Is God Different Than You Expected? Change Your Expectations

Expectations play a large role in our contentment and happiness. Have you ever met someone who did not turn out to be who you expected, and you were disappointed? Have you met someone who surprised you by exceeding your expectations? It’s a pleasant surprise, isn’t it?

When you look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth, there were people who saw him on both sides of potential expectations. His own siblings thought he might be crazy. The disciples saw him as a way up and out. They knew he was powerful but they weren’t really sure where that power was headed. The Pharisees saw him as an outsider, and they wanted to get rid of him. The Roman leaders didn’t know what to make of him.

The Heart of Expectations

Expectations may color our thinking, but they really don’t change the reality behind them. Things may not be what you expect, but they are definitely what they are. What if Jesus was not who you expected him to be? And what if the wages of sin really are death? Does that give you a free pass from the penalty of your iniquities? Isaiah said that the Messiah wasn’t a triumphant king but a suffering sacrifice. He also compared us to sheep who insist on going our own way, regardless of the consequences:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV).


A Matter of Perspective?

I’ve wondered many times why my Jewish friends don’t see Jesus the same way I do. He was Jewish, and he came as Messiah, yet he was not who they expected. In a way, I totally understand, because we are all immersed in our own reality, and sometimes it’s impossible to see around our own perspective. At the time, under Roman occupation, the Jewish Leaders looked for revolutionary deliverance, and were hoping for political independence and freedom.

Yet Jesus was not who they expected: he never got political, and didn’t seem to give a fig about overthrowing Rome.(Kind of ironic when you consider that Christianity played such a big role in ending the domination of the Roman empire…)

I’m sure the Jewish zealots who followed him were disappointed that he came as a suffering servant rather than as an earthly king. Apparently Jesus, who came to set up a spiritual kingdom through his suffering, did not meet their Messianic expectations, and they rejected the notion that he could be the One.

Missed it by That Much

I once heard Bill Dial preach a really good sermon speculating that perhaps Judas betrayed Christ only to force his hand and start the revolution he thought was ultimately coming… He expected Jesus to rise up in power, not to be tried like a criminal. When that happened, Judas was devastated by the way things turned out because he expected a King instead of the cross. He missed Jesus’ true purpose as expressed here in Isaiah, and ended up hanging himself in grief and remorse.

Question: do we ever miss who God really is because we are hoping for something different? Is God’s response ever different than you expected? “Lord, bless me financially and I’ll believe you are real.” “Lord, heal me and I’ll know it’s you.” Are we ever sitting in a cave like Elijah, expecting to see God in the whirlwind? Can we be so wrapped up in our own presuppositions about who we’d LIKE Jesus to be that we miss who he IS? You know what they say about ASSUME… (When we do it, “it makes an ass out of u and me”).

He is Who He Is

When the Lord called himself, “I AM”, he was referring to the fact that He is in the moment. He is now. He is what we need. But perhaps He was also referring to the fact that He is who He is, not who we expect Him to be… We are not the shapers of God’s identity, but we are the creation to whom He reveals himself. I cannot define God, because He defines himself.

So don’t put God in a box—expect to find Him in unexpected ways and places… And while you’re at it, set aside your assumptions about church. Enter church as a suffering servant rather than as a sanctified saint. Stop being judgmental about the judgmental. Look at the man who was pierced for our transgressions. For my money, he was the Messiah who came to deliver not just Israel from occupation, but all of us from enemy territory. But don’t take my word for it; get to know Jesus. Then decide for yourself.

Rumination on Expectation

In a world of independent rights, here’s a disturbing thought:
God is always WHO HE IS, whether you like it or not.
What if He turns out to be much more than you expected?
When we reach the Judgment Day, will you be unprotected?
What if, in the Kingdom, we are standing there like fools,
Just wishing we had got to know the king of Kings, who rules?
Perhaps you don’t believe in God; But what if He’s really there?
What’s his personality? And should you even care?
If you have never talked to God before, consider this:
It might be good to get to know him just the way He is.

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The Heart of the Matter is that Your. Heart. Matters.

What goes into your heart matters. What comes out of it matters, too. For people who didn’t have EKG’s, cardiologists, or heart hospitals, the ancient Hebrew people were pretty wise about matters of the heart. Solomon in particular seemed to have a deep understanding of the way the heart functions, and his Book of Proverbs is full of references to it. With all of our technology, do you think we are any smarter about these matters than they were 3,000 years ago?

True Cardiology

Take a look at a few of these Proverbs and tell me what you think:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV) “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, KJV) To the Hebrews, the heart was the center of a man’s being, the place where instinct, reason, emotion and will came together as the core of body, soul, and spirit. It was where he made decisions and created core values.

Heart matters mattered to Solomon: Proverbs acknowledges it as the gateway for wisdom (2:10), and the place where understanding and God’s instruction could be stored and used (3:1, 6:21). Solomon saw the heart as central to a man’s commitment (3:5) and motivation (4:4). A teachable heart that is turned towards God’s wisdom brings both practical and spiritual rewards; a heart turned astray has other outcomes. A foolish heart will spurn good advice (5:12), act deceitfully (6:14), devise wicked schemes (6:18), be drawn into lust (6:25), and be willfully perverse (11:20) or unreasonably proud (16:5).


First Out?

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He also said, “Whatever comes from [the heart of] a man, that is what defiles and dishonors him.” (Mark 7:20, AMP) So, what comes out of your heart? One of the indicators is your vocabulary. (“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” Luke 6:45) What are the first words out of your mouth when you are angry? Do your words heal or hurt? Do they help or hinder?

What do you think the things that come out of your mouth say about your heart? If you did a quick internal summary, how would you evaluate your heart? Is it well-tended, or is it a bit of a hot mess? Does it cuss or discuss? Is it a gateway for wisdom, or a repository for waste? Is it proud and self-centered, or is it open and teachable? If you take care of your heart, it will take care of you!

Jesus said that we are defiled not by what we do, but by what comes out of our hearts… Take an honest inventory of what has flowed into and out of your heart lately. Then remember what Solomon said. Look after your heart: everything you do flows from it.

The Heart of the Matter

You cannot see it, but it’s there, providing with every beat
The fuel to think, the means to care, the power to compete.
It shows resolve, or skips a beat, or sometimes feels a thrill–
While it contains the seat of instinct, intellect and will.
It is a place where body, soul, and spirit all reside;
It is a place where men can shine, or where they try to hide.

Solomon said it was a place where passion could be fired,
And that to keep it healthy, there was diligence required.
A foolish heart will do some things that just aren’t very nice;
It won’t subscribe to wisdom, and accept its good advice.
So guard your heart, since it is where a person’s measure is;
And watch what you put into it: It’s where your treasure is.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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Esther: The Beautiful Young Queen Who Risked It All

Do you like drama, intrigue, and plot twists? Then this story is for you! Esther was chosen to be Xerxes’ latest queen by winning a beauty contest. However, the Book of Esther reveals she was more than just another pretty face…

A Plot Worthy of a Mini Series

Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman, had been chosen by Xerxes to be Queen of Persia. The fact that she was Jewish was not known publicly. A pompous court official named Haman resented Esther’s uncle Mordecai because he refused to bow to him, so Haman obtained an order from Xerxes to have all of Mordecai’s people killed (not knowing that this death warrant would include the beautiful young Queen…).

After Esther was told about Haman’s evil scheme to kill all of the Jews, she had two options: One, she could hole up and stay incognito in the palace and take her chances that she might be spared because of her beauty and connections. Or two, she could help Mordecai try to thwart Haman’s plan by going before Xerxes and bringing it to his attention.

A Bad Day to Have a Bad Day

The real problem with that was if Xerxes (being an all-powerful potentate) was in a bad mood, he could have ANYONE who approached him unbidden killed just for making an appearance. So, for Esther this was not an easy choice. She could ignore the plot, and perhaps survive if she was not identified as a Jew; or she could approach Xerxes uninvited and die at his whim.


Her uncle Mordecai laid this out before her in no uncertain terms: she could go before the King, but it could indeed cost her life. After giving the matter some consideration, she made her choice: “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4:15-16, NKJV).

Esther risked it all

Choosing Faith

By choosing to risk forfeiting her own life in going before Xerxes without permission, Esther became one of the great heroes of the Hebrew people, stepping out in faith to identify with them (and with God), rather than depending on mere worldly values to offer her protection. The young and beautiful queen voluntarily assumed the worst (a death sentence), so that by approaching the despotic king, she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

We often do the opposite. We ignore our inevitable death sentence and try to hold on to something temporary rather than to embrace something eternal. Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jesus chose to die for every one of us; perhaps we will realize great reward if we each take the risk and choose to die for Him. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Good advice for Esther. Good advice for us.

Esther’s Courage

Xerxes ruled with random lust; his court approached with fear,
His whimsy might be cruel or just: and Haman held his ear.
Haman’s murderous, hateful heart was full of selfish pride,
Which turned against the man who worshipped Yahweh: Mordecai.
Haman lied to Xerxes, and his evil, twisted ruse
Convinced the King to grant the execution of the Jews.
Mordecai told Esther, then, of Haman’s vile plan,
Since her position in the court might thwart this evil man…

But if she came to Xerxes’ court from the harem where they kept her,
He might decline to see her with a gesture of his scepter,
And this declining gesture would mean death to good Queen Esther.
How could they escape this bind? How to change the monarch’s mind?
Approaching him, she just might find that her request would be declined.

Uncertain now, she wavered as she tried to count the cost;
Mordecai said, “Esther, if you don’t go, you’ll be lost—
God will save us either way, despite the turns and twists:
Who knows if you were put where you are for such a time as this?”
So Esther left the harem, and approached the Royal hall,
Willing to save her people by being willing to risk it all.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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To Condemn or Not: the Trial with a Shocking Conclusion

“And Jesus lifted up himself, and said unto her, Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee? And she said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ASV) The woman caught in adultery is one of the more dramatic scenes in the Bible, and has a number of interesting elements to it.

A Chance for Jesus to Condemn

First of all, there’s a note in most Bibles that says 7:53-8:11 were not included in the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Scholars feel that it was probably inserted after the original version was written, because Jesus was not at the meeting of the Pharisees, and the transition “Then each man went to his own home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” seems a little abrupt. They also place it logically after Luke 21:37-38, which states that Jesus stayed on the Mount of Olives and came early each day to teach in the temple. In any case, the story was included because it was undoubtedly true to circumstances and to Jesus’ teaching and character.

The Trap of Condemnation

The Pharisees were trying to put Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma, asking him to render judgment that would be wrong no matter what he chose. In the first place, it wasn’t a fair trial, and it didn’t follow the law. Deuteronomy 22:22 said, “If a man is caught sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” The Pharisees didn’t bring the man involved, only the woman. If Jesus permitted them to stone the woman, he would have broken the law. He would also have offended the Romans because under Roman law the Jews did not have the right to exercise capital punishment.

condemn not

The Doodle that was More Than a Doodle

It’s interesting to note that in verse six, Jesus “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” I have heard entire sermons speculating about what he might have written there. Maybe he wrote several of the commandments, and perhaps they were pointedly the ones broken most often by the men carrying the stones. Perhaps he wrote the Shema, Israel’s foundational verse to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. He could have simply written a list of sins that related personally to each of the would-be judges, which they would recognize as their own…

Some speculate that perhaps he wrote the names of some of the men themselves, surprising them and convicting them as they looked on, wondering how Jesus knew so much. Whatever he wrote there in the dust, it must have provided dramatic counterpoint to the motives and intents of the self-righteous hypocrites. The accusers stood there, stones in hand, ready to execute judgment and condemnation. Somehow, with a few words written in the dust, Jesus stopped them in their tracks. We don’t know exactly what he wrote, but it was effective.

The Real Question

This story provides another instance of Jesus declining the chance to condemn, although the language is interesting, because he asks, “Did no man condemn you?” And she answers, “No man, Lord.” The subtlety of his inference is both loving and direct, because he does not exclude the real possibility that God would not approve of her activity…and his actions challenged her to reconsider everything she thought about God, accountability and judgment.

Your Chance to Condemn

He encouraged the woman to change her ways and leave her life of sin, but he did not exercise judgment. Christians (followers of Jesus), take note! Imitate. I have always wondered what became of this woman, and how she lived from then on. The power and magnitude of Grace calls us to leave our sinful lives and remember what Jesus did. He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:17, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Jesus doesn’t lower the bar, or make excuses, or spin that it’s ok to sin. He gently but powerfully reminds us that we are called, not to make anyone ELSE holy, but to BE holy. That’s probably such a full-time job that we’ve very little time left over to accuse anyone else.

The Judge Who Didn’t Condemn

The woman on the street was cast in shame
Because a man had tried to own her.
No one even asked her name,
But they were all prepared to stone her,
Till someone knelt beside her in the dust
And let her know that she was not alone.
He said, “Go ahead and judge her if you must,
But let the perfect man among you cast the stone.”

One by one, the accusers walked away,
But Jesus looked at her; He didn’t budge.
The woman thought she knew what he would say:
Instead, he asked her, “Where are those who judge?”
She looked around and saw no hateful men,
Still trembling from their angry cries of “Whore!”
But he said, “Woman, neither do I condemn,
So you are free to go, and sin no more…”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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If Jesus returned, What Would He Say to America?

He wasn’t who they expected him to be. He said things they didn’t expect him to say. In a dramatic passage from the Book of Revelation, John described Jesus as the Alpha and Omega and the King of Kings; but let’s not forget that he had a very different role when he first came to earth. Isaiah 53 portrays a man who was rejected and spurned by the very people he came to save. While he was here on earth, the Messiah was so humble and spiritual that he made no political statements and had no political aspirations. If he returned today, would people notice? Would they care? What do you think he would say to us?

say unexpected

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-5, NIV)

Say What?

The Messiah appeared, not as a King in glory, and not as a celebrity on TMZ… If Jesus appeared today, I wonder what he would say to our nation? What standards might he use? Hmm… the words from Leviticus 19:11-15 come to mind.

11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. 12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. 13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. 15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

What would he say to the dispossessed, the poor, the marginalized, the segregated, the beaten-down, the sufferers of injustice? He would say, “I have been where you are, and have shared your suffering and felt your pain. You will find me in the midst of your grief, and I offer you peace if you will turn to me. I offer you grace and dignity, forgiveness and respect.”

“In the world you shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And what would he say to the prejudiced, the haters, the purveyors of bigotry and division (both white and black)? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34).

We Can’t Overcome Injustice with Hatred

Among other tragedies, a helpless George Floyd was needlessly choked to death while in police custody in Minneapolis. His death is one in a string of tragic killings of African Americans during encounters with police going back several years. Frankly, I am shocked and dismayed by this blatant abuse of power.

America has been forced to confront its lack of justice. I know that my own feelings about it are nothing compared to the rising tide of dissatisfaction and anguish among my brothers and sisters of color. The Jesus I know would never condone hatred based on skin color or minor differences; he would extend compassion to the wounded and God’s righteous standard to those who perpetrate bigotry and racism.

A Different Message Should Create a Different Outcome

And what would he say to those in power, those who do nothing about injustice, who respond with insensitivity and indifference? “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15) The law of Moses clearly required leaders to be fair, and to be godly.

And what would be his message to those who use their power to commit violence or abuse? “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice.” (Jeremiah 22:13) “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2)

And what would he say to all of us, as believers, about how we should act? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35, KJV). “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Let’s change the paradigm, people. Our nation can only achieve justice one heart at a time. The one who bore our pain and suffering, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, has offered us peace and healing. Let’s offer it to our neighbors, one heart at a time.

Change Your Heart, Change the World

A humble man of sorrows, he who came
Without regard for power, wealth or fame;
The King of kings and Lord of lords was he,
And yet he had no need for TMZ.
According to Isaiah Fifty-three,
He had no selfish lust for royalty,
And did not get involved politically;
He came to bear our sorrow, and to be
The sacrifice for our iniquity.
Perhaps we would do well to emulate,
To love the way he loved, and not to hate.
I hope, America, it’s not too late:
When he comes back, in power undisguised,
I think a lot of folks will be surprised.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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Man Was the Word, The Word Was Man: It Changes Everything

The Apostle John made the amazing claim that the Word was God. Certainly that claim had universal and cosmic implications, but those subjects were already being debated in divinity schools… The word was far above man, pre-existent, eternal, ephemeral, the essence of the divine Godhead, mysterious and unknowable.

Son of God, but then THIS

In verse 12, however, John seems to take a radically different tack, one that changed the game entirely. He claimed that the Word became a Man. He said: And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” It may seem crazy to some that a man claims to be god; it is even crazier to think that God would claim to be a man. And yet Jesus often referred to himself as the Son of Man, a prophetic reference from Ezekiel.

John’s insights about the “Word made flesh” (about Jesus) in his Gospel’s introduction are pretty compelling. Not only does he connect the dots to say that Jesus was God, and was preexistent from the beginning, he identifies Jesus as the Creator: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3 NIV)

Not Just Another Guy From Galilee

Since Jesus was not just a man, John illustrates what that means. As the Word, Jesus was the creative part of God’s personality. “God SAID, Let there be light, and there was light.” God spoke the universe into existence. Jesus was literally the Word who created this universe, the heavens, and this world…

This is an area that I think we humans might have a hard time grasping in all of its implications, both spiritually and emotionally. As the preexistent creative personality of God, Jesus spoke, energized and framed the cosmos into existence. Colossians 1:17 says “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Jesus, the word incarnate, came to earth as a mere man and lived upon the planet he had made.

Think About Cold Water, for Instance

The earth and all that had sprung from it were his creation, the expression of his creative power and intent. How do you think he sometimes felt, walking upon the very earth he had spoken into existence? Sitting under a tree to find protection from the sun he had made? Looking up and identifying the stars at night? Drinking cold water after a dusty walk? I’d bet that the strongest maternal instinct would pale in comparison to the intimacy Jesus felt with his creation…


And on the other side of that equation, do you think that fallen man’s mistreatment of it, and of each other, ever broke his heart? As he saw the selfishness, the cruelty, the tragedy in his world, do you think he ever thought, this is not what I intended? That I will do whatever it takes to fix this? (Hmmm, does he ever say that just looking into your heart?)

Made for More…

The Word made flesh—which is the Advent, which is what we celebrate at Christmas—means that he came to earth and literally became part of his own creation to do something about it regardless of the immeasurable cost. We should live, then, as he intended.

Perhaps it would help if we saw the world around us through His eyes. We should appreciate it with His love… It might help us to look beyond the commercial culture or the selfish driver who barged into my lane. Today, put on the Son of Man’s glasses of grace and see the world the way its Creator saw it See it the way he intended it to be. And while you’re at it, look at yourself the same way, with more than a mother’s matchless love. If you think Jesus loved his creation, then imagine how he feels about YOU. See? Last Christmas really DID bring good tidings of great joy!

The Son of Man

Of all the things that men have said,
The one that makes you scratch your head
Is John’s assertion that the Cosmic plan
Involves Almighty God becoming man.
How ludicrous that claim must be!
Why, any fool could clearly see
That God’s incredible, matchless worth
Would never limit itself to earth!
But if He did… what things would He must have felt!
What air he breathed! And when he stooped and knelt
To touch the grass, to break an earthen clod:
What did he think– the Word, Creator, God?
Surely he enjoyed what he had made–
A cold refreshing drink beneath the shade,
Laughter where the children ran and played;
The sunsets, with His handiwork displayed…

Surely he loved creation more than most;
He knew far better all that had been lost:
Knew its value, and He knew the cost.
He knew the covenants, knew they’d not been kept;
He stood above Jerusalem, and wept.
And then this God– this Galilean Jew
Gave up his life to rescue me. And you.
I wonder– the Bible never makes this clear–
Did He miss heaven more when he came down here,
Or after all He’d said, and seen, and done,
Did He miss us as much when He went home?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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If you Claim a Resurrection, 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?

Is there a reason why people believe Jesus was Raised From the Dead?

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 a fairly rational objection. 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. All of them 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? There was no compelling reason for them to maintain a spiritual charade!

Eyewitness Accounts

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.

Compelling, Counter-Intuitive Evidence

“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

The Wrong Witnesses

In Jewish law, women’s testimony was not admissible, so why would Hebrew authors include this information unless it were TRUE? No first century Jewish reader would have given credence to this account of the resurrection. (In fact, Luke says that even 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.

They did his in spite of the face that 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. When a lie would have served them better, they told the truth about what happened.(Kind of the opposite of much of today’s journalism…)

A Number of Facets to the Resurrection

When Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus in his resurrected body, she did not recognize him until he called her by name. (So on a side note, 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 a little research about the Easter narrative reveals that it contains 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:

Paul was Convinced, and Scripture is Clear

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. 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)

A Hope Worth Having

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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Sabbath has 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)

Unlikely Heroes

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

A Good Question

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. We can read about the Apostles in Acts, but there was unheralded heroism among so many followers of Jesus in those early days that it will be fascinating to hear their stories.

A Very Tough Day for Some

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 completely broken over how he let Jesus down. (John tells us how Peter “wept bitterly”.) 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! (If you haven’t heard Tony Campolo’s great sermon “Sunday’s Coming!” do yourself a favor and listen to it sometime.)

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.

A Personal Sacrifice With a Cosmic Result

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 indeed died so that all could live, just not the way Caiaphas intended.

The day between the cross and Easter is the pivotal day in human history. It offers a chance to reflect on the pivotal statement in all of human history, which came from the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. You remember him, the man who showed up to take Jesus’ body for burial? When he visited Jesus, Jesus told him: “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?


A Little Word About Easter

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.

Judas May Have Been a Traitor. But Consider This:

Good Friday, on Day Eight from Passion Week: Ten Days that Changed the World. The story of Good Friday and Judas is given in Matthew 26:47-27:56; Mark 14:43-15:46; and John 18:2-19:30.

Bitter Fruit

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. Jesus was quoting SCRIPTURE! 

Jesus 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.

So Many Players, so Many Failures

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. We can observe the hard-hearted Pharisees, cowardly disciples, corrupt priests, and the impatient Romans. There are a number of story lines, and many of them provide some degree of failure. Peter failed to stand up for his best friend. Pilate failed to administer justice. The Sanhedrin failed to adhere to the law.

What catches my eye, however, is the story of Judas. (You know, the guy no one names their kid after?) His failure may be the most obvious and the least-discussed out of all of those people.


Not Just Betrayal

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 a man who willingly betrayed his teacher and friend had to be influenced by selfishness and sin.

He’s Certainly Deserving of Condemnation

Certainly all civilized people would be justified in condemning Judas for betraying his friend, Jesus. Anyone who turned their back on the Son of God deserves whatever justice requires, don’t they? 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 and pursued some selfish sin. 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. (You might recall that Judas was so overcome by remorse that he committed suicide. He was so uncomfortable with his own sin that he took his life.) So, how comfortable are you with your sins? 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.”

Flip the Script

That certainly personalizes what really happened on the cross: 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?

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Thursday Provides 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)

Little Bible Mysteries

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. First, he reminded them that God provides when we do not see a way. Mark 14 recounts how he told them to find a man carrying a water pot, who would show them a large room already prepared for their supper. Who was that man? Who prepared the Upper Room?

I have a feeling that in the Kingdom we will get to know many such anonymous heroes of the faith, who quietly worked behind the scenes to fulfill God’s mission and to do what Christ asked of them without seeking credit. How many good deeds would we do if nobody ever knew? Jesus was showing the disciples that there was more about love than public display of affection…

Thursday supper

Bittersweet Moments

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! (During Passion Week they turned their backs on their best friend, and ended the week feeling hopeless and defeated. But something happened that changed their minds and changed the world!)

Human Desires, Heavenly Instruction

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).

Christians celebrate this day as Maundy Thursday, and I always wondered what that meant. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.”

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

The Opposite of Congress

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 (that 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.

The Impossible Arrest

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! It would have been impossible for guards to capture Jesus, which he demonstrated over and over.

Up until now, Jesus avoided capture whenever he chose (See Luke 4:30, John 2:4, 7:30, 8:59, and 10:39) but at this point he allowed himself to be taken. He told Peter to put his sword away because he intends to drink from the cup that has been set before him.
Again, he is a volunteer on this mission, not a victim of circumstance.

Lots Going On

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.

All the Way

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 Was Quiet, But Things Were Escalating

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.


How Many Feet in an Anointing?

(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).

How Many Sabbaths?

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 traditionally 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?

How Many Days 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. While there is no absolute proof for this chronology, it is within the realm of possibility, so some scholars have suggested this offers an alternative to the traditional view of Easter.

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

Decide for Yourself

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.

When you compare the two views, the mid-week holy day causes significant compression of some events. It means that Jesus would have been tried Tuesday night, so it is not without its own problems. But, a mid-week Sabbath also has points in its favor. 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.

What Do YOU Believe?

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 (which I am reprising from Sunday):

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?
As events unfolded, 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.
The cross 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!

Not Protected, but Projected

Jesus 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.
Jesus 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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Cleansing the Temple: How About Cleansing our Hearts?

Day Four of the Ten 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 an hour’s walk each way, so these guys were in shape! We don’t live in an age of walking, but it gave life a different pace, and certainly provided time to talk, discuss and teach as people traveled.

An Unusual Illustration

Along the way, Jesus pointed out a fig tree in the distance, and took his disciples over to see 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. This story has always puzzled me a bit; why should Jesus “curse” a tree? Exactly what was he saying to the disciples?

Many scholars see this fig tree as a prophecy against Israel. You see, Israel was chosen to bear fruit, but their priorities had changed. They had shifted their focus from the lawgiver to the law. The Hebrew leaders were depending upon the law for salvation instead of 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”. God’s plan through his chosen people always involved grace and forgiveness. Jesus often preached to remind them that hearts matter more than outward appearances.

A Sure Sign

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). “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?

Cleansing the Temple: Why?

On this Monday Jesus went into the Temple and once again saw the Temple officials fleecing pilgrims who were coming to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice. I’ve often compared the High Priest to the Godfather, since he oversaw a corrupt system that extorted innocent victims in and around the temple. While seeming outwardly righteous, the priests and officials were a corrupt group who systematically cheated pilgrims and profited from it at their expense.

There were several ways he and his minions fleeced worshippers who came to them in good faith. The Levites in charge of inspecting lambs and birds brought for sacrifice rejected the animals the pilgrims brought from home. Then they forced them to buy a higher priced “unblemished” lamb from them. After that, of course, they would buy the now-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 money changers also used a high exchange rate and dishonest weights and measures to change people’s Roman coin into Temple money.

So, Why Did Jesus React?

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?

cleansing temple

Were the Gospels Inconsistent?

The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke; synoptic = “seen with the same eyes” since they used common source material) mention this cleansing event at the end of Jesus’ ministry, placed here during Passion Week. John’s Gospel, on the other hand,  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. Whatever the circumstances, Jesus made it clear that he was calling out the corrupt and wealthy Sanhedrin for their greed and extortion.

An Escalating Situation

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. Imagine disrupting the cartel’s operations, or taking half a billion dollars away from, say, a government-funded abortion mill. Reaction will be swift and hateful. In Jerusalem then, and in America today, if you want to truly understand people’s motivation, follow the money.

A couple of things about this: Jesus was no effeminate milk-toast who merely preached about love. 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 and disadvantaged who came to worship. Nothing about him has changed since then.

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