Christianity 201

June 17, 2022

Christ’s Sufferings Were for the Benefit of Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A year ago we introduced you to Esau Moraes, a Brazilian currently who has served with Youth With A Mission. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the header which follows to see where this first appeared, and if you have friends who speak Portuguese, tell them about his website.

[For this devotional in Portuguese, click here.]

Stand Firm!

Longsuffering.

According to the dictionary, it is the virtue of firmly supporting setbacks for the benefit of others. Patience and resignation with which the difficulties of life are endured.

The Bible narrates, in Luke 23, the painful process of condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. He was falsely accused, ridiculed, mocked, punished, surrendered to the will of men, insulted, and finally executed.

It is impressive, however, the longsuffering with which Christ endured all these sufferings. Being innocent, he patiently went through each stage with firmness for the benefit of others. And who were these others? You and I!

I wonder where Jesus got the strength to endure such adversity. I find the answer in the very words of the crucified Christ.

When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified him with the criminals, one on his right hand and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:33,34)

In the hour of agony, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive His executors. And the same He did in His last breath on the cross, when He no longer had human strength.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. When he had said this, he expired. (Luke 23:46)

Until the last moment, we see Christ turning to the Father. What, then, will be our response to the setbacks and difficulties of life?

I invite you today to look to the example of Jesus and cry out to the Father to love and forgive those who have hurt you; to overcome the challenges in your marriage; to pursue that job that seems to require more than you are able to do.

In the midst of hardship, stand firm! Exercise longsuffering, which is also part of the fruit of the spirit. And, remember, you don’t have to do it alone. You have a Father ready to hear your cry, you just need to call Him!

April 15, 2022

Jesus Did Not Flinch from What Awaited Him in Jerusalem

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
.

~Luke 9:51

Luke points the “road to Jerusalem” early on, in chapter 9. He knew what awaited him there. Because we’ve placed this as a Good Friday reading, it’s easy to miss the first part of the verse, especially if we read quickly past the phrase, “received up” (as some translations have it). This passage is also anticipating the ascension (the event described in Mark 16:19). Luke previews the forthcoming part of the arc of Jesus’ life in this one verse. Up next: Jerusalem. Up later: ascension. Implied: death and resurrection.

Nine chapters later, Luke describes him telling them more clearly. Then Jesus took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything the prophets have written about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. (18:31) It’s not specific to our ears, unless you read the next two verses, He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

This is to path to which Jesus sets a direct course.

Matthew Henry writes:

1. There was a time fixed for the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus, and he knew well enough when it was, and had a clear and certain foresight of it, and yet was so far from keeping out of the way that then he appeared most publicly of all, and was most busy, knowing that his time was short.

2. When he saw his death and sufferings approaching, he looked through them and beyond them, to the glory that should follow; he looked upon it as the time when he should be received up into glory (1 Tim. 3:16), received up into the highest heavens, to be enthroned there. Moses and Elias spoke of his death as his departure out of this world, which made it not formidable; but he went further, and looked upon it as his translation to a better world, which made it very desirable. All good Christians may frame to themselves the same notion of death, and may call it their being received up, to be with Christ where he is; and, when the time of their being received up is at hand, let them lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh.

3. On this prospect of the joy set before him, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem the place where he was to suffer and die. He was fully determined to go, and would not be dissuaded; he went directly to Jerusalem, because there now his business lay, and he did not go about to other towns, or fetch a compass, which if he had done, as commonly he did, he might have avoided going through Samaria. He went cheerfully and courageously there, though he knew the things that should happen to him there. He did not fail nor was discouraged, but set his face as a flint, knowing that he should be not only justified, but glorified (Isa. 50:7), not only not run down, but received up. How should this shame us for, and shame us out of, our backwardness to do and suffer for Christ! We draw back, and turn our faces another way from his service who steadfastly set his face against all opposition, to go through with the work of our salvation.

This reminded me of another passage:

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2

The website The Bible Says notes that this verse lands immediately after the “gallery of faith” in Hebrews 11. We have all of the examples from the pages of Bible history, however,

…the ultimate example is Jesus Christ, on whom we should fix our eyes on because He is both the author and perfecter of faith. He is the author because He fulfilled God’s promise to send a Messiah redeemer, beginning all the way back in Genesis 3:15. The foundation for the redemption of the world is through His ministry, His death and resurrection. He is also the perfecter (related to the word teleiosi, which means to complete, or finish, or fulfill something). Christ fulfilled the task that God called Him to, obeying to the point of death, enduring through many sufferings. As a result, He defeated death, and ascended to the throne. We are in a period awaiting His full coronation.

Again, Matthew Henry writes that it was the big picture ending (literally, the joy set before him) which carried Jesus forward in his mission:

What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings; and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him…

I’ve taken the rest of the quotation from Matthew Henry and reset it as bullet points.

  • he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and
  • give security to his honor and government,
  • that he should make peace between God and man,
  • that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it,
  • that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners,
  • and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

Practical application: While there are so many theological depths in this idea of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem which should not be minimized, I have often found on a very practical level that this concept — and that exact phrase — has provided great comfort when I must face an unpleasant situation.

April 14, 2022

Triumphant, or Hopeless?

Thinking Through Luke 19:28-40

by Clarke Dixon

Do you ever feel like it is just plain hopeless? It will never work out. It might be your health, career, a relationship, or your hope for world peace. Concern weighs our hearts down, grinding down our hope and joy along with it.

Not only will it not work out, it may seem completely beyond your control. You didn’t sign up for that illness. You were not the one who introduced a mess into the relationship. Vladimir Putin didn’t ask you if he should invade Ukraine. If it makes you feel better, he didn’t ask me either.

Today we are taking a break from all that hopelessness by looking back to a moment of great hope and joy:

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem….

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power 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 heaven!”

Luke 19:28,36-38

We call it the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem but we could just as easily call it the hopeful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

That moment was a break from hopelessness for the people of that day. The people needed a break, something to celebrate. Rome was in charge and everyone knew that was not the ways things were supposed to be. God’s people were meant to be a free people living in the land promised to them.

Making matters even more frustrating for the the regular person, the leaders could not agree on the best thing to do about it. The Pharisees were saying something different than the Zealots who were saying something different than the Sadducees who saying something different from the Essenes who were just telling everyone to give up listening to anyone and join them in the wilderness. The best experts could not agree. Perhaps that sounds familiar.

There was hope

Hope flickered like a small candle for many years, hundreds of years in fact. There was the hope that God would send a Messiah, in Greek, a Christ, meaning an ‘anointed one.’ Though there were many pretend leaders through the years, from not-appointed-by-God kings like Herod, to Roman appointed governors like Pilate, some day God would send the true king. That king would be someone from the line of David, the king from Israel’s “glory days,” who would bring the people into new glory days.

At some point people began to wonder if Jesus might be that hoped for king. Yet somehow Jesus didn’t fit the expectations. He had the wrong kind of accent for one thing, coming from Galilee. But people wondered. The disciples knew, but Jesus told them to be quiet about it. Then Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jesus orchestrated the way he entered Jerusalem to make absolutely clear that he was the true king, the hoped for Messiah. The flickering candle of hope became a raging fire. The people welcomed Jesus with great joy and celebration!

Yet there was an ominous note:

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

Luke 19:39 (NRSV)

That ominous note of opposition would get louder until it was replaced by the shouts of “crucify him,” by the end of the week, then by the sound of nails being driven into a cross, then by the sound of struggling for breath, then silence.

Life is like that.

There is hope, then hopes are dashed.

Hopes were dashed at the cross

So how did the people go from “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” to “Crucify him! Crucify him!” in less than a week?

When the people saw this Jesus who gave the clear sign that he considered himself to be the the true king who would rescue them from Rome, in the hands of the Romans, clothed in purple, with a crown of thorns on his head, Roman soldiers mocking him, and Pilate joking “here is your king,” well then hope went out the window.

Most reasonable people would discern that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah after all. No one was saying “Don’t do that to our king,” they would have been saying, “That is not our king.”

The miracles and teaching of Jesus had captured the imagination of people and filled them with hope. However, his inability to pull together an army, or to bring the Pharisees, Sadducee’s, and Zealots together on any kind of plan to beat the Romans had people thinking he was a fraud. The true king would get the people out from Roman captivity. Jesus, however, was in Roman captivity more than the people.

If he was a fraud, then he should be crucified. So “crucify him!”

Except he wasn’t.

That was Friday

On Friday Jesus was arrested, tortured, dead, buried and obviously not the Messiah, the promised king. So back to life under the thumb of Rome, with Jewish leaders that can’t get their act together, and back to a small candle of hope. Maybe someday God would send the Messiah. But not today.

That was Friday. On Sunday Jesus is alive. Yes he really is the Messiah, the promised king, the true king.

Jesus defied expectations of what the true king should do and be like. He not only defied expectations, he blew them wide open. Never mind being king of the Jews, Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. Never mind a rescue from the Romans, this is a rescue for all of Creation, including the Romans!

Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and no one could change that. Even killing Jesus could not change that. What had always worked for bringing about a change in leader, namely killing him, did not work this time! The Romans with all their power and the terrifying control they held over people by the threat of crucifixion could not change the fact that Jesus is the king, even the king of Caesar!

Our struggles are real, but they cannot destroy hope

Jesus is King, and his vision for the future is the vision that will come about. Not the vision of the religious leaders, nor the Romans, nor yours, nor mine, nor any person, disease, bully, nor any world ruler no matter how many nuclear arms may be at that ruler’s disposal, but the vision of Jesus, that is what shall be.

This is good news. Jesus is King, and the king is for us and not against us.

The struggles are real, the wounds are real, the strikes against hope are real, but they are never fatal. With Jesus as king, our wounds can never kill hope. Remember when the Pharisees told Jesus to stop the people celebrating as he rode into Jerusalem?

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Luke 19:40 (NRSV)

The celebrations could not be stopped. Hope could not be destroyed.

The opposition Jesus faced between his entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion was real. The opposition was real but it could not destroy hope. The struggle was real, but the defeat wasn’t. The wounds of Jesus were real, but even though they led to death, they were not fatal.

That is true for us.

The struggles are real. We can’t just gloss over life’s struggles as if they don’t exist. When we gloss over the struggles, we fail to reach out for help. We may need the presence of a caring friend, a trained counselor, or a psychiatrist. Being a Christian does not absolve us from struggle.

The struggles are real, but defeat isn’t. The wounds are real, but they are never fatal. They can never override God’s will for us.

Hope may be stifled for a season, by a bully, a fool, a disease, an accident, or a tragedy. But it cannot be destroyed because Jesus is King, and he is for us and not against us.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. His writing, based on the previous week’s sermons, and featured here most Thursdays is from his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

April 13, 2022

The Days of Holy Week Have Names: This is Spy Wednesday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NLT. Matt.24.14 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Ten years ago, at the start of Lent, we ran an excerpt from a very detailed article at Wikipedia (again, not always the best go-to source for the budding theologian) on the subject of the particular days of the 40-day observance. The content varies a decade later, but here’s how we presented it then:

  • Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity
  • Clean Monday (or “Ash Monday”) is the first day in Eastern Orthodox Christianity
  • The fourth Lenten Sunday, which marks the halfway point between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is sometimes referred to as Laetare Sunday, particularly by Roman Catholics, and Mothering Sunday, which has become synonymous with Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom. However, its origin is a sixteenth century celebration of the Mother Church. On Laetare Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing vestments of rose (pink) instead of violet.
  • The fifth Lenten Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday (however, that term is also applied to Palm Sunday) marks the beginning of Passiontide
  • The sixth Lenten Sunday, commonly called Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent immediately preceding Easter
  • Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday to commemorate the days on which Judas spied on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before betraying him
  • Thursday is known as Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, and is a day Christians commemorate the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples
  • Good Friday follows the next day, on which Christians remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial

At the time, not as many Evangelicals were as conscious of Lent as they are today. In looking at this years later, I also noticed that there is no mention of the day which follows Good Friday, which I had learned was Holy Saturday. However, the article places this differently:

In the Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, and many other traditions, the Easter Triduum is a three-day event that begins Maundy Thursday evening, with the entrance hymn of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. After this celebration, the consecrated Hosts are taken solemnly from the altar to a place of reposition, where the faithful are invited to meditate in the presence of the consecrated Hosts.This is the Church’s response to Jesus’ question to the disciples sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” On the next day, the liturgical commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated at 3 pm, unless a later time is chosen due to work schedules.

If your observance of Holy Week (and Lent in general) is far less complicated, I have two reactions to that. On the one hand, it asks people to carry a lot of extra information around in their heads as to where they are on the liturgical calendar. (In an Anglican or Catholic service, when the priest or rector speaks of these things, I’m sure some of it goes over the heads of parishioners, or simply bores them as something irrelevant.) On the other hand, there is a beauty to all this organization that I believe everyone who is interested in the capital “C” Church should at least have some conversational familiarity with. We need to follow along with Jesus and the disciples on the road to Jerusalem and the road to the cross.

Which brings us back to the title of today’s devotional. When I posted the original bullet-point list above, I must have been in a hurry, because “Spy Wednesday” did not immediately register.

We don’t know how far in advance Judas had been building a relationship with those who, after the resurrection of Lazarus, wanted Jesus out of the way. He would have needed to earn their trust, and a component of that trust was the “intelligence” information that Jesus frequented Gethsemane.

Judas was a necessary evil in the completion of God’s master plan, and I promise you, you’ll never see a more accurate use of the term “necessary evil.” Luke writes,

NRSV.Acts.1.16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

It’s difficult for us to understand how anyone could have spent up to 3 years with Jesus and not had his heart melted by what he had heard (teaching) and seen (miracles) but somehow self-interest was a big component of his thinking, and when he saw the tide turning after the Jerusalem entry, he made his move.

None of this comes as a surprise to Jesus. He has known what was in the heart of Judas all along, going back to the day he “chose twelve,” even to the point that the group gives Judas control of the petty cash (which I suspect involved sums required to keep thirteen itinerant men on the road.) And in the upper room meal, he lets Judas know that he knows.

CSB.Mark.14.18 While they were reclining and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”

19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one by one, “Surely not I?”

20 He said to them, “It is one of the Twelve—the one who is dipping bread in the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had not been born.”

Even before events unfold, Jesus has also foreshadowed the things to follow in his garden prayer, which is somehow overheard and recorded in John’s gospel for us to examine. Speaking to the Father he says,

NLT.John.17.12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me, I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

For Judas of course, his self-intentioned course of actions means that no matter how the religious leaders and Roman peacekeepers come after Jesus and the other eleven disciples, he will be on the safe side of history. But the betrayal comes with a cash bonus! At that point, it’s a business transaction, but one which Judas immediately regrets, going so far as to offer a complete refund.

NIV.Matt.27.3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

This leaves Judas without a place to turn. He can’t go back to being part of the disciples. At this juncture, they know the role he played too well. He’s also lost the standing with the chief priests he worked so hard to earn. He’s even ruined his future career as a spy since no one will know for sure whose side he’s on.

As a spy story, it’s a bit of a disaster. And perhaps hardly deserving of its own special mention on the Holy Week calendar.

Years later, compiling what we know as The Gospel of Matthew, we realize that Jesus had very plainly foretold it all. Perhaps they heard the words he spoke that day, but they didn’t really hear it.

NIV.Matt.20.17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Jesus knew, and Jesus submitted and surrendered himself to the process. Judas the traitor was really just a pawn, not in this Holy Week story, but in a master plan that had been carved out in the mind of God long before “In the beginning.”


Further consideration: While we said above that Jesus is clearly letting Judas know that he knows, the idea seems so implausible to the other disciples that — in the moment — they all question their loyalty out loud.

 

 

April 12, 2022

Bearing the Marks of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In some Roman Catholic communities, it believed to be possible for someone today to bear the “Stigmata” which Wikipedia defines as, “the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.”

So a person reading the title of today’s devotional might be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’re looking at today; or that Stigmata was what the Apostle Paul had in mind in today’s key verse. To complicate things, some translations have Paul saying that he bears “branding marks,” and removing the context from his remarks, and taking the passage too literally could result in creating a church ritual which makes foot-washing seem rather tame.

Rather, he’s talking about the physical scars resulting from hardship, imprisonment and beatings for the sake of the gospel…

…Today we’re introducing a new author, who posts weekly at Grace of the King. You can continue here, but you’re encouraged to click the header which follows and read this at its source.

Do We Bear the Marks of Christ?

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17 ESV

This verse struck my cords deep with in me. I have read it over and over again pondering my life, while looking at the life of Paul. Now I am no means the Apostle Paul, none of us are or ever will be. As in scripture when we study it, we are to look at it in different perspectives. Who and when is God speaking to in this passage, then what does it mean to us today.

Paul at this time was in prison. He had years of traveling and evangelism. He also had years of beatings, stoning, hardships that you and I could not imagine. The good thing and by the grace of God we don’t have to. Saints before us have paved the way, they were hung on crosses and burned as candles so we can live the life we have. We are blessed beyond reasoning, but yet so we bear the marks of Christ?

I look at this and I am undone. I am nowhere deserving of the marks of Christ as Paul had. I am not sure I could take the lashings, or the beatings as Paul did. My faith I believe lacks in that department. God knows though I will die for him, I will not fail in this race.

I look at Paul who preached the Gospel everywhere he went, and was hunted down. Paul was hated by the gentiles and the Jews. The cross is offensive to the world, and Paul knew the cost he would bear. He knew chains awaited him in Jerusalem but yet he still went. This to me is a mark many of us here in the West will soon bear. As the church’s voice gets louder and more pure in its boldness persecution will come. Will we be sought out by authorities?

Paul was known to be argumentative at times. He pressed into the worldly views and man made religious laws. But he did it with love and grace. Paul started in the synagogue then worked his was to the streets. His life was marked by the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the name he preached that made Paul the enemy. Christ crucified was it, and the cross that Paul bore everyday.

The marks of Christ in our lives, should be seen by all. When we have scars those scars have stories. And we tell those stories with passion and vigor. But yet we hold back on the cross and the redemption he has done in our lives. Oh how beautiful is the healing of those scars. How glorious is the hearts made whole, the marriages renewed, the shattered minds pieced back together. These are the marks of Christ. This is the mark of Jesus in out lives that people see.

Let us bear the marks of Christ proudly and boldly. For the Apostle Paul said it best,

“far be it for me to boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ”. (Galatians 6:14)


BibleHub.com cross-references for today’s key verse:

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. – 2 Cor. 11:23 NLT

always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. – 2 Cor. 4:10 NET

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Phil. 3:10 NIV


Second Helping: By the same author, Are We Living Two Lives.


We want to remind you again about a YouTube playlist which is very appropriate for this week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There are 29 songs. This time, we’ve embedded the playlist here as part of today’s devotional. It will continue playing as long as you keep the email open (subscribers) or keep this page on screen (website visitors).

April 9, 2022

The Road to Palm Sunday

Matt.21.7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”

Today we consider thoughts from different writers. Links to the full text of each devotional are included.

Charles Stanley writes,

…Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem… appeared to be such a wonderful day for [the disciples]—and it was, but for different reasons than they realized. They thought the Messiah had come to reestablish Israel’s power in the world. But God had something else in mind.

The disciples weren’t the only ones who had misconceptions about the Messiah. Many Jews of the day expected Him to be an earthly king. When the crowds heard Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they cheered, “Hosanna! ” which means, “Save now!” They saw Him as their new King, come to bring salvation from political and societal oppression. He raised the dead—no doubt he could also restore the kingdom of David and free them from Roman rule.

Seated upon a donkey, Jesus resembled a ruler returning to his city in peacetime, loyal subjects lining his path with coats and palm fronds. Even the Pharisees were there watching in indignation, saying, “Look, the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19)…

At the website of the National Bible Society of Ireland, we’re given some details about the story; three things you may have missed before. The devotional reads,

Hoshi-ana – This familiar term (in English we say ‘Hosanna’ coming from the Greek/Latin translations) found in the Psalms is made up of two Hebrew words – ‘Help/save us’ and ‘please/now’. It shares the same root with Jesus’ own name (Yeshua, meaning ‘salvation’). With overtones of deliverance and rescue, they are biblical words which can be uttered across all centuries and dimensions.

This phrase also highlights something – salvation is not just an individual pursuit, there is an inherent collective element in the ‘us’. Israel’s salvation history always involves the well-being of the whole (think of the Lost Sheep/Lost Coin/Lost Son parables). The salvation/rescue of one affects the salvation/rescue of all.

Sacred Time […I’ll let you click the link to read this one…]

Two Resurrection Stories – Geographically in the text we are positioned between two stories of resurrection. The account of the Triumphal Entry as it is presented in John in particular, places Jesus the day before in Bethany with His friend Lazarus. Lazarus and Bethany give both those who are in the text and those who are reading the text hope through resurrection. Between Bethany and Jerusalem we are walking between the restored life of Jesus’s friend Lazarus, and the impending death and resurrection of the Passover Lamb. This is surely a liminal space if ever there was one, a transitional moment which marks the threshold of an encounter between heaven and earth like no other. There are multiple skeins of connection underneath all that is unfolding as the events of Palm Sunday take place…

The website for Hope Stream Radio also fills in a few details for us. James Bryun writes,

…While these shouts of praise rang out, the Pharisees, mingling with the crowd turned to one another with angry frowns. They made a desperate appeal to the Master Himself, whom they so bitterly hated, to rebuke the honest zeal of the people. With a touch of quick and righteous indignation, Jesus pointed to the rocks and stones, telling the leaders of Israel that if the people held their peace, that the very stones would immediately cry out…

…On that bright spring day, the excitable, fickle population streamed before Him through the City-gates, down the narrow streets up to the Temple. The tramp of their feet and their shouts of acclamations brought men, women, and children into the streets and onto the housetops…

…Curious onlookers cried out “Who is He?” and the crowds answered

‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee’.

Jesus alone was silent and sad amongst this excited crowd. The marks of the tears He had wept over Jerusalem were still on His cheek. He was the suffering servant who will take away our weaknesses, and bear our diseases, who came to win our hearts with love. It wasn’t an earthly King who entered His city in triumph, but a heavenly King about to depart to His Kingdom. Jesus was preparing to depart by the way of the cross…

At the California Southern Baptist Convention page, Randy Bennett writes,

…That Scripture (John 1:11 “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”) became one of my core verses as I looked at the future of my life. I reasoned that because His own people rejected Him did not mean that I had to reject Him. It doesn’t mean that anyone else must reject Him either. I found it hard to imagine why “His people” rejected Him considering Jesus’ obvious healing and teaching power…

On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’ first “Kingly” entry into Jerusalem. Would Jesus be received or rejected? At first, it appeared that the city was opening their hearts to Jesus as they threw down palm branches in front of the donkey colt He rode. Whenever I read that passage, I relive the tension of John 1:11. Would it be different this time? Would the religious leaders lay down their intense fear of Rome and open their hearts to their Savior King? How does a city go from the glorious, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” to “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” just a few days later? It is no wonder that Jesus soon becomes the weeping King. He came to give life to His people, but they rejected Him.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. Jesus fulfilled His “Kingly” destiny the following week. He bravely faced the horrors of crucifixion, death and separation from God. He then demonstrated His power, position, and purpose when God Almighty raised Him from the dead. The challenge to receive Him presents itself to us daily. Will I receive Him today? As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, will I receive Him as my King as he enters my world as God’s humble Savior and Servant. Would you join me in praising God by lifting up your “Hosanna, Hosanna” unto our mighty Savior?


Bonus item:

This is for subscribers, and for a limited time, here on C201. Released earlier today, join David Wesley and cellist Elijah de la Motte along with 120 acapella singers from 29 countries and ASL sign language interpreters in a beautiful arrangement of Revelation Song.

Worth is the lamb that was slain…

February 28, 2022

Anticipating the Cross

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NIV.John.13.33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

NIV.Mark.8.31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

NIV.Mark.9.31b … He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

NLT.Mark.10.32b …Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. 33 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

We’re just hours away from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I had little consciousness of the liturgical calendar beyond Christmas and Easter. Ten years ago I wrote,

To be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Mainline Protestant however is to be aware of the ever changing liturgical season; it is more than the passing of time, rather, each cycle is complete retelling of the New Testament gospel story. I’ve come to believe that Evangelicals are somewhat shortchanged in this area

But in the intervening decade, Evangelicals have made great inroads in recognizing the liturgical calendar. Wikipedia, while not always a great source for Biblical research, states that,

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When I wrote ten years ago, I noted that one of the things I don’t see so much in literature is a comparison between the season of Advent and the time of Lent. While Advent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures the coming of the Messiah, Lent anticipates, foreshadows and prefigures Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

Wikipedia (yes, I see the eye-rolling) does in fact have a useful article titled Jesus Predicts His Death. It includes a comparison of three parallel quotations in the synoptic gospels. However, the site GotQuestions.org goes one step further and present the same three passages harmonized as single quotations.

The first time,

Jesus had just fed the multitudes, and He said that the “Son of Man must suffer many things” (Mark 8:31); be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes; be killed; and be raised again. Peter then rashly began to rebuke Jesus, and Christ responded, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:33; Mark 8:33). Jesus knew that His death must happen. It was necessary in God’s plan to save the world.

The next occurrence was,

shortly after the Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John saw Christ in His heavenly glory. Perhaps this was the reason the disciples were so confused by Jesus telling them He was going to die. At this point, they believed His kingdom was just around the corner. Despite their lack of understanding, they were “afraid to ask” for clarification (Mark 9:32; Luke 9:45).

For many of you, yesterday was Transformation Sunday and you heard these very passages read. It seems appropriate that they occur on the cusp of the season of Lent.

The final one was when

He spoke to His disciples as they were heading up toward Jerusalem for Passover, and He told them how He would be mocked, scourged, crucified, and then rise again. On this occasion also, the disciples did not understand Jesus’ saying because the meaning was hidden from them. They would soon learn what Jesus meant in the events of Good Friday and following.

The article then goes on to say,

The Gospel of John gives a few more predictions of Jesus’s death, but they are slightly more subtle.

but for those, you’ll have to click the link!

At Blue Letter Bible, Don Stewart notes:

The resurrection was predicted beforehand by Jesus. The fact that He would rise from the dead was central to Jesus’ ministry and message. The resurrection must not be seen as an isolated event in the life of Christ… Especially during the last six months of His earthly life, Jesus emphasized the importance and necessity of His upcoming crucifixion as well as the triumph of His resurrection… The predictions by Jesus of His resurrection were of such common knowledge that it led the religious rulers to ask Pontius Pilate to secure the tomb…

[If you have a friend who isn’t sure about the death and resurrection of Jesus, click Don’s link above and send them the article.]

In closing, we need to remember that simply searching out instances where Jesus predicts his own death doesn’t give us the full picture of scripture foreshadowing the crucifixion. Psalm 22 is a case in point:

NRSV.Ps.22.1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

NLT.Ps.22.16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing.

We join now with Christians around the world in anticipating the road to the cross.

 

 

 

November 2, 2021

Why Four Versions of the Sign above the Cross?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m sitting at my computer getting ready to type a review of the latest book by J. Warner Wallace, titled Person of Interest, and I decided to look back previous reviews of his book I’d written at Thinking Out Loud. There, I found a book excerpt which really should have appeared here at C201, not there. If anything has that extra “201” bite to it, it’s this type of topic. So from 2015, here’s some of his writing to chew on from the book Cold Case Christianity. The link below will take you there directly where other resources await.

Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them at ColdCaseChristianity.com. One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. Click To Tweet

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.


J. WARNER WALLACE is a Dateline-featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker, and bestselling author. His is a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University). Relying on over two decades of investigative experience, Wallace provides the tools needed to investigate the claims of Christianity and make a convincing case for the truth of the Christian worldview. His latest book (2021) is Person of Interest.

Read my review of Person of Interest at this link.

October 18, 2021

The Greatest Gift God Gave was Passive, Not Active

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. – I John 3:16

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” – John 10: 17a-18

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:8; all references NIV

 

Six months ago, I shared an excerpt from the debut release of a new author, Tyler Staton, titled Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Faith and Doubt (Zondervan, 2021.) I was finally able to get a copy for myself, and recently posted a review at Thinking Out Loud.

Here is another excerpt from the book which really got me thinking. He begins with a quote from Ronald Rolheiser:

Jesus gave his life for us in one way, through his activity; he gave his death for us in another way, through his passivity, his passion.

Then Tyler continues…

Typically, when people speak of the “passion of Jesus Christ,” they are intending to make much of the brutal suffering. They’re making a summary reference to whips that bring one to the brink of death but stop just short, forcing breath to keep flowing through a body that can no longer be called human. They’re peaking of a body that can no longer be called human. They’re speaking of ruthless soldiers making evening plans while forcing thick iron nails through the wrists and feet of an innocent man. They’re speaking of a spear just under the rib cage when the dying is dragging on so long that boredom is setting in. Make no mistake, Jesus’ death was brutal, but the brutality of the way he died was not his passion; the passion of Jesus Christ was his free choice to die.

Rolheiser explains: “The English word passion takes its root in the Latin passio, meaning ‘passivity,’ and that is its primary connotation here: what the passion narratives describe for us is Jesus’ passivity. He gives his death to us through his passivity, just as he had previously given his life to us through his activity.”

For thirty-three years, Jesus gave us his activity, his life. He was always active, always doing–teaching, healing, advocating, feeding, freeing, including, comforting, noticing, inviting, hoping, instructing, loving.

His final twenty-four hours represented a distinct shift, obvious to every close observer. Beginning with his arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus gave us his passivity, his death. Every gospel author’s description of Jesus takes an obvious grammatical turn at that point–all the verbs become passive. He is led away. His questioned. He is tortured. He is whipped. He is mocked. He is provided help in carrying his cross. He is nailed to it.

He is no longer doing; he is allowing to be done. He is no longer acting; he is being acted upon.

When people question God, it’s always related to his activity. What was God doing when that happened to me? Where was God when I really needed help? How could a loving God willingly allow this in my life [or her life or his life or our lives]? Why did God act in this way? Why didn’t God act in this way?

As people who often demand more action, more doing from God, this simple fact is worth consideration: The greatest gift God ever gave us was his passivity, not his activity; his restraint, not his action. It was his willingness to be acted on without intervention. It was his chosen powerlessness, not his power. It was not his doing, but his allowing. It is the passivity of God that is most revealing of his character. In Jesus’ passion he gave us a gift we could not receive by his action.

Mark’s account includes the reaction of the centurion, the Roman army commander who oversaw the execution. When the last breath left Jesus’ body, when the gift of love was completely given through divine restraint, the centurion said aloud, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

This Jewish rabbi had walked all over the Roman Empire for three years, healing the sick, causing the paralyzed to stand, giving sight to the blind, straightening the backs of the disfigured, cleansing the skin of lepers, restoring the minds of the insane, and even raising the dead, but none of that looked like God to those in power. Somehow what they had missed in his power they saw in his restraint.

The centurion recognized the divine bloodline in Jesus by his weakness, not his strength; his surrender, not his victory; his death, not his life; his love, not his power. There was something otherworldly, something wondrous, about the way he willingly gave up his life.

(Searching for Enough, pp 155-156)


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 by Tyler Staton. Used by permission.

September 5, 2021

Calvary Opened the Door to Intimacy with God

A year ago we introduced you to author K.K. Hodge, who describes herself as “a family nurse practitioner, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, Sunday School teacher, church treasurer, and crazy critter farmer.” She writes devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm and you can read this one at source by clicking the header which follows.

All Access Pass

Exodus 26:31-34 Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker.  Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place.

Mark 15:37-38 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Part of my Bible study this week was the Holy of Holies. I read the scripture above as well as Leviticus chapter 16, and I couldn’t help but continually rejoice all week over the fact that Jesus gave us an all access pass to God Almighty! For real, Peeps. We have an all access pass. Ponder on that for a moment and what a true treasure this is.

When going to concerts, one occasionally purchases the “all access pass.” This pass gives that person privileges to not only enjoy the concert close up and personal, but that person also gets backstage access and a personal meet and greet with the star attraction. That’s pretty cool! But all access to God is so much better than an all access concert pass.

Way back in Moses’ day, God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies, and God gave Moses very specific instructions in order for Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies.

Aaron wasn’t allowed to enter anytime he pleased. He had to bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He had to put on his sacred linen tunic with linen undergarments, tie a linen sash around him, and put on a linen tunic. He had to bathe prior to putting on the sacred attire. He also had to take 2 male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering from the Israelite community. He then had to offer the young bull for his own sin offering, and then cast lots for the two goats. One lot was for the Lord and one for the scapegoat. The goat whose lot was for the Lord would then be sacrificed for a sin offering, and the scapegoat would be presented alive to make atonement.

After making the sacrifices, he then had to remove his clothing and bathe in water in the sanctuary. All of this had to be done any time Aaron entered the Holy of Holies. If he failed to perform these steps, he would surely die.

Consider that regimen. What great effort Aaron had to go through each time he went before God. Jesus changed everything. The temple curtain was torn, ripped apart, when our Savior became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. When that curtain was ripped in half, the barriers where removed. No more bull or goat sacrifices.

The ultimate sacrificial Lamb paid the price for our sins. He made the final atonement needed. Jesus gave us an all access pass to God Almighty! All we have to do is approach Him in prayer…any time of the day or night…in any clothes we are wearing…at any location on this planet! We have an unlimited, total, all access pass to the Father! Isn’t that encouraging?

Are you taking full advantage of your all access pass? Give God a holler today. He’s been waiting to hear from you.

May 31, 2021

Part of the Most World-Changing Story Caught in Procedural Matters

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Earlier today I encountered the blog of Ben Wilder. His writing at Out of the Wilderness isn’t faith-focused every day, but this piece caught my attention. It’s a little shorter than what we run here, but it’s a holiday for our U.S. readers, so I didn’t want you wading through a 2000-word piece today. Ben has written two books for children, and worked in Nashville, where he still lives, in video production. I hope you’ll click through and read this at source. I loved the energy and emotion in this look at the final hours of Jesus before the crucifixion.

John 18:28 really annoys me

“Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They did not enter the headquarters themselves; otherwise they would be defiled and unable to eat the Passover.”

I think it would be easy to just take this verse and be annoyed or angry at the soldiers and temple police for putting Jesus through this charade. That, in itself, is worthy of anger as a reader. What really stood out to me, though, the last time I read this is about them not entering the headquarters because it would make them unclean.

Talk about following rules to their own detriment! Here they have the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One who calls things into existence that do not exist, He gives life to the dead… and their focus is on following rules.

Here is where I unleash harsh judgement on them, right? Well, no. I can’t. Because their “rule following” isn’t really what annoys me. It’s MY rule following that annoys me. If the Bible is a mirror, then when I read this verse I’m looking at a great reflection of myself.

Sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, I find myself focusing on rules. I should do this or that because that’s what a good person does. Not only that, though, I also deal out judgement on people that don’t do as I do. It’s disheartening to be able to so closely identify with those who miss the forest for the trees.

With that said, I’m thankful John 13:38 – 14:1. Jesus is talking to Peter…

“Jesus replied, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? I assure you: A rooster will not crow until you have denied Me three times. Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.’”

The first two sentences are part of chapter 13, the last two are 14 but I see no separation in what Jesus is offering. Yes, you will deny me. Yes you will pretend you don’t know me. But when you realize your own faults and failures, don’t beat yourself up. After all, I am not beating you up and I’m the one you hurt.

I love that about Jesus. His anger is always directed at the right things– people and ideas that are intentionally against God. But the Bible still shows Jesus having compassion, even to those that don’t like him, up to his very last breath. His love is always overflowing towards the right things, too– people who love God and want to do the right things but still make mistakes.

April 6, 2021

There’s Never Been a More Last-Minute Conversion Than This

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Again this year we return to the writing of Matt Tullos and an item he posted in March which seems very appropriate for the days following Easter. Encourage the ministry of authors we feature by clicking on the headers like the one which follows to read on the original source site. Follow Matt on Twitter @mtullos.

Today, You Will Be With ME

Listen to this meditation on the Scattered Feast Podcast!

The mystery of salvation is never more astounding than this moment.

A few feet away from Jesus another man languished under the brutal hand of the Romans.

Just another man whose life would seemingly melt into the thin pages of history…

This was his day to die and be forgotten. And then He spoke these words

“Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.”

One sentence… a declaration, a cry into the bleak chasm of unworthiness.

“Remember me…”

This convicted rebel could do nothing.

He couldn’t earn his way into right standing.

He couldn’t grow into righteousness and worthiness of grace

His time was up.

He had no hands for service.

No feet for walking

Few words left to say in this brief and consequential day

Remember me…

It was almost like a shot in the dark, a wing and a prayer, a last desperate plea to the mercy of a Messiah

Remember me.

Jesus replied to this unnamed vagabond.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

There’s never been a more outrageous last minute, death’s door, Hail Mary conversion that this.

And today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise-  such perfect word.

It’s a reference to the Garden of Eden before the fall.

Before hiding, shame, war, and death…

Eden, when all was right with the world and Jesus said, today everything will be made right with you.

The same is truth for all of us. The second declaration on the cross reminds us that it’s not about our nice tidy lives and good living that will usher us into the second Eden when he makes all things new.

It has nothing to do with us.

It’s not about the perfection of the man. It’s about the man of perfection. It’s not about one’s glory. It’s about the glory of one. It not about the greatness of your labor. It’s about the labor of his greatness. The gospel isn’t about your story. His story is the gospel. And that’s why they call it GOOD news

And one we’ll see the one who got there first, the one who walked, arm in arm, with Jesus into grand opening of the Father’s house. Because of the words that brought the ugly edifice of self-attained righteousness and works based acceptance crumbing down.

Today you will be with Me in paradise.

April 1, 2021

The Sin of Power: The Deadliest of the 7 Deadly Sins

by Clarke Dixon

Of all the 7 deadly sins, the sin of power must be the worst. It has brought greater destruction into our world than the other seven which are listed as pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Wait, the sin of power is not one of the 7 deadly sins?! People with power must have came up with the list. That is one of the problems; people in power don’t see the sin in their power.

We often talk about the power of sin, today we are thinking about the sin of power.

In the events of Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, we see the sin of power.

In the background there is a constant power struggle between Rome and the Judeans. When Jesus comes along, all the powers-that-be gang up against Jesus.

It begins with the religious leaders who want to overpower Jesus. All along they have been speaking against Jesus, trying to keep the people from following him. Jesus teaches with authority, much better than they do. Jesus does really good, helpful things, like heal people. They don’t seem to be as helpful.

Already you can imagine the jealousy. Jesus is a carpenter, what does he know compared to the educated religious elites? According to his teaching, quite a lot!

Worse, Jesus doesn’t obey the religious leaders. They say “no healing on a Sabbath.” Jesus heals on a Sabbath, and not just once.

Worst of all, Jesus goes around claiming to do what only God can do; forgive people. Who does he think he is?

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become blinded to God. The religious leaders could not see in Jesus what many people were seeing in Jesus, namely; God is with us, or at least with Jesus, in some remarkable way.

It gets worse. As a power play to get Pilate to do their bidding, the religious leaders claim their greatest allegiance:

They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

John 19:15 (NRSV)

This is the lowest point a leader of God’s people could sink to, shouting “we have no king but Caesar.” What happened to God’s promise of a king? What happened to the Scriptural witness that God was the true king?

That is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we forget God.

We may wonder, how can a Christian ever become abusive? The people of God can become abusive because power blinds us to God and makes us forget Him.

If it begins with the religious leaders, the sin of power continues with Pilate:

He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

John 19:9-10 (NLT)

Pilate is claiming to have significant power over Jesus here, the power of life and death. Jesus sets the record straight:

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.

John 19:11 (NLT)

This is what happens when we commit the sin of power, we overstep our God-given authority. When we overstep our God given authority we move from taking responsibility for people, to becoming abusive against them. Authority can be a beautiful, life-giving thing. It can also get ugly.

In the game of chess between the Romans and the Jews, the King becomes a pawn:

The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

John 19:2-5 (NLT)

We easily get the idea that the Romans are mocking Jesus here with the crown of thorns, the purple robe, and the mock worship. What we can easily miss is how they are also mocking the Jewish people. In mocking Jesus as a most pathetic king, they are really mocking the Jewish people as a most pathetic nation. This continues through to the crucifixion with Pilate posting the charge against Jesus “the king of the Jews.” That was a slam against the Jews and the religious leaders knew it, and hated it.

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we belittle others. We mock them, we find ways of making them appear pathetic, of making ourselves look superior. We win. Of course we win, for they are losers. The sin of power puts us in that mindset, it clouds our perception of others.

Perhaps the most powerful of all are the soldiers who pull the trigger, or in this case, hammer the nails. They are the ones trained in the art of enforcing power.

They would not have carried through with their grim sin of power if it had not all begun in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders. If the religious leaders wanted to keep their power, they had better deal with their Jesus problem. The religious leaders would not have been able to carry out their sin of power without Pilate. If Pilate wanted to keep his power, he had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become his problem. Then the soldiers carried out the sin of power when they hammered in the nails and raised the cross. If the soldiers wanted to keep their privileged positions of power, they had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become their problem.

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in killing.

When we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in the killing of people’s dignity, freedom, innocence, dreams, aspirations, mental health, and faith. Sometimes it really does become deadly.

Jesus, in entering Jerusalem on a donkey the way he did, enters Jerusalem in a way that says “I am the rightful king here. I am the one in charge.” Publicly he has been quiet about his all along. Evil demons who knew his identity better than anyone were told to keep quiet. When Peter expressed that Jesus is the Messiah, the disciples were told to be quiet. Little wonder, when Jesus is public about his identity as the Messiah, as the rightful king, he is killed in less than a week.

Yet here he is, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus is a different kind of king of a different kind of kingdom. And being the rightful king he took his place, not on a throne, but on a cross.

The religious leaders together with the Roman leaders committed the sin of power. Jesus was different, he broke the power of sin. 

Jesus could have overpowered all who opposed him. As a famous song points out, he could have called 10,000 angels, not just to rescue him, but to destroy his enemies.

Instead he took the nails.

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Luke 23:34 (KJV)

Instead of destroying his enemies, Jesus loved them, giving them the opportunity to be reconciled. Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loved his? Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loves us?

Are we stuck in our all-too-human ways of committing the sin of power against others, or has the power of sin been undone by the power of God’s love?

Perhaps we might even be committing the deadliest of the deadly sins by trying to rid ourselves of God. That is a sin of power. A desire to rid ourselves of God leads to separation from God, now and especially into eternity. That is the power of sin. But we can be forgiven through Jesus, reconciled to God. We can go from enemy to family. That is the power of God’s love.


The full sermon can be watched on its own or as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.


Today Christianity 201 begins year twelve! Thank you for joining us each day.

March 28, 2021

A Week To Encounter and Respond to Christ

John 14 (The Voice)

Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): 9 I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Jesus is telling his disciples that if they can’t trust his words, they can at least see that his actions back up what he is saying. And then he goes one step further, and tells them that if they believe they will be able to do even greater things. While that’s a treasured promise from the text, it also simultaneously suggests that some of his disciples were still not committed 100%; something that would change after the resurrection…

Everyone we meet, and we ourselves, needs to respond to the story that crosses our path this week: The Passion Week narrative. The song featured below asks the question — and it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across — how do we respond to Christ incarnate? Will we recognize him as the Messiah? Will we make him Lord of our lives?

Jesus asked them this question as well.

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

Before moving out of Toronto, we lived near a church which had this question on a neon sign, which read, using the KJV text, “What think ye of Christ?” It is after all the make-or-break question; how we respond to Jesus. I devoted entire blog post that sign’s question here in 2017

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much better focused.

This is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music. There’s something about it that touches people at a heart level.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you?

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means.

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

April 8, 2020

Jesus Took His Place… and Mine

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

An astounding 30 of the 89 accumulative chapters in the four gospels cover the period beginning with Christ’s Triumphal Entry through His resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. Mathematically this means that approximately 33% of the written material in the Gospels deals with a mere .05% period of His life! In the providence of God we have a much greater proportion of Scriptural revelation dealing with God’s greatest act of mercy in providing our redemption.

-Daily Encouragement


Today we’re back with our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net … click the header below to read this at source, where you’ll also find another perspective on the story.

Barabbas

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“Then he (Pilate) released Barabbas to them” (Matthew 27:26).

“Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).

But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).

“Not this man, but Barabbas” (John 18:40).

…When we were young Christians back in the seventies we were blessed by a song with the intriguing title, “I Should Have Been Crucified” written and sung by Gordon Jensen. The song is enjoying a resurgence by various Southern Gospel artists, and once again the words speak directly to our hearts.

The lyrics bring about a great message about the Biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement. But only one person in history could have sung or spoken that message in a literal sense; Barabbas, who was released from prison in exchange for Christ who took his place. Throughout the remainder of his life Barrabas could have said, “I should have been crucified”, and perhaps he did.

I should have been crucified,
I should have suffered and died.
I should have hung on the cross in disgrace,
But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place.

The Scriptures tell us very little about Barabbas and nothing about what became of him following his brief appearance in the Gospels as Christ’s substitute. He was a “notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16) who had been involved in murder and sedition (Luke 23:19). John 18:40 reports that he had taken part in a rebellion so in Roman law he deserved to die.

But he was released at the trial of Jesus, as the crowd clamored, “No, not him. Give us Barabbas!” I wonder what ran through his thoughts when he heard the crowd’s demands?

Since he was in the city it’s not unreasonable to assume that he witnessed the crucifixion, or at least the events leading up to it. What did this murderer think? When he was sitting powerless in the prison day after day, surely his mind had traveled numerous times to the place of execution where he would soon receive the death penalty for his sins.

What kind of emotions welled up within him as he witnessed Christ taking his place? Was his heart changed after seeing an innocent man die in place of a guilty man who was now set free? Did he eventually turn to the Lord who had become his literal physical substitute on the cross? Heaven will have many of “the rest of the stories” that we’ve only been privy to in a few chapters here on earth!

Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse writes these thoughts concerning Barabbas:

He was the only man in the world who could say that Jesus Christ took his physical place. But I can say that Jesus Christ took my spiritual place. For it was I who deserved to die. It was I who deserved that the wrath of God should be poured on me. I deserved the eternal punishment of the lake of fire. He was delivered up for my offenses. He was handed over to judgment because of my sins — Christ was my substitute. He was satisfying the debt of divine justice and holiness. That is why I say that Christianity can be expressed in the three phrases: I deserved hell; Jesus took my hell; there is nothing left for me but His heaven.

In several ways Barabbas is a type of the redeemed through all the ages.

  • We, like Barabbas, are guilty, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23).
  • We, like Barabbas, justly deserve death, For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
  • We, like Barabbas, are essentially passive as Jesus takes our place. There’s no suggestion that Barabbas had anything at all to do with his release. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

What was done to Jesus should have been done to Barabbas—and to each one of us. We can all rightly declare, “I should have been crucified.”  But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place! Today, let us renew our commitment to this marvelous Savior and reaffirm our faith in Christ, who was crucified for us!

 

Next Page »