Grace Under Fire

Acts 4:1-4 (NLT)

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of men who believed now totaled about 5,000.


Yesterday, we considered how Peter continued to offer forgiving grace from Jesus Christ even to the people involved in the crucifixion. Thousands listened, but we also see how pointedly describing sin and the need for repentance can get a person into trouble.

The leaders who thought a crucifixion had brought an end to the Jesus movement were unhappy to hear all this talk of resurrection. Peter and John found themselves under arrest.

They seem to have approached the situation not as a problem, but as an opportunity. Read on a little, and you’ll see how they continued to declare that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and that ongoing healing still was to be credited to the one who had risen from the dead.

Later, such arrests would lead to beatings for the apostles. Fearing the people who had seen the lame man healed, the Jewish leaders this day opted for authoritarian threats and intimidation, telling Peter and John to speak of Jesus no more.

The two were unimpressed.

“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The lesson is straightforward. If they were so bold under their circumstances, we certainly should be bold in ours. Let’s always be seeking new opportunities to tell people Jesus Christ is Lord.

Lord, we know any success we have at declaring the Good News is because of your strength, not our own. May we rely on your guidance and power more each day. Amen.

Imagine No Resurrection

Mark 12:18-27 (NLT)

Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died without children. Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, and still there were no children. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.”

Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven.

“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”


By Chuck Griffin

In the daily lectionary readings, we last considered in October this exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees, hearing the story in the Gospel of Matthew. In this Easter season, it’s always appropriate to consider the critical importance of Christ’s resurrection, as well as the resurrection we will experience one day.

After all, there are modern-day Sadducees who will tell you there is no such thing as a resurrection, sometimes while standing in a pulpit.

Suppose you were to pick up the newspaper and find this headline: “Christ’s Body Found!” Under this headline is a story saying that Jesus’ body has been located in an ancient tomb. Documents and artifacts nearby prove it is Jesus’ body. The evidence is irrefutable.

What would such facts do to your faith?

A professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky used to ask his students this question. He would get a variety of answers.

Students often said something along these lines: “Jesus was a great teacher. I still would want to devote my life to passing on his teachings about love and forgiveness.”

There was a time when I might have given the same answer. I’m convinced now, however, that such an answer demonstrates a poor understanding of the radical nature of Christianity.

Here’s my response to the hypothetical newspaper story: I would quit the ministry and return to my former career, public relations, where I could make more money and use it to enjoy life before I die. Absent a real resurrection, Christianity loses all its meaning.

If Christ were not resurrected, then he was just another person spouting high-minded words, preaching ideas that got him killed.

If Christ were not resurrected, we have no hope of resurrection, and we should call him crazy. Remember, in the Bible Jesus repeatedly says he is the Son of God and that he has to suffer, die and rise from the dead. If he merely suffered and died, it’s hard to take anything else he said seriously. People who erroneously claim to be God are delusional.

If Christ were not resurrected, then we would be better off spending our energy wielding as much power as possible, taking what we can from this world before the world swallows us. Jesus’ teachings about loving our enemies, caring for the poor, and suffering for the benefit of others simply don’t make sense in a world where God has not demonstrated that sacrificial love overcomes all, even death.

Fortunately Christ is risen—as we say on Easter Sunday, he is risen indeed!

Christ’s resurrection is God’s way of proving that selfless, sacrificial acts generate the greatest power in this world, the infinite kind of power needed to break the deadly grip of sin.

For Christians, the resurrection really is everything.

Lord, help us to preach and teach the concept of the resurrection fully and completely so others may understand the gift we have been granted. Amen.

Sent with the Spirit

John 20:19-23 (NLT)

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


By Chuck Griffin

To pick up where I left off Friday, there is a particular moment in this resurrection appearance story I want to explore.

When Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” he indicated the true role of the church, the global church of believers. We are to act as the body of Christ, as a group continuing the work Jesus began through his teaching, crucifixion and resurrection.

Here’s my immediate impression: What an honor! God allows us to participate in work he could easily do himself. We are reminded of how we were initially created, as images of the one who made us.

As mere reflections of God, we of course cannot continue Christ’s work while relying on our own power. We instead must depend on God’s power being present among us and within us. Which brings us to the next moment in the story.

Jesus breathed on these men who would be the early church leaders and planters, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” I think of this as a mini-Pentecost, an event we will celebrate Sunday, May 23. These men received early the gift that would fall upon the church in full after Jesus’ ascension.

Tired and afraid, hiding out, I’m sure they needed his power to begin their new roles.

The gift of the Spirit has been transmitted from generation to generation for thousands of years, and it will remain present somewhere in the world until Christ returns in full. We have to actively share the story of Jesus and bring people to belief, however, if they are to receive the gift.

Otherwise, we are in danger of living in one of those places on the planet where the Spirit once worked powerfully but now is not visible because of a lack of heart-felt evangelism and adherence to God’s teachings.

In this story, we also see a powerful concept we as the church are to offer to the world, the idea that forgiveness is possible even for what we consider terrible sins. True repentance—a desire to put sin behind us and turn toward God—is required, of course, but once we repent, God makes restoration easy, trusting the church to recognize it and declare it to have happened.

This message of forgiveness is something the world desperately needs to hear, particularly in our increasingly secular culture, where an escalating game of “Gotcha!” seems to be underway.

You’ve seen what I am talking about: Opponents dredge up sins from decades ago to use against each other, trying to tell the world, “That’s who that person really is!” Where there is no room for forgiveness, there is no room for restoration and growth, and we all are left to bite and devour each other until nothing remains.

As part of our efforts to evangelize the world, the most attractive part of our message may be the concept of forgiveness, of lives changed. As members of Christ’s global church, let’s remember to inject lessons of forgiveness into a gotcha kind of world.

Yes, Lord, sin remains in the world, even in our lives. Thanks to you for giving us and others a way out, a way to grow, a way to be more like what you created us to be. Amen.

Shocking Appearance

John 20:19-31 (NLT)

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.


By Chuck Griffin

This resurrection appearance by Jesus is packed with lessons. There’s one in particular I want to focus on while preaching this Sunday, a meditation on forgiveness I also will share in the Monday LifeTalk devotional.

Today, let’s take a quick look at some of the bigger points we can take away from the story:

Jesus’ resurrected body is simultaneously familiar and transformed. He bears the scars of his holy death, but he also seems to transcend what we think of as the material world, entering locked rooms at will. Certainly, Jesus performed similar miracles before going to the cross (walking on water, for example), but this seems different.

“Peace be with you” is more than just a greeting. It seems to be Jesus’ theme after the resurrection. What has happened should take away our fears, even when we are faced with unfamiliar and troubling situations.

Thomas clearly is the origin of the phrase, “Seeing is believing.” To say that phrase with conviction is to miss the point, however. Where Jesus Christ is concerned, the greatest blessing is for those of us who believe in the story without having seen. Our assurance comes directly from the Holy Spirit whispering to our spirits.

We are left to wonder about the stories we don’t have about Jesus. Surely they aren’t more dramatic than what we do have—water into wine, miraculous feedings, healings, people raised from the dead—but I have no doubt they would reinforce the principle we’ve learned already. Jesus Christ has the power to change everything.

Lord, thank you for the gift of the stories we have about the resurrected Christ. Amen.

Enduring Love

Psalm 118:1-2 (NLT)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

Let all Israel repeat:
    “His faithful love endures forever.”

By Chuck Griffin

The opening to Psalm 118 asserts a truth that some people find difficult. Perhaps that’s why it is worth repeating.

In the midst of life’s problems, we can feel God has forsaken us. Those dark times can be deeply frustrating, at least until the moment when God does break through to remind us of his grace.

The Easter season is a good time to remember just how powerfully God has broken through and will continue to break through. For no clear reason, other than the fact God is eternally loving, our savior came among us in flesh to die for our sins, making eternal life for us possible.

While dying, Jesus Christ also felt that loneliness we sometimes feel: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His cry from the cross was a quote from Psalm 22, another place in Scripture we can go when we feel forgotten.

Yes, Jesus died, but always remember, the stone was rolled back. Morning light made its way into the tomb, and the resurrected Jesus stepped forth. The resurrection proves Christ defeated the darkness that sometimes seems to surround us, including what can seem like the deep darkness of death.

Remember this, too: Until Christ is seen in full, we are to be voices in the darkness, offering hope to those who think they will never see light again.

Lord, in difficult times, give us unique signs of your presence to carry us through. Amen.

In Death, Victory

1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NRSV)

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.


Dead as a doornail. Dead as a dodo. Not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

English writers have done a good job of describing death as an irreversible end, be it in a Shakespearean play or “The Wizard of Oz.” But even before there was an English language, there was the idea that death could be undone.

Actual reversals of death were rare events, of course, but where they are recorded, it is clear they occurred to signal the presence of God.

Take 1 Kings 17:8-24, for example. In the midst of drought and famine, God sent the prophet Elijah to find a widow and her son, locating them as the woman prepared to bake the last handful of flour and oil she had into bread. She planned that she and her son would share in this tiny meal and then die.

Once the widow showed Elijah a little hospitality, however, the jar of meal and the jug of oil always had enough in them to sustain the three, even though there was no food in the land for such a poor collection of people. By the hand of God, death had been delayed.

Death still came, however. In a perplexing turn of events, the boy became ill, and “there was no breath left in him.” The mother was convinced that in the presence of a prophet, her sins had somehow become more glaring, causing the death of her boy.

Elijah took the boy upstairs, however, and through intense prayer convinced God to restore him to life. When he carried the boy down to his mother, she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

God is revealed in life, not death.

Centuries later, Jesus performed a similar miracle for a similar widow, raising her son from his funeral bier. There was one major difference in Jesus’ approach, though. Elijah prayed fervently to God; Jesus spoke as God, saying, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

In this and other death-reversing miracles, Jesus gave a preview of coming attractions. In dying on the cross, he atoned for our sins, that root cause of death.

And in his resurrection—his defeat of death—he made it clear that when we follow him, we have nothing to fear. Not even our own temporary, transitory deaths.

Death is not final. We all shall rise from it, look at our renewed bodies, see our risen loved ones, and see the one who makes the miracle possible. Our joy will be greater than that of a widow finding her only son restored to life.

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Lord, may the resurrection to come exist firmly in our minds, shaping how we live until such time as we experience this holy transformation. Amen.

He Is Risen!

By Chuck Griffin

Depending on which gospel you read, the resurrection story is told in slightly different ways. The core facts are the same, however: Jesus was definitely dead, crucified on a cross.

Then he was and is clearly alive, fully recognizable and yet transformed in a way that should still astound us.

We often rely on the gospel of John during Holy Week and Easter, if for no other reason than the precise detail provided there regarding both the crucifixion and the resurrection. Mary Magdalene, a woman who had been healed by Jesus and became his follower, finds the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.

She goes for help, returning with Peter and a disciple described as “the one whom Jesus loved.” The men see the carefully discarded burial linens and leave the tomb. Mary stays and sees the risen Jesus, mistaking him at first for a gardener before speaking with him. When she runs back to the disciples, she announces, “I have seen the Lord.”

Just as angels indicated at Jesus’ birth that the world was changing because God had come to live among humanity, Mary was saying that nothing will ever be the same now that Jesus has defeated death.

The Greek verb we translate as “announce” was used very specifically in Jesus’ day, indicating that previously unknown news was being delivered. Mary Magdalene was the first to deliver the Good News about Jesus Christ and his world-transforming resurrection.

And indeed, nothing is the same. Before Jesus, death was a frightening uncertainty, at best a descent into a shadowy existence. After Jesus, death is meaningless for those who follow Christ.

We don’t seek death—we certainly don’t relish what might accompany the dying process—but faithful Christians intuitively know they have nothing to fear. How can we fear what Christ has crushed? How can we be anxious about facing Father God when we know the resurrected Son will stand by us and say, “I have made this one holy!”

And more than just the afterlife is changed. This life now is changed.

In making us holy through the cleansing action of the cross, God can dwell in us. He gives us his Spirit to sustain us until all creation is set right in the general resurrection, the complete remaking of heaven and earth. (If you don’t know that part of the story, take hope—it is where history is headed.)

The joy of eternity with God begins now, not in our passing. Easter is a reminder that the resurrection happened in this world, impacting living people, including us today.

The resurrection is a story worth hearing again and again. Nothing can match it; certainly nothing can embellish the story that makes eternity possible. I pray you have the opportunity to celebrate this great story in some way today.

Lord, thank you for salvation and eternal life! May the hope of Easter fill our hearts each day. Amen.

We See You!

Mark 3:7-12 (NLT)

Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.

Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him. And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, the spirits would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was.


The religious phrase “Great Awakening” has been borrowed by some who badly abused it in secular settings the last couple of years. Today’s text reminds us of what it means for people to leap to their feet and respond to the clear presence of God.

Jesus’ ministry, of course, was the ultimate Great Awakening, as he first revealed an expanded understanding of God’s plan and then, in his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit, made an ongoing, living connection to God possible.

Any later Great Awakening simply was or will be a revival, a renewed understanding of what has come before. As in Jesus’ day, when such an event happens, people more easily recognize miracles past and present. They may travel great distances to hear what God has to say, even though these truths have long been available to them in God’s word.

I particularly like the idea that the spiritual world in contention with God trembles at the idea of such moments that lead to movements. Unseen evil beings trouble us all the time. Why should they not be troubled, too?

Hear the Good News: Jesus Christ is Lord! The evil in this world is in retreat and the brokenness of creation is being healed. It is a truth established for you and for me. It is simultaneously personal and global; it will change our lives forever.

Lord, may we see such an Awakening in our day, to the benefit of our families, friends, neighbors, enemies, and of course, ourselves.

Death of the Son

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 9:1-14

So, right up front, I might as well tell you what I’m doing wrong. I’m taking an obscure, hard-to-translate heading on a psalm and likely stretching it into far more than was intended.

The least controversial way to translate Psalm 9’s heading is, “To the chief musician upon Muth-labben,” which avoids all problems in translating the Hebrew phrase “Muth-labben.”

I studied a little Hebrew in seminary, but let’s just say I never wanted to make a living working in biblical languages. I have enormous respect for those who choose this path. But as best as I can tell, even the experts have trouble agreeing on the translation of this particular psalm title.

I will not bore you with all the possibilities, but my favorite, the one chosen by the New Living Translation, is, “To be sung to the tune, ‘Death of the Son.’ “

That translation begs other questions. Whose son? Being considered a psalm of David, Absalom, perhaps? Again, it’s impossible to answer for sure.

Just for the fun of it, let’s stick with “Death of the Son” as the title and then really Christianize the psalm. We will look at it like people who believe Jesus Christ is somehow present in every page of the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament.

What follows Psalm 9’s heading is unrestrained praise for God. This is the God who fills us with joy!

We also hear of the God who restores us at the judgment, sending our sin-aligned enemies staggering away mortally wounded.

The nations are all rebuked for unholiness. All is set right, and God is understood to be astonishingly loving, the one who shelters and restores the oppressed and hopeless.

Regardless of the psalmist’s intent, I think of the God who came among us in flesh and died for our sins, making resurrection and restoration possible. I think of Jesus Christ, the cross, and a stone rolled away from a tomb.

It’s enough to make me wonder if “Death of the Son” was a joyous tune.

Lord, help us begin our week immersed in the idea that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and in the hope that death brings. Amen.

Bedtime Meditation

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 63:6-8
I lie awake thinking of you,
    meditating on you through the night.
Because you are my helper,
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your strong right hand holds me securely.

Let’s continue with our meditation on Psalm 63, along the lines of what we did yesterday.

Where do we find our minds going as we drift toward sleep, or even as we sleep? There has been a lot of talk about difficulty sleeping and about “Covid-19 dreams,” those nighttime expressions of our heightened anxiety.

I’ve had my struggles at night. In the midst of the pandemic, I moved from one church appointment to another. As you might expect, I couldn’t say goodbye to the former church people the way I wanted, and I have not been able to say hello to the new church people the way I want.

I’ve had this recurring dream where I’m in the sanctuary at my new appointment. As I walk into the narthex, I see a set of stairs that don’t exist in real life, and I go up them. Upstairs, I find I’m in the sanctuary of my former church.

You don’t have to be a psychologist to figure that one out. It’s not a scary dream, just startlingly vivid, but clearly I’m lacking a sense of complete transition.

That dream is nothing compared with what a lot of you are experiencing. Maybe you have illness in your immediate family, or perhaps your ability to make a living has been impaired. The situation is enough to keep you awake at night.

Try this—I will try it too. Read just a little Scripture before falling asleep. Read something positive, like one of the resurrection stories in the gospels, or something else that gives you joy.

As you fall asleep, think about the goodness of God. Think of the great gift of salvation we have been given.

God is our helper. God does give us joy. And God will carry us through the night.

Lord, as we sleep, may we encounter you and grow in our understanding of your love. Amen.