Resurrection: If you Claim Jesus is Risen, At Least Use Credible Witnesses

(The resurrection on Easter Sunday, the last of the Ten days of Passion Week)  All over the world, people today are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It’s an interesting phenomenon because most rational people know that it is impossible to raise anyone from the dead, and yet believers everywhere accept by faith that the resurrection occurred. Why?

How can anyone accept the resurrection as fact when it HAS to be false? Why celebrate Easter at all if it the resurrection couldn’t have happened? It’s a legitimate question that any skeptic would ask, and I’d offer a couple of things in response.  I don’t believe faith has to be blind, or that as Christians we have to discard reasonable logic because we have faith. First of all, there is EVIDENCE of the resurrection. There were lives indisputably changed ONLY AS IF Jesus had been raised from the dead. The disciples were somehow transformed from a group of hidden cowards and traitors to bold witnesses who proclaimed the resurrection in the face of persecution and opposition. Hundreds of other eyewitnesses shared the good news with thousands of believers who stubbornly maintained the truth of the resurrection even when threatened with arrest and violent death. Why? Why should anyone die for a hoax or a lie when there was no compelling reason for them to maintain a spiritual charade?

There were written accounts of it that were widely circulated as affidavits to the truth. Eyewitnesses accounts testified about seeing Jesus in a risen state well after his crucifixion and death. To me, all of those things speak to a central fact: something happened. Something happened that transformed cowardly disciples into powerful witnesses. Something caused ordinary people to become extraordinary believers; and something created a movement that shifted human history and eventually toppled the mighty Roman Empire. But those things are not the evidence that impress me most about the truth of the resurrection; what gets my attention is the way the Gospel writers told the story, because they did it all wrong.

“But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NKJV). This is Matthew’s account of the Gospel testimony to the resurrection of Jesus? Do you see what is really out-of-place here? There is something drastically wrong with Matthew’s story. You see, he and the other Gospel writers recorded that women were the first witnesses at the empty tomb.

resurrection witnesses

In Jewish law, women’s testimony was not admissible, so why would Hebrew authors include this unless it were TRUE? (In fact, Luke says that the disciples thought the women’s story was “idle tales”. Mark says when mourners heard this news, “they did not believe”.) But instead of reworking the story to make it more credible (which would have been the obvious play if they were perpetuating a hoax), the Gospel writers reported that the women were first on the scene, even though such an “un-doctored” version might hurt their credibility with Jewish readers. If the Gospel writers had wanted to convince everyone that the resurrection was true, they would have written a more believable story.

Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus in his resurrected body, and did not recognize him until he called her by name—so I think we can assume that our resurrected bodies will be different than our current ones. (Something else to look forward to for some of us!) And so in Easter we have fulfilled prophecy, conquered death, eternal hope, transformation, substitution, revolution, and affirmation… It’s hard to even describe just how important the resurrection is, so from this point I think it’s best to just let Scripture speak for itself:

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, KJV).

“For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (I Corinthians 15:16-19).

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25)

“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…” (Romans 6:5)

And finally: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (I Peter 1:3).

The resurrection is not a fantasy or an early Christian conspiracy. Chuck Colson made the observation that if twelve of the most powerful men in America could not keep Watergate secret, it is HIGHLY unlikely that twelve fishermen and disciples could have maintained a secret conspiracy to invent the resurrection while being tortured and killed over it. The reality of the resurrection toppled an Empire who tried to suppress it, and dozens of eyewitnesses died attesting to it as fact. That factual occurrence changed the world 2,100 years ago, and has been changing the world ever since. It still has the power to change yours today. He is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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Sabbath Produces Unlikely Heroes After the Crucifixion and Burial

Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World, Day NINE (Matthew. 27:57-66; Luke 23:47-56; John 19:31-42): As Friday came to a close and the Sabbath began, the Gospels report that two somewhat surprising figures step forward to make arrangements for Jesus’ body. “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night“. (John 19:38-39, NIV) The appearance of these men is very surprising, even though we know both of them had been involved with Jesus before. As Pharisees or members of the council, they took great risks to bury Jesus. They identified themselves with him on this Sabbath Eve when there was seemingly nothing to gain and everything to lose. They faced ostracism and persecution for taking this action, but their love for Jesus was so strong they did it anyway.

sabbath heroes

I’d love to know what their stories were after this, what risks they took to go get Jesus’ body, and how it affected them the rest of their lives… (Won’t it be cool to ask them?) And their actions make me question something… How many of us follow Jesus just because we love him, rather than for what he can do for us? I know that’s hard to separate, but it’s a question worth asking yourself on Easter.
Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) was a quiet day, when Israelites did not work or move around much. This Sabbath began with Jesus dead and in the grave. Judas has committed suicide. The disciples are scattered and afraid. Peter in particular must have spent this day broken over how he let Jesus down. The boldest disciple failed to identify with Jesus when it counted most, and I imagine that he spent the day utterly distraught over what he had done and hadn’t done…You and I have had broken days or moments like that…Just remember that it’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming!

As you reflect on Good Friday and the cross, there are many things to consider. Sin is a deadly business. So was paying for it. You’ve seen images of the cross. The crucifixion day has been vividly portrayed in songs, films and books that provide context and emotional connection to how Christ suffered and died and what his death accomplished. Simply put, he paid for the sins of the world, for your sins and mine, and offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice. I believe if there were an easier way, God the Father would surely have provided it. Since it was the ONLY way, God the Son carried out his mission.
As Paul said, “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17, NIV). Caiaphas was obviously not in agreement with nor aware of the true outcome of Christ’s mission, but he was inadvertently spot on when he advocated getting rid of Jesus so that the Romans would not punish Israel for insurrection: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50, NIV) One man died so that all could live.

The day between the cross and Easter is the pivotal day in human history, and it offers a chance to reflect on the pivotal sentence in human history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If that sentence is true, then ALL OTHER SENTENCES pale in comparison. Easter Sunday is the exclamation point on that sentence. What do YOU believe about the cross?

It’s not about fertility, or lilies in the Spring;
It’s not about the things that bloom or little birds that sing.
It isn’t Easter baskets, filled with Peeps and Easter treats,
Like chocolate bunny rabbits or a bunch of egg-shaped sweets.
Easter is much more than children scrambling on a search–
It’s even more than Easter Sunday worshipping at church.
Easter means that one man sinned, and through that sin we fell,
Unable to redeem ourselves or save ourselves from hell,
Until on Easter Jesus conquered death, and time, and space,
And took my punishment for sin: He died and took my place.
He bore the scourging and the cross, and Satan’s mocking laugh,
And saw his mission to the end. And died on our behalf.
Easter saw him conquer sin and death–the scourge of men,
And lift us to the heavens with Him when He rose again!
So while you hunt for Easter eggs, just please remember this:
Jesus died and rose again. That’s what Easter is.

 

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Judas Betrayed Jesus, and That Makes Him Despicable. But Don’t Miss THIS:

(Good Friday, on Day Eight from Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World) Matthew 26:47-27:56; Mark 14:43-15:46; John 18:2-19:30 There are so many things to cover on Good Friday: The treachery of Judas bore fruit: Jesus was illegally tried by the high priest, shuttled back and forth from Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod…Pilate kept trying to evade judging Jesus, saying “I find no fault in him.” Jesus was beaten by professionals, mocked and abused by jaded sadistic guards who tried to get a rise out of him… Yet he bore their accusations and insults stoically, refusing to indulge their curiosity or their cruelty.

He was unjustly condemned to death by crucifixion, certainly a most horrible way to die, and the agonies of the cross are well-documented. His statements on the cross reveal his character or point to prophetic predictions about who he was and how he would die. By quoting Psalm 22 (“My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”), he reminded us yet again that this wasn’t some random cry for help, He was quoting SCRIPTURE!  He knew what was coming, and His reference to Scripture shows us that He PLANNED all of this, and that He wanted us to remember. When He said “It is finished”, He wasn’t speaking about his life but his mission, and He died only when He announced that He was commending his spirit to his Father.

This day was pivotal in all of human history, and it contains so many themes and moments that it is hard to do it justice in a short devotional. Read the whole thing and you’ll see what I mean… There is scheming, conniving, betrayal, political maneuvering, cruelty, a kangaroo court, a mob mentality, and vigilante justice. There are the hard-hearted Pharisees, cowardly disciples, corrupt priests, and the impatient Romans. There are a number of story lines, and all of them provide something interesting.  What catches my eye, however, is the story of Judas. (You know, the guy no one names their kid after?)

Judas

He was Judas Iscariot, the zealot, the thief, the would-be revolutionary who perhaps tried to force Jesus into action; he was Judas the traitor, the one who sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver. His name is synonymous with betrayal. But don’t forget this: He was also Judas the remorseful. Here’s what Matthew said:

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” (Matthew 27:3-4, NIV)

Judas certainly obtained an infamous place in history, and he has been condemned for his actions ever since. He is forever linked to the death of Jesus as the greedy traitor who valued money more than his master’s life. Judas killed Jesus as surely as if he had personally nailed him to the cross. Despicable, right?

Surely all civilized people would be justified in condemning Judas for betraying his friend, Jesus. Well, here’s the deal: we are ALL Judas. We have all sold Jesus out at one time or another, and we’ve all turned our back on him, or ignored him. Every one of us can say along with Judas, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” This week, when you think about Judas, don’t feel too smug. My own sins sent Jesus to the cross. YOUR sins nailed him to it. I heard a speaker say once, “If you had been the only person who would ever have believed the Gospel, Jesus would still have died on the cross for you.”

That certainly personalizes the reward: wow, Jesus loved me so much that he would have died for only ME! And it is true. However, when you think about it, it also means that it personalizes the penalty. If I was the only person to ever live, Jesus would still have had to endure the agony of the cross to save me. I put him there. YOU put him there. Along with Judas, we all did. That probably means we should live in such a way to justify the cost of the cross. And not just at Easter.
And the question remains: What Do YOU Believe About the Cross?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Thursday Provides Passion Week Lessons on Power, Prayer and Pain

Thursday was perhaps the longest day of Passion Week, since events occurred deep into the night and continued straight on into Friday. On Thursday the disciples shared the Last Supper and heard Jesus speak about things they didn’t understand. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24, NIV) On Thursday Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper together. While they were probably still a little giddy over the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus continued to prepare them for what was coming.

Thursday supper

He knew that Judas was going to betray him and that Peter was going to deny knowing him. Certainly the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was not lost on him, and if you think about how Jesus must have felt during dinner, it is an incredibly poignant moment. At dinner he told them frankly that they would all desert him, and all protested that they’d never do such a thing! He knew they loved him, and he knew they’d fail. Have you ever had good intentions, and promised the Lord you’d never forsake him? And then you did it anyway? Remember what happened with the disciples and take heart!

In Luke’s account they argued about who would be the greatest in the new kingdom, and he used this time to teach them. If you knew you had but two days to live, what would you share with your family and friends? What final things would you say to them? Jesus told them (and us) to love one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

In this case, Jesus literally demonstrated his lesson by humbling himself as a servant and washing their feet. (And in a land without indoor plumbing, dust was not the only thing that made feet stinky and dirty—which is why foot washing was such a degrading task.) Jesus told them to serve one another, and to lead through service. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15, NIV) The church today celebrates this as “Maundy Thursday” as the day Jesus performed this act of service, but the word actually comes through old French and Middle English from the Latin mandatum, or mandate. Jesus said, “a new mandate I give to you, that you love one another”, and demonstrated it by serving.

Thursday wash

Servant leaders are a rare commodity, and you have to believe Jesus thought this was a pretty important concept, since he emphasized it with this very personal object lesson. Imagine having Jesus kneel in front of YOUR chair, looking up and locking eyes for a moment as he cleanses your dirty feet. What kind of person have those feet carried? Where all have those feet been? His eyes see deeply into yours, full of knowledge and forgiveness as he washes the unwholesome residue of your journey away. Along with Peter (the OTHER cowardly denier) we say, “No Lord! I am not worthy!” Still looking compassionately into our eyes, Jesus says, “Yes, my child, you are.”

On Thursday night they go out to the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane, where Jesus prays, and the disciples fall asleep. (We are incredulous that they do, but seriously, have YOU ever fallen asleep while praying? Thought so!) Judas brokers his deal with the Pharisees, and they come out with armed guards to arrest Jesus.

John’s take on this is interesting, to me one of the most fascinating vignettes about Jesus’ power in all of Scripture: “Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I AM he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I AM he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-5, NIV, emphasis mine). When just the sound of his voice was enough to make a group of tough armed guards fall down, do you think they could have taken Jesus by force unless he allowed it? No way!
Again, he is a volunteer on this mission, not a victim of circumstance.

Thursday is a busy night. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, locks eyes with Jesus across an open courtyard, and then goes out and weeps bitterly. John is close enough to Caiaphas’ house to record what transpired there, but technically ALL the disciples betrayed Jesus because there is NO ONE who tries to stand up for him against the Sanhedrin… It’s easy from a distance to judge these cowards until you stop and think: has there ever been a time when YOU didn’t acknowledge knowing him? When YOU didn’t stand up for him, if even in the quietness of your own heart when temptation to sin beckoned you? I understand the cowardly disciples better when I take an honest look at MYSELF.

The high priest’s guards blindfold and beat Jesus, saying, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” This sleepless night initiates an exhausting journey to the cross, which Jesus could have chosen to avoid at any time. The Son of God did not HAVE to go through with this. He had a choice in every moment, and could have called upon Angels to minister to him, to end the exhaustion and the pain and suffering. Yeah we all might have been lost, but HE would still have been the Son of God. So what made him do it?

One of my favorite verses is tucked quietly into John’s account: “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Jesus went to trial, endured betrayals and beatings and humiliation and the cross because he loved us all the way to the end. May we love one another in the same way, and not just at Christmas and Easter…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Wednesday May Have Seemed Quiet, But Wheels Were Turning and Friday was Coming

Of the Ten Days that Changed the World, Wednesday was a quiet day at Bethany, not really mentioned much in the Gospels. Mark 14 and Matthew 26 record three snapshots of the day: the scheming Priests and elders decide to kill Jesus; Jesus is anointed by a woman at a dinner party in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper; and Judas agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (about four months’ wages). After all of the confrontations at the Temple on Tuesday, Jesus used Wednesday to spend time with his friends and disciples back in Bethany, but the other events taking place on Wednesday hasten the coming storm.

Wednesday

(Quick note: while John gives an account of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet before Passion Week (6 days before Passover), Mark and Matthew include it in their accounts here in Bethany (2 days before Passover). These different accounts could have been the same event used at different places in the narrative, but I tend to believe it is two separate occurrences. It is not doctrinally or materially important to the sequence of events, but it’s important to remember that the synoptic Gospel writers crafted their presentations to reach specific audiences, while John’s is more of an eyewitness account. That being said, John names Mary as the woman, while Matthew and Mark do not. In John’s account, Mary anoints the feet, but in the other two gospels the woman anoints Jesus’ head. Because of those things, I vote for two separate but similar events. I can’t imagine Mark and Matthew failing to identify someone as well-known to Jesus’ followers as Mary.)
Matthew 26:1 says, “When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” This would be the annual Passover celebration, held on Nisan 15 (Leviticus 23:5-6). Some scholars feel that there could have been an additional (Passover) Sabbath, beginning Wednesday at twilight and lasting until Thursday evening. The traditional view is that Passover and Sabbath began together on dusk at Friday. Since John 19:31 says that Friday was the day of preparation before Passover, and since Jesus Himself says Passover is two days away, it adds weight to the accepted view. [Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem:] “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26:2-5, NIV). Jerusalem’s population swelled by thousands of Pilgrims during such events, and it made sense that the Sanhedrin would be cautious about how they navigated the political waters. I’ll use the quiet of Wednesday to touch on chronology: when did things happen, and how long exactly was Jesus in the grave?

The timing of events during this week has been questioned, and there are two different views about it. If Jesus was in the grave 3 days (as he said he would be in Matthew 12:40), then how do you reconcile a Friday death and a Sunday resurrection? The traditional view holds that it was part of Friday, all of Saturday, part of Sunday – “three days” – but since that’s only two nights, some folks feel that it doesn’t allow enough time to fulfill the Messianic prophecy. Since this is the annual Passover celebration, held on Nisan 15 (Leviticus 23:5-6), some say there could have been an additional annual (Passover) Sabbath, beginning Wednesday at twilight and lasting until Thursday evening.
This means that Christ would have been crucified on Wednesday, and allowed for 3 full days and nights in the grave. It also reconciles timing statements about when the women bought spices to anoint Christ’s body, since according to Mark they bought spices “when the Sabbath was over” (16:1), and Luke’s account says they prepared them before the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). A high holy annual Sabbath starting Wednesday night through Thursday, followed by the day of preparation on Friday, allows for both accounts to be true. These details make for some interesting scholarly debate, but I think it is always reasonable to follow the path that agrees with simple logic.

Wednesday chronology

Since the exact days chronology is not a make or break issue, you can decide for yourself which makes the most sense. The traditional view coincides with what early Church Fathers believed, and allowed for the Middle-Eastern comprehensive logic that often defaulted to “both-and” rather than “either-or” positions. To me, the mid-week holy day causes significant compression of some events, and means that Jesus would have been tried Tuesday night, so it is not without its own problems; but it does help explain some seeming discrepancies and it allows for three full days between the cross and the resurrection.

As for me, I’m staying traditional, mainly based on Jesus’ statement about Passover being two days away. It’s important to note that placement of these types of historical details do not make or break Scripture. The Bible is a Book of History, but it is not merely a history book. The Gospel writers did indeed have specific points of view and audiences they were addressing, and while they vary in some details, they agree wholeheartedly on who Jesus was and why He came. In fact, I have often felt that God allowed for certain non-foundational nuances in the Bible to remain somewhat unexplained, in order to stimulate our curiosity and motivate us to dig into the Book. The deeper we are able to get into the Bible, the deeper it is able to get into us.

As we consider the events of Passion Week, that’s probably a good thing.
And as YOU consider the events of Passion Week, remember that events on Wednesday (today) serve to remind us of the question for the week:

What do YOU believe about the Cross? Was Jesus a victim or a volunteer?
While the cross is history, it’s also a bit of a mystery; What caused the crucifixion?
Some say it was caused by politics in the area; others claim it was mob hysteria.
Was it Jesus’s heresy? The Pharisees’ jealousy? Herod’s legacy? Judas’s zealotry?
Was Jesus swept along by a current of events, or was he in control of everything?
Was he a Rabbi who overplayed his hand, or a King who had total command?
Was he a mistreated milquetoast, or a man on a mission?
The cross wasn’t circumstantial; it was strategic.
For Jesus the cross wasn’t by chance, it was by choice.
It wasn’t based on an accident; it was based on his authority.
It wasn’t a random disaster; it was a deliberate design.
He said, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up!” & “Father, I will drink from this cup”
Jesus predicted it; he projected it; he presented it; and he prepared for it: He explained it to his disciples; he expounded upon it to the Pharisees;
and he expected it to happen
He knew about it; he talked about it; he prophesied about it; and he prayed about it.
He could have protested when he was arrested, but it wasn’t contested because
It was what he expected.
He told Peter to put his sword away; he told Pilate he had nothing more to say;
The cross wasn’t the result of a bad day, or a roadblock along the way; It WAS the way…
What do you believe about the cross? Was Jesus a victim or a volunteer?
For Jesus, It wasn’t unexpected; it was premeditated.
The cross wasn’t coincidental; it was calculated.
It was not incidental, and it wasn’t accidental; it was intentional. It wasn’t capital punishment, it was cosmic punishment.
Jesus allowed the Pharisees to plot, so he could do for us what we could NOT.
He allowed the Romans to execute him, so he could execute God’s plan.
He wasn’t laid low, he was lifted up.
He wasn’t horrified, he was glorified.
Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance; he was a voluntary sacrifice.
What do you believe about the cross?

All the sinister plans the Pharisees could ever concoct, all the Temple guards
they could have ever sent, could never have taken the King of Kings against His will.
Jesus wasn’t a pitiful loser who got caught by surprise;
He was a powerful leader committed to salvation!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Tuesday of Passion Week: Confrontation, Crowds, and Conflict

Tuesday of Passion Week was a busy day of confrontation. (Matthew 21:23 through 22:14; 41-46; John 12:2-8). The Passover created a huge festival-like atmosphere in Jerusalem, during which pilgrims flocked into the Holy City from all over the country. During Passover week, the population of Jerusalem swelled from about 100,000 to over a million as visitors and pilgrims crowded in to offer sacrifices and participate in the Temple activities. Some estimates reliably put the population of Jerusalem at two million people during festivals, so we can safely say that the stage was set for this Passover week to take place before most of the nation of Israel. Crowds lined up around the Temple and in the marketplaces of Jerusalem.

Jesus started Tuesday in the Temple courts, where he was challenged by the chief Priests and elders. In response to this confrontation, He asked them about John’s [obviously blessed and sanctified] baptism. “They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Matthew 21:25-27, NIV). Jesus made it clear that he was not some itinerant Rabbi, but someone with authority that they were refusing to accept.

Tuesday-Pharisees

He not only confounded the elders, he taught in parables about God’s kingdom and the cost of rejecting it. He answered the Sadducees’ devious questions with answers so wise that the crowds were astonished! (“Render unto Caesar…” Matthew 22:21) The Pharisees’ experts then tested his knowledge, hoping to get a sound bite they could criticize. Instead, He used a Messianic Psalm (110:1) to authenticate both his position as Messiah and his incredible grasp of Scriptures, “and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.“ (Matthew 21:45). From these conversations, even if you totally reject the concept that Jesus was God, you would still have to rationalize his incredible understanding of Scripture and his keen insight in men’s hearts and minds. His answers to the Priests and elders seemed to see right through them.

Apparently the members of the council lost their appetite for confrontation after that. Jesus finished his time in the temple on Tuesday revealing the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. He contrasted their self-righteous evil (they loved places of honor, took pride in titles, and prayed for show) with the selfless giving of the widow’s mite (she gave all she had). I have a feeling that the Kingdom of heaven will surprise a lot of us rich Americans who see material things as “blessings”. He ended the day with his radical prediction about the Temple’s destruction and his teaching on the Mount of Olives about the signs of his return and the end of the age.

This long Tuesday was a very important day of proclamation and teaching. Jesus not only answered the devious questions of the Pharisees, he proclaimed his authority, and then denounced them publicly. If any of them were wavering, he challenged them to repent. But the vibrant life of his message fell (as he knew it would) on hardened hearts, and his bold denunciation galvanized the self-righteous Pharisees into implacable foes.

They were experts at seeing everyone else’s sins, but became outraged when confronted with their own. Can you IMAGINE? Does that remind you of anyone? Well, err, yeah I guess… We’re a lot like that, aren’t we? Ultimately, the only sins that should matter to me are mine. When we are confronted with sin, do we react with repentance, or with hardened hearts? Do you become God’s forgiven friend or His rebellious enemy? Have you repented, or are you rebellious? I don’t think there are any other options…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Amazing Story of the Victim Who Was Really a Volunteer

One of the things that Passion Week helps us to see (mentioned yesterday) is that Jesus was not a victim but a volunteer. Today is Palm Sunday, and Jesus is traveling with his friends. After the Sabbath, Jesus and the disciples walked from Bethany NW through Bethpage to Jerusalem, a journey of 8-10 miles.
He rode the last part on the colt of a donkey, fulfilling this prophecy from Zechariah 9:9, “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” As he approached, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:8-9, NIV).

victim

Some say that Jesus was simply a great rabbi who got swept up in events, and who became a victim because of the tumultuous political climate in Jerusalem. They surmise that these adoring crowds called attention to him, the authorities reacted, and things got out of control. (And yes, these are probably some of the same crowds who will be calling for his crucifixion in just a few days…)
Even so, Luke 19 tells us that he wept compassionately over Jerusalem as he approached the city. Some Greeks came to see Philip, who took them to Andrew, who helped introduce them to Jesus. (We don’t know much about Andrew, but we could all do a lot worse than to be remembered as someone who introduced people to Jesus!). This is one of the clear signals indicating that Gentiles will be included in the New Covenant. It is an interesting fact to be included about the triumphant entry of a Jewish Rabbi… Why even speak about Greeks at such a time? Shortly after meeting them Jesus announced, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself”, indicating that these Greeks and “all men” were included in his crucifixion and his kingdom.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus taught his disciples several times that he was going to die, that he was a volunteer and not a victim. Jesus was on a mission, and he was proclaiming it to everyone. Another notable statement that Jesus made in front of his followers outside of Jerusalem: ““Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27, 28, NIV). Knowing what was to come, he is troubled but not desperate; he is aware but not anxious. He knows exactly what he came to do and what his purpose is. He is not a chance victim, swept along the current of events, wishing that God would save him from this fate. He is a man on a mission who plans to see it through.

The Question Is, What Do YOU Believe About the Cross?

Luke 17:2 [Jesus taught them] But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
John 7:3 “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me.”
John 18:3, 6 Judas, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with torches and weapons. When Jesus said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground…
Matthew 26:52 Jesus told Peter to put his sword away
What do you believe about the cross? Was Jesus a victim or a volunteer?
While the cross is history, it’s also a bit of a mystery; What caused the crucifixion?
Some say it was caused by politics in the area; others claim it was mob hysteria.
Was it Jesus’s heresy? The Pharisees’ jealousy? Herod’s legacy? Judas’s zealotry?
Was Jesus swept along by a current of events, or was he in control of everything?
Was he a Rabbi who overplayed his hand, or a King who had total command? Was he a mistreated milquetoast, or a man on a mission?
The cross wasn’t circumstantial; it was strategic.
For Jesus the cross wasn’t by chance, it was by choice.
It wasn’t based on an accident; it was based on his authority.
It wasn’t a random disaster; it was a deliberate design.
He said, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up!” & “Father, I will drink from this cup”
Jesus predicted it; he projected it; he presented it; and he prepared for it: He explained it to his disciples; he expounded upon it to the Pharisees;
and he expected it to happen
He knew about it; he talked about it; he prophesied about it; and he prayed about it.
He could have protested when he was arrested, but it wasn’t contested because
It was what he expected. He told Peter to put his sword away; he told Pilate he had nothing more to say;
The cross wasn’t the result of a bad day, or a roadblock along the way; It WAS the way…
What do you believe about the cross? Was Jesus a victim or a volunteer?
For Jesus, It wasn’t unexpected; it was premeditated.
The cross wasn’t coincidental; it was calculated.
It was not incidental, and it wasn’t accidental; it was intentional. It wasn’t capital punishment, it was cosmic punishment.
Jesus allowed the Pharisees to plot, so he could do for us what we could NOT.
He allowed the Romans to execute him, so he could execute God’s plan.
He wasn’t laid low, he was lifted up.
He wasn’t horrified, he was glorified.
Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance; he was a voluntary sacrifice.
What do you believe about the cross?

All the sinister plans the Pharisees could ever concoct, all the Temple guards
they could have ever sent, could never have taken the King of Kings against His will.
Jesus wasn’t a pitiful loser who got caught by surprise;
He was a powerful leader committed to salvation!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Friday Before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed the World

As I pointed out yesterday, we have been working our way through the entire Old Testament, taking devotional thoughts through every single book. It has been surprising to see God’s judgment juxtaposed with His precious love, and to find images of the Lord of Hosts as a lover, as an anxious groom, and as an affectionate Father singing gently over his child. These images lead us to the realization that while the Old Testament is full of the harsh reality of sin, death and a fallen world, the story of Grace is not finished. A world governed by a continuous cycle of sin and sacrifice gives way to a world of grace. Sin still corrupts, but the required sacrifice provides a plot twist that takes God’s revelation in an entirely different direction. Today, on Friday, we will look into the Gospels and see the rest of the story.

Here, nine Days before Easter, we will appreciate the Easter season for everything it holds. This Friday post introduces us to a slightly extended version of the passion week of Christ, with an attempt to recount daily activities and developments. One can easily make the argument that no other week affected all of human history as much as this one. The significance of these ten days is demonstrated by how much attention the Gospel writers paid to it: though Christ spent three years ministering, the four authors commit from at least one-fourth (Matthew and Luke) to almost one-half (John) of their books to this single week.

To set the stage for the rapid turn of events, John reminds us that the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees had been heightened by the resurrection of Lazarus. John 11:54 says, “Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples. 55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.”

Friday

Jesus was well aware that the Pharisees were plotting against Him, and any normal man might have avoided Jerusalem this week altogether. But Jesus was not a normal man. As people in Jerusalem spent Friday getting ceremoniously cleansed for the Sabbath, they wondered if He would show up at the Festival. Not only did He show up, but He had a very busy week making sure that He fulfilled every aspect of His mission.
Sabbath began on Friday at dusk and went to Saturday Sunset. Starting with today, this quiet Friday when Jesus and his disciples were on retreat together, we will walk each day through Passion week alongside Jesus and His disciples, and we will observe the various players who influence events. Here is a brief chronology:

Friday the week before: Crowds follow; Pharisees have ordered Jesus’ arrest
Saturday (Sabbath) in Bethany, an anointing at Dinner
Sunday (“Palm Sunday”) The triumphal entry into Jerusalem
Monday back and forth to Bethany, a cursed tree, cleansing the temple
Tuesday (a busy day) in the Temple, answering critics and teaching
Wednesday (a quiet day at Bethany) a brief look at chronology
Thursday (Passover Meal) Last Supper, night-time betrayal and arrest
Friday (Illegally Tried) Convicted, Scourged, Crucified
Saturday (The Darkest Day ever) In the Tomb
Sunday (Easter) The Resurrection!

As you read through the daily account of Passion Week (Really ten days, from Friday before through Easter weekend), remember that Easter is about gritty reality. It is about greed and politics, about hatred and hope. It heralds the transformation of scattered and scared disciples into astonishing men; of a rejected Rabbi into the coming King; and, ultimately, perhaps the most surprising turn of events, it begins the transition of the mighty Roman Empire into a mere asterisk in the annals of History. Last of all, it represents the transformation of an un-lovable, insecure sinner –me– into someone redeemed and adopted by the King Himself. I hope your Friday helps you begin a transformation that turns the worst day in history into the best. Day. Ever.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread