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

(Easter Sunday, from Ten days through the Gospels for Passion Week)

“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? It is indeed curious that the Gospel writers recorded that women were the first witnesses at the empty tomb.

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, 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 that 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, 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!

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Unlikely Heroes Emerge as the Disciples endure a Very Sad Sabbath

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.

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 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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We All Agree that Judas Betrayed Jesus. But Don’t Miss THIS

(Good Friday, 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, 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… What catches my eye, however, is the story of Judas. (You know, the guy no one names their kid after?)

He was Judas Iscariot, the zealot, the thief, the would-be revolutionary who perhaps tried to force Jesus into action, 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.

“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 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
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Thursday Provides Lessons on Power, Prayer and Pain

Thursday was perhaps the longest day of Passion Week, since it stretched all the way 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.

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)

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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: “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). When just the sound of his voice is enough to make 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 3 times, locks eyes with Jesus across an open courtyard, and then goes out and weeps bitterly.

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…

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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.

(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.

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 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
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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). 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 the day 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).

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 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. 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 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
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Can A Man Capable of Cleansing a Temple also Cleanse our Hearts?

The Days that Changed the World: Monday of Passion Week was a day of travel and cleansing, Mark 11:12-18. Jesus and the disciples walked from Bethany to Jerusalem and back. (Remember, that’s about and hour’s walk each way, so these guys were in shape!) Along the way, Jesus saw a fig tree in the distance, and took his disciples over to find out if it had any fruit. Normally a fig tree shows fruit before it shows leaves, so if it has leaves without fruit, it is not going to produce any. Seeing that it was barren, Jesus announced that it would never bear fruit again. Many scholars see this as a prophecy against Israel. The reason Israel was chosen was to bear fruit, but their priorities had shifted, and they were depending upon the law and not God. They had Jesus in their midst and were rejecting him, so God was preparing a way of salvation “which shall be to all people”. Jesus had commanded them to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8, NIV). He also said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:18, NIV) and “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. ” (Matthew 7:19-20) Bearing fruit is a direct result of where our hearts are, and hearts that need cleansing do not bear fruit. When people look at us, what do they recognize? What is YOUR fruit?

On this day Jesus went into the Temple and once again recognized that Temple officials fleeced pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice. I’ve often compared the High Priest to the Godfather, and there were several ways his people robbed worshippers who came to them in good faith. The Levites rejected the animals the pilgrims brought and forced them to buy one higher priced “unblemished” ones from them. Then of course they would buy the rejected animals at a low price and put them in a pen to sell later at a higher price to another poor rube from the country…

The moneychangers also used a high exchange rate and dishonest weights and measures to change people’s Roman coin into Temple money. Perhaps since God called such dishonest scales “abominable” in Proverbs 20:10, Jesus was passionately opposed to such practices. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves…” (Matthew 11:15). Jesus was fearless in confronting the corruption of the Temple system. Perhaps if he felt that the place where God resides should be cleansed and honest, we should feel that way today, too–but don’t forget that God’s residence is not in church, or in a temple, but in your heart. Are there any money-changer’s tables you need to overturn?

The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke; synoptic = “seen with the same eyes” since they used common source material) place this event at the end of Jesus’ ministry, during Passion Week; John places a Temple cleansing at the beginning. Some scholars say there was only one event where Jesus cleared the Temple, and that John placed it at the beginning for theological reasons to emphasize the judgment of Israel’s corruption. I think there were two events, slightly different in scale and focus, calling attention to the hypocrisy in the Temple. In either case, the act of cleansing was significant socially, politically, economically and Spiritually. One happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the other happened near the end.

This second confrontation with Jerusalem’s “Mafioso” certainly helped bring matters to a head. Nothing stimulates criminal retaliation more than messing with their money. Monday’s events remind us that Passion Week took place in the real world, and when Jesus confronted corruption and hypocrisy, the people he exposed reacted just like people do today. A couple of things about this: Jesus was no effeminate milquetoast, he was strong and passionate. Don’t ever think of him as weak, or merely as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He was a courageous, powerful leader who fearlessly challenged corruption and commanded attention. Second, on this day Jesus announced his presence in the Temple based on righteousness, honesty, and protecting the helpless who came to worship. Nothing about him has changed since then.

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The Amazing 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 Bethphage 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).

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!

 

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Saturday before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed History

As we take a long look at the Passion Week, I have cheated a little and started slightly before Palm Sunday… Here are some observations about the Saturday before Good Friday, or eight days before Easter: Supper at Bethany.

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.” (John 12:1-2, NIV).

A short time before this day, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, which prompted Caiaphas (the High Priest) and his council to begin plotting Jesus’ death. They were concerned that this young rabbi’s followers would get out of hand, and bring Roman judgment down upon them all. John, who apparently had connections with the Jewish council, reported this in John 11:49: “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

After a quiet Sabbath day in Bethany on Saturday, there were several notable exchanges at dinner. The guests reclined around a low table, as was the custom, leaning on one elbow. (This means that all of the Last Supper pictures are wrong, of course!) After the close of Sabbath they were actually reclining around a low circular or perhaps square table, starting with the Leader or Guest of honor, ending with the youngest. (That’s why in the Last Supper, in John 13:22-25, John describes himself as the one leaning against Jesus’ breast. As the youngest disciple, he completed the circle, and had the closest position to Jesus at formal meals).

Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and Judas, the group’s treasurer, objected to the waste of money (because, John said, Judas was a thief who used his position as keeper of the bag to steal funds). Mark 14 and Matthew 26 record a very similar event, and there is some scholarly debate about these accounts, but I believe them to be two separate incidents that shared some common elements. (Since John identifies Mary as the anointer, and Matthew and Mark do not name the woman, I think it’s two events–not just confusion within the Gospel accounts. It would have been very unusual for Matthew and Mark not to name someone as well known to the group as Mary…)

Jesus pointed out that this anointing was appropriate because it signified his upcoming burial. He also said “you will not always have me with you”, knowing that his death was imminent. (He told them frankly about his death in John 12:23, Matt.16:21 and 20:17, but it didn’t register with them at the time). One of the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of the crucifixion is that it was NOT AN ACCIDENT. Jesus knew it was coming, and he was preparing his followers to deal with it.

This Saturday evening, however, even as a crowd of curiosity seekers hovered outside the house, the disciples remained blissfully unaware of Jesus’s true intentions. But He knew what was coming, and it is always important to remember that he made these plans of his own volition, not as a victim. Zebedee’s wife asked if her sons James and John could have important positions when Jesus came into his kingdom. He used this request as a teaching moment about servant leadership, and reminded them again that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. This was a bittersweet moment for Jesus. He was with his closest friends, the night before Hosannas would ring on the road to Jerusalem, and yet he was being anointed for his impending death. It is a calm before the storm.

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Friday Before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed the World

(Nine Days Before Easter) This Friday post introduces us to a slightly extended version of the passion week of Christ. The significance of these ten days is demonstrated by the Gospel writers: 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.”

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. Here is a brief chronology:

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, of the Roman Empire into an asterisk in History. Last of all, it represents the transformation of an unlovable, 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.

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