Awake – April 7, 2023

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.
Matthew 28:2-4

Military Devotion – April 7, 2023

Devotion based on Matthew 28:2-4

See series: Military Devotions

They awoke to a nightmare. Fear stabbed their hearts. It led to panic. They could be dead before the sun set. The situation was that serious.

By the authority of the Roman governor, they had been assigned guard duty. It was in a pleasant place. It was in a garden. They were guarding a body in a tomb. It was feared that an attempt would be made to steal that corpse. They were to prevent that from happening. The Roman rule was, “Lose your prisoner—lose your life.” They were ready to take on anyone who challenged their position.

They were soldiers—absolutely unprepared to face an angel from heaven.

She awoke to a heartache. She was up before daybreak. She probably had not slept much that night—maybe not much since Thursday night. Now it was Sunday.

The news had shocked her. “Jesus was arrested!” Reports came in of his disciples running away. Only John remained for the mock trial and the execution verdict. Crowds gathered as word spread of soldiers leading three prisoners to their crucifixion. Jesus was among them.

She went with other women from Galilee to watch him die. She joined a small group to bury him. Jesus had once driven seven demons out of her. She knew him as the Messiah. She wanted to give him a proper burial.

But time ran out. The shadows of the Sabbath fell. The Law proclaimed on Mt. Sinai so many years ago forbade her quick return. She would have to wait until she awoke on Sunday.

Her name was Mary from Magdala. Her heartache turned to utter dismay when she saw that the tomb of Jesus was empty. To the supposed caretaker she cried out, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him” (John 20:15).

He woke up to another day of shame, regret, and grief. How could he face the other followers of Jesus? How could he face the mother of Jesus? How could he face himself?

His name was Peter. He was to be like a rock. He had crumbled like a sand castle.

There was one more who might be mentioned. He never woke to see the sunrise. Will never see light again.

He was already in the dark pit of hell when Jesus made his Easter victory lap through the abode of the damned. The banner over the entrance to this place could well have been, “Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here.”

His name was Judas.

Those soldiers? They lived to see another day. Rather than being punished, they were paid a bribe to spread the word that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. “Jesus of Nazareth is still dead!” they lied (Matthew 28:12).

Mary from Magdala? That supposed gardener changed her day with one word: “Mary!” Her eyes were opened to see her living Redeemer. When she ran to him, he told her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).

What about Peter? He awoke to go with John to visit that grave. It really was empty. The cloth that had been around Jesus’ head was found neatly folded. They went away wondering.

It’s the apostle Paul who later tells more of the story. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.”

He adds more details. “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.”

He continues, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Finally, the climax! “And last of all he appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

The risen Savior appeared to Saul of Damascus, now called Paul, who had hunted down followers of Jesus to have them arrested! If he was willing to forgive someone like that, whom else would he accept?

Would he forgive and accept me? Even me? Might he, one day, appear to me? Will he call my name? Can I look forward to my own Easter experience when I will see him with my own eyes?

But what if I die before he returns to earth? What should I tell myself when my eyes close in death? What shall I say when the new day dawns?

What else than “Awake! Awake my heart with gladness!”

Lord Jesus, you have said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Now I know that I shall live though I die. To learn that I will live forever with you, and with all those who believe in you, is not just good news. It is the best news. You will awake my heart with gladness. Amen.

Points to ponder:

  • Easter morning was confusing for the followers of Jesus. Why did he make it so?
  • Some say those bribed guards told the biggest lie in history. Might that be true?
  • Easter was long past when Jesus showed himself to Paul. Why might he have done that?

Written and recorded by Rev. Paul Horn, WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the Military, San Diego, California.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.

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