Christianity 201

April 16, 2022

The Day In-Between

At the table, they asked “Is it I?” With the identification kiss in the garden, they probably saw clearly who it was that was betraying Jesus, which prompts Jesus to reply, Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? (Luke 22:48). The act earns the phrase “a Judas kiss” which in turn earns its own Wikipedia page, describing it “an act appearing to be an act of friendship, which is in fact harmful to the recipient.” (It’s also a song by Petra.)

Because we looked at Judas just three days ago, we’ll move on.

Equally motivated by self-interest, Peter finds it convenient to say he doesn’t know Jesus. Three times. The third time he’s emphatic, “A curse on me if I’m lying — I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:69-75) (NLT)

Really, Peter’s dialogue in the courtyard is a microcosm of where the other ten find themselves. Mark 14:50, one of the saddest verses in scripture tells us, “Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.

You can just hear one of them call out, “All right, guys it’s every man for himself.”

Would we have done any different?

But one writer sees an upside that I hadn’t considered. The article was titled, “Why Christ was Glad that His Disciples Scattered.” That kinda got my attention. The website is BeBlesstified.

…Many times, in the comfort and conveniences of our 21st Century lifestyles, we will read about or hear in a sermon about the disciples scattering and deserting Jesus just before He went to the cross. We may even think to ourselves, “What a shame”.

We may wonder what we would have done had we been in that situation. I can quickly and confidently answer that…we would have done the same thing.

How do I know that?

Because it was God’s will that they scatter.

What could they have done to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion? Nothing…because it was God’s will.

What good would it have done if they had died with Him, because that’s exactly what would have happened had they stood with Him.

Had they stood with Jesus at that time and were crucified with Him, how would we have gotten the Gospels? Who would have told us of what they experienced while they were with Him?

He was preparing them to spread the Gospel, not to die with Him.

But they don’t know that.

They don’t know all that we know and in their minds, the one who they (and just a week prior, everyone else) thought was going to save Israel is being taken down from the cross and placed in a donated tomb.

And don’t think that a death like that doesn’t shake you up. Even after the resurrection, even after the appearance of Christ in his glorified body, even after he’s taken up to heaven; just eight chapters into the Book of Acts we have another death — the martyrdom of Stephen — and another scattering of the disciples.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (8:1)

Again, some see an upside, that without the spreading out geographically, the Good News would not have reach so many communities so swiftly. But let’s also face that some of their scattering was in the interest of self-preservation.

Even so, the word about Jesus is shared albeit to a limited audience:

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. (11:19)

But now we’re getting way ahead of ourselves in the story. We’re not there, yet.

We’re in that in-between day when the eleven disciples and probably around 70 to 90 others who can be considered part of the core group of followers are truly sheep who’ve lost their shepherd. But for the eleven, it also means three years invested in the teaching of a particular rabbi have come to naught.

At this point, I can’t help but think of the large number of people in the last 2-3 years — especially here in North America — who were invested in the teaching of some key church leaders, and had to watch as empires crumbled and brands were forever tarnished. At some point the analogy breaks down, but I think the heartbreak and despair is similar in both cases. Or even the embarrassment of having been a follower of __________, only to watch __________ fall from grace.

Back to our story.

Were those three years of discipleship lost?

Is it time to go back to fishing? Can an ex-tax-collector get his old job back? Is it possible to sign on with another rabbi as a transfer student? Maybe an opening at Wal-Mart (or equivalent)?

We’ll have to stay tuned to see what happens.

 

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 11, 2022

Telling Others: A Prime Week for Ministry

One year ago, we introduced you to Bernie Lyle who writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. Although it was posted yesterday for Palm Sunday, it encourages us to invest ourselves in looking for ministry opportunities that could present themselves naturally to us in this week. Clicking the title below gets you to Bernie’s site to read this directly.

Appointment with Destiny

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!””
‭‭Luke‬ ‭19:37-38‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Appointment with destiny

In the human life there are many appointments, some of them are of our choosing, others are ordained for us as unavoidable, such as our eventual death. In the case of our Lord Jesus, His appointment with destiny was both of His choosing, and ordained, as it was determined from the foundation of the earth, that He would come and die for our sins.

On a morning long ago, a morning that we have come to know as Palm Sunday, our Lord entered the Jerusalem to great rejoicing. He came in as a King, with much fanfare, as the public cheered His coming.

“And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!””
Matthew 21:8-9 NKJV

As Jesus approached, I can imagine His conflicted emotions, as the all knowing God, He knew that the very same voices that heralded His arrival, would later be crying “crucify Him!” But still Jesus continued on, on mission to reconcile God with man, and defeat the evil one.

Through the entirety of the coming week, each courageous step toward Calvary was planted in the surety of what was to come after the cross. Even so, I am sure He battled the flesh that He had humbled Himself to dwell in, as He felt everything that we feel.

I try and think of some of the moments of destiny in my life. I think of all the humiliations of going through cancer many years, an experience I walked through accompanied by the Lord alone. Through the journey, the Lord was with me, guiding me, reminding me of His presence in the Scriptures I read, and the worship music in which I listened.

The Father was surely with Jesus as He went through His week.

As we come into this Palm Sunday, there is no certainty that there will be another, as our world appears of its own perilous path to its appointment with destiny. Regardless, we have today, and we too have the surety that there is something beyond the uncertainty before us, as we look to the soon coming of the Lord Jesus.

May this day be a beginning point, a marker that we stand on as the starting point of a week of ministry. Holy Week is a great opportunity to go out and tell of Jesus, for many have a consciousness of God and the work of Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, pray for opportunities to share the Good News, to tell of Jesus who came to earth, clothed in human flesh, lived as one of us, lived a sinless life, died the sinners death that we deserved. Tell your own story, of how He forgave you, and changed you, of how He changed your destiny from Hell to Heaven.

Tell also of the new life, brought by His resurrection. The world is full of people who need to hear all of this, for there are many whose lives are filled with struggles and consequences.

Many of the people that we will encounter will have their own appointments with destiny, and more than likely, some of them might even have that appointment with eternity, and yours might be the voice that guides them to heaven.

Let us be sure to cry out and rejoice of all that the Lord has done for us, for we would be ashamed if the stones drowned out our praise.

“And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.””
Luke 19:39-40 NKJV


#prayforukraine

April 10, 2022

The Underlying Tensions of Palm Sunday

First, before we begin, as we were discussing possible “call to worship” or as some call it “opening sentence” material for Palm Sunday, I found myself reading the original prophecy in Zachariah 9:9 which is fulfilled on this day in the life of Jesus.

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

That’s the NASB. In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders it as,

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise your voice, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.”

Second, the original material that I write here is occasionally prone to be repeated after four years, but the guest writers are never repeated. In looking for some thoughts for yesterday, I also considered, but didn’t use, excerpts from previous C201 devotions, but in the 24 hours that followed I kept thinking I wanted to repeat something we’d used previously — exactly five years ago — from Clarke Dixon. And Clarke is like family. So here, for the first (or possibly second) time is an encore performance from a pastor who practically lives in my backyard. (It’s an expression; he really lives about 20 miles away.) The direct link is in the title below.

Feeling Nervous? Romans 8:31-39

by Clarke Dixon

Feeling nervous? If you are one of the disciples entering into Jerusalem with Jesus then you probably should be. Yes there is the excitement of the crowds waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” but there is also the danger that exists when revolution is in the air. Jerusalem at the time is the home of powerful people with powerful ideas. Some have the idea that Rome should get lost and the occupying Roman army should take a hike. Others think that every hint of revolution should be squashed. These are dangerous times. Within a few decades there will be a revolution and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But right now, revolution is in the air and there’s a miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, which means he may as well wave a banner saying “I am the Messiah, I will rescue you.” To most minds this means “I will kick the Romans out.” Revolution is in the air, blood will be spilled. If you are one of the disciples entering Jerusalem with Jesus, you should be nervous.

What does the “triumphal entry” of Jesus and the events we celebrate on Palm Sunday have to do with Romans chapter 8? The connection is found in Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

Psalm 44 is a “Psalm of complaint” where the Psalmist complains that God’s righteous people are suffering and need to be rescued. Implied in the appeal for a rescue is also, of course, that God would deal with the enemy. This is an appeal to the justice of God, that He would do the right thing and rescue His people. In Jesus’ day you could think of the Jews of Jerusalem being the righteous sufferers while the Gentiles from Rome are the evil oppressors. Surely when the Messiah comes he will rescue Jerusalem and destroy the Romans! However, the facts are set straight at the cross.

By the end of the week, blood has been spilled. It is not the blood of Jewish revolutionaries, nor of occupying Roman forces. It is the blood of one man, Jesus. He is the one accounted as a sheep to be slaughtered. He is the one who can appeal to innocence and the injustice of his death as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 44. He is the one who can appeal to God the Father for a rescue, and the destruction of the enemy.

Therein lies the problem. Everyone is included in that enemy; the Roman authorities granting the final word, the Roman army carrying out the deed, the Jewish authorities instigating the whole rotten affair, and the Jewish crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him.” The saying is spot on: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Well almost, there is one who is righteous, the one being crucified on trumped up charges, the one experiencing the culmination of hatred, the one experiencing injustice.

This is the moment in which God the Son, as the innocent sufferer, could call upon God the Father to do “the right thing,” to rescue him and destroy the enemy. Problem is, of course, that destroying the enemy would mean destroying everyone. If there is ever one moment that stands out as the moment for God to unleash his righteous anger at the world, this is it; at the cross. If there is ever a moment proving God’s righteousness in sending a flood, this is it. The flood in Noah’s day was due to man’s violence against humanity. Now at the cross humanity’s violence is turned to God Himself. Rebellion against Rome hung in the air, but we sank to our lowest low when, in our rebellion against God, Jesus hung on a cross.

Perhaps we should be nervous? The blood of Jesus is on our hands too. Would we have acted any different than the disciples in abandoning Jesus? Than Peter in denying Jesus? Than the religious leaders in seeking the death of Jesus? Than the crowds in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus? Than Pilate in acquiescing? Than the Roman solider in carrying out orders? We are no different.

So should we be nervous knowing that we are complicit in crimes against God Himself? Let us turn again to Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Romans 8:31

But is God for us?

When we ask if God is for us, we may think of the crucifixion as overwhelming evidence of our rebellion against God. However the cross was not just our great act of rebellion, it was also God’s great act of love. Consider:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Satan, the accuser, may have a lot of dirt on us. Actually, not just may, he does have a lot of dirt on us. We have given him a long list of things to choose from as to why we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. However:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Satan may argue forcefully about all the reasons we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. God says in effect “I already know about all that, in fact I already paid for it.” When we are in Christ, the dirt does not stick.

When we ask if God is for us, some may point to our own suffering as evidence that maybe He is not. Paul brings us back to the facts. We measure God’s love for us, not on our suffering, but on His. We suffer because we are humans living in a broken world. He suffered because of His love for broken people.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

Our suffering is not evidence that God does not love us. The suffering of Jesus is evidence that He does.

Feeling nervous? Because of sin, you should be. Many a person in this world should be quaking in their boots right now. However, in Christ, you needn’t. Which brings us back to where we began in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV


Read more at Clarke’s blog: Thinking Through Scripture

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.

 

 

 

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 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 29, 2021

This, The Power of the Cross

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott


…It’s like sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior. ~ Early Christianity 201 post


For more quotations, check out this 2020 collection here at C201: For Me He Died


As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to include this worship song by Stuart Townend which can be part of your Holy Week service or used as a communion song throughout the year. If you can’t play the video in your region, take some time to read the lyrics.

Col 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath-
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the victory cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God-slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Two other songs also fit well with this theme and have been posted here previously:

Quotes: Tentmaker, Christian Quotes

December 27, 2020

Christmas is an Apocalypse?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

CEB.Luke.2.22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Simeon’s response to Jesus

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30     because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Jesus as a child in Nazareth

39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Today’s thoughts are from a writer who is new to us, Father Steve Grunow. His page doesn’t tell us where he serves or in what capacity. I’ve included (above) the gospel reading for today which he refers to. Click the header below to read more of his writing.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Christmas is an apocalypse.

What do I mean?

Contrary to the popular notion that an apocalypse is some kind of divine plan for planetary destruction, the Bible has a different idea — an apocalypse is a revelation, a revelation that occurs what God intervenes in a remarkable way in history.

One of the greatest example of this is the revelation proclaimed on the Mass of Christmas Day — God, the one true God, eternal and unchanging, accepted for himself a human nature and without losing anything of who he is, was born into this world, born in time, as all humans are born — revealing himself to us as a baby, as the Holy Child of Bethlehem. This is an apocalypse — a revelation.

Now the other implication of an apocalypse is there is an end, a kind of cataclysm that results from God’s remarkable intervention. This is true of the revelation of God in Christ. God’s revelation in Christ brings about an end, signaling to the great powers of the world, spiritual and worldly powers, that things have changed and their time of unchallenged influence and control is coming to an end.

It’s for this reason that the great powers of the world resist the revelation of God in Christ- both at the time of his holy birth to this very day. The Lord Jesus ends worlds, shakes the foundations upon which our assumptions of politics and culture have been built. He does things that we would rather have God not do (like becoming a baby) and he says things that we would rather not have God say (like forgiving our enemies).

Worldly powers resist him. And let’s be honest — so do we.

Thus, his revelation is an apocalypse. Christmas is an apocalypse. The Lord Jesus is an apocalypse.

The end he brings about always brings about a new beginning and that too is what the Biblical understanding of an apocalypse is all about.

Whether we accept him or not, the Lord Jesus changes us and changes the world. Those who most virulently oppose him know this and this is the source of their greatest consternation. In the end, they know, that he has already won.

Today’s Gospel is about Christ the Apocalypse, the tiny child who is God who brings an old world to an end and quickens a new world to life.

When the Holy Child is brought to the temple of Jerusalem as an infant, more is going on than the fulfillment of a religious custom — God is entering his own temple and doing so in a way that most are too narrow or distracted to understand.

God was expected to come to his people, but not in the form that he came — as an infant in his mother’s arms. Again, this revelation is an apocalypse, that once accepted changes forever the way one can think about who God is and what God wants for us. Even many who profess to believe that this revelation is true, struggle to comprehend all the implications. So, it should not shock us so much that most who encountered God in Christ just couldn’t make sense of his revelation.

But two people do recognize Christ the apocalypse, God the baby — an elderly man and woman whose lives have been spent watching, wondering and waiting — living in hope that God would come- and come personally.

They see him for who he is, while others do not.

And perhaps that is the lesson.

To watch. To wonder. To wait. And to live in hope.

We are Christians, and because of this our lives are spent in longing for the coming of Christ. He makes himself known in Sacraments and in the bodies of the poor and our spirituality as Christians is learning to see and receive him in these peculiar ways. But even more than this, we long for him — for Christ — and we long for him to come to us personally.

We want him to heal our hurts and take away our sins. We want him to rescue us from death and set a world gone wrong right. We want him to do what we cannot or will not do ourselves. We want him- personally.

But this encounter evades most of us in this world- but the desire for him remains. Because this is difficult for some, Christian spirituality becomes limited to cultural expression or a religious rule book. Unfortunately, it is precisely in these ways that we end up missing him when he draws near. The deep mysticism of the Christian faith is negated by what are really expressions of our need to control. In our frustration that God in Christ does not come to us on our terms, we set up idols in his place.

Then what are we to do? How are we to live?

Old Simeon and venerable Anna model for us the way — to watch, to wonder, to wait and to hope. Living each day in expectation of his coming. Understanding that our spirituality as Christians is not fulfilled simply in feelings, but in fidelity to Christ.

Christians are always living on the verge of an apocalypse. This apocalypse is not about the destruction of the planet (as some have come to believe) but it is instead about the coming of the Lord, his revelation into our own lives.

One day, like Simeon and Anna, we will see him as they did face to face — but until then, like Simeon and Anna — we watch, we wait, we wonder, and we hope. And we do this so that we will recognize him when he comes.

April 11, 2020

Approaching Easter Sunday: What the Lord Has Done for Us

by Richard Schmelzle*

As we approach Easter Sunday, we must each examine our life in light of what our Saviour has done for us.  Does my relationship with Him and with others reflect the mindset of our Lord as He approached the cross? 

Paul writing to the believers in Philippi said:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phil. 2:5-8  NKJV)

Christ’s entire life was marked by obedience and surrender to the will of the Father.  As followers of Christ, are we not called to do the same?  We talk about the surrendered life, we read books and have Bible studies on the subject.  I cannot sing the chorus “I Surrender All” without tears streaming down my face.  The question remains, have I surrendered all?

Oswald J. Smith gives us some clues as to why this is so difficult.  He often said, “When we are saved, we are delivered from the penalty of sin;  As we are sanctified, we are delivered from the power of sin, however, only when we are glorified are we delivered from the presence of sin. 

His friend, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the Irish Revivalist, was a frequent guest at The Peoples Church, Toronto. In the opening page of his book, Full Surrender, he suggests one of the reasons why we find this so difficult.

“Why is it that hundreds of well-meaning Christians attend conventions and conferences for the deepening of the spiritual life, enjoy the ministry there given, return to life’s vocations with a feeling of improvement, yet speedily lapse into their former ways of backsliding and defeat?  There are many reasons, but one of the least noted is the matter of incomplete consecration, the sin of broken vows.  Too many Christians make a bargain with God and fail to pay their part of the price.  This is sin.” 

The Apostle Paul gave us these words of encouragement and direction:

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18 NKJV).

C.S. Lewis addresses the subject in his classic work, “Mere Christianity”. 

“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time, and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself, My own will shall become yours.

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes, and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And this is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. 

As our will becomes God’s will, we become like God. That’s the whole point of Christianity. Yet the whole notion of surrendering our autonomy and will to anyone or anything is abhorrent by today’s standards. Any religion that suggests we do so is coloured in the most extreme shades of radicalism by contemporary thinkers. Yet this is precisely what Jesus Christ taught we must do.”

“And He said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24 NKJV)

Surrendering our will to God is the polar opposite of entrusting ourselves to ‘the crowd’.  On the one hand we are loved “with an everlasting love” and on the other we are just another nameless face. The great challenge for us is finding the confidence within to entrust our will to Him.

To be sure, my Brother, my Sister, the Christian life is totally antithetical to the world view of our culture and counter intuitive to our embedded `natural man`.  Scripture tells us further:

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

The writer to the Hebrews gives the final word on how to overcome our dilemma:

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”. (Hebrews 3:1, 13 NKJV) 

Let us proclaim together, Christ is Risen….He is Risen Indeed!


* Dr. Richard Schmelzle heads the Toronto Chapter of the C. S. Lewis Institute which meets regularly in Richmond Hill. For general information about the organization, go to cslewisinstitute.org .  Used by permission.

April 10, 2020

For Me He Died: A Good Friday Collection

 

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross He was wounded for me;
Gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.

Dying for me, dying for me,
There on the cross He was dying for me;
Now in His death my redemption I see,
All because Jesus was dying for me.

– early 20th Century hymn; vs 1, William Ovens, vs. 2, Gladys Toberts


…It’s like sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

-Early Christianity 201 post


Christ died. He left a will in which He gave His soul to His Father, His body to Joseph of Arimathea, His clothes to the soldiers, and His mother to John. But to His disciples, who had left all to follow Him, He left not silver or gold, but something far better – His PEACE!

– Matthew Henry


For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

-Colossians 1:19


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.

~ Watchman Nee


It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.

– Grant Gunnink; quoted at Daily Encouragement (C201 link)


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– I Cor. 1:18


My hope is in the Lord
Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin
at Calvary.

For me He died,
For me He lives;
And everlasting life and light
He freely gives.

Hymn, My Hope is in the Lord, © 1945 Norman J. Clayton Publishing © Renewed 1973


May I never put anything above the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. Through Him, the world has been crucified to me and I to this world.

– Galatians 6:14


The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve.

-Clarke Dixon (C201 link)


Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

-Ephesians 5:1,2


It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God Reigns, verses 3 and 4


But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

-Hebrews 2:9


The problem of sin is that it is a contagion and a captivity, which involves our complicity.

As a stain, sin is like a contagion that must be cleansed— as a virus must be eradicated from the body.

As blame, sin involves our complicity and thus blame must be borne.

As a power which leads to the penalty of death, sin is a captivity from which we must be freed.

In His death on the cross, Jesus purifies us from the stain of guilt, removes from us and bears in Himself the blame, and frees us from the power of Sin and Death.

Good Friday, indeed.

-Glenn Packiam (C201 link)


And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


Into the cross of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Following through the garden,
Facing the dreaded foe;
Drinking the cup of sorrow,
Sobbing with broken heart,
“O Savior, help! Dear Savior, help!
Grace for my weakness impart.”

-Oswald J. Smith, Deeper and Deeper (C201 link)


It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence.

– Russell Young (C201 link)


■ Here is the embedded link to the Good Friday (and Communion Service) playlist we’ve been promoting all week. This will play continuously as long as you leave this page open, or you can click through to YouTube and watch it (some of the songs are lyric videos) there. Unlike the hymns quoted above, these are all modern worship cross-centered songs.

 

April 9, 2020

Jesus the Leader; The Good Leader

by Clarke Dixon

Click here to watch a 7-minute video of today’s devotional.

We have been seeing world leaders, from Prime Ministers and Presidents, to mayors and health officials, take to tv to lead us in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. As they take centre stage, we see what kind of leaders they are.

These leaders have reminded me of my own leadership journey which began with an excruciatingly shy and extremely quiet boy. Loving airplanes as I did I joined Air Cadets as a young teen. One year in, and having achieved the lowest rank of “leading Air Cadet,” we moved to a new town, which meant joining a new squadron. This was a brand new squadron, with a very successful launch, meaning many new recruits. Despite my one year of experience, and despite being the lowest rank possible, I suddenly found myself as one of the most experienced and highest ranking! I was placed over my own “flight” of cadets and immediately had to start training and teaching these new recruits. This excruciatingly shy, inexperienced and low raking cadet was instantly identified as a leader! And lead I did! I have often said that I would not be a pastor today, if it were not for Air Cadets. However, my quietness and shyness would forever colour the kind of leader I am, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he does so in a way that indicates he is a leader. In fact, he is the leader!

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

In entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus indicates that he is not just a teacher and miracle worker, he is the king! Pontius Pilate seemed to be in charge, but in fact Jesus is the rightful king.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a way which also indicates what kind of king he is. Many leaders throughout history have thought that leadership is about power, and brute force. Where I come from we have an expression, “brute force and ignorance.” Some leaders lead with that! Jesus rides on a donkey and not a war horse. He brings peace, not war. He does not need brute force. There is a gentleness to Jesus, a humility, an approachability. He is a ruler who really cares for the people, as anyone who experienced his teaching and miracles could tell you.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus gives another hint to the kind of king he is:

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

We are reminded of Psalm 23. In saying “The Lord is my shepherd” king David is saying “God is my king. I might be the leader of the people, but God is my leader.”

David knows what kind of a sovereign God is. God is a great king, a leader that cares for him. The kind of king who . . .

  • provides for my needs (verse 1)
  • makes me lie down in green pastures (verse 2)
  • restores my soul (verse 3)
  • leads me in paths of righteousness (verse 3)
  • is with me, capable of dealing with any enemy (verse 4)
  • cares for me in the face of adversity (verse 5)
  • promises his presence forever (verse 6)

Jesus goes on to say that he, himself is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10:11. Jesus is later described as the shepherd who even leads beyond death into eternal life in the Book of Revelation:

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

What kind of leader is Jesus? The leader with authority, even over life and death, yet the leader who is humble enough to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The kind of leader you can approach. The kind of king who is not just kind and generous to his subjects, but who desires to adopt them into his royal family. The kind of leader willing to forgive.

David said “the Lord is my shepherd” Is the Lord your shepherd?


This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The full worship expression can be seen here. For now, all Clarke’s sermons are “shrunk sermons”! For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here.

Next Page »