Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reading God's Word, pt 2

When we read the words of Scripture do we mainly seek wisdom and inspiration for living a better life? That is a good motive but not totally the end of God’s purpose for us.  
God wants his word to not simply improve, inform, or reform us. He wants his word to transform our every thought and action. 

Forty years ago the Lord taught me a vivid lesson in how I should approach his word. At the end of my time in Seminary I was 25 years old and at the crossroads of my life. As a student I had also been involved in pastoral ministry and teaching in the college attached to the Grad school.  As I approached graduation, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of how I could best serve God. I saw myself as a professor – ready to pursue a PhD and become a my passion in Church History and Theology.  
The question in my mind was simply “Where do I go next?”  It wasn't, “Lord, where can I best serve you?”

“My thoughts are not your thoughts” 

As I thought about what to do, I knew God wanted me to pray for guidance and direction. But, to be honest, I wanted to launch out and ask God to bless me.  I wanted the Lord to confirm my plans. I found myself reading from the Book of Isaiah,

Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)
6  “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near… 8  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

I prayed. What was God saying to me and how did he want me to respond?  Do my thoughts – what I think God wants of me, how he wants me to live and serve him – really conform to his thoughts – what he thinks is best for me,  and what his plan is for my life? 

It became clear, I wanted to determine what to do and ask God to bless my plans.  It was not, how can I best serve him and bring him glory?  

Finally one day, I prayed, “Lord, I give you my thoughts, my ways, my plans, my aspirations. I surrender everything, Lord, into your hands. Show me your ways and lead me on your path.”

I remember reading the biography of the martyred missionary, Jim Eliot.  He had been a student with an aspiring career ahead of him and as he sought God for his life’s work, he knew God was calling him to the mission field.  The story is well known – He and three others went to a tribe in the Amazon and were martyred.  BUT, it was not a waste of life.  Jim Eliot’s motto was “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  It became my life’s purpose…Lord, I give my life to you, and will choose to serve you wherever I can.

I began to realize that I was only beginning to learn how to follow the Lord and was a long way from being a mature disciple. I had much to learn about how to conform my thought patterns and way of life to Christ’s word. In fact, I had as much to unlearn – thought patterns and sinful behavior – as to learn. Paul the Apostle summarized it best:

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

If we want to know God’s mind – his thoughts and intentions for our lives – then we must allow his word to not simply inform us but transform us as well. 

How can we turn our thoughts to Christ’s?  A key step is learning how to listen to God as he speaks to us through the words of Scripture. In our daily prayer and reflection, we should allow God’s word to form our minds and change the way we think and live as Disciples of Jesus.

God is bountiful in giving wisdom and understanding from His word as we put it into practice:

Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 
I do not turn aside from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

More on this later...


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reading God's Word

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, ESV)

The Word of God has been my life’s work.  I went to Seminary in 1972 convinced of God’s call to enter into vocational service.  I did not know what I was being called to, but I knew that I wanted to serve God with my life in whatever field He determined.

One day in our Seminary chapel, a now long-forgotten chapel speaker who was speaking on a now long-forgotten subject read from the text in the Old Testament book of Ezra
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, ESV).  

Immediately my heart and mind were warmed and I knew this was my call.  I would give my life to teaching God’s word.

It has been my joy to do this now for 42 years.  I have done it as a Pastor in our church fellowship.  
I have done it on the Mission field training local Pastors.  
I have done it in classrooms – Bible schools, Colleges and Training Schools.  
I have had the joy of teaching God’s word to a classroom of a few students and to a church assembly over a thousand.  
It does not make any difference the size of the group – it is the joy of teaching the Word of God that gives me passion.

Words have power. They can build up and transform or they can tear down and destroy. Scripture tells us that God created the universe by his all-powerful word. That same word took flesh in Jesus Christ who was sent from the Father to redeem a fallen race: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 
His words are words of life because he speaks what the Father has given him (John 8:28).  His words not only have power to instruct, but power to heal, restore, and remake us in the image of God. 

Paul the Apostle said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). What does it mean to have Christ’s word dwelling in us? 

If you have a favorite author or two, you enjoy reading their literary works. Sometimes you can’t get enough, so you search for everything they wrote, even their letters and biography, because these can often reveal important things about the personal life and thoughts of the author.  But the people we know the best are those we live with and share our lives with on a personal, intimate level. 

God’s word alive in us 

God is the greatest of all authors and the author of life itself. He comes to dwell with us through his Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). 

If we accept his gracious invitation, God literally comes alongside of us and teaches us to walk this journey of life with His wisdom and strength.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Reading Scripture - Narrative and Context

I usually select a passage of scripture that either has intrigued me, or makes the point I am making.  The question anyone should ask is:  "What drives this, my point to make, or the scripture?"  The answer is always the scripture.

As I often look at passages I muse and think about what the writer is saying.  It's my job to figure out what the writer was saying when he wrote this - i.e., I need to go back and figure out what the writer was communicating, not the opposite of dragging his writing into my world to make it fit here.  That is done after Interpreting the original writing and making application later.

The task of the Bible teacher, theologian, student is simply this:
1.  Go back to the original time of writing and ask - "what was he writing about?"  "who was his/her audience, and what did they understand the writer saying?"

2.  Make a bridge from the past world to the present day...this is the struggle of language and meaning.  For example, divorce in the biblical world is so dissimilar from our world that we have to understand the differences first before we try to make the application to today.

3.  What does the passage mean in our present world?  The text means something each time...but the ways in which it can be applied might be many.

In the end, the text of scripture is what rules...not my understanding or interpretation (which might be faulty).

One more thing...keep remembering that the BIG PICTURE is always in the background.  When the writer selects his words to convey the idea that God is prompting him to write about, there's always a bigger idea in mind.

Context...Narrative...Big Picture.  It's how we understand and apply scripture for us today.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 
14  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
15  and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 


Monday, April 21, 2014

Practicing Resurrection

One of my favorite authors over the 40 years I've been reading and studying is Eugene Peterson.  I first ran across Peterson in the book "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction - Discipleship in an Instant Society". It made me realize that our faith is lived day in and day out over a lifetime.  We are not measured by our momentary successes, or victories; but rather by the willingness to submit ourselves to growth and decisions to walk out our faith every single day...moment by moment...relationship by relationship.

It's now Monday, the day after Easter.  We celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus...Jesus is Risen!  He Lives!  Yes.
The problem with something like Easter is that - as Christians - we're use to the doctrine.  Yet, the key thing to realize is that is NOT the fact of the Resurrection that is crucial; but rather that the LIFE of the Resurrection is what is crucial.

Jesus' death and resurrection is the basis for the beginning of our Eternal Life.

Romans 1:1-5 
1  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
2  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
3  concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh
4  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 

When Paul wrotes these words he wasn't looking back at Jesus' resurrection as a fact; but rather that the resurrection was the basis for the His life in Christ both then and in the future.

To practice the resurrection means we choose to live in the power of Christ's life as a Kingdom citizen.  We belong to Christ Jesus and His life is more real than we can imagine.

The operative word for Practicing Resurrection is the biblical word "walk".

Colossians 1:9-14 
9  And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
10  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
11  May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
12  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
13  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
14  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

To practice resurrection every day, we live as people of faith, hope and love.

To practice resurrection is to love God more than self - we are willing to die to self and embrace God's truth and act on it because it's truth.

To practice resurrection is to know Jesus is alive and we can embrace his sovereignty and so put Him in charge no matter what our circumstances.

To practice resurrection is to embrace the mystery of all that God is doing...which means life isn't's difficult and therefore must be lived by faith.

Live my friends...Live His Resurrected Life!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday - He is Risen

We say it in fellowship together:



We say it with Faith, with Confidence, With Boldness…but reading the various accounts makes us realize it was still a confusing, bewildering time for all involved.

John 20:1-18
1  Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
2  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
3  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.
4  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
5  And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
6  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,
7  and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
8  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;
9  for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Three times it says, “(Peter/John) saw”.  Each time the word is different in the Greek. 

John was first and he peered into the tomb from the outside and “saw” = gazing, in awe looking, seeing what was there.

Peter came after and he “saw” = observed, investigated, examined thoroughly.

John then entered in and he “saw” = certainly saw, understood, really saw what happened.
AND it says “he believed”.  
Peter saw and didn’t know what to make of it…John saw and as he looked he "got it"…this is the resurrection the Savior spoke of.

10  Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11  But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.
12  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.
13  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
14  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
15  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
16  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
17  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

They went back home; but Mary stayed behind.  Mary loved Jesus deeply.
She didn’t know what was going on…all she knew was that her heart was broken.  She was still living on Saturday…the day after the death when it was silent, grey, broken, and silent.

The appearance of the angels is a “gift of God” for her heart.  That assurance is followed by the second gift – Jesus himself.

Jesus stood there and made himself known.

Her broken sobbing is turned to clinging disbelief…can it be?  Oh God…

Of all the people in the first century world, God shows His Son to this Woman who stayed at the tomb and grieved when the others left.

This is Resurrection Faith…It clings to Hope with Faith that perseveres in the deepest pain.

He is Risen! 

He is Risen Indeed!

Believe it, Cling to it.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day 40 - Between Death and Resurrection

Saturday is the final day of Lent.  Forty days have passed and we’ve sojourned through Lent to arrive at the day it ends.  It is the day between Christ’s death and His Resurrection.

It is a Silent day – Silent Saturday.

The Gospels say little about Saturday.  The death of Jesus on the cross occurs right before the beginning of the Sabbath;  so the burial is done quickly, with a view that the final things will have to be done on the first day of the week – Sunday.

John 19:38-42
38  After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body.
39  Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.
40  So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
41  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.
42  So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

The disciples retreated after the events of the cross.  They were in hiding out of fear that they would be hunted down by the Jewish authorities, or the Romans.  
It was two “quiet disciples” – Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who took the body of Jesus to the tomb where he lay.
The Romans and the Jewish leaders moved to make sure Jesus “stayed” in the tomb. 

Matthew 27:62-66
62  The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate
63  and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’
64  Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”
65  Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”
66  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

The tomb was sealed and the guards were posted out of fear that the disciples would come and take his body away. 

It was Saturday…the day is Silent.

Life is made up of many deaths that must be followed by resurrections.

Die to Self…to discover Christ’s life.
Die to dreams…
Die to ambitions…
Die to lost opportunities…
Die to expectations and dreams unfulfilled…
Die to “I thought”…
Die to …. (fill it in)…

After deaths there are many silent Saturdays.

BUT, remember this, after deaths…while we wait in Silent Saturdays…there are many resurrections.

Hebrews 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Have faith my friends…Sunday is a’coming!


Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 39 - Good Friday, Six Hours to Finish

For Jesus, midnight did not lead to sleep.  Jesus’ day begins with His arrest following Judas’ betrayal.  Judas leads the band of Jewish authorities to the garden and there Jesus arrested.  They take Jesus first to Annas, who had turned over His High Priestly duties to his son-in-law, but he was still the power behind the Jewish leaders.

John 18:12-14 12  So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.
13  First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.
14  It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

John 18:19-24
19  The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20  Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.
21  Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”
22  When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”
23  Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
24  Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Jesus’ time there is short, and soon He is passed on to Caiaphas.  Caiaphas is not interested in hearing from Jesus, or learning from him…he wants Him out of the way.

Matthew 26:59-67 59  Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,
60  but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward
61  and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’”
62  And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”
63  But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
64  Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65  Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.
66  What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
67  Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,

Peter and perhaps other disciples are following behind, and Jesus’ words come hauntily back to Peter.

John 18:25-27
25  Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.”
26  One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 
27  Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

All are scattered…Jesus is alone.  Soon, daylight comes, and the actions begin to move faster.

Matthew 27:1-3
1  When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
2  And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Jesus appears before Pilate two times…and once in between before Herod Antipas.  The charge before Pilate is what the governors were most concerned with…Insurrection.

Luke 23:2-4 2  And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.”
3  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”
4  Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

Pilate passes Jesus along to Herod Antipas at first, because this Herod was the Roman ruler in Galilee.  Eventually Herod passes him back to Pilate for a second time.  Soon it came to a confrontation and conclusion:

Luke 23:13-25
13  Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,
14  and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him.
15  Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.
16  I will therefore punish and release him.”
18  But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—
19  a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.
20  Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus,
21  but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!”
22  A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.”
23  But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed.
24  So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted.
25  He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

It all turned brutal and the painful suffering only intensified:

Matthew 27:27-31
27  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.
28  And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,
29  and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
30  And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
31  And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

It was 9:00 a.m. in the morning when they arrived at Golgotha – the place of the crucifixion.

Mark 15:24-25
24  And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.
25  And it was the third hour when they crucified him.

The six hours on the cross…it’s hard for us to comprehend.  Jesus speaks several times while on the cross.
·         He speaks words of forgiveness for the actions of all.
·         He speaks to the one thief promising he will be with him in paradise shortly.
·         He speaks to Mary, his mother, and John the disciple who is charged to care for her.
·         He speaks of his thirst
The agony of his time on the cross has more to do with his separation from the Father than anything else.

Mark 15:33-34 33  And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
34  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Quickly two more things are said:

John 19:30  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Luke 23:46  Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.      

This is Good Friday…but make no mistake it is only Good for us. 

Beloved, remember this…all of this was done for the purpose of reconciliation.  
Sin is not excused or overlooked, it is paid for…sacrificially…the Passover lamb is slain is Jesus and His blood forever is placed on the mercy seat in the heavenlies, and we are redeemed because of it.

At the end of the day, Jesus’ dead body is placed in a tomb…and everyone who loved Him walks away convinced it is all over.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 38 - Maundy Thursday: The Last Night

Thursday was a day of preparation for the Passover meal.  It was a “Seder” meal with many symbols that went back to the original Passover when God delivered the nation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt.

Matthew 26:17-19
17  Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”
18  He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 
19  And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

Preparation would have consisted of several things…and the meal was highly embraced by the Jewish faithful.  As they gather in the Upper Room, no one realizes it’s Jesus last night, or last meal with them.

John 13:1-5
1  Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2  During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,
3  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,
4  rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
5  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

The first symbol was not on the Passover “to do list”.  Jesus picked up a bowl of water and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  This was a job that only the lowest on the servant list performed.  Washing feet was a servant’s role, but not just any servant; rather it was the lowest of the lowest servant’s role.

As he washed their feet the disciples must have been confused, bewildered, wondering what in the world is going on.

The lesson came from Jesus.
John 13:12-20
12  When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?
13  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.
14  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
16  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
17  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
18  I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’
19  I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.
20  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

Jesus is soon to leave them, and the entire Gospel message was to be in their hands.  They wrestled with “Who” they were and “What” was expected of them.  We all do. 

Who are we?
Do we count/matter?
Do we have a place in God’s plan?
What does God want us to do?

Good questions, and we ask them – if we’re serious of our following Jesus – everyday. Jesus’ answer to them, to me, to us, is that he wants us to serve.  Serve for the sake of serving.

Not to be noticed.
Not to be recognized.
Not to be rewarded.
Simply serve, because it’s ultimately serving God.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Yet immediately he says, “one of you doesn’t get it”… it’s Judas who has already made a deal with the elders and chief priests to betray Jesus to them.  The evening quickly changes. 

John 13:21-38 21  After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
22  The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.
23  One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side,
24  so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.
25  So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”
26  Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.
27  Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
28  Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.
29  Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.
30  So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
31  When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
32  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.
33  Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’
34  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
35  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
36  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
37  Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”
38  Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Judas leaves…Peter and John question…Jesus speaks about what is the most important thing to learn.  Judas’ heart is filled with Satanic lies, deceit and is easily manipulated.  He leaves, and the rest don’t understand the significance of it.  Jesus makes a statement that must have furthered their wonder.  “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified with Him.”

The rest remain and the dinner goes on.  Jesus turns his attention to various things pertaining to his leaving.  He starts with the key thing:  Love.  He had said it to them before, “Love the Lord Your God with All Your Heart, All Your Soul, All Your Mind.”  It was what Jesus had modeled to them…the Son of Man is glorified, God is glorified…WHY?  Because he is fulfilling the servant role assigned to Him – he’s entering into the period of suffering that will lead to death, and he knows it is for God’s glory.

SO…the imperative for them – Love one another…JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU. 

Sacrificially, As a Servant…one who cares about God’s will more than your own recognition and role.

The evening goes on…Jesus speaks to them about his leaving…why he must leave them, and what he is going to do after he leaves…

John 14:1-2
1  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
2  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

John 14:25-27
25  “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.
26  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
27  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.

It’s a bittersweet evening as the reality sets in…”what do you mean you’re going away, and yet you’re not going to leave us?”  It’s all very confusing.

They leave the Upper Room, it is late in the evening, and they walk with him through the temple area on their way to the hillside.  Jesus looks up at the vines growing from the two columns that serve as the entrance to the Holy Place:

John 15:1,4-5  
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…  4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

HE talks some more of what is about to happen, and promises them to be with them, and to send His Spirit to them to guide their ways. 

John 16:12-15
12  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
14  He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
15  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

It seems so surreal…what’s going on?  Why is He saying all of this? 

Then, He prays: 
John 17:1-5 1  When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
2  since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
4  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
5  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

They hear the prayer and it becomes clearer…He’s praying because its all coming to an end, isn’t it?  He prays for glory to return…Divine glory that was there before he dressed himself in flesh as a baby in Mary’s arms some 30+ years before.  He had spent 3 years with them and his prayers remind them that he has loved them to the end.

John 17:9  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

John 18:1  When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.

They walk along, leaving the city to cross the Kidron valley and climb to the Mt. Olivet garden that is just outside the walls.  It is a place called Gethsemane.  It is the beginning of the end…and He knows it.

Matthew 26:36-39
36  Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”
37  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.
38  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
39  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

The prayer is humanly real.  It is the prayer of every person who faces the sobering reality that this might not be healed, or restored, and things might only get worse.  The disciples sleep…they are exhausted from the long Passover day…and things are about to end.

Matthew 26:45-50 45  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
46  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
47  While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.
48  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.”
49  And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him.
50  Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

The end of the day…
The end of the Passover evening in preparation for the Passover sacrifice the next day…
the end of the time with His disciples…
the end of offering Himself to the nation…
the beginning of the end of His earthly life…

It is Midnight and Thursday yields itself to the next day – Good Friday.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 37 - Wednesday: A Silent Storm

As the week progressed Jesus retreated from Jerusalem for a day, staying in Bethany with his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  The storm that was about to occur was quiet – silent.  Yet what happened was clearly a picture of the rest of the week.

Matthew 26:1-16
1  When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples,
2  “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
3  Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas,
4  and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.
5  But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
6  Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,
7  a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.
8  And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?
9  For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”
10  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.
11  For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.
12  In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.
13  Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
14  Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests
15  and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.
16  And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

It’s Wednesday and these events happen in parallel ways.

Jesus is in Bethany at the home of Simon, who was a leper.  At the same time, he is fully aware of what is going on behind the scenes.  The chief priests and elders have had enough and they are plotting to arrest Jesus…looking for a way and an opportunity. Their original idea is to do it after the feast is over with.  It would be easier, and a lot of the pilgrims coming for the feast will have left to return to their homes.

It all changes when Judas decides that he will betray Jesus to the leaders.  It gives them the impetus to put together a group of soldiers and ambush Jesus and his disciples at a time when they weren’t with the crowds.
But first we see Jesus anointed with oil from “a woman”.  It might have been Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or one of the other women who were part of Jesus’ followers.  
What is amazing is that she anoints Jesus “pre” his death.  Did she know?  Did she see it as an inevitable result of Jesus’ life?  We don’t know.  What we know is that her action is in itself prophetic.
She is declaring what is about to happen and the disciples probably didn’t see it until much later – Judas certainly didn’t.

In fact, no one probably understood what was going on and what was about to happen.  It’s indicative of our Spiritual lives that we can live day by day and be oblivious to what God is doing “in” and “around” us.

The woman was moved to do the anointing.  It was an act of worship and an act that would serve to be remembered by the disciples after it was all over.  Judas’ accusation is that it was a waste, but Jesus’ rebuke shows that is not true – it was extravagant worship, and one that is forever remembered. 

Judas is the tragic figure…all that time walking with Jesus, watching Jesus, witnessing Jesus’ words and works…and he never got it.  Why?  Lots of reasons, but first of all is that he had a religious agenda that Jesus would not fulfill.

A lot of people simple don’t get it…we aren’t saved by being religious…nor even by being good…we can’t perform our way into God’s favor.  We come to Him by faith and it’s his grace that saves us.

This Wednesday serve as a pivot…it is a silent storm that is coming. 

Today is a day of prophetic actions…betrayal by a friend…and Jesus resting until tomorrow’s events begin.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 36 - Tuesday, Conflict and Contrast

On Tuesday, Jesus had several encounters with religious leaders…Scribes, Pharisees, members of the Sadducees…and none of them turned out well.  It was an encounter near the Temple, later in the day that changed the tone to one of contrast with a humble faith.

The day began with a parable that spoke of what the Jewish leaders were doing to the nation.  Then in a series of encounters, that Luke records, we see Jesus facing His accusers and with wisdom  he deals with their attempts to embarrass him in public and exposes the nature of “religion” over faith.

Luke 20:9-47 9  And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.
10  When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
11  And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.
12  And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.
13  Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’
14  But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’
15  And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?
16  He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!”
17  But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?
18  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
19  The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.

The plot thickens as Jesus tells a parable – a story – that illustrates what is about to happen to their religion.  The scribes, Pharisees, religious elders and Chief Priests controlled the machinery of the Temple and the Jewish religion.  Yet it was not a Faith, but an institution where the bottom line always ruled.  They cared about Money and Power and used their positions to control the rest of the nation – not for God’s sake, but for their own.

Religion is never a solution because it’s always about rules and regulations where one human being serves to dictate the norms to another human – all in the guise of “this is God’s will”. 

Religion is a substitute to relationship.  It is human pride saying – as Adam and Eve were tempted to say – “If you do this, you’ll be like God.”  This pride will always fail.

What Jesus offered his followers was a living relationship with God, and by virtue of following Him, knowledge of the Way, the Truth and the Life.  A relationship with God that is personal and corporately shared in fellowship will always trump the person going through the religious motions.

Religion is focused on rules, duties to be acceptable, and on being right…not humble.

20  So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21  So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God.
22  Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”
23  But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them,
24  “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.”
25  He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
26  And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

The religious leaders, the elders approached him seeking to get Him to have to choose between their religious authority and the Roman religion of Caesar as god.  That failed because Jesus wisely responded that paying what is due the state is not a choice for the Caesar to be god…in fact, He makes it clear, Caesar is not God.  It merely represents paying that which belongs to Caesar, and God’s things are to God.

There were a couple of more encounters worth reading in this section..each time Jesus responds with wisdom that takes their attempts of usurping His teaching with their own brand of religious power.  Finally, it is Jesus who speaks up and makes a statement:

45  And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,
46  “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,
47  who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Beware of religion – out there, and in our selves.  It is dangerous because it makes a pretense without the reality, and it is sure to fail – even be condemned.

Now, at some time during this day, something happens that is a direct contrast to the false spiritual leaders He encountered.  While in the Temple, our Lord sees a widow offer two small coins and declares her gift to be greater than those of the others.

Luke 21:1-4 1  Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.
3  And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.
4  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

The difference between religious pride and humility of faith stand in stark contrast.  The religious pride of the elders, Sadducees, Scribes and Priestly leaders is one that leads them to challenge Jesus at every turn. 

They don’t want to follow him; they want to dictate the demands of religion in order to control the people.

They are not coming to him to learn, or seek truth; rather they are coming to trip Him up, and seek to overturn the authority He has with their own.

The widow by contrast doesn’t want power, nor recognition.  She enters humbly to worship the living God.  She does not have a lot, but what she does have she gives freely to honor and worship God.

It’s worth our while to stop and realize Jesus was impressed; and if Jesus is impressed, so should we.

When the day is over, He returns at night to Bethany.