Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Resurrection: Putting everything in order.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28 ESV)
The resurrection resolves creation's biggest crisis; reversing the Fall.  Rebellion against God left a downward spiral of death and separation from God.  Resurrection brings back life and submission under God.  When Christ rose, He set in motion that reversal in an orderly fashion. First, He was now ready to return to His Father.  He brings with Him those who are His, as their victorious King.  The last Enemy He will defeat is death. He will then pass everything over to His Father, and all will be as it should be.  Paul's big point is how essential Christ's resurrection and our resurrection are to making sense of how God will restore all things.  Without the resurrection we are hopeless.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pathetic Faith...

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV)
What difference does the Resurrection of Christ make?  Hopefully that question has not been cleared out of our hearts and minds like clearance Easter candy at the store.  Paul attacks that question by all sorts of questions about the opposite: What if Christ has not risen from the dead? If not, all of us who preach He is are liars and crooks.  If He is not, any faith in anything Christ did ( like forgiving sin) is a pipe dream.  If He did not rise, all those precious grandparents who died believing He did, are just that: dead.  If we have no hope of life to come, this life ends up being pretty pathetic also.  He is risen; yes, He is risen indeed, and it makes all the difference today and for eternity.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

More evidence...

...and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:5-11 ESV)
When investigators look into allegations, they want to see evidence, not just opinion.
In looking into the reported resurrection of Christ, Paul, Luke and others found many witnesses, which is usually more compelling than any other evidence. Paul himself was a big piece of evidence. Having been one who sought to stamp out the followers of the risen Christ, he became one of them. The transformation was more than 180 degrees. It turned him away from confronting them to leading them, and turning many toward God. The bottom line here was to not forget what you have believed, to not turn away from it to doubts and depraved living. The facts are still the facts; Christ has risen; He is our only hope.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter: More than a day...

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)
Like many "holidays" or holy days, we have such a build up to it, there seems to be a letdown after Resurrection Sunday. But that contradicts the very fact we celebrate. It is a new beginning, a celebration of new life in Christ. We must remember, every day, that Christ is still risen, and that is the solid rock foundation we have to live His life. Let's not forget! He is risen to give us life!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Resurrection: Reality Hits Home

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.  (Luke 24:28-35 ESV)
The Gospels record a number of resurrection appearances for us. Each one, in its own way, tells us how it "hit home" for those involved: Mary falls before Jesus; the ten are overwhelmed; Thomas ends his doubt; Peter makes the commitment of a lifetime.  Here, these two share together in the most stimulating conversation imaginable, and entertain the Risen Christ.  It hits home in their home. They have not heartburn, but burning hearts - that physical/mental/spiritual experience that only one thing can bring - being face to face with the Risen Lord. May His Resurrection hit home in our hearts and lives today.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Restless Rest

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:50-56 ESV)
The Sabbath.  Created by God to appreciate Him, His creation, and our relationship with Him. But this was no normal Sabbath.  The chief priests were antsy; the women were prepared burial spices; the apostles were cowering in fear. No one was going anywhere. It was the Sabbath. The day made by God for rest was restless. People wondering and worrying, but not wandering anywhere, because it was the Sabbath, and no one could go far.  They had to wait and see what would happen.  Easter Eve has such a different feel than Christmas Eve.  Restlessness waiting for revelry to be played.  We have such a better view, knowing how it all turns out.  But may there be a healthy restlessness in our hearts, because things are not yet as they shall be, as they should be, until He returns.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Do we hear what we are saying?

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
(Luke 22:66-71 ESV)
What a way to start the day! That first "Good Friday" morning began with Jesus being faced with charges of blasphemy for proclaiming to be the Son of God.  He right points out that these accusers had come to that conclusion. The real matter was: were they willing to respond appropriately to Him? Throughout this holy weekend, we will hear and repeat many words, be it in reading scripture, singing songs, or hearing statements by others.  Will those words sink in and take hold? Will we put two and two together? If Jesus is the Son of God (and He is!), then what authority does He deserve in my life?  As we picture Him today on the cross, why do we think He is there? Is it for my sin as the Sinless sacrifice? What response is "only right" to such a Substitute?  We will say it. Will we live it?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Power of Darkness...

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.
(Luke 22:39-53 ESV)
Jesus had spent an intense evening with His disciples in the upper room, celebrating Passover.  But His day was far from over. Though it was late at night, He did as He often did and went out to pray. The darkness is a time when most do anything unlike praying, giving in to the greatest temptations. But the temptation about which Jesus spoke that night was not to some great moral evil, but to fear, doubt, and the inability to see things clearly.  Those that came against Him were totally in darkness, treating the most innocent Man of history as a convicted criminal.  The power of darkness was blinding them to Who He really is, and what He really had been doing, and why He had come. The Darkness tries to cover up the Light and destroy it.  Ultimately the Light will shine, but for now the  power of darkness is strong around us.  Don't give in.  Stick with Christ. Trust in Him.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What He does & what We do in the Critical Hour

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.
(Luke 22:14-38 ESV)
I know... a long passage... so let my words be few. In His Last Supper, Jesus gave them(and us) a picture to remember what He was about to do for us. He was making a covenant that would cost His life.  How do we respond? Point the finger at each other. Compare ourselves to each other to look better. Make promises we cannot keep.  Try to take things into our own hands.We put the focus on ourselves instead of Him.  Instead, let 's choose to humbly receive Him and what He has done, seek to be more like Him, and say a lot less and do a lot more to give Him the credit for everything.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Plots, Plans and Preparations

Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Luke 22:1-13 ESV)
It was no secret the Jewish leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus, but their plans were held in secret.  Judas wanted a piece of the action, so the plotting and planning of the two went hand in hand.  Jesus, however, was making other plans and preparations - for a Passover like no other. As He had done before, he laid out a plan for His followers to follow, and they found things just as He promised.  It does not matter what the Enemy or this world plots and schemes; Christ has a bigger, better plan, and what HE plans will work, will last.  So, as much as we must be aware of and suspect the worst on Satan's plan in this world, let our focus be on what Christ wants us to be doing and follow His plan. It will be anything but dull, and will lead us where we need to be.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What a Week! Waiting and Watching...

Luke 21: 29 And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 
30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 
31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 
32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 
35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth
36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." 
37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 

38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
Everyone was looking for Jesus, the One who raised the dead.  They found him often teaching in the temple.  Early in His final week before the cross, He spoke to them about what they were looking for: a king to come and take over. He talked about all the signs they were to look for, but more importantly He told them to watch themselves as they watched. We all want to be ready when He returns.  But our readiness is not as much found in watching the skies or the headlines, but watching our own lives - what we do with them and what we do not.  Am I ready to stand before the Son of Man?  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Answer without the Question...

For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David's son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?
(Luke 20:40-44 ESV)
The various religious leaders had all had their turns to ask Jesus questions about Who He was, and the authority by which He spoke and did miracles.  He answered, and silenced, them all. But He went even further. He asked the really big question of the day: "Is the Messiah God come to earth?" The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Jesus has His eye on where He will be going after His Passion, after His resurrection: back to the right hand of the Father.  This settles all of the above questions about authority and purpose.  He came to do the will of the Father, with all the authority necessary to do so. The lingering question left for us is whether we will be His enemies, or His submissive subjects?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Silly Questions, Serious Answers...

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
(Luke 20:19-40 ESV)
I remember as a young pastor going to a large gathering of church leaders and wanted to be involved in the discussion.  I asked a really stupid question, of which I should have known the answer. The leader of the session did not scoff, but rather gave a clear, serious answer, as if it was a valid question. These two groups of Jewish leaders had ill motives in asking Jesus questions.  Of course, you have to pay taxes in the land in which you live, and in the life to come, we won't have to worry about these dumb little details.  But in both instances Jesus gives a thoughtful, serious answer, while at the same time answering the underlying question: "Will we really be held accountable some day to God?" His answer? "Yes, there is a resurrection; you will all answer to God, and I'm going to be there too." We need to stop making so many excuses and looking for loopholes, and listen, trust, and obey Him.  There are no silly questions, as long as we listen to the answers and respond accordingly.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Authority and Responsibility

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (Luke 20:1-18 ESV)
When I was in college working on my business degree, one of the first lessons drilled into me was the inseparability of authority and responsibility.  We all love the former, and tend to avoid the latter. Such was the case with these leaders. They wanted to control everyone and everything, but have no accountability to anyone.  They forgot they were under God's authority, and now that God had come, in the flesh, they did not want to give Him what was His.  Let's not forget today who owns the vineyard. He always acts responsibly, and lovingly, for what is right and good. Let's follow Him.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

No wonder they call it "The Passion"...

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.
(Luke 19:41-48 ESV)
Jesus has entered Jerusalem, presenting Himself as the King to be received. Though outwardly the crowd seemed in His favor, He could see and hear the doubt, the opposition, the rejection of many.  His responses back are passionate indeed.  He is moved to tears over what will happen to this city, to His people, because of their rejection.  He is moved to anger to purify the polluted prayer haven in the temple.  He is moved to preach boldly the truth in His final days before the cross.  So, when we get to the cross, it is this same passionate Man hanging there - one committed to what is best for others, one dedicated to purity, one who is total truth. He does not hang there passively, but passionately, for us, for justice, for holiness.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Providing Answers...

And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40 ESV)
Jesus has arrived, answering the question of many as to whether He would even show up since there was a price on His head.  As He presents Himself, it is like He is open to all questions, some before they are even asked. He gives His disciples instructions and answers to questions they will be asked. He answers the Pharisees who question His allowing such a proclamation about Who He is. By His every move and word He is saying: "Yes I am the Coming King; how will you respond to me?"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Perfect Object Lesson

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11 ESV)
The Jewish leaders wanted to kill Lazarus. Not just because of his association with Jesus - but even more so because He was the perfect object lesson of what Jesus can do. The people wanted to see Lazarus as much (or even more?) than Jesus, to see if everything they had heard was true. This made the leaders want to remove him too. It would send a message: "Have anything to do with Jesus, and this will happen to you." People are looking for hope. Resurrection gives the greatest hope ever. The Enemy wants to destroy any hope we have; he wants us to not believe in resurrection power; he wants us not to believe in Christ, the One Who holds that power. Let us keep our focus on Lazarus, the Risen Christ, and the coming resurrection of the dead. Christ is our hope.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Priorities: Pilfering,the Poor, and the Passion

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.
(John 12:1-8 ESV)
As Jesus and His followers proceeded through the events leading up to His Passion, people's real colors began to show.  Repeatedly His closest disciples revealed their self-focus in wanting places of prominence.  The Pharisees and their comrades wanted Jesus dead.  And a few, like Mary, wanted to worship her Master.  She listened intently to what Jesus had to say - He was going away.  She saw the pieces fitting together.  So, in her heart, there was only one right thing to do with this ointment: use it for Jesus.  She knew the Master's heart: He cared for the poor.  But there was more. True faith does good for those in need; but there is more to true faith than that.  It does good because of love for Him and for others.  Just as she knew Jesus' heart; He knew Judas' heart.  He was no philanthropist. He pilfered from money for the poor and for ministry.  As we work our way toward the commemoration of the Passover this year, Jesus knows our hearts. He knows not only what we do, but why. So let us worship Him and do good for others; He wants and deserves both.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Do we expect Jesus to show up?

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
(John 11:55-57 ESV)
Today many of us will be going to Church.  What do we go hoping to see? Jesus was on His way to The Passover - the one He had told His followers would be a very eventful one, culminating in His death, burial and resurrection.  Not only that - the talk of Judea was how He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  So what was the result of that resurrection? "Will Jesus even show up?" I wonder if our response is much the same? Do we expect Jesus to show up today and do something in our lives?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Weird Response to Resurrection...

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
(John 11:45-53 ESV)
When you think about the context and flow of this statement, it almost contradictory: "Jesus raised someone from the dead, so let's kill Him!" Of course, that is because they understood the import of what Jesus did and what it said: He has authority. He rules.  The desire to kill Jesus was a rejection of His rule and reign in their lives.  Today, we have not physically killed Jesus (except He did die for our sins as well.) But many "kill" Him by rejecting His rightful rule and reign over them.  If we truly understand the importance of His resurrection, we have no choice but to humbly bow before Him and submit to His sule over us.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Meanwhile, over in John...

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
(John 11:17-44 ESV)
(Yeah, I know, a long passage, so I'll keep it short...) In the other Gospels, Jesus has been predicting His passion, culminating in His rising from the dead. In between these announcements he told His followers what it means to live in light of His resurrection.  John recalls the same truths from a different perspective.  Here He shows that He Has the power to raise, and to rise from the dead. Not only did He have the power to keep Lazarus from dying; He had  the power to bring him back to life. John dedicates a lot of time and space to this one event because it is so powerful and pertinent to where things are headed: the accomplished work of Christ.  His resurrection is key to our faith. May we hear clearly His words: "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Real Reason for not being Responsible...

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”
(Luke 19:11-27 ESV)
As Jesus headed towards Jerusalem to be publicly presented as King, his followers repeatedly talked and even argued about which one of them would be greatest.  When they came closer to the city, and time was short, He gave this parable about responsible stewardship.  The point was that they, and we, should not be focusing on rewards and perks in the future; we need to be responsible stewards of His kingdom now.  Two of these 10 were; one was not.  (but what about the other 7? the implication is that we all need to chose...). As we examine the response of the rebellious steward, and Jesus' final remark, we find the true reason for failure to be a responsible steward: he really did not want Jesus' rule and reign over his life.  It is not just being "irresponsible"; it is being rebellious.  Are we being faithful, responsible stewards?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tall enough? Or Short enough?

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
(Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
Jesus seemed to gravitate to the rejected.  Zacchaeus was short.  Worse than that, he was a rich, greedy CHIEF tax collector - not just an IRS man doing his job, but the boss pushing that man to squeeze people for more.  He was the last person others WANTED to see saved.  But Zacchaeus was willing to get shorter than short and act like a child, climbing up the tree. That attitude is right up Jesus' alley.  Most of all, he was ready and willing to change and follow Jesus. He was willing to pay the price of following Him, and to do so joyfully.  What an example of life-changing faith! May we not stand up tall, but be shorter in our own hearts, and demonstrate such simple faith and follow Him.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Always room (AND TIME) for more...

And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.
(Matthew 20:29-34 ESV)
Jesus was headed towards Jerusalem, where He knew He would fulfill His Passion.  He was focused. But He was not so intent that He had no time for others along the way.  He stops the procession to minister to these blind men and have them join the journey.  He has mercy, He has compassion on them instantly.  Notice how much this is "against the flow".  The crowd does not want Him to waste His time or theirs on these men.  Who do we consider a waste of time?  Not in Christ's Kingdom.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Resurrection GIves

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Matthew 20:20-28 ESV)
Jesus has just made his third prediction of His coming Passover.  His followers know His Kingdom is coming, but what exactly does that look like?   There was (and is) a lot of misunderstanding about it. Like much truth, we need to hear it over and over again before it sinks in.  The resurrection gives life. The Kingdom of God is about life - eternal life, life lived under God, abundant life.  It is not about getting.  The bottom line here is the bottom line: Christ is all about serving and giving. To be His followers means that's what we're all about too: giving ourselves, giving our lives, and giving life to others.  This truly is a reminder of what Jesus had recently said when his disciples argued over who was the greatest, but truth never can be repeated too much.  May we give life as we have been given life in Christ.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What does God owe you???

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
(Matthew 20:1-19 ESV)
As Jesus was preparing His followers for what was about to happen at Jerusalem, He takes them far down the road, to the end of the day, to "Payday."  What do they expect? What can they expect? What should they expect?  Jesus was not about to give any false promises: all followers could expect to receive generous grace.  Not payment by comparison or God falling down before them because they had done such a wonderful job.  No. Followers of Christ can be sure God will do right by them in more-than-adequate "payment" for their faithful service.  When we think about mansions and streets of gold, and the beauty of heaven - let's keep in mind - they are not just for us personally. They are there because He is there.  Everything is awesome because of HIS presence.  We will have better accommodations than anywhere on earth (Even Dubai!) and we will lack nothing.  But it's not all about us...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Letting go and looking long-term...

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
(Matthew 19:16-30 ESV)
Over and over again, Jesus has been telling his disciples in every possible way to get their minds out of this world and into the next.  This world is always before us; we don't need to dwell on it.  But the world to come is not so easy for us to focus on.  Like this well-intentioned man, we try to do the right things, while not doing the one big thing - seeking God's kingdom, pursuing eternal life - knowing God here and now so we will recognize Him when we see Him.  Where is our focus? What are we holding on to dearer than life?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Keep looking to the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
(Matthew 18:1-6 ESV)
As Jesus was preparing His followers for the journey to Jerusalem, He had to keep pointing them far beyond the events that would take place there. They kept getting stuck in this world. They did so again on the occasion when they began debating who was greatest.  To some it may have seemed so obvious - three of them had just been up on the mountain seeing transfigured, while the others were wallowing in self-pity unable to deliver a demon-oppressed boy.  But Jesus hit to the core of each one when He attacked their attitudes toward children and those who were spiritual children. They were missing the point of the Kingdom - it was not a scramble to the top stepping on others, but a journey together, bringing along as many as possible.  Throughout the remainder of this chapter Jesus deals with other issues that distract his followers, like not dealing with temptation in our lives and our failure to forgive as we are forgiven.  As we look ahead to the Kingdom Coming, we need to be looking at ourselves with self-examination, and others as fellow forgiven followers.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

We lose focus so quickly!

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
(Matthew 17:14-23 ESV)
Jesus had announced His upcoming "departure" - His death, burial and resurrection, and Peter and the others reacted against that, objecting that it should not happen.  They were stuck on the first two and totally overlooking the third.  This message was reinforced when they Key Three were allowed to witness the transfiguration and overhear Jesus, Moses and Elijah discuss the same departure. This was also misunderstood until they were overwhelmed by God's voice, cloud, and presentation of Christ and Christ alone.  Here, once again, they (and we) are challenged to consider how little faith we have, or more accurately, how little we truly believe that Christ can do anything - heal the sick, drive out demons, rise from the dead.  When Jesus repeats His earlier prediction, it is as if they had not been listening or learning anything since the first time. They were even more depressed, fearful, and confused.  Return to lesson one. Let us not be so short-minded and faithless! Let us put our minds on the resurrection accomplished and the promised one yet to come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sharpening our Focus...

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
(Matthew 17:1-8 ESV)
It is about a year before the cross.  Now that his disciples are finally coming to a conviction about Who He really is, He wants them (and us) to realize more fully what that means, and what He will do. When He and the Key Three go up on the mountain for this event, the assumption is made that they are now in the presence of three great men of God.  But again, our focus needs adjusting, because the only One who can save is the Last Man standing.  Of key interest is what the three were talking about in the time they did spend together.  Luke clarifies that for us. They were talking about His departure or "exodus" - the very same topic He had just discussed with the twelve.  This is a time when He wants us to be focusing on Him, His complete Passion, and what that means for us - what He has done that no other can do.  When we do, we will have no fear of the future, or of today. We just need to keep following after Jesus.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Stretching our minds even further...

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
(Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)
Jesus had just told his disciples about his upcoming departure - his suffering, death and resurrection. Peter (and apparently the others...) were stuck on the first two and tried to get in the way, but Jesus told them to not get stuck, but to look on to the resurrection. He now takes them, and us, a step beyond that to His return.  We don't want to get stuck in this world. There are a lot of traps to trip us up and hold us back.  This world is not a worthy investment of our lives.   We need to follow Him,  In the big scheme of things, it is so little to "give up", when we look to what we will gain.  Where are we investing our lives? Let us stretch our minds, and our hearts, to see where our value(s) should really be.