Christianity 201

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.

April 8, 2020

Jesus Took His Place… and Mine

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

 

April 5, 2020

The King Arrives: Just Not as Expected

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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Today is Palm Sunday. With so much else to think about right now in our world, it’s easy to forget that the liturgical year continues. Nonetheless, the day of the start of Holy Week unites Christians globally.

It begins with the story so familiar.

Matt. 21:1 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

5 “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.’”

6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 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!”

I’ve heard this story so often, like many of you. I remember attending some Young Life meetings at a friend’s high school where the speaker encouraged us to read the Gospels through the lens of the different people in each scene. To see the story play out through the eyes of the disciples. Through the eyes of the one healed or ministered to. Through the eyes of the crowd. Through the eyes of the twelve disciples. Through the eyes of Jesus himself.

Bible expositors will sometimes emphasize the fickleness of the crowd, shouting “Hosanna!” one week and “Crucify Him!” the next. Others suggest that the actual makeup of the crowd in each case would have been quite different.

DonkeyOthers will note the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice, O people of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.

Not the way you expect a king to appear.

But my Young Life Bible study method was challenged when a pastor suggested years ago to look at the story through the eyes of the donkey. Wait, what?

I hadn’t thought of that before, but having heard this, I never forgot the basic 3-point outline, and in sharing it today, I’m hoping you won’t forget it, either.

I’ll keep it short and simple, as did he. You can share this with adults or share it with children, but once you read this, you’ll find it fits in your back pocket for a time you need it.

So what do we know about the donkey:

  1. Jesus knew its location. The equivalent in our day would be for me to say, “Go downtown to the main intersection and you’ll find new car on display which has hardly been driven.”
  2. Jesus had need of it. He says, “Bring it to me.”
  3. It had never been ridden. You don’t see that detail in the text above, but we get it from Mark’s version in 11:1-10, and also in Luke’s version in 19:28-40.

The application:

  1. God knows our location. In a vast world of billions of people God is able to track each and every one of us. He knows our name. He knows our hearts. He can truly say, “I know where you live.”
  2. God has need of us. He chooses to work his will and master plan through people like us. While he doesn’t in and of himself need anything at all, he needs us in the sense that he is looking for a people (plural) who will be obedient to his calling.
  3. We must be willing to be broken.

One more time; this time we’ll make it more personal:

  1. God knows my location.
  2. God has need of me to carry his message to my corner of the world.
  3. I must be willing to be broken.

God knows where you are and what you are experiencing. Even right now. As long as we have health, we wants to work both in us and through us.

Now find someone to share this with.

March 30, 2020

Transporting Yourself to the Crucifixion

It’s hard to believe that the observances of Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (or what you might call Passion Week) are just days away. As this is published our world is in the middle of global crisis which is distracting us from the usual observances this time of year.

I’ve always wanted to include something of the writing of Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University and Seminary in Calgary, Canada, and the author of a book I’m hoping to start soon, Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why The Church Should Be All Three (IVP).

I know I say this frequently, but especially today, because I’ve edited some of the scripture text, I urge you to read this one in full by click the title header which follows.

John 19: 1-42

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face...

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” …

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Gordon T. Smith

On Good Friday, March 2019, my wife and I had the privilege of hearing the exquisite Calgary choral group—Luminous Voices—perform J.S.Bach’s, St. John Passion. It was choral music at its best. We had the English translation of the original German text, taken from Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament. Most of what we heard was nothing other than the text of Scripture from the last part of John 18 through all of John 19, with some poetry and a sermon interspersed—all in song: the tenor sang the text from John’s Gospel, supported by arias from other soloists. I can hardly imagine a better way to end a day that began with worship in church.

The immersive experience of the music reminded me of the value of moving through the text of John 19 slowly, methodically; it was paced in a way that was both dramatic and thoughtful. From trial to the crucifixion to the death and then the burial of Jesus. Even though we were not yet at the account of the resurrection, the experience of being in John 19 was, and is, both tragic and triumphant. We know that death would defeat death; death would atone for our sins; death would lead to resurrection and on to the ascension and the outpouring of the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost.

The experience of moving slowly through John 19 is important. When we move, slowly, with Jesus to the cross and to His tomb: we consider, we reflect, we meditate on this account of the death of Jesus. And we feel the force of it—we know that this event matters and matters deeply to us and to the world. We slow down and take it in and let the account of Jesus’ death shape us. To use the language of Colossians 3:16, we let it dwell richly within us.

Some of us are familiar with the older Gospel song lyrics, “Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?”1 It is a melodramatic song that asks if you were at the trial, crucifixion, death and, burial of Jesus. And yet, however moving, I wonder if it is the right question. Because the answer, actually, is “No: I was not there; I am here – we are here, in this time and in this place.”

Reading John 19 is not about going back in history; it is not about nostalgia. The Hebrew notion of remembrance is not about going back in time; it is, rather, about allowing history—a past event—to be present! We remember, yes, not to go back, but in order to allow the past, in this case the cross of Christ, to shape and inform and transform our present. It is not that I want to be in Jerusalem when Jesus died; it is rather that I want the full force of what Jesus did on that Good Friday to shape my life, my relationships and my work and ministry. I want to walk through John 19 so that Romans 8:17 makes some sense to me—that in our sufferings we are joint heirs with him in his sufferings.

So, consider reading John 19 slowly, in a single sitting. You might not sing it; you might not hear a choral group perform the text. But in the quietness of your prayers, read it through slowly. And consider the ways in which the cross is so very present to you now, in the circumstances of your life, your relationships, and your work.


Prayer:

Jesus, we pray that You would open our eyes to the ways that the cross is present in our circumstances in life. We pray that the account of Your death will shape us and dwell richly within us. Amen.


1Were You There was likely composed by enslaved African-Americans in the 19th century. It was first published in William Eleazar Barton’s 1899 Old Plantation Hymns.

April 20, 2019

Holy Saturday: There Has Never Been Such a Silence as This

This day.

This day that is not Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.

In many respects, the Roman Catholic Church somewhat owns today in the sense that some of our best available commentary and liturgy is from Catholic sources. Today’s words are recent writings from a variety of Catholic and Evangelical sources.

From writer Hayden Royster:

Today, in many liturgical churches, there’s no service or liturgy on Saturday; instead, they’ll wait until evening to celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass. These vigils begin the lights extinguished, the holy water drained and the tabernacle empty. Some traditions will actually perform a funeral service using the​ E​pitaphios,​ ​an embroidered cloth that depicts a buried Christ​. In Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries, sorrow takes a more explosive form: people will purchase large, ugly effigies of Judas Iscariot (Jesus’ betrayer), string them up on lamposts, attach firecrackers to them and light ‘em up…

Holy Saturday is also, traditionally, a day of triumph. According to the Nicene Creed, Saturday is the day of the Harrowing of Hell, that spectacular event wherein Jesus descended into Hades, gathered all of the righteous people, and “opened Heaven’s gates for those that have gone before him,” in the words of the Catholic Catechism.

Now, not every Christian tradition holds to this piece of the Easter story; admittedly, the scriptural evidence for it is pretty sparse. But even those who don’t believe in the Harrowing still view Holy Saturday as a day of great expectation…

From John 19, NIV:

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[e] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

From the Video Channel of Fr. William Nicholas:

How do we understand and observe the Day before Easter, between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection? Father Bill discusses a useful outlook and ways to remember and observe the “time in between” before launching into the 50 Days of Easter.

From the website All About Jesus Christ:

Jesus’ Tomb – The Stone

The stone at Jesus’ tomb serves as a reminder of other elements of Christ’s life. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is asked to turn a stone into bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35) as well as the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4, NIV). In Mark 12:10, Jesus refers to Himself as the stone that the builders rejected, which becomes a capstone. If necessary, stones would cry out, proclaiming Jesus the King of Kings (Luke 19:40). Jesus appeared before Pilate, who sat upon the judgment seat, the Stone Pavement (John 19:13). It is not surprising, therefore, that a stone should serve as a phenomenal part of Jesus’ tomb. Upon Jesus’ death, the earth convulsed violently — rocks split, tombs opened, and bodies were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:50-54). This was certainly a prelude of things to come.

To assure that Jesus’ tomb . . . and its contents . . . remained undisturbed, Pilate ordered a large stone positioned against the entrance. A sloped channel assisted the guards in rolling the boulder. A deep groove cut in bedrock at the tomb’s entrance firmly settled the stone. At the urging of the chief priests, Pilate further secured the Jesus’ tomb by placing a Roman seal on the stone, stationing four Roman soldiers at the entrance. To guarantee maximum security, every three hours fresh, alert (i.e. not sleeping as indicated in Matthew 28:13) guards would be exchanged.

From Romans 6, NIV:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

From another Roman Catholic website, Aleteia:

…For many centuries there was even a strict fast on Holy Saturday, permitting no food to be eaten in observance of this painful day. Many would stay in the church throughout the night of Good Friday, keeping Jesus company in the tomb.

A homily from the 2nd century confirms this general atmosphere in the church, “What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”

One of the reasons for this “great silence” is to enter into the pain of Jesus’ death and the loss the apostles must have felt. Think about it for a minute.

While Jesus taught them continually about his resurrection, the apostles likely had some doubts, seeing the death of their master. They might have thought to themselves, “If he is the Messiah, why did he die? I thought he said he would rise from the dead?” In this way Holy Saturday is that day of doubt and sorrow, not knowing what to do or what to believe.

Even the Easter Vigil begins in silence, in the complete darkness of the church.

However, the good news is that Jesus, the light of the world, has truly risen and dispels the darkness and any doubts we may have had. The church erupts in pure joy at the Easter Vigil and music, bells and light lift up our hearts to God.

Only after experiencing the silence of Holy Saturday can we truly appreciate the loud and joyful celebrations of the Easter Vigil…

This day.

This day that is not Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.

But something is about the take place.

Something is about to happen which will change the course of history.

April 19, 2019

Final Words to Friends

An excerpt from Peter Marshall –The First Easter (McGraw-Hill, 1959) pp. 16-19

The eleven men who were left were very quiet. The voice of Christ was very soft and low — tender with farewell.

It was now only a matter of hours until Christ and his disciples would be separated. He wished to fill those last hours of fellowship with the tenderest and most significant of His teachings.

The most sacred… the most tender… the most heart-felt emotions… are those expressed at the end of the letter…

The tenderest caress comes just before the parting. The softest word just before the conversation is ended… before the train pulls out… before we turn away.

We seem to catch the quiet intimacy of that fellowship. Unforgettable words of parting and comfort were spoken by Jesus to His friends. Jesus has written them out for us:

  • “Little children … a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you … By this will all know that you are my disciples…”
  • “Let not your heart be troubled; … In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you…”
  • “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches… Abide in me, and I in you…”
  • “these things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…”

Overcome the world? When the one who spoke was so soon to fall under the power of Caesar? Yes, for in reality we must remember that Jesus could have escaped the cross. No one compelled him to go to Jerusalem on that last journey. Indeed His friends and apostles urged Him not to go.

Watch Him, in the bitter hours that lie immediately ahead, time after time taking the initiative in deciding His own fate.

Christ had begun His ministry by telling His apostles that the Son of many must suffer many things. Must — there was no other way. It was for that purpose that He had come into the world.

“For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up .. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There was Light in the little room that night. But beyond the light lay a death-ridden world…

  • in the midst of the military might that was Rome where life was cheap
  • in the philosopher’s porticoes of Athens where the mind found no hope
  • in the dangerous living of the great shipping centers of Asia Minor to the disease infested alleys of old Jerusalem —

Men feared death, dodged its hideous grasp, could nowhere find respite from their fear.

But here was something new… Here was one facing death — not afraid but confident … already triumphant … already speaking about seeing His friends again … about never leaving them…

Strange words … about being with them to the uttermost parts of the earth and to the end of time.

How? Why? Because He alone knew the Father’s eternal purpose for what it was — the determination once and for all to destroy the power of death — once and for all to deliver men from their lifelong bondage to the fear of death.

Within a matter of hours, Christ Himself was to become the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

April 18, 2017

The Crucifixion in Street Language

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT


From The Street Bible by the late Rob Lacey*

The macabre scene moves slowly up Skull Hill. They get there and the Roman Death Squad shove a cocktail made of wine with myrrh into Jesus’ face. He takes a sip but spits it out, flat refusing to drink the stuff.

They pin Jesus to the rough crossbar leaving him to die. Him and the two hardened criminals — one on either side. Jesus says, “Dad! Don’t hold this against these people — wipe their slates clean. They’ve got no idea what’s going on here!”

The Death Squad rip his clothes off and start playing gambling games to see who “inherits” the clothing mementos.

Time check: Friday 9 AM. One of the soldiers grabs the multi-use Offence Placard, writes up Jesus’ “crime” and then pins it just above his head. It reads, “Jesus: King of the Jews”.

The other two victims with him — the terrorists — one on either side of the central focus point, Jesus… bite back their excruciating pain and add their jibes to the mix… “Aren’t you supposed to be The Liberator? Get liberating, won’t you? You need it and we need it!”

But the other guy calls across, “Don’t you have no respect for God? You’re getting what you had coming to you, but this guy’s done nothing wrong. So shut it!”

The second career criminal turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, don’t forget me when you sit on your throne, okay?”

Jesus answers him, “I’ll tell you today — no lie — you and me, we’ll be in paradise together.”

Time check: 12 midday. It goes dark, totally dark, for three full hours right across Judah. Nothing except the chilling sound track of three men inching toward Death. Later, about three in the afternoon, Jesus freaks those still left there by shouting, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Translation: “My God, my God, why’ve you abandoned me?”

Some of those within earshot hear the “Eli, Eli” bit and get the wrong end of the stick, saying, “Listen, he’s trying to connect with Elijah!”

Knee-jerk reaction for one guy was to offer some soured wine to the sufferer, hoisting a soaked sponge of the stuff up to Jesus on a stick. Others are going, “Whoa! Hang on. Wait to see if Elijah’s going to turn up like a one-man SWAT team and rescue him.”

Jesus shouts on out one more time and finally allows his spirit to be torn out of his broken body.

He cries out, “Dad, I trust you with my spirit!”

His last words.

He dies.


Quotations about 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


*Note to overseas friends: In the USA and Canada, The Street Bible was published as The Word on the Street.

March 22, 2016

A Palm Sunday Application

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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A couple of days ago it was Palm Sunday. Regardless of whether you’re in the Northern Hemisphere entering the early days of spring, or in the Southern Hemisphere facing the beginning of fall, the day of the start of Holy Week, changeable as it is from year to year, unites Christians globally.

It begins with the story so familiar.

Matt. 21:1 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

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.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. 

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. 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!”

I’ve heard this story so often, like many of you. I remember attending some Young Life meetings at a friend’s high school where the speaker encouraged us to read the Gospels through the lens of the different people in each scene. To see the story play out through the eyes of the disciples. Through the eyes of the one healed or ministered to. Through the eyes of the crowd. Through the eyes of the twelve disciples.

Bible expositors will sometimes emphasize the fickleness of the crowd, shouting “Hosanna!” one week and “Crucify Him!” the next. Others suggest that the actual makeup of the crowd in each case would have been quite different.

DonkeyOthers will note the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice, O people of Zion!
    Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you.
    He is righteous and victorious,
yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—
    riding on a donkey’s colt.

But my Young Life Bible study method was challenged when a pastor suggested years ago to look at the story through the eyes of the donkey.

I hadn’t thought of that before, but having heard this, I never forgot the basic 3-point outline, and in sharing it today, I’m hoping you won’t forget it, either.

I’ll keep it short and simple, as did he. You can share this with adults or share it with children, but once you read this, you’ll find it fits in your back pocket for a time you need it.

So what do we know about the donkey:

  1. Jesus knew its location. The equivalent in our day would be for me to say, “Go downtown to the main intersection and you’ll find new car on display which has hardly been driven.”
  2. Jesus had need of it. He says, “Bring it to me.”
  3. It had never been ridden. You don’t see that detail in the text above, but we get it from Mark’s version in 11:1-10, and also in Luke’s version in 19:28-40.

The application:

  1. God knows our location. In a vast world of billions of people God is able to track each and every one of us. He knows our name. He knows our hearts. He can truly say, “I know where you live.”
  2. God has need of us. He chooses to work his will and master plan through people like us. While he doesn’t in and of himself need anything at all, he needs us in the sense that he is looking for a people (plural) who will be obedient to his calling.
  3. We must be willing to be broken.

One more time; this time we’ll make it more personal:

  1. God knows my location.
  2. God has need of me to carry his message to my corner of the world.
  3. I must be willing to be broken.

So simple! Now find someone to share this with.

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

May 1, 2013

Jesus Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

 

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

March 29, 2013

Trivializing Good Friday

Matthew 7:6a “Do not give dogs what is sacred…”

Although the passage above normally refers to offering your spiritual gifts, your ministry, your teachings to people who are unreceptive, there is an equally opposite danger that can occur when people are receptive by virtue of being hungry and thirsty for the deeper things of God and those  in leadership fail to provide the spiritual necessities.

In other words, if you can profane your teaching by offering it to people who treat it with contempt and scorn, I believe you can also profane it — and treat it with contempt — by offering less than the best that is appropriate to a particular situation.

One of the ways I think we do this is by failing to really get inside the moment that is Good Friday. If we fail to allow our hearts to capture Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, then we have nothing to share with others who want that to be the focus of their holy day. We show ourselves to be extremely shallow spiritually.

If you have the responsibility of planning a service for Good Friday — or any part of it — it’s so important to bury yourself in the story and then let the text speak to you as you decide which elements of that story to impart to others. Otherwise, you’re guilty of trivializing the text, trivializing the day, trivializing Christ’s atoning work in suffering and dying for us.

One of the shortest verses in scripture is “Jesus wept.”  We tend to want to reduce the events between His arrest and His resurrection — which we will celebrate on Resurrection Sunday, but in Good Friday, not yet — to a simple text of “Jesus died.” But in reality, it goes on for chapters, in all four gospels, and is the very centerpiece of our faith, and the centerpiece of all of scripture, first and second testaments included.

We dare not trivialize that.

In fact, three years ago I wrote about a familiar passage in I Cor. 11, and noted that really, the betrayal of Jesus what ‘hatching’ in the mind of Judas long before the Passion Week narrative begins. With the religious leaders of the day, Jesus’ death was a work in progress.

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and… broke it saying, ‘This is my Body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

I didn’t even need to look it up. Here’s what I wrote back then:

As English shifts, modern ears might be getting this as “After Jesus was betrayed he took bread…”

I think a better reading would be, “On the night that Jesus was about to be betrayed…”

Or better yet, “Knowing full well that he was just a couple of hours from being betrayed, he took bread…”

Judas was about to exit the building. His scheming mind hatched the plan needed to locate and identify Jesus with the least interference from the crowd, and bring him before the Romans to mete out the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. There would be profit in this, not to mention a place of honor among both Pharisees and Romans alike.

But before he even left, Jesus says, “This is my Body, broken for you.” He is in control. He is giving Himself.

The Wycliffe Version isn’t the translation on Bible Gateway that most bloggers turn to, but its rendering is unique: “Take ye, and eat ye; this is my body, which shall be betrayed for you; do ye this thing into my mind.” (italics added)

It clears up the verb tense thing as it relates to the order of events, which shall (or will) be broken for you, only it has the surprise element of bringing betrayal in that clause as well: shall be betrayed for you.

Christ’s body was physically broken for us, but his esprit was no doubt broken by the betrayal of someone who He had walked and talked with; someone whom He had taught in the give and take sense of eastern teaching — for three years.

The Amplified Bible is one of the few other translations that addresses the order of events. Note the section I’ve italicized: “For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread…”

In a culture that grows less Biblically literate by the day, I think it necessary to sometimes look twice at details of the story that we just assume that people know. Necessary to clarify, to remove confusion.

But sometimes, in the examination, there is discovery, and the familiar narrative continues to take on shades of depth and meaning beyond anything we’d already considered.

Thinking Out Loud, Jan 4, 2010

… To which I add today, that it is in the closer readings, in the rediscoveries, we are drawn deep into those long ago days and less likely to rush through or trivialize the proceedings of a sacred time in our church calendar.

March 28, 2013

Playing With Time

As some of you read this, it’s already Good Friday. This particular blog is set up to post articles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST (New York time) but with readers all over the world, I realize that many readers are already “in” a particular day when this gets seen.

But in many respects, we’re all guilty of a greater measure of playing with time when it comes to Good Friday. The reason is simple. We already know how the story ends. It’s entirely impossible for us to approach Good Friday not knowing that Resurrection Sunday is just around the corner. We don’t have to read ahead because we’ve previously read the whole story.

But it wasn’t like that on that overcast day at the foot of the cross. In play-script form, The Voice Bible reads:

John 19:29-30 The Voice

29 A jar of sour wine had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to His mouth. 30 When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus: It is finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit.

It’s so easy to miss what those standing around the cross at that moment must have felt.

The second way we play with time — going backwards instead —  is in the way we’re able to trace back all the prophecies Jesus gave concerning himself. The disciples are dejected and grieving His death, and we read this in the 21st century and we want to scream at the pages, “Look, go back to page ___ and read what he says about how The Messiah must suffer and die! It’s all there!”

You get a sense of this in Luke 24; and again, we’re going to defer to The Voice translation:

Luke 24 – The Voice

13 Picture this:

That same day, two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 14 As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days. 15 While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them, 16 but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.

Jesus: 17 You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?

They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad. 18 One of them—Cleopas is his name—speaks up.

Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.

Jesus: 19 What are you talking about?

Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. 20 Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

21 We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning—the third day after the execution— 22 some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, 23 but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something—a vision of heavenly messengers—and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. 24 Some people in our group went to the tomb to check it out, and just as the women had said, it was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus.

Jesus: 25 Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? 26 Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?

Clearly, Jesus’ later teachings about his impending sufferings weren’t registering. Or perhaps it was a case of serious denial. Verse 21 is translated more commonly in a form like “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (NIV)  The verse captures most accurately the sadness felt by those two followers.

If you continue reading The Voice, you find at this point an embedded commentary suggesting the writer Luke is doing his own version of playing with time; using this story a set up for something he knows is coming just a little bit past the point where this chapter resolves itself and this book ends: The Book of Acts. Acts is this gospel’s sequel. The commentators seem to feel that Luke is preparing his audience for something which, while it does not in any way diminish the resurrection — which is after all, the centerpiece of the entire Bible — is going to astound them, namely the birth of The Church.

However, it’s Good Friday, and as we place ourselves back in that particular part of the story through this Holy Day and its various church gatherings, we can’t help but know what happens next.  So with a glimpse into Easter Sunday, let’s see how The Voice ends Luke 24:

27 Then He begins with Moses and continues, prophet by prophet, explaining the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how they were talking about the very things that had happened to Jesus.

28 About this time, they are nearing their destination. Jesus keeps walking ahead as if He has no plans to stop there, 29 but they convince Him to join them.

Two Disciples: Please, be our guest. It’s getting late, and soon it will be too dark to walk.

So He accompanies them to their home. 30 When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. 31 At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes—just disappears before their eyes.

Two Disciples (to each other): 32 Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures?

33 So they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem—all seven miles—where they find the eleven gathered together—the eleven plus a number of others.

March 26, 2013

Serving in the Face of Death

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I find nothing out of character or particularly arresting about Jesus’ decision to wash his disciples feet. That’s totally consistent.

I find the timing absolutely amazing.

John 13 New International Version (NIV)

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Verse 3 is awesome in every sense of the word.  The IVP New Testament Commentary states:

Jesus’ own awareness is also an important part of the context of the footwashing. He knew that the Father had put all things under his power (literally, “into his hands”) and that he had come from God and was returning to God (v. 3). Here in Johannine language is the description of Jesus’ identity in his relation to the Father. This knowledge does not simply give Jesus the security to wash the disciples feet — his sharing in the divine essence is what leads him to wash their feet. Jesus said that he only does what he sees the Father doing (5:19), and this footwashing is not said to be an exception to that rule. John’s introduction to the event ensures that we understand God’s glory is revealed in Jesus in this sign. This is what God himself is like—he washes feet, even the feet of the one who will betray him! Thus, the footwashing is a true sign in the Johannine sense, for it is a revelation of God.

This is a defining moment. This is an image that will burned into the memory of the twelve.

I was reminded of this again this week in a song from Michael Card from his companion CD to his book about Luke. The song is: How Much More a Servant Could He Be? (You can learn more about the project at this blog review, where I discovered the video.)

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