We believe it.

If we didn’t know what happened next, these would be some of the saddest verses in the Bible.

Jesus had hand-picked 12 men to walk with him, serve beside him, and learn from him.

They had seen him defy gravity on a stormy sea, control nature’s fury, cure the incurable, and raise the four-days-dead.

He had even warned them in advance that he was going to be killed but that he would rise again.

In spite of all that, notice their response when the early reports of Jesus’ resurrection started trickling in:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them (Mark 16:9-13).

“They would not believe it.”

“They did not believe them.”

What?

After all they had seen?

It’s easy for me to point an accusing finger at the apostles, though. I’ve got the complete Bible, the whole story, God’s explanation of his long-held secret about salvation.

They didn’t have that.

All they knew in these hours of confusion, terror, and uncertainty was that the one they’d put their hope in was dead.

And not just dead, but crucified, ignominiously, shamefully.

When a group of women and a couple of disciples started saying they’d seen Jesus alive again, they didn’t believe it.

They couldn’t believe it.

And to be honest, we’ve been right there with them.

We’ve had our times when we doubted and questioned and feared.

Did he really come out of the tomb?

Is he real?

The crucial thing for us, as it was for them, is to keep our eyes open.

There’s plenty of evidence of an empty tomb, and the disciples soon couldn’t deny that Jesus was alive.

Today we can’t see him as they did.

We can’t touch him as Thomas did.

But if our hearts are open to faith, we can still know he’s real.

We can still be certain that what Mary said was true.

Jesus lives.

Did he really mean “everything”?

Yesterday I had the incredible privilege of baptizing a young man into Christ. I can’t think of anything better than to be present when Jesus washes a person’s sins away in his blood and through his grace.

His decision to follow Jesus will change everything about him—his priorities, his perspectives, his words and actions. Everything.

And I think that’s what Paul means in this verse:

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

In fact, Paul was probably reminding us of the day we committed ourselves to Christ.

“Just as you were baptized in his name,” Paul was saying, “Do everything in your life in a way that is conscious of his authority and reputation.”

That’s a reminder we all need, isn’t it?

The apostle doesn’t want us to miss his point. He writes “whatever you do,” and to make it abundantly clear he adds these words: “in word or deed.”

We should do everything in a way that’s conscious of Jesus’ claim on us.

Everything.

The way we talk to our kids.

How we speak to the slow-as-molasses department store clerk.

What we do when we’re cut off in traffic.

What we see on television and the web sites we visit.

Everything.

In fact, it’d be good to get into the habit of asking ourselves before we speak or act, “Will this word or action bring honor or shame to the name of Jesus?”

Will he be praised?

Will it make the people around me think more highly of Jesus?

Will God smile when he hears what I say and sees what I do?

That principle is so easy to forget.

It’s easy to think that following Jesus means watching out for the big sins, the really bad mistakes, the ones committed by the awful sinners.

But we probably ought to remember that Jesus actually walks with us all the time and cares about everything we do.

Once we’ve put him on in baptism, we wear him everywhere we go.

Think about that today. Remember the day you first began walking with Christ.

And then let every word and action be consistent with the one whose name you wear.

When God seems distant

I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled in any of these ways, but many Christians have.

Has your worship ever become stale, ritualistic, like you’re just going through the motions?

Ever felt sorta ho-hum spiritually, like you’ve lost the spark?

Do you sometimes sense more distance between you and God than there should be?

There’s no magic pill for spiritual maladies like these, but Paul gives us a great place to start.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

When your faith falters, one of the first questions to ask is how much attention you’ve been giving to the word of God.

Have you been reading the Bible?

Have you meditated on it?

Have you prayed over it?

You can get the word of Christ into your heart in many ways, of course.

You might read a chapter a day, reading each verse slowly, meditatively, and reflectively.

You might choose to read from a One-Year Bible, which includes selections from the Old and New Testaments each day and takes you through the Bible in a year.

Or you might pick a book of the Bible—Mark, for example—and study it for an entire month, reading several chapters each day.

Read different translations. Get a good study Bible and read the comments at the bottom. Or find a reliable commentary and dive into the meaning of whatever book you’re reading.

However you go about it, just start.

It might be a struggle, at least initially. It could be tedious. You may need to force yourself to do it.

But God’s Spirit works on human hearts through the word, and he’ll soon start working on yours.

The best cure for spiritual malaise comes from the Great Physician himself, and his most effective tool is his word.

Wet feet

The British preacher R.E.O. White said, “The surest sign that you’re carrying a full bucket is wet feet.”

Are your feet wet?

Like buckets, our hearts tend to spill what’s in them, and that’s Paul’s point in this verse: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Colossians 3:15).

I suppose most of us struggle with the absence of peace.

I’ll never get all this stuff done.

How will my kids turn out?

What if I lose my job?

What will the MRI reveal?

And we fret and wring our hands and take more antacids.

We feel unsettled, distracted, nervous, and all this usually manifests itself in our interactions with others. We become distant or withdrawn, or perhaps irritable, even with the people we love the most, or perhaps especially with them.

Only it’s not supposed to be like that.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” Paul writes. The word rule often referred to an umpire in a game and meant to control (Kittel).

In other words, Paul is saying that our hearts should be governed, ordered, controlled by peace.

But how?

It won’t happen when you seek it on your own. You’ll never get everything in your life arranged perfectly so that peace naturally comes.

Peace in your heart will come when you’re filled with the peace of Christ.

Then your feet will be wet. Then you’ll feel peace and live peace and radiate peace.

Today, for a few minutes, pause and empty your heart of all anxieties and distractions and ask the Lord to give you his peace, to fill you with peace. Ask him to let it rule your life.

It’s what he wants, of course. Shortly before he died he left us with these words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

I hope your feet get wet today.

The seven most powerful words

The seven most powerful words ever spoken didn’t come from the mouth of Jesus. In fact, they come from someone whose name we don’t even know.

Mark tells the story:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:1-8).

On the way to the tomb early Sunday morning the women remembered a potential obstacle: they had no way to get inside the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. Perhaps in their grief they just hadn’t planned everything well.

But they soon realized they had no reason to worry.

The tomb was no longer sealed.

At this point stuff started happening really quickly.

They saw a young man. He said something. They ran in horror.

At some point in their flight, when their fear subsided, they recalled the young man’s words.

What he said was confirmed by what they remember seeing in the tomb.

Nothing.

There was no body.

“He has risen. He is not here.”

Seven words that changed the world.

Seven words that changed me, and you, and millions of others.

They became the triumphant cry of the early Christians. In fact, read through a few sermons in Acts, and you might be amazed to see that this simple message was what they preached.

The tomb was empty.

The cross was significant, of course, but crucifixions were relatively common in that world. In one sense, Jesus died the same way thousands of others did.

But one thing was different. Incredibly, remarkably, gloriously different.

All the other crucifixion victims stayed in their graves.

But Jesus didn’t, and that makes all the difference.

Sometime, when you get discouraged and wonder if the difficulties of faith are really worth it, think back to the empty tomb.

What it says is that this world isn’t all there is. The same power that raised him will raise you.

A day is coming when everyone will hear his voice, and followers of Jesus will be raised to live with him as God always intended.

Seven words, one powerful message: My tomb will one day be empty too.

He has risen; he is not here.

What do you see?

We usually see what we’re looking for.

Try this exercise, for example. Pause a few seconds and look around the room and see how much blue you see.

I’m usually surprised by how much there is of whatever color I’m looking for.

That principle actually works for many things.

Some people never find Jesus Christ, but it isn’t because he can’t be found, or that he’s hiding, or that he hasn’t left enough clues about himself.

It’s often because they’re just not looking.

One particular phrase about Joseph jumps out at me when I read Mark’s paragraph about him. See if you notice it.

And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid (Mark 15:42-47).

He was looking for the kingdom.

That statement could’ve been made about many of Joseph’s contemporaries, but not in the way Mark uses it here. Thousands of people were looking for the kingdom of God, but they were looking for a preconceived notion of what that kingdom would look like.

Joseph had a different heart.

I think he wanted to see the kingdom as it was, not how he wanted it to be.

And so he found it.

One thing about him makes this even more amazing. He was a “respected member of the council,” and that means that he was part of the Sanhedrin, the same council that wanted Jesus dead.

But he pushed back against the prevailing spirit of his culture and saw God in a way that few did.

Why?

Because he was looking.

God shows himself to looking people.

Are you one of those people?

If you look for anger and hatred and violence, you’ll see it . . . there’s plenty of it.

If you look for selfishness and pride and egotism, you’ll see it . . . it’s everywhere.

But if you look for the kingdom, you’ll certainly see it.

You’ll see it in the love and kindness of kingdom citizens.

You’ll see it in the selflessness and outward focus of the King’s children.

You’ll see it in the obedience and commitment that have always characterized hearts where Jesus reigns.

What are you looking for?

Whatever it is, you’ll probably find it.

Where most of God’s work is done

Everyone knows who Peter was. He walked on water (not for long), spoke his mind (too often), and tried to take off another guy’s head with his sword (he missed).

There’s also Paul, probably the most prominent and influential Christian ever.

And the Bible has quite a few other household names, like Abraham, Moses, and David.

I wonder how many sermons have been preached on these men over the years?

But when’s the last time you heard a sermon about Mary Magdalene? Or Mary the mother of James the younger? Or Salome?

Yet God has done most of his work over the years through people like them.

Mark inserts this little tidbit into his narrative of the Lord’s crucifixion:

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-41).

While Jesus was dying, several people were conspicuously absent.

The apostle John was there, but where were Peter and James?

Where were the rest of the apostles?

We don’t know for sure, but they were probably huddled up somewhere hoping they weren’t found and arrested in the excitement surrounding Jesus’ execution.

But these women were somewhere near the cross, more courageous at this point than their male counterparts.

And notice also what Mark says about what they had done for Jesus: “they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women . . .”

It seems that Mark wants us to know that it wasn’t just the prominent names working with Christ.

It was the unknowns, the ones who were willing to work in the shadows to do what needed to be done.

They supported him financially. They also probably prepared food and made clothes and tended to a thousand other needs of a traveling group of missionaries.

In other words, they did the stuff behind the scenes that doesn’t make splashes but without it the public ministry doesn’t get done.

That describes a lot of you.

You’ll do things today that’ll never be recorded in a history book, and no one in the church will know.

You’ll change your baby’s diaper and sing her a song about Jesus.

You’ll send a note to a discouraged believer.

You’ll buy a gift card for a struggling family.

You’ll do what needs to be done to promote Jesus in the hearts of the people around you.

I think that’s what Mark had in mind when he told us about these women.

God mostly works through people whose names the world will never know.

But he remembers, and he’s recording every deed and every name.

Thank you for doing what nobody knows you do.

Thankful all day

And be thankful.

Those words came from Paul a long time ago, but they’re just as relevant now as they were then.

Sometimes I obey that command quite easily. Some days I get overwhelmed with how good God’s been to me and how he just keeps on blessing.

On those days smiles and prayers and worship come easily. God is good, and life is good.

Then there are other days, and they come more often than they should.

On those days I focus more on the negatives than I do the positives. I grumble and complain and wallow in the woe-is-me mire. Intellectually I know God is still good, but I don’t feel it. I don’t live it.

Do you have those days?

Do you ever get used to God’s goodness?

Maybe it’s part of the human condition, the struggle to do more than mumble a Thank-you-for-all-these-many-blessings kind of prayer.

It’s a fight to live in gratitude, and not just visit there on special occasions.

In your devotional time today, take a few minutes to be thankful.

Make a list of all God’s done for you. Be specific, and thank him for everything on that list.

Take it with you and pull it out when you have a minute or two today, and thank him again.

Be intentional about not whining or grumbling or buying into the negativism of the world around you.

Decide today—don’t worry about tomorrow yet—decide today that your heart will focus on all the good and all the blessings and all the hope.

And be thankful, Paul says.

Today, for one whole day, let’s try it.

What it means to love

It’s hard to define love.

Sometimes we use it to describe how much we like something—I love ice cream—but that’s inadequate.

And then sometimes we use it to describe a feeling—I love my wife because of how she makes me feel—but again that’s too shallow.

What about this?

Love is when we act in someone’s best interest even when it’s difficult for us, or maybe even painful.

We see that idea in these verses:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .” (John 3:16).

It wasn’t a strong like that led Jesus to the cross, and it certainly didn’t make him feel good.

He did it because we needed it.

He did it because he loved us.

That’s what we should think about when we read verses like this one: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Paul’s writing to Christians, and he’s just encouraged us to forgive and be patient with one another. He’s told us to be kind and compassionate and longsuffering.

But how? What’s the key?

Because of feelings?

Here’s an important point: God never asks us to do something because of how it makes us feel.

We treat people right because we choose to love them.

You’ll deal with someone today who won’t deserve your kindness or forgiveness. It might be your neighbor or coworker, or even your kid or your spouse.

It might be someone at church.

But if I understand the biblical idea of love right, God wants you to love that person today.

And love doesn’t even think about what people deserve.

It’s what we do because of what he did.

Be patient with me

It’s a good thing God is patient with us.

We fall down, kick ourselves, get back up, and promise this time we’ll do better. Next time we’ll be stronger.

And then we do it again.

I wonder if that ever frustrates God?

Even so, he keeps on forgiving, keeps on blessing, keeps on bearing with us.

And he asks us to do the same with others.

Remember the story of the king who had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents?

A talent, by the way, was how much a worker would earn in about 20 years, so 10,000 talents was the equivalent of how much you could earn in about 200,000 years.

In other words, this servant will never pay it back.

Ever.

He’s in debt for the rest of his life.

So the king did the unthinkable. He canceled the debt. Wiped it away. Acted as if it’d never existed.

It’s hard to imagine how excited this servant must’ve been. He’d gotten his life back.

When Jesus tells this story, he focuses more on what this once-indebted-but-now-forgiven servant did with someone who owed him about a hundred days’ pay.

A hundred days versus 200,000 years.

He’s just been forgiven of an incredibly huge debt, so what will he do with a debt that’s miniscule in comparison?

He does the unthinkable.

He chokes the guy, then throws him in prison until he pays him back.

The Lord’s point is clear.

We’ve been forgiven of an unpayable debt, so we’ve got to extend that same kind of patience toward others.

Do you struggle to forgive?

Today, right now, are you holding a grudge?

Are you impatient with the weaknesses of the people around you? Your spouse, your kids, your co-workers, your employees?

Paul says one of the marks of spirituality is patience: “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).

The story the Lord told doesn’t have a happy ending.

The king found out what his servant had done, so he threw him in prison “until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:34).

In other words, the guy would serve a few thousand consecutive life sentences.

God’s patience forgives our sins and bears with our weaknesses.

He’s serious about it when he says we need to do the same.