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!

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

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

Wednesday

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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Tuesday: Confrontation, Crowds, and Conflict

Tuesday of Passion Week was a busy day of teaching and confrontation. (Matthew 21:23 through 22:14; 41-46; John 12:2-8). The Passover created a huge festival-like atmosphere in Jerusalem, during which pilgrims flocked into the Holy City from all over the country. Everyone who was anyone would have traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate.

A National Audience

During Passover week, the population of Jerusalem swelled from about 100,000 to over a million as visitors and pilgrims crowded in to offer sacrifices and participate in the Temple activities. Some estimates reliably put the population of Jerusalem at two million people during festivals, so we can safely say that the stage was set for this Passover week to take place before most of the nation of Israel. Crowds lined up around the Temple and in the marketplaces of Jerusalem.

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

Backwards Thinking

Ironic, isn’t it, that each of us treats God that way sometimes? We tend to assume ownership of our own physical domain as if we control it and as if the spiritual domain doesn’t matter. When God calls us, we demand He show us a sign of His authority before we yield to his leadership. We walk the earth HE created and live in bodies HE designed, but we claim our “rights” and our own authority over that of the true king.

It’s not just personally true, it’s institutionally true as well. The Elders and the Pharisees were so busy guarding their own power base that they were blind to God’s movement right before their eyes. Jesus offers himself, but men both then and now are too busy being powerful to understand the offer.

Tuesday-Pharisees

Powerful Parables

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”. It certainly surprised the Pharisees. 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.

Tuesday Teachings

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

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

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For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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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.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Saturday before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed History

We began a long look at the Passion Week starting yesterday, so our “week” is actually ten days, starting BEFORE Palm Sunday… Here are some observations about the Saturday before Good Friday, which would have been eight days before Easter. It is a quiet Saturday, a sabbath, so there is no mention of any activity until we read John’s account  of Supper at Bethany:

Eyewitness Account

“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 11:49-50: “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Saturday

Guess Who’s Reclining for Dinner

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 accurate depiction of places at mealtime means that all of the Italian Last Supper depictions 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 at the head of the table, 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).

There is one other detail. Mark 14 and Matthew 26 record a very similar event, but scholars debate about these two accounts. Was it two events, or Gospel confusion and presentation about one event? I believe them to be two separate incidents that shared some common elements. (Since John identifies Mary as the anointing party, 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…)

No Accident

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. His disciples later recalled that he told them about his mission, but they were so swept up in the moment that they missed his point entirely.

A Quiet Saturday Evening

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. 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. Jesus reminded them again that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. He stated this explicitly to them three times in Mark, but apparently they didn’t grasp his mission until later. (Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34)

This was a bittersweet moment for Jesus. Disciples were speculating, perhaps, about their positions in the new kingdom when he overthrew the Romans. I’m sure there was some concern about the Sanhedrin’s opposition, but they would have assumed it was nothing the Master couldn’t handle. So much that we know now, they didn’t know then. 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.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Friday Before Good Friday: Ten Days that Changed the World

We are headed towards Passion week. We will start on the Friday before Good Friday, and follow each day preceding Christ’s death and resurrection. Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus provides some great outside reading, if you are interested. It is time to celebrate the Easter season, and to acknowledge both the gritty reality of Christ’s last week on earth as well as the undeniable impact of his resurrection. I see it as the most fascinating week out of human history, and it is a story that began as far back as the Fall.

Take it From the Beginning

Genesis states that Adam and Eve sinned, and the story about their deadly error aligns with things we see every day in human nature and behavior. Man sinned and brought death into the world. As a Holy and Righteous giver of life, God rejected sin. His very nature required Him to execute judgment. Death entered the world of man, who was free to follow his own selfish choices at his own peril.

As we have studied through the Old Testament, it has been surprising to see God’s judgment juxtaposed with His precious love. We find images of the Lord of Hosts as a lover, as an anxious groom, and as an affectionate Father singing gently over his child. These images lead us to the realization that while the Old Testament is full of the harsh reality of sin, death and a fallen world, the story of Grace is not finished. There is more to the story than a harsh, vengeful God who delights in sacrifice and judgment.

Turning a Page

The New Testament and the work of the Messiah introduce us to new possibility about sin. A world governed by a continuous cycle of sin and sacrifice gives way to a world of grace. Sin still corrupts, but the required sacrifice provides a plot twist that takes God’s revelation in an entirely different direction. This week, starting on Friday, we will look into the Gospels and see the rest of the story.

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

Escalating Events

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. As Jesus’ fame grew, the tolerance of the rulers in Jerusalem diminished.

John 11:54-57 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. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 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?” But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.”

Friday

An Ordinary Friday…

Jesus was well aware that the Pharisees were plotting against Him, and any normal man might have avoided Jerusalem this week altogether. But Jesus was not a normal man. As people in Jerusalem spent Friday getting ceremoniously cleansed for the Sabbath, they wondered if He would show up at the Festival. Not only did He show up, but He had a very busy week making sure that He fulfilled every aspect of His mission.

Sabbath began on Friday at dusk and went to Saturday Sunset. Starting with today, this quiet Friday when Jesus and his disciples were on retreat together, we will walk each day through Passion week alongside Jesus and His disciples, and we will observe the various players who influence events.

A brief chronology:

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

As you read through the daily account of a long 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. Easter week started with a celebration and almost ended with a crucifixion…

It heralds the transformation of scattered and scared disciples into astonishing men. It announced the startling change of a rejected Rabbi into the coming King. Ultimately, in perhaps the most surprising turn of events, it begins the transition of the mighty Roman Empire into a mere asterisk in the annals of History. Last of all, it represents the transformation of an un-lovable, insecure and inconsistent 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.

The Beginning of an Empire

Roman soldiers formed their lines with military might;
Everywhere they went, they conquered everything in sight.
States and nations large and small capitulated one and all,
And every Roman man would stand in answer to the emperor's call.
Into every battlefield centurions were hurled,
Conquering everything that mattered, all around the world.
The Roman soldiers spread their fears, making widows, causing tears
And built an empire Caesar said would last a thousand years... 

But then that world was changed--not by a battle or a sword--
But by a loving, humble king armed only with God's word.
Caesars rose and fell. This King, though gentle, mild, and meek
Is one whom wise men sought, and one whom wise men still should seek.
He told his followers that they should turn the other cheek;
He hastened Rome's demise by what he did in Passion week.
One week changed the Roman world, and altered all its ways:
Refresh your view of history and take the next few days
To see the actions of this King--and Jesus was his name--
As Passion Week unfolds, the world will never be the same.

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