Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as He said would happen. Come, see where His body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead, and He is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” (Matthew 28:1-10).
Hope. We use that word a lot. We use it to express our preferences and dreams about the weather, our favorite sports team, our future vacation destinations, and what we will eat for lunch. Hope, in a typical conversation, expresses a wish or a desire while there is still uncertainty. While hope is a part of our daily vocabulary, it seems to be less often used in its biblical context. It’s been said that “Hope is the one thing that will get us through the darkest of times.”
Today we celebrate Easter, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection brings hope to us all. The late Emil Brunner once said, “What oxygen is for the lungs, such is hope for the meaning of human life.” As the human organism is dependent on a supply of oxygen, so humanity is dependent on its supply of hope. Yet today hopelessness and despair are everywhere. Peter, who himself was given to despair following his betrayal of the Lord, writes in a triumphant note, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3)
There is hope that mistakes and sins can be forgiven. There is hope that we can have joy, peace, assurance, and security in the midst of the despair of this age. There is hope that Jesus Christ is coming again soon – this is what is called in Scripture “the blessed hope.” There is hope that there will come a new heaven and a new earth, and that the Kingdom of God will reign and triumph. Our hope is not in our own ability, or in our goodness, or in our physical strength. Our hope is instilled in us by the resurrection of Christ.
“The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, ‘Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while He was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent His disciples from coming and stealing His body and then telling everyone He was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.’ Pilate replied, ‘Take guards and secure it the best you can.’ So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.” (Matthew 27:62-66)
It’s Saturday. Jesus’ body lies silently in Joseph’s tomb. Much was spoken on Friday. Jesus will surprise the world on Sunday. But today is Saturday and Jesus is silent. God the Father is also silent. He made Himself known on Friday. He ripped the curtains of the temple from top to bottom. He opened the graves of dead and brought many back to life. He blocked the sun and allowed the darkness. He watched the sacrifice of His Son. His only Son. Yes, God was heard and known on Friday. And He will certainly act on Sunday. But it’s Saturday. So far, we hear nothing from Jesus. We hear nothing from God. There’s nothing to do but wait in the silence.
Most Easter sermons, devotions, articles and discussions skip Saturday altogether. Good Friday and Easter Sunday get all the attention. The crucifixion and the resurrection command our thoughts, as they should. But we can’t ignore Saturday, even if it is a silent Saturday. Because we all have our own silent Saturdays as well, those days between our own struggles and their solutions. Silent Saturdays are difficult. They torment us. We can’t help but wonder if God is mad at us. Did we somehow disappoint Him? He’s certainly doing a good job of giving us the silent treatment. Why doesn’t He speak? He knows what’s going on? He knows Jesus is in the tomb. He knows the issues we’re facing. He knows all about our failing careers, our disappointing marriages, and our financial disasters. So why is He silent? What are we supposed to do until He speaks?
Ironically, we do what Jesus did. We lie still. We stay silent. We trust God. We remember God’s promises. Jesus died knowing that “You will not abandon Me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.” (Acts 2:27 NIV) Jesus knew God would not leave Him alone in the grave. God will also not leave us alone with our struggles. His silence is not His absence. His inactivity is not His apathy. Silent Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God’s strength. If God had raised Jesus from the dead ten minutes after His death, would we appreciate the act? If God were to solve our problems as soon as they appear, would we be thankful for His strength?
It’s God’s business if He wants to insert a Saturday between our Good Fridays and our Easter Sundays. When we find ourselves in a silent Saturday, not knowing if an Easter Sunday is on the way, we must be strong and courageous. We must trust in Him who is always faithful. We must be patient.
Prayer: Lord, help us to wait on You and trust in You, even on our silent Saturdays, when we don’t know what You are doing next.
Followup Activity – Find a quiet place where you can be alone for a few moments. Make a list of issues of which you are waiting for the Lord to move. Pray over each item on your list, telling God you trust Him to work in the situation even if you can’t see Him move.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?”Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought He was calling for the prophet Elijah.One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to Him on a reed stick so He could drink.But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save Him.”Then Jesus shouted out again, and He released his spirit.At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart,and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead.They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.
The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54)
Good Friday evokes different feelings from different people. Today’s devotional thought is an excerpt from a sermon by S.M. Lockridge, who was a prominent African-American preacher known for his dynamic sermons, including this one titled “It’s Friday.”
It’s Friday. Jesus is praying. Peter’s a sleeping. Judas is betraying. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. Pilate’s struggling. The council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying. They don’t even know that Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The disciples are running like sheep without a shepherd. Mary’s crying. Peter is denying. But they don’t know that Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The Romans beat my Jesus. They robed Him in scarlet. They crowned Him with thorns. But they don’t know that Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. See Jesus walking to Calvary. His blood dripping. His body stumbling. And His spirit’s burdened. But you see, it’s only Friday. Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning.
It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross. They nail my Savior’s feet to the cross. And then they raise Him up next to criminals. It’s Friday. But let me tell you something – Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The disciples are questioning. What has happened to their King. And the Pharisees are celebrating that their scheming has been achieved. But they don’t know it’s only Friday. Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. He’s hanging on the cross. Feeling forsaken by His Father. Left alone and dying. Can nobody save Him? Oh, it’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming.
It’s Friday. The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My King yields His spirit. It’s Friday.
Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered and Satan’s just laughing.
It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard. And a rock is rolled into place. But it’s Friday. It is only Friday. Sunday is coming!
Prayer: Lord, don’t let me despair on this Good Friday. Help me remember that Easter Sunday is coming.
Then they led Him away to be crucified.Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). (Matthew 27:31-32)
Jesus, weakened from the flogging, cannot make it up Golgotha’s hill. When this becomes obvious to the Roman soldiers, they command Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus. Simon bends to help and lifts the cross, places it on his own back, and looks directly at Jesus with the crown of thorns pressed into His forehead with blood streaming down His swollen face. Simon feels for the man, but can’t help but wonder, “What if they confuse us? What if they think that I’m Jesus since I’m carrying the cross and end up crucifying me?” But this doesn’t stop Simon from serving Jesus. Instead, he takes up the cross and follows Jesus to Golgotha.
But who was Simon of Cyrene? We know he was a real historical person who was there at a real historical moment in time. We know that Simon was from Cyrene, a city in North Africa, in today’s Libya. He was a foreigner, an African, but it’s not certain if he was Jew or Gentile because the name Simon was common for both Jews and Greeks. Finally, we know that Simon helped the Lord in His final moments by carrying His cross. In Luke, Simon is reported to have carried the cross behind Jesus as He walked to Golgotha. Luke is the only one of the Gospels that says Simon carried the cross behind Jesus. All the other Gospels that mention Simon simply say that he carried the cross. Could it be possible that Luke wants us to recall Luke 9:23 where Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”? Jesus had challenged His disciples with this scripture, but it was Simon of Cyrene who was available in the moment to serve the Lord. Though far from bearing the weight of our sin, Simon did at least bear the weight of the wooden cross. In that moment, Simon of Cyrene is a portrait of a true disciple of Jesus.
May we all be as true and faithful as Simon of Cyrene, ready to pick up our cross and follow Jesus at a moment’s notice.
Lord, thank You for the example of Simon of Cyrene. Please help me be ready to follow You wherever You may lead.
So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned Him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on His head, and they placed a reed stick in His right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before Him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck Him on the head with it. (Matthew 27:26-30)
Some might call it the beginning of the end. Condemned by Pilate, the punishment of Jesus begins. The Roman soldiers take Jesus to the Praetorium where they bind Him to the whipping post, securing His hands over His head, and exposing His back. The soldiers proceed to lash Him with a three pronged, lead tipped whip for 40 lashes. Their intention is to weaken Him physically before His crucifixion so death will come sooner. To further humiliate Him, they fashion a crown of thorns and shove it down onto His head. They spit on Him. They slapped His face. They mocked Him by crying out, “Hail! King of the Jews!”
Interestingly enough, what the Roman soldiers thought was mockery was actually truth. Jesus was King of the Jews, but to the Romans, He was a criminal to be disposed of. Jesus did not respond to their mockery and He absorbed their blows without complaint. In doing so, He was fulfilling Isaiah 53:3-5: “He was despised and rejected- a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”
Within this physical flogging and mocking, we catch a glimpse of how foul our sins are to God. What was justifiable for us, punishment for our rebelliousness, He, an innocent man, the Son of God, took upon His own body because He loved us. We cannot appreciate how foul our sin must be to the Lord. Reflect for a moment on the punishment Jesus received in the Praetorium. That is how detestable our sin is to God. Jesus, His Son endured the brutality of the Roman soldiers so that we might be made whole. He endured physical, emotional, and spiritual degradation for our healing.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your grace and mercy. Thank You for enduring the lashes, the mockery, and the abuse for me.
This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)… Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!” Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” … So Pilate released Barabbas to them. (Matthew 27:16-18, 20-22, 26a)
All of the gospel writers include Barabbas. It’s not surprising because he was a bloodthirsty murderer. Ironically, his name means “son of the father.” In a dramatic historic coincidence, his name is reported by some to have actually been “Jesus Barabbas” or “Jesus, the son of the father.” If this is true then the crowd was confronted by Pilate with choosing between Jesus, the son of the father, who rules by violence and makes his living by his wits; and Jesus, the Son of the Father, who rules by love and is ready to sacrifice Himself.
Why did they choose Barabbas? Were they somehow disappointed with Jesus?” This was the same crowd who, just a few days before, had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. It’s certain that some of them knew people who had experienced a healing touch from Jesus for the city was filled with people Jesus had healed. The eyes of the blind had been opened, the deaf made to hear, and the lame to walk. Jesus had awakened within people the hope that He was indeed the Messiah, come to deliver them from the yoke of Rome. But all of their thoughts of messiahship centered around the thought that He would set them free from the hated bondage of Rome. Now, when they saw Him standing helpless before the Roman governor, all their loyalty to Him collapsed. In anger and disappointment, they chose Barabbas, the son of the father.
Have you ever been disappointed in the Lord? Have you ever expected Him to act in a certain way because of what you understood about Him-but then He didn’t act as you had anticipated? God’s ways are higher than ours. We cannot figure Him out. He will always be true, faithful, truthful, but He is more than we can handle. And like the angry crowd, when He doesn’t act in accordance with our expectations, there is always a Barabbas waiting in the wings.
Prayer: Lord, Your ways are higher than my ways. Help me to hold fast to You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
Here’s a Good Friday Service Script based around Matthew 27 that be used either live or online. This service is around 28-30 minutes long and has room for the addition of songs and a more traditional sermon. I hope you find it helpful.
Narrator: I recently spoke with a man who wanted to join our church. He said, “I like the sermons, the music, the people. The location is perfect for me and I just became a part of a friendly life group.” “Then, what’s holding you back,” I asked. “There is one problem,” he replied. “I just don’t know what to do with Jesus. I believe in God, but it seems to me that Jesus is an entirely different subject. What should I do?”
That statement, “I just don’t know what to do with Jesus” has plagued different people for thousands of years. Jesus changes things. Mention God or angels or spirituality and people will smile and nod politely. Mention the name of Jesus and people might cry tears of joy or shout curses in anger. People throughout history have often thought, “I just don’t know what to do with Jesus.”
The Roman governor Pilate was one of those people.
Jesus Before Pilate Section
(Readers stand in a line. They can either memorize their lines, read from scripts or have cameras focus on them as they read from teleprompters.)
Reader One: After His arrest, Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor.
Reader Two: (speaks as if he is Pilate)Are you the king of the Jews?
Reader Three: (speaks as if he is Jesus) You have said it.
Reader Four: But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.
Reader Two: Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?
Reader One: But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise. Now it was Pilate’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd-anyone they wanted.
Reader Four: This year there was a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked,
Reader Two: Which do you want me to release – Barabbas, or Jesus the Messiah?
Reader Four: (agitated) Just then, Pilate’s wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
Reader One: Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. Pilate asked again,
Reader Two: Which of these two do you want me to release to you?
Readers One, Three and Four: (shouting) Barabbas!
Reader Two: Then what should I do with Jesus?
Readers One, Three and Four:(shouting) Crucify him!
Reader Two: Why? What crime has he committed?
Readers One, Three and Four: (Shouting) Crucify him!
Reader One: Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd.
(show b-roll of Pilate washing his hands in a bowl)
Reader Two: I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!
Readers One, Three and Four: We’ll take the responsibility for his death.
Reader One: So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.
(show b-roll of Jesus being tied down for the flogging)
Narrator: (Washes his own hands in a basin of water) Pilate washed his hands in front of the people because he wanted to claim personal innocence regarding the death of Jesus. Whether he did this for his personal convictions or to appease his wife, he sentenced “the king of the Jews” to be crucified because he didn’t know what to do with this Jesus. The soldiers, on the other hand, seemed to have no question about what to do with Jesus. They tied Jesus to a whipping post, flogged him with a lead tipped whip, and then began to mock him.
The Soldiers Mock Jesus Section
Reader One: Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment.
Reader Two: They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter.
Reader Three: Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted,
All: (kneel in a mocking fashion and cry out in unison)“Hail! King of the Jews!”
Reader Four: And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it.
When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again.
All: Then they led him away to be crucified.
Narrator: (Holding a small cross in his hands) It was then that our bleeding, beaten Savior was forced to carry the cross upon which he would be crucified to the place of his own crucifixion. This was done to humiliate him and to wear him down even more. The cross could have been 3 to 4 meters high with a crossbeam another two meters wide. Depending on the thickness of the beams, it could have easily weighed between 170 and 300 lbs. The winding route Jesus carried his cross would have been from the former Antonia Fortress to what is now the Church of Holy Sepulchre. That’s a distance of about 600 meters or just over one third of a mile.
(Crucifixion b-roll throughout)
Reader Four: Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means the ‘place of the skull.)
Reader Three: After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there.
Reader One: A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read:
All: (Slightly Louder) This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
Reader Four: Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. The people passing by shouted abusing and vulgar statements, shaking their heads in mockery.
Readers One: Look at you now!
Reader Two: You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.
Reader Two:Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
Reader Four: The leading priests, the teachers of the religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus.
Reader Two: “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself!
Reader Three: So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!
Reader One: He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, “I am the Son of God.”
Reader Three: Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.
Narrator: (holding long nails in his hands)This time must have been a very confusing time. For Jesus, he had found his friends sleeping while anxiety blood tears stained the ground around him. Most had abandoned him upon his arrest. Peter had denied him. The crowds, some of whom he had taught and fed, cried out for his crucifixion. Then He was mercilessly crucified and even those being crucified with him, those dealing with the same pain as He, were mocking and ridiculing Him. They all seemed to know what to do with Jesus. And now, God the Father knew what to do as well. He was going to allow His only Son to die.
The Death of Jesus
(Cross b-roll throughout)
Reader One: (slowly, determined) At noon, darkness fell across the whole land. At three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice,
Reader Three: (shouting as if Jesus on the cross)Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Reader Two: Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah.
Reader One: One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink.
Reader Four: But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”
Reader Three: Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.
Reader Four: At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Reader One:The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.
Reader Two: The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead.
Reader Three: They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.
Reader Four: The Roman officer and the soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said,
Reader One: (emphasis on man)Surely this man was the Son of God!
Readers One and Two: (emphasis on was) Surely this man was the Son of God!
All: (emphasis on Son of God) Surely this man was the Son of God!
Sermon and Decision Time(time will vary based off of comments and decision time from pastor)
Pastor: What will you do with this Jesus? That does seem to be the question, doesn’t it? Will you abandon him like many of his disciples? Will you deny him like Peter? Will you condemn him like the Pharisees? Will you wash your hands of him like Pilate? Will you mock him like the soldiers? Or Will you dare to trust Him….? (continue to present Gospel and promise of resurrection)
Bill and Gloria Gaither met when they both began teaching high school In Alexandria, Indiana. Bill had a background in Gospel music and Gloria had been an English major in college. They began meeting to share ideas about songs, started dating, and were married in 1962. It wasn’t long before their careers shifted from teaching to music full-time.
However, the 1960’s were chaotic and the major shifts in morals and values was upsetting to the Gaithers. They even began to wonder if God had decided to turn the world over to its own devices. 1969 was a particularly bleak season for Bill and Gloria. The “God is Dead” philosophy was spreading across the nation, Indiana experienced an extremely hard winter, Bill was struck with a severe case of mononucleosis, and Gloria experienced some painful false accusations from within her church family. In the midst of this pain and suffering, Gloria learned that she was pregnant. Even though, they were happy, they both wondered if it was wise to bring an innocent baby into such a hard world.
In early spring of that same year, Bill’s father George was visiting Bill and Gloria and called their attention to a small blade of grass that had pushed through the layers of dirt, rock, and concrete to reach the sunlight. That blade of grass had such a strong will to live that it inspired Gloria to write a song expressing the hope that was shaped by the resurrection of Jesus. She wrote these words:
God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus; He came to love, heal, and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon; An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives…
How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives; But greater still, the calm assurance: This child can face uncertain days because He lives...
And then one day, I’ll cross that river. I’ll fight life’s final war with pain, But then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives...
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, He holds the future. And life is worth the living just because He lives.
Click here to check out a cool version of the song from Crowder, Johnnyswim, and Tori Kelly recorded for the Easter Service of Passion City Church.
One of the first songs I learned as a child was Jesus Loves Me. I remember singing it with my mother in the car, in Sunday School, and in the worship service with my family. Years before I surrendered my life to the Lord, this song planted within me the truth that Jesus loved me. I never really thought much about the origin of the song until I came across it in William J. Reynold’s Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976).
Anna and Susan Warner grew up as sisters In New York near West Point Military Academy where they were known for leading student Bible studies. The sisters lived with their father, a lawyer, until his death. Afterward, they supported themselves through their writing. While Anna saw some success in writing novels and poetry collections, Susan became a best-selling novelist. In 1860, Anna contributed a hymn used in Susan’s novel Say and Seal. In the story, a little boy named Johnny Fax becomes ill to the point of death. Mr. John Linden, his Sunday school teacher, holds little Johnny in his arms, rocks him back and forth, and eventually sings the words to this new hymn:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.
Two years after its publication in Say and Seal, William Bradbury composed a simple melody and refrain for the hymn and published it once again in Golden Shower of Sunday School Melodies. William J. Reynolds, in his history of the song, shares that the tune CHINA was given to the tune because missionaries serving there reported that it was a favorite of Chinese children. Jesus Loves Me grew in popularity and became a song loved by millions of children and adults in churches and seminaries around the world. It is reported that after giving a series of lectures, renowned Swiss theologian Karl Barth was asked to summarize his doctrine in a single sentence. He replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I don’t know much about Karl Barth and his teachings, but I must applaud him for his answer.
That is theology at its finest.
Click here to hear Whitney Houston sing “Jesus Loves Me.”
In July of 1861, Fannie Elizabeth Appleton, the wife of the famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, tragically died. She had been sealing envelopes with hot wax which sparked a flame which caught her dress on fire. Henry tried to extinguish the flames, first with a rug and then with his own body, but Fannie had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning. Henry was also badly burned, so much that he was unable to attend his wife’s funeral. Because of his burns, he stopped shaving and grew a beard that became his trademark. Henry’s grief was so overwhelming that he believed he was going to end up in an asylum.
Two years later, in March of 1863, Henry’s 18 year old son Charles Appleton Longfellow secretly boarded a train in Cambridge, Massachusetts that was bound for Washington D.C. He enlisted in the Union Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.
On December 1st of that same year, Henry was dining alone at his home when he received a telegram with the news that his son Charles had been severely wounded four days earlier in the battle of the Mine Run Campaign. Charley, as he was called, had been shot through the left shoulder. He avoided paralysis by less than an inch. Henry and his Charley’s younger brother Ernest traveled to Washington D.C. where they learned that, although serious, Charley’s wounds were not as serious as they had initially been told.
Three weeks later, on Christmas Day, 1863, Henry was overwhelmed by loss. He was a 57 year old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly killed or paralyzed as he fought for a country that was at war with itself. To capture the way he felt, Henry wrote a poem he titled I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. That day, he had heard the Christmas bells ringing in Cambridge and he had listened as people sang “peace on earth.” However, the world he observed was filled with injustice and violence that mocked the truthfulness of the optimistic outlook.The theme continues throughout the poem, finally leading the listener to a settlement of confident hope that even in the midst of bleak despair, that God is alive and faithful and that His righteousness will prevail.
Click here to hear an interesting arrangement of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Charlene Closshey.