40 Days of Easter – Week 2

Empty-TombWeek 2 – Heart for the Hopeless

Before we look at Jesus Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalene in John 20, I want to look at a short Bible study from Psalm 46.   The theme of the Psalm is clear in the first verse: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” The core of the Psalm goes on to describe catastrophe and chaos. There are illusions to earthquakes, floods or possibly tsunamis, even volcanoes. The Psalmist speaks of nations that are in political uproar and war. In the middle and at the end of this Psalm there are two identical verses (7 & 11). Both of them are followed by a mysterious Hebrew word, Selah. Most Bible scholars agree that this was probably a sign for a musical interlude. Remember this Psalm was written as a song. It is almost certain that this word Selah was at least a call for those hearing the message to stop and meditate on the truth just presented.

Here is the verse repeated twice: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Why don’t you put some music on and meditate on that truth for a while. Have yourself a Selah.

Back already? OK, let’s break it down. Lord Almighty, that can also be translated Lord of hosts. That means that God is commander over armies and armies of warring angels. Good news. . .He is with us! Remember this Old Testament illustration? In 2 Kings 6, we find the King of Aram at war with Israel. Elisha, the prophet of God had an inside track with the Lord Almighty. God was telling Elisha the wicked king’s plans. The king of Aram sent a strong force of men, horses and chariots to kill Elisha.

When Elisha’s servant looked out of the window, he saw the armies of the enemy surrounding them. He was terrified. Elisha told him not to be afraid and then prayed: “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” The Lord allowed the servant to see that the hills surrounding the enemy were filled with warring angels, horses and chariots of fire from heaven! When the enemy advanced against Elisha, they were struck with blindness from God.

That same Lord of hosts is with us!

The God of Jacob is our fortress.

We have some biblical imagery for the word fortress. It revolves around the Hebrew word Masada. Herod the Great built a fortress called Masada. It was a mountain with the top cut off of it in southern Israel. On one side there was a 1,300 foot cliff and on the other the Dead Sea. It seemed impenetrable. And it was necessary for Herod to keep him safe from a Jewish insurrection or an attack by Cleopatra and her Egyptian troops. The God of Jacob is our Masada, our fortress.

Now wait. . .wouldn’t it seem better to switch those sentences around? The Lord Almighty is our fortress; the God of Jacob is with us. The One who is commander of armies and armies of angels is our fortress. He will keep us safe. The God of the individual (Jacob) is with us. Doesn’t that seem to fit better?

No, let’s not switch it. This is our safety, this is our refuge: we have a God who cares about every individual.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord as anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:1-3

The God who focuses on the one, the Good Shepherd Himself, He is our fortress! Now let me illustrate this truth with Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalene in John 20. Read verses 10 through 18.

The outline of this passage is very simple:

1). Mary’s crying.

2). Jesus cares.

Mary’s crying. Why? She is confused. The last week has been a whirlwind. It began with a triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the whole crowd singing Christ’s praises. It ended with the sound of metal hitting metal as the nails were hammered through Jesus into the cross. And now His body is gone. Did the guards take Him and throw His body into the garbage heap for the dogs? Did they want one more chance to humiliate those who followed Him?

Mary is crying because she is sad. That word doesn’t seem strong enough. Jesus had freed her from the bondage of seven demons (Luke 8:2). More than that, He had filled her with love and hope and life.

Now He is gone, really gone. She is desperate, and even willing to go find the body so that she can bring Him back to His tomb.

Jesus cares. I believe that Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene was Plan B. Her tears prompted this encounter. Plan A was described in the first 8 verses of Luke 24. This is the plan that was agreed upon in a Holy huddle with Jesus and some angels. The angels would go to the tomb, roll the stone away and wait there for those who loved Christ. When they arrived, they would tell them that Jesus was alive and that He was going to meet with them later. Sounds like a good plan, right?

But Mary was crying. Jesus Cares. So He appeared, Plan B.   After all, she was right there with Him when He suffered on the cross. In fact, He is intent to fulfill the very prophecy that He gave those who followed Him before His death:

“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me. I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:19,20

Mary realized that it was Jesus when He said her name. Suddenly it now all made sense. Her grief was transformed into joy.

Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus appeared to Mary? The first person that draws the presence of the Risen Lord is a formerly demon possessed woman who is crying. If I were Jesus, I would have made a more powerful first appearance.

Maybe to Pilate as he is washing his hands! Tradition says that this man who literally tried to wash his hands from the responsibility of having Jesus crucified lived the rest of his life obsessively washing his hands. I would have just leaned in behind him and non-chalantly said: “Missed a spot.”

But Jesus came to Mary, and His message to her? “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” John 20:17

Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus appears to a woman who is crying because He cares and then He draws her right in to the intimacy that He has with His Father.

“The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Mary is our fortress.”

If you are confused, if you are sad, if you are grieving, this same Jesus is alive and He still cares. The God of the individual, the Good Shepherd Himself, is with you. And He is your refuge, He is your strength, He is your fortress.


Bible Study

In Luke 11:13, Jesus says that if earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to His children who ask! As you study the following scriptures, believe that the Holy Spirit will give you wildly creative gifts to share with your mentor or your friends.

  •                   Psalm 34, 46
  •                   Isaiah 61
  •                   John 14-16
  •                   John 20

Vintage Poetry

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.

A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.

O Jesus blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God,

Hold us who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God.


There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God.

A place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God.

O Jesus blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God,

Hold us who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God.


There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God.

A place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.

O Jesus blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God,

Hold us who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God.

                                                                                           C.B. McAfee – 1903


About Rich Stevenson

Rich is the Executive Director of The Malachi Network (www.malachinetwork.org), a ministry focused on making the name of the LORD great among the nations. This network serves young leaders in missions and church planting. Prior to his present ministry, Rich pastored in Southern New Jersey, planted a church in Wilmore, KY, established a network of churches, served as an adjunct professor at Asbury College and was a senior leader at The International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO as well as The International House of Prayer in Atlanta, GA. Rich is the author of two books: Secrets of the Spiritual Life—10 Lessons from the One Thing Passages (Baker Books, 2003) A Voice from Home—The Words You Long to Hear from Your Father (WaterBrook Press, 2005) He graduated from Asbury College in 1984 with a BA degree in Philosophy of Religion and Asbury Theological Seminary in 1987 with a Master of Divinity degree. In 2010, Rich received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Union Biblical Seminary in Yangon, Myanmar. Rich has been married to Tania since 1982 and they have been blessed by amazing children: Zachary and his wife Meghan, Jacob and his wife Lena, Jessica and Corrie Emma.
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