old?”

He said “Old.”

Then I started listing the different sections: The Law of Moses, the historic books, the poetic books, the prophets. For each group, he said, “No.”

Then two specific books came to mind; I think it was God’s prompting. I asked, “Ruth or Esther?”

I heard, “Yes.”

Again I asked, “Ruth or Esther?”

Nothing.

Then the Holy Spirit began to clarify. My reading is to focus on the notable women in the Bible—and I’m delighted to do so. “Thank you, Jesus!”

So, I’ve already read Ruth and am on my second pass through Esther.

Other names that come to mind are Deborah (the judge), Hannah (Samuel’s mom), Sarah (Abraham’s wife), Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law), Rebekah (Isaac’s wife), Rachel (one of Jacob’s wives), and Abigail (one of David’s wives).

Then are the four women in the Bible honored by name in the family tree of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, along with Ruth. There are also some not mentioned by name, such as Naaman’s servant girl and Jephthah’s daughter.

In the New Testament there is Mary (mother of Jesus), Mary Magdalene (from whom Jesus cast out demons), Anna (the woman in the temple who awaited Jesus’ birth), and Priscilla (wife of Aquila and friend of Paul).

Since I want to look at those with positive traits, I’ve not included Jezebel or Sapphira. What about Leah and Eve?

This is just a start. Who else should I add to my list of women in the Bible?

Learn about other biblical women in Women of the Bible, available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.